[The below article, which was first published in the George Borrow Bulletin n° 24 (autumn 2002), p. 81-96, is the reflection of a paper delivered at the George Borrow Society Meeting of 10 October 2002 in Seville, Spain. The additional information on Gómez’s occupation of Córdoba and the location of Borrow’s Córdoba hotel - which is here integrated in the main text - was published in the short note ‘An Inn-keeper’s Untruth’, published in the George Borrow Bulletin n° 25 (spring 2003), p. 71-72. The original text has been slightly adapted for reading rather than hearing, and has been augmented with notes of reference and some additional biographical material. A short bibliography of main sources may be found at the very end of the body text.]
The subject of this paper is a person whom George Borrow called “a most extra-ordinary man”: the Carlist general Miguel Sancho Gómez y Damas, an officer of Andalusian origins who for a fleeting moment played a most prominent role in the First Carlist Civil War (1)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 1).
The Carlist Civil War was the fight between, on the one hand, the Spanish liberals, who wanted a constitutional monarchy with 3-year old Queen Isabel II on the throne, and, on the other, their absolutist opponents, the so-called Carlists, who supported Isabel’s uncle Don Carlos Isidro de Borbón. The war broke out in October 1833 on the death of King Ferdinant VII and lasted until the liberal victory in 1840. It therefore covers all the years when George Borrow was active in Spain. From the very start, the liberals controlled nearly the whole of the country, all the cities, and Madrid, from where the Queen Mother, Maria Cristina, reigned as regent. The Carlist only held a small rural area, roughly the triangle between San Sebastian, Pamplona and Vitoria (the shaded area on the map below), but hundreds of Carlist bands were forever active in the rest of the country attacking towns, ambushing patrols and robbing coaches, merchants and travellers.
Miguel Gómez is indeed in many ways a most extraordinary man (2)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 2).
Despite his worldwide fame in 1836, the biographical details of Miguel Gómez’s early life are few and far between, and frankly insufficient to weave into the body text of this article. Gómez was born on 5 June 1785 in the small Andalusian town of Torredonjimeno, near Jaén, in Andalusia’s deepest olive-country; the son of Juan Francisco Gómez Gómez and Juana Josefa de Damas Hermoso. As most military men of note of the Spanish 19th century, he joined the Spanish army on an impulse at the outbreak of the Peninsular War in 1808, to battle the Napoleonic invaders. He fought at the famous battle of Bailén, the greatest victory which the Spanish army ever gained over the French, and in a hundred other places throughout the war. After the war he remained in the army, then settled to a civilian life, and finally joined the conservative fighters who rose against a short-lived liberal regime of 1820-1823 known as the ‘Trienio Constitucional’, during which period he met Zumalacarregui, whose lifelong friend and protégé he soon became. On the death of Ferdinant VII in 1833, he automatically enlisted in the growing army of the pretender Don Carlos. The rest of his life will be told below.
. He is, first of all, extraordinary in the military
sense, for the amazing Long March which he led through enemy territory in the latter half of 1836; a march which took him to every corner of Spain, pursued by a dozen armies under the best liberal generals, without ever getting caught. Secondly he is extraordinary in the moral
sense, in so far as he showed an unshakeable and almost superhuman loyalty to the Carlist cause throughout his life; a loyalty which was warranted neither by the prospects of that cause nor by the rewards - or rather the lack thereof - which he received in return. And finally Gómez is Most Extraordinary in the Borrovian
sense, because he is one of the very few people who in the course of time grew
in George Borrow’s estimation. I have no doubt that every reader of Borrow’s work knows what I mean. Borrow’s personal opinion of people more often than not moved along a steeply downward slope: great initial sympathy turned quickly into spite at the first trivial provocation. But in the case of Gómez, it was the other way around. At first, Borrow felt a hearty dislike for this General in the service of the Pretender and the Pope. But he ended with something close to admiration for the man. Of course, that change was helped along by the fact that the two of them never actually met in person. Borrow only wrote
about Gómez, in his letters home, and in The Bible in Spain
. It will be instructive to take a quick look at the quotes in question.
2. Borrow’s changing view of Gómez.
Borrow first mentions Gómez in his letter of 15 November 1836, written from Lisbon, where he landed on his way from England to Madrid. He wrote:
I shall probably be soon in the allotted field of my labours, distracted, miserable Spain. The news from thence is at present particularly dismal; the ferocious Gómez, after having made an excursion into Estremadura, which he ravaged like a pestilence, has returned to Andalusia, the whole of which immense province seems to be prone at his feet. I shall probably find Seville occupied by his hordes, but I fear them not, and trust that the Lord will open the path for me to Madrid.
