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Napoleon's Influnce in Spain: The Napoleonic Code and The Bayonne Statute

Updated on March 22, 2011

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon's Influence in Spain

The French Revolution shaped much of the western world as we know it. The military, social, economic, and political structures of today can oftentimes have their origins traced back to that time period. In particular, all of the countries which Napoleon Bonaparte and his family directly controlled were brought enormous changes. Spain was not left out of this, and felt the blow of the emperor the same as every other country around them. Napoleon had a specific influence on the future of Spain however, since his revolution ideals in the Napoleonic Code shaped the course of Spain’s political future.


             The French Revolution was a time of enormous change in France as well as in the entire Western World. The French people had grown tired of the old hierarchy and feudal system which oppressed the lower classes and decided to take action to work against those institutions. Louis XVI was King of France at the time, but his feeble attempts at controlling the rioting masses were entirely ineffective. In July, 1789 the breaking point was reached when the people of France attacked the Bastille. The declaration of a Republic ended the power of the Monarchy in France, and King Louis XVI was executed in 1793. The following years were utter chaos in France, until in 1795 when the Directory took control and began efforts to stabilize the country. This Directory lasted for four years until Napoleon Bonaparte was named first consul of France.[1]

            Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769 in Corsica, France. At a young age he entered military school and was noted for being a unique, solitary student. The French revolution started when Napoleon was a 20 year old artillery officer, and helped by new ideas of position through merit, he rose quickly through the ranks, winning many victories for himself and France under both the Republic and The Directory. In 1799 he overthrew the Directory and made himself First Consul. He was crowned emperor of The French Empire in 1804. At its height, the French Empire and its allies covered virtually all of Western Europe excepting Portugal and Great Britain.


            The main sets of ideals behind the French Revolution were that all men had natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Also included were concepts of equality, tolerance, and advancement through merit. The ideals were organized and drafted by the Marquis de Lafayette and The National Assembly of France, and were finalized in August 1789. Those responsible called this new written set of values the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”. In it were listed many revolutionary ideas about the role of the government and citizen, and the relationship between the two. A main goal of this declaration was to make the law understandable and available to every citizen, so that he or she could know their rights and responsibilities.


Napoleon, though he had no official education in law, decided to begin helping to write a draft of a constitution that could (he hoped) serve as a framework for many if not all the states which he had dominion over. He and his council took much of the ideals of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and added many of the more traditional laws of custom in France, in a format resembling a Roman codification of law. Into this group new Civil Code he put everything which he thought would be in the general interest of the State. It is said that

“What those interests were, Bonaparte knew. They were civil equality, healthy family life, secure bulwarks to property, religious toleration, a government raised above the howls of faction. This is the policy which he stamped upon the Civil Code."[2] This Civil Code later became named The Napoleonic code, which was touted across Europe as the solution to the governments of the time. I achieved its goal as a viable framework as well as being clear enough for all to understand. It was said of it that: ". . . it has diffused the knowledge of law, and made it comparatively easy for the ordinary French man to become acquainted with the leading principles which govern the law of his own country."[3]

Prior to Napoleon’s entrance into Spain, the country had already been slowly soaking in enlightenment ideas from France. The flow of persons between France and Spain during the time of the revolution resulted in many new ideas being brought back with them. Students, teachers, and the aristocracy were particularly likely to attempt to inject these new ideals into the Spanish culture of the time. It is noted that “The upper classes of Spain … had been profoundly influenced by the enlightenment, which experienced a rapid growth in Spain under Carlos III”[4]

Although in Spain those involved were generally not as extreme as groups such as the Jacobins, there were many who did fully support the revolution, and Napoleon’s direction of Europe. The stage had already been set for France to overtake Spain, whether through their new ideals or their newly crowned emperor.

Although they were supposed allies, in May of 1808, Napoleon seized the throne from Charles IV of Spain and handed the crown to his brother Joseph Bonaparte. Napoleon hastily supplied his brother with the Napoleonic Code with which to structure the new constitution of Spain. Joseph gathered a selection of Spanish nobles together at Bayonne and, at the urging of Napoleon, held their own National Assembly. Even though they made it known that they had no actual legal authority, the nobles helped Joseph draft the first Napoleonic constitution of Spain. There were however, many points on which it became clear that Spain would not fully cooperate.

Although large parts of Spain were highly sympathetic with enlightenment ideas, there were many traditions which Spain wished to retain even if under a foreign monarch and the guise of the Napoleonic Code. The major point of contention with Napoleon’s Code was on the subject of religion. The Catholic Church was such a large part of the Spanish identity that it would be impossible to undermine it. Catholicism had still been the only allowed religion up to that point, regardless of ideas of religious toleration coming from the north. Another such impediment to a fully enlightened constitution was that it did not provide any effective checks on the power of the monarch.