Six years later, Borrow reworked this same paragraph for chapter 15 of The Bible in Spain
. There, he put it thus:
The news which reached me at Lisbon (...) was rather startling. The hordes of Gómez were ravaging Andalusia, which I was about to visit on my way to Madrid; Córdova had been sacked and abandoned after a three days’ occupation by the Carlists. I was told that if I persisted in my attempt to enter Spain (...) I should probably fall into their hands at Seville. I had, however, no fears, and had full confidence that the Lord would open the path before me to Madrid.
The changes in a nearly identical paragraph are quite telling. Gómez is still leading “hordes” and they are still “ravaging” the area. But the sharp edges have been shorn off the adjectives. Gone is “the ferocious Gómez” (3)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 3).
In fact when he makes a brief mention of Gómez in chapter 14 of The Bible in Spain, the phrase turns into “the celebrated Gómez”.
. Gone is also the “ravaged like a pestilence
”. And gone is that almost apocalyptical tone more appropriate to a monkish description of Genghis Khan.
How did such a thorough change of mind come about? It is my guess that in Lisbon, Borrow only read some tainted and biased reports in the liberal Portuguese press; but in Seville, where he arrived some two weeks later, he learned the true story of Gómez’s military feats; and that immediately earned the Carlist General and his marching men the admiration of the soldier’s son and the amateur of military history, which Borrow most certainly was. In fact, we already perceive a certain change of tone in the letter he wrote home from Seville less than a month later, on 5 December 1836. “Gómez,”
he writes there,
has proved himself to be a most extraordinary man, and with his small army of Aragonese and Basques has within the last four months made the tour of Spain; he has very frequently been hemmed in with forces three times the number of his own, in places whence escape seemed impossible, but he has always baffled his enemies, whom he seems to laugh at. The most absurd accounts of victories gained over him are continually issuing from the press at Seville; the other day it was stated that his army had been utterly defeated, himself killed, and that 1200 prisoners were on their way to Seville. I saw these prisoners; instead of 1200 desperadoes, they consisted of about twenty poor lame ragged wretches, many of them boys from fourteen to sixteen years of age; they were evidently camp-followers, who, unable to keep up with the army, had been picked up straggling in the plains and amongst the hills. It now appears that no battle had occurred, and that the death of Gómez was a fiction.
And then he adds, with a touch of that typical Borrovian know-it-all:
The grand defect of Gómez is not knowing how to take advantage of circumstances; after his defeat of López he might have marched to Madrid and proclaimed Don Carlos there, and after sacking Córdova, he might have captured Seville.
That is quite a little lesson in strategy which George Borrow, the military expert, here teaches Miguel Gómez, the military man. It is also, I fear, quite blatantly untrue. Gómez never really had the opportunity either to take Madrid or to conquer Seville; something which I hope to show below in my discussion of the Long March.
That discussion is shorter than it deserves to be. The Carlist Expedition lasted 6 months, marched almost 5,000 kilometres, fought 7 mayor battles, occupied 10 important towns and evaded, beat or scared off at least a dozen enemy generals and their armies. One would like to give a full résumé of such a magnificent adventure, but lack of space forbids it. Consequently I will have to cut a great story criminally short, and concentrate on the highlights of the tale, i.e.: those events which are mentioned in George Borrow’s writings and which took place in the neighbourhood of Seville, giving only a short summary of what came before and after.
3. The first leg of the Expedition
As so often in human history, Gómez’s sensational success was in reality the fruit of failure. The original object of his Expedition was not to go rambling up and down the Peninsula in random manner, but to start a new stable battle-front for Carlism in the distant north-western provinces of Asturias and Galicia. Carlism stood in great need of such a new front, because by mid 1836 the momentum and vitality had gone out of its war-effort. Its one commander of true genius, Colonel Tomas Zumalacarregui, had died in the stillborn siege of Bilbao which had been foolishly forced upon him by the court. The pressure of the surrounding liberal armies was ever growing greater, and the army found it daily more difficult to feed and supply the roughly 30,000 Carlist fighters who were bottled up in the tiny Carlist-held territory in Navarra and the Basque Countries (the area shaded on the map below). Therefore, in late June, Miguel Gómez was given command of some 3,000 footsoldiers, some 200 horse and two light cannon, with orders to raise the neighbouring Northern provinces for the Pretender.
Gómez did give it an earnest try, but luck and circumstances were against him. To begin with, as soon as he set out from the Carlist Territory on 26 June 1836, he was relentlessly hunted down by a liberal force twice the number of his own: the formidable 3rd Division of hardy veteran soldiers, led by one of Spain’s greatest warlords ever, Baldomero Espartero, the future left-wing dictator of Spain. This pursuit stopped Gómez from ever striking roots in any one area and forced him to stay continuously on the move. Also, the popular support for the Pretender, which the Carlist head-quarters had supposed to be massive in Asturias and Galicia, turned out to be quite luke-warm and far smaller than their wishful thinking had foreseen. Therefore, after taking Oviedo, Santiago de Compostela, Mondoñedo and Leon throughout July, and stripping all of these cities of their supplies, funds, weapons and volunteers, Gómez decided to return to the Carlist territory rather than try to settle and risk loosing the precious booty which he had collected - a booty which by this time amounted to no less than a 100 heavily loaded ox-carts, or some 50,000 kilos of supplies.
This very baggage train, however, proved to be his undoing. With luck, ox-carts move at an average speed of 2,5 kilometres per hour (some 20 km a day), and that is not the kind of velocity by which you can keep ahead of pursuing cavalry. By forced marches and marvellous manoeuvring, Espartero was able to catch up, and on 8 August, he caught Gómez near the Asturian village of Escaro in an extremely disadvantageous position, with the Carlist column spread thin over the steep mountain-pass of the Puerto de Tarna (4)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 4).
The whole of the valley, including the battlefield and a dozen villages, Escaro itself among them, has disappeared under a giant modern reservoir. Nothing remains to be seen.
. The subsequent battle turned into a clean Carlist defeat. Gómez lost his precious booty, and his army was scattered over the surrounding mountains. For any other man, this would have meant the end of the adventure. But Gómez possessed an extra-ordinary ability for reorganisation, and somehow over the next week he managed to retrieve and reform the broken pieces of his army. Once he had them back together, he changed plans. Instead of returning to the Carlist Territory as the beaten leader of a failed Expedition, he decided to wheel around, march south, and threaten nothing less than Madrid, the liberal capital, itself.
Map of Spain, with Gomez’s marching route and the main battles marked
4. The attempt on Madrid
This move - it must be pointed out - was not according to his orders; but it did turn out to be a masterstroke of timing, since this was the very week when the liberal regime went through its greatest crisis ever. On 13 August 1836 the left-wing Revolution of La Granja took place at Madrid. Those who know their Bible in Spain
will remember Borrow’s fabulous description of that affair. In a nutshell: three sergeants of the Royal Body guard forced the Queen Regent at gunpoint to sign the radical Cadiz Constitution of 1812; the moderate government fell and was replaced by new left-wing men; and the only champion of moderate liberalism, General Quesada, was lynched by the Madrid mob who used his fingers to stir cups of coffee in the Café Nuevo, an event which Borrow says he witnessed. Madrid was in uproar, and it was a fruit ripe for the plucking.
Gómez marched south, crossed the Guadarama mountain-range, and appeared out of the blue a 100 miles from the capital in late August. His arrival hit Madrid like a bombshell. The last news that the city had heard of him, was that Espartero had “wiped [the Expedition] off the face of the earth” at Escaro. Now he suddenly stood before the gates! In a complete panic, the government ordered all nearby troops to withdraw on the capital and dispatched one of its most trusted commanders, the Cuban-born general Narciso López, to intercept the Carlists, for which they gave him - incidentally - those very crack troops of the Royal Body Guard who had staged the La Granja Revolution, a body of men they were not, one imagines, too sad to lose one way or another. General López came, saw, and was utterly defeated by Gómez on 30 August at Matillas. It was a stunning victory, which left the road to Madrid wide open; and this, then, is the moment Borrow had in mind when he wrote that “after his defeat of López, [Gómez] might have marched to Madrid and proclaimed Don Carlos there”.
Could he have? Perhaps, in hindsight, he could have. At the time Madrid barely contained troops; the new government sat shaky in the saddle; the defeat of López had demoralised the people in power as much as the men in the street. And most of all: the moderate liberals, threatened in their power, their possessions and their persons by a sans-culotte
mob, might perhaps have been willing to take another look at Carlism, and decide it was the lesser evil of the two. The problem, however, was manpower. Madrid was a big and hostile city, containing over 200,000 inhabitants but without any true walls or fortifications to speak of. Gómez surely could have taken
it, but he could barely have held
it against the 5 armies, numbering some 20,000 men, that were hurrying back to the capital. He himself later stipulated that had he only had 6,000 men at any one time he would have tried. But he only had half that number, and those were dragged down by the immense crowd of prisoners taken from López. So instead of an immediate attack on the city, Gómez decided to march east to the Mediterranean coast, dump his POWs in a local prison-camp, enlarge his army with the many local bands of Carlist guerrilleros, and with those reinforcements return to Madrid.
Inventing a royal authority which he did not really possess, Gómez then summoned the local Carlist commanders to join him at Utiel. They assembled in the second week of September: El Serrador
of Valencia (5)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 5).