What the new Spanish constitution did include were many surprisingly liberal reforms such as the simplification of government, abolishment of the right to succession of property according to age, ridding many clergy of their privileges, ceasing the inquisition, and ending feudalism. This impressive proposed piece of legislature became known as the Bayonne Statute.

The Bayonne Statute never truly went wholly into full effect; it was constantly suspended because the reception by the people was severely limited by the local people and governments, who postponed or even ignored the implementation of it. Although nominally it was the only legal constitution, Spain as a whole tended to reject it as illegitimate. Many aristocrats held to the French position however, as anyone within range of Bonaparte needed to protect themselves. Rodolphe Gasché describes it in this way; “As again the Spanish example demonstrates, even though the legitimate government of Spain (as well as the educated elements of the aristocracy, the higher clergy, and the bourgeoisie) sympathized with the French, the Spanish guerrilla fighters, by recognizing the "Armée d'Espagne" as the "real enemy," fought in the name of values that had been consecrated during the democratic revolution in France.”[5]

The Spanish citizens turned to a new type of guerrilla warfare to hound the French army in the hopes of them abandoning Spain. Even though the Bonapartes had the upper hand of the somewhat legitimate government and military, the Spaniards’ tactics began to work and wear down Napoleon’s army.  Their tactics were described by “With the machinery of government in the hands of the Bonapartes, it was necessary for the Spaniards to improvise some means

of organizing resistance; consequently, local juntas sprang up in a more or less haphazard fashion, acting as de facto governments in their immediate areas.”[6]

The Sixth Coalition finally defeated Napoleon in 1814, which forced Napoleon out of his throne and the French out of Spain. The Bayonne Statute instantly lost whatever recognition and respect it had once had. The sense of nationalism which Spain had after finally driving out France was exhilarating, but now they were once more in need of a new constitution. What resulted what a surprisingly liberal form of a limited monarchy in which much power was held by cortes, and the monarch had to swear to uphold the constitution. In fact, much of this new constitution was taken partially from the French constitution, as well as from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

Napoleon was out of Spain, but the revolutionary ideas which were already being carried to Spain from France before Joseph took the throne had stayed. They had been initially promoted through Napoleon himself and his partial contribution to the writing of the Bayonne Statute via the Napoleonic Code. These ideas had been growing with the increase of nationalism within Spain itself. Napoleon thrust Spain into a situation where it needed to revolt, and consequently they found themselves in much the same ideological position as early revolutionary France. The Napoleonic Code was instrumental in proposing the enlightenment ideals to Spain in a viable way, and has since been used by Portugal, Mexico, Italy, Greece, and many other countries of Western Europe. Napoleon himself declared that the Code was his greatest achievement. At mount St. Helena he wrote:

"My true glory is not in having won forty battles; Waterloo will blot

out the memory of those victories. But nothing can blot out my Civil

Code. That will live eternally."[7]

[1] Furet, François. The French Revolution, 1770-1814. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996

[2] Napoleon and His Code, Charles Sumner Lobingier, Harvard Law Review. Vol. 32, No. 2 (Dec., 1918), pp. 114-134

Published by: The Harvard Law Review Association, Article Stable URL:

[3] Fisher, 9 Cambridge Modern History, 6. Walton, "The New German Code," 6 JURIDICAL REV. I48.

[4] Edward J. Goodman Vol. 20, No. 3 (Jul., 1958), pp. 330-346

Published by: Cambridge University Press for the University of Notre Dame du lac on behalf of Review of Politics

Stable URL:

[5] CR: The New Centennial Review 4.3 (2004) 9-34 The Partisan and the Philosopher,

Rodolphe Gasché, State University of New York at Buffalo.

Stable URL:

[6] Ibid. Goodman pp. 334

[7] De Montholon, Recit De La Capntivte De L'empereur Napoleon, 401.


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      3 years ago

      I think George Washington was a good leader and a good psreon. Although he essentially let the Federalists, Hamilton in particular, control his administration, his view, as our textbook states, was that the president should “stand above political controversies,” so he quietly took their side by letting them appear as if they were in charge. By doing this, I believe that he was being the actual leader because he was above it all: he knew what his ideal philosophy was, but he let Hamilton deal with the “controversy” part. I also think that Washington was a good leader because he laid the foundation for a government system and ideology that still exists to this day. That was something that Hitler failed to do, which is why I don’t think that he was a good leader (and also not a good psreon). In spite of the fact that he influenced many people’s opinions, Hitler didn't form a plan that was strong enough to last for a long time. Regarding the qualities of a good leader, I think that great leaders should be confident in their ideas, but should also be open to advice. This doesn't necessarily mean that they should let others control them, but instead should be willing to delegate some of their power so they can reach an ideal for everyone.


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