José Miralles, a.k.a. el Serrador (Villafranca del Cid 1792 – Benasal 1844), a giant of a man who owed his nickname to the trade by which he had earned his daily bread after the Peninsular War. He was the Carlist Commander General of Valencia province, half guerrillero and half upstart officer. As most Carlists officers, he fought in the Peninsular War and during the liberal interlude of 1820-1823. Román Oyarzun, himself a convinced Carlist, described the man as: “el mas rudo e ignorante [de todos] a pesar de lo cual llegó a alcanzar el grado de general de division” and “el jefe que mejor conoció el terreno, pero el mas iletrado de todos ellos” (Oyarzun, Historia del Carlismo, p. 178 and 184, note 1). Cabrera retired him to an office job shortly after 1837, assuming supreme command in the Levantine provinces himself. Miralles died in a guerrilla action in 1844 at Benasal.
, who brought two battalions of 600 fighters each and two squadrons of cavalry; Joaquin Quilez of Aragon (6)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 6).
Joaquin Quilez (1789 –1837) was a volunteer in the War of Independence. Taken prisoner by the French in 1809, he escaped from French prison camp in 1812 and returned to Aragon to take part in the last months of the Peninsular War. Retired from the army soon afterwards, he joined the right-wing rebellion in the so-called Trienio Liberal (1820-1823) and once again rose against the liberal regime in 1833, assuming the rank of Brigadier and organizing a large party of men. A year after taking part in the Gómez Expedition, he joined the famous 1837 “Royal Expedition” which, with Don Carlos himself at the head, marched up to the gates of Madrid, and then dismally failed to attack the capital. Quilez died during this episode.
, with another two battalions and four squadrons; a vast number of loose guerrillero
bands from the hills of La Mancha, amongst whom was the sinister Palillos (7)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 7).
Palillos was a robber and highwayman rather than an ideological Carlist, and a man for whom George Borrow felt a most particular dislike. Borrow mentions the fellow no fewer than six times in The Bible in Spain and twice in his letters, always in the most disparaging terms, and usually in the same breath as Ramon Cabrera. He clearly considered both these men as the true scum of Carlism and the real scourge of Spain.
; and last but foremost the famous Ramon Cabrera, the bizarre Carlist Che Guevara, only 29 years old at the time and a particularly nasty young man (8)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 8).
Ramon Cabrera y Griñó (Tortosa 27 December 1806 – Wentworth, UK, 24 May 1877) was Carlism’s own Wunderkind and the most famous Carlist officer to come out of the first Carlist Civil War. Originally destined for the church, he gave up religion to join the Carlist forces in Morella on the death of Ferdinant VII in 1833. Ever ambitious, never hindered by scruples and an excellent intriguer, he soon started his own guerrilla band and then managed to elbow his formal commander Carnicer out of the way, taking over supreme command in the Eastern zone. A man of iron discipline and great, furious cruelty, Cabrera proved the only one able to control the rogues and cut-throats that made up the Carlist forces in the Levantine provinces. He was highly successful as a guerrillero, driving the liberal commanders so mad that they took to the desperate - and criminal – measure of shooting Cabrera’s aged mother on 16 February 1836. In revenge, Cabrera shot the wives of three liberal officers and vowed to shoot every other one he could lay his hands on. Just before joining the Gómez Expedition, he had been promoted to Mariscal de Campo (two star general). See note 18 below for the rest of his biography.
Ramon Cabrera from a 19th century drawing
The Expedition now counted the 6,000 men and 850 horses deemed necessary for the offensive, and under the cheers of the euphoric Carlist soldiers it turned back to Madrid. Then once again luck left Gómez at a decisive moment. At the village of Villarobledo, general Alaix, who had taken over the 3rd Division from Espartero, staged a brilliant surprise attack at dawn of 20 September just as the Carlists were marching out of the village. Gómez and Cabrera managed to avoid an outright defeat, but when they had disentangled themselves, they had lost some 1,250 men between the captured, the killed and the wounded. Once again, this was too small a number to take on Madrid, and so Gómez decided against an attack on the capital, and instead to move south into his native Andalusia, to raise the war there, and still keep pressure on Madrid if a good opportunity presented itself.
5. Córdoba and Seville
Ten days later - after taking many a town and marching many a mile - the Carlists conquered Córdoba. This was yet another stunning Carlist triumph, and a spectacular embarrassment for the liberal government. Shamefully, almost preposterously, the city’s hefty garrison or regular troops fled Córdoba on Gómez’s approach, leaving its defence to some 2,000 citizen milicianos
, who put up a brave, but futile fight. The conquest was easy; and the booty swept up immense: money, weapons, supplies, new recruits and especially hundreds of splendid Andalusian horses with which Gómez formed two new cavalry squadrons. More important still: the moment Gómez marched in, all of the surrounding countryside rose in rebellion against the Madrid regime and declared for Don Carlos. In short: the capture of Córdoba showed the world how very delicate the liberal hold on Spain really was.
The Córdoba episode is of course of special interest to Borrovian studies, because, in chapter 16 of The Bible in Spain
, Borrow describes how two months later, in mid-December 1836, he stayed at a Córdoba inn (9)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 9).
The location of this hotel is uncertain, but most likely it was the so-called ’Diligence Inn’, described in various editions of Richard Ford’s Handbook for Travellers in Spain, as the best one in Córdoba, located at the opposite end of the town when coming in from the south by the bridge over the Guadalquivir. According to Ford, one reached this establishment by passing through “the one long street” in the centre of town, something which is in perfect keeping with Borrow’s own description of how he and his guide, after crossing the bridge, “passed through the entire length of the town ere we reached the posada”. (I take the occasion to express my gratitude to the great Richard Ford expert Tom Bean for doing the necessary research on, and offering the solution to, this question).
whose owner, a “most egregious Carlist”, boasted that Gómez, Cabrera and the other Carlist officers of prominence had all lodged under his roof during the occupation. It is a chapter full of charming anecdotes and flamboyant descriptions of the Carlists’ deeds and characters, but unfortunately, earnest research fails to bear out most of the inn-keeper’s animated tales. For one thing, a detailed and reliable article on the Carlist occupation states quite clearly that during the few days they took rest in Córdoba, “General Gómez lodged in the Casa de los Trevilla
on the Plaza Jerónimo Paez, and Cabrera in the palace of the Condes de Zamora on the Plazuela de Séneca” (8)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 10).
Roldán Gónzalez, Enrique, Ocupación de Córdoba (Seville 1980), p. 24
. These, it would seem, were luxurious private houses, perhaps of Carlist sympathisers or of refugee liberal grandees, but they were definitely not commercial inns.
Other aspects of the inn-keeper’s tall tales are no less suspect. When he mentions, for instance, how two English volunteers and a poor Portuguese officer came in Gómez’s train, we are dealing with a half-truth. I have seen nearly everything written on the Gómez Expedition, but there is never any trace of English volunteers, and as for the Portuguese officer: there had indeed been some Portuguese observers attached to the Expedition at an early stage, but those - together with the column of prisoners - had been sent away to Cantavieja weeks earlier, at the time the army was camping at Utiel. Perhaps Borrow learned about those in his later reading, and put these remarks into the mouth of the Carlist inn-keeper.
Roughly the same mixture of accuracy and flaws occurs when Borrow describes the looks and the character of Miguel Gómez. On Borrow’s inquiry, the inn-keeper says that Gómez was “a middle-sized man, grave and dark.” In the only portrait we have of him - by the French artist Isidoro Magues, reproduced below - he certainly looks neither “grave” nor “dark”. Far from it. All the contemporary sources agree that he was remarkably light-skinned for a native of Andalusia, that he had thin blond hair, bright blue eyes, and almost no beard. His German biographer Wilhelm Rahden - who knew him personally - even went so far as to state that Gómez looked far more German than Spanish.
Miguel Gómez in the late 1830s, by Magues. Tradition has it that Gomez sat for this portrait while he was in prison
As for the “graveness”, the portrait almost seems to mock that notion (11)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 11).
But compare the above original with the redrafted version of Delgado’s Relato Oficial (below with the bibliography), where Gómez looks considerable ‘graver’!!
. Of course character does not necessarily show in features; but in this case the likeness may be trusted to tell us the truth. Gómez seems to have been an amiable man. Everyone who knew him agrees that he was soft-spoken, extremely tolerant and mild in personality; that he was highly cultured and had a most pleasant manner of conversation (12)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 12).
If indeed he possessed them, these virtues certainly did not overflow into his literary aptitudes. As I have learned from various documents in Spanish archives, Gómez’s style of writing belongs to the most dry, dismal, pompous, bombastic and often plain incomprehensible verbal foliage that the 19th century has to offer. And when it comes to the official proclamations he often made during the Expedition, the swollen language rises to such heights of rethorics and formality that it often becomes impossible to determine what in the world the good General actually means to say!
. Wilhelm Rahden even qualified him as proverbially “too good for this world”. Borrow captured that side of his character perfectly when - once again through the mouth of the inn-keeper - he told of an episode from the conquest of Córdoba.
“It chanced that I was talking to my Lord Gómez in this very room in which we are now” the inn-keeper said, “when in came Cabrera in a mighty fury - he is a small man, Don Jorge, but he is as active as a wild cat and as fierce.‘The canaille,’ said he, ‘in the Casa of the Inquisition refuse to surrender; give but the order, General, and I will scale the walls with my men and put them all to the sword’; but Gómez said, No, we must not spill blood if we can avoid it; order a few muskets to be fired at them, that will be sufficient!’ And so it proved, Don Jorge, for after a few discharges their hearts failed them, and they surrendered at discretion: whereupon their arms were taken from them and they were permitted to return to their own houses.”
The clash of personalities between the impulsive, aggressive Ramon Cabrera and the patient, even-tempered Gómez is perfectly historic. The two commanders were indeed at loggerheads all through the Expedition. But this version of the capture of the Inquisition Palace is not how it went at all. Far from surrendering peacefully after a few musket-shots, the milicianos
barricaded in the fortress (today’s Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos
) were smoked out after 30 hours of siege and bombardment; and far from being allowed to go home, they were all taken prisoner, and many of them later died in Carlist captivity. I can of course not tell whether this “honeyed-up” version was the work of the inn-keeper, who was being partial, or of Borrow, who was being sloppy. The latter is not unthinkable, since Borrow did not much care for military detail; he cared for the heroics of war. Which is also why he could so light-heartedly maintain - once again in his Lisbon letter - that “after sacking Cordova, [Gómez] might have captured Seville.”
Gómez was a very good general, and of course he had seen the possibility of a rapid advance on Seville. He had even prepared for it. But on 4 October, as his column was marching out of the gates of Córdoba, alarming news was brought that a vast army of 6,000 men under general Escalante was coming up from Malaga on the coast. This news changed everything. Instead of quickly taking Seville, and then marching back in time to defend Córdoba from Alaix and the 3rd Division, who were still a week away at the time, Gómez must now first intercept Escalante to avoid a junction of the two enemy armies. Although it was an easily defendable city, Córdoba could simply never be held against a combined force of 12,000 men.
However, this piece of intelligence was probably the worst bit of bad luck that ever came Gómez’s way. For when he marched south and met Escalante’s fearsome army, it turned out to be no army at all. It was only a band of some 500 badly armed milicianos
, which Cabrera with a single squadron of cavalry easily scattered to winds within an hour. Panicky spies had lost Gómez the precious momentum, and by the time he was back in Córdoba, Alaix was close and liberal forces were surging down on the Carlist position from all sides. Not only Seville could not now be taken, but on 13 October, Córdoba itself had to be abandoned. This then is the real reason why no attempt on Seville was made; and not, as Borrow thought, that Gómez did not know how to take advantage of circumstances.
6. Almadén and Flinter
Pursued by three or four full-sized armies, the Expedition now slipped away to the north-west. As they marched, a trivial event took place which was to produce a rather amusing episode in The Bible in Spain
. The Carlist quartermaster had sent a message to the small mining town of Almadén, demanding food and provisions. The message was returned with a sneering note scribbled underneath which said that “in Almaden no rations are given unless they are conquered with lead!” This was precisely the sort of liberal bravura that Carlists loved to chop back, and Gómez gave orders to march on the town. Now, Almaden was small, but it contained the best quicksilver mines in Europe, and was therefore of great strategic importance. To stave off an attack, its normal garrison had been strengthened by 1,300 extra men under command of a naturalised Brigadier of Irish decent, one George Dawson Flinter.
Every reader of The Bible in Spain
probably remembers Flinter, because Borrow met the man a year later in a Santander tavern, as he describes in chapter 34. At that time, Flinter had just escaped from a Carlist prison-camp - an imprisonment which had started here, at Almaden in October 1836, at the hands of Gómez. Within Borrow’s earshot, Flinter told his adventures to the clientele of the Santander tavern.
“Two years ago”, he said, “I was despatched to Estremadura, to organize the militias. The bands of Gómez and Cabrera entered the province and spread devastation around. They found me, however, at my post; (...) I stood behind my intrenchments. A man advanced and summoned us to surrender.
‘Who are you?’ I demanded.
‘I am Cabrera,’ he replied.
‘And I am Flinter,’ I retorted, flourishing my sabre; ‘retire to your battalions or you will forthwith die the death.’
He was awed and did as I commanded.”
Now, as we are all aware, Irishmen can sometimes be just a little boastful; and Flinter’s tall tale - helped to grow, no doubt, by a certain intake of good Santander wines - of how he fearlessly faced the redoubtable Cabrera certainly has all the looks of bragging. But surprisingly, the story is born out, in a way, by an independent source.
Alfonso Bullón de Mendoza, Gómez’s latest biographer, mentions in his book - which incidentally was written without reference to The Bible in Spain
- that Cabrera was indeed dispatched to parley with the troops in Almaden. The young commander went over, stayed away for a while, and then returned to the Carlist ranks in a very gloomy mood. He did not explain what had been said precisely, but on arrival he did mutter to his soldiers:
“O he de tomar á Almadén para que se acuerden de mi, o he de morir”
“I must either take Almaden so that they will remember me well, or I must die!”
It is obvious that some very unpleasant words had been exchanged between Flinter and Cabrera; and the Irish officer would soon learn that Ramon Cabrera - whose nickname happened to be “the Tiger of the Maestrazgo
” - was not all that easily “awed”.
At six thirty in the morning of 24 October, the Carlists opened fire. Flinter and his men defended themselves well, but soon the cannon breached the walls, the houses caught fire, the ammunition ran out, and one company of liberal soldiers simply deserted to the Carlists. By noon the next day - and not “after an hour” as Borrow has it - the last defenders surrendered. Flinter - one of the last to give up - was among them; although there is an apocryphal story told by Von Göben, Cabrera’s German biographer, that Flinter begged to be shot rather than to surrender, something which Cabrera refused to do so with the gallant words that “brave men such as you I will not have shot!” Frankly, given Cabrera’s most unpleasant character, I have my doubts that that is how it happened.
7. The march home
What awaited Flinter and his 2,000 fellow prisoners from Almaden was less than disagreeable; for they were now fated to share the marching, the hunger, the cold and the death, of the Carlist soldiers for another two months, as the Expedition went through what we may call its “rambling” phase, the time when Gómez no longer had a firm, fixed purpose. Ever since Córdoba, he had hoped that another expedition would be sent south from the Carlist territory, so that between the millstones of two Carlist armies, the liberal forces at Madrid might be ground to pieces. In Cáceres, news reached him that no such expedition would be coming, because Carlist headquarters had foolishly decided to besiege the city of Bilbao, something which had already failed dismally once before, and was to fail again. This disappointment took the last true momentum out of the Expedition, and from here on its operations really only consisted in evasion and trying to stay alive. Since there was no more question of an assault on Madrid, Cabrera and the other guerrilla leaders asked to be released. This Gómez granted, but by something of a dirty trick he managed to retain Cabrera’s footsoldiers for the Expedition - a tactical robbery which did not go down well with the young commander, who from that moment on held a strong grudge against his senior colleague (13)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 13).
On the way back to Aragon Cabrera was ambushed and severely wounded by a liberal force near Torreblanca; something for which he clearly blamed Gómez who had robbed him of his protective soldiers. It was one more axe which the young general had to grind with his Andalusian senior.
We need not linger long with the rest of the expedition. Cabrera split away; Gómez marched on. He took Ronda, but with four vast armies coming at him, numbering no less than 42,500 men all together, he was unable to remain there. He escaped from Ronda to the south, driving a small liberal force onto the Gibraltar isthmus, and having arrived on this most southern tip of the Peninsula tried to find boats to return his soldiers to the north by sea. He found none, and so he decided to return to the Carlist Territory in Navarra by marching back, the entire length of the Peninsula. On 25 November he battled it out with General Narvaez at Arcos de la Frontera (14)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 14).
Probably it is this battle that Borrow had in mind when he mentioned in his letter of 5 December 1836 that “the most absurd accounts of victories gained over him are continually issuing from the press at Seville.” Narvaez – yet another future dictator of Spain – was a most ambitious young general, who widely advertised his “victory” over Gómez, evoking the old platitude that the side which occupies the field after the fighting has won the battle. But naturally that rule only really counts if both sides set out with the object to hold on to the ground, which here was not the case at all. Gómez merely wanted to break out and march on; Narvaez had orders to stop and annihilate the Carlists. The reader may draw his own conclusions as to which side reached its objective.
, broke through the circle, and set off. The rest was Retreat, a terrible retreat - comparable with Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, Soult’s from Oporto or Moore’s to Coruña. It was the middle of a freezing winter, they were pursued by every liberal soldier the government could muster. Men died by droves. Beasts died by scores. Prisoner who could no longer follow the march were shot. The trail of the Expedition was simply littered with death (15)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 15).
Flinter left an account of the march in a letter to Espartero, written shortly after his escape from prison and his meeting with Borrow. He wrote: ”During a terrible march of near 400 leagues (2225 km) all our unlucky comrades who, worn out by hunger, thirst and tiredness, could no longer continue, were inhumanely shot or cut to pieces by the bayonet; their unburied corpses, stripped naked by the enemy, were left as fodder for the birds of prey, who were less cruel than [our] captors. Every day and at all hours, we were treated with all the harshness and humiliation which the grossest possible barbarity could invent, and with all the cruelty of the very lowest vengefulness.” [Quoted in Pio Baroja, Silhuetas Romanticas]
Amazingly, the Expedition, with many of its prisoners, did reach the Carlist Territory after 24 days of marching more than 50 kilometres daily, without a single day of rest. It was a ragtag band of worn-out men that marched in, “full of glory (...) but half naked and half demoralised” as one Carlist author put it. They went barefoot. They were starving. They had crawled more than marched the last few hundred miles. But they had made it. And so had George Flinter, who miraculously survived this Calvary and was locked up in the Basque country, only to escape a year later, more or less in the fashion that Borrow tells (16)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 16).
In the Basque country Flinter was confined for the better part of a year in a horrid little cell, together with Araguren, his fellow commander at Almaden. When it was proposed, under the rules of the Elliott Treaty, that he be exchanged for a Carlist brigadier kept in a liberal prison, Flinter let his superior officers know that Araguren, due to his seniority, had more right to be exchanged first, and stood in greater need of it, due to his age and failing health. Consequently Araguren was liberated instead. Flinter himself then set to work to escape, which he managed to do with the help of a bribable jailor. In October 1837, disguised as a woman, he crossed the lines before Bilbao and reached Santander, where Borrow met him in a tavern, roughly on 9 October 1837, and from where he wrote the above letter about the terrible conditions in the Carlist jails, urging Espartero and Sir John Hay to make an attempt to liberate the prisoners (something which never seems to have been tried).
Flinter’s further adventures were a combination of bravery, bravura and the worst possible luck at the worst possible times. Shortly after his return to the liberal ranks, he was given command of a small division and operated in the province of Toledo against the Carlist band-leader Orejita. He scored a great victory at Valdepeñas, and another at Yebenes, yet despite these successes he was prosecuted by the moderado Ofalia government (either for his role in the Almaden affair, or some ugly story involving plunder and the canons of Toledo cathedral). At long last, sent to besiege Cabrera’s stronghold of Morella, which he had to abandon after a month-long effort, he resigned, fell victim to an Irish-style melancholy, and committed suicide by cutting his own throat with a razor, on 8 September 1838, aged 50. [See Pio Baroja, Silhuetas Romanticas, 238-241; Eco del Comercio n° 1593 of 10 September 1838, p. 3. – which was probably Borrow’s source of information for the final remarks on Flinter in chapter 34 of The Bible in Spain.]
8. Epilogue: the death of an honourable man
Strictly speaking, this ought to be the end of this paper, because Gómez’s return, which Borrow notes in his letter from Madrid on 26 December 1836, is the last occurrence of the Carlist general in Borrow’s writings. But if you would bear with me just a moment longer, I would like to show you a moral example of near Plutarchian magnitude, by telling you the remainder of Gómez’s life.
On return to Carlist territory, Gómez was the brightest star on the Carlist firmament. He had executed an extremely successful military operation (a rare thing for a Carlist officer to begin with) which had shown the world that in spite of appearances, Carlism was still alive and still stood a chance of winning the war. The whole world knew him. He and his men had been the object of an almost CNN-style day-to-day reporting in the international press which had captivated all of Europe. There is even a story that Tsar Nicolas I himself had ordered his ADC to keep track of Gómez’s progress with golden pins on a huge map of Spain set up in his breakfast-room, and that His Imperial Majesty’s first question every morning was: “Where is brave Gómez today?” The story may well be a fable, but it does show what great attention Gómez commanded at the time.
Napoleon would have made such a man a Marshall of France, given him a Duchy in Germany, and married him off to a Bonaparte niece. Not so Don Carlos, who - in the words of Professor Carr - was an “unsympathetic and ungrateful” man (17)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 17).
Carr, Raymond, Spain 1808-1975, second edition, Claredon Press, Oxford, 185.
. As a reward, Don Carlos did not give Gómez medals or promotion, but a prison-cell of 2 by 3 meters, and a prosecutor who possessed all the human warmth of a Soviet commissar. Two weeks after their return, Gómez and many of his officers were arrested on a trumped-up charge of embezzlement of funds and having disobeyed their orders. I will not go into the murky details of this arrest. It was very much the result of factional infighting; and the vengeful hand of a Ramon Cabrera loomed largely behind. Formally speaking, Gómez had indeed exceeded his authority. But if disobedience yields such brilliant results, it is madness to punish it; and only a simpleton like Don Carlos would ever consider jailing the only Carlist hero whose name was known all over Europe, squandering with one foolish gesture all the prestige and promise that Gómez had brought to the cause.
Gómez was kept in jail for the remaining three years of the war, which lesser generals made sure to lose. Only then, when an internal rebellion of Carlist officers rose against the Pretender and put an end to the war, Gómez was released and allowed to lead a rearguard action that enabled Don Carlos to escape over the border into France. That Gómez agreed to do so is frankly astonishing. But that was the sort of man he was: a man loyal to the bone, even if he had no reason whatsoever to be so.
And loyal he remained. After the war he settled in Bordeaux, where he lived in extreme poverty, together with his wife, in a fourth floor attic room of the Rue Judaique 105. While hundreds of former Carlist officers left the sinking ship, and accepted the amnesty and a post in the Spanish army; while his old rival Cabrera celebrated triumphs in the London drawing rooms, married an English Lady, settled down as a phoney English gentleman, and finally betrayed Carlism over some trivial matter of honour (18)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 18).
In the summer of 1837, half a year after his return from the Expedition to the Eastern provinces, Cabrera joined the great Royal Expedition of 1837, during which he distinguished himself greatly. His triumphs and defeats alternated in the subsequent years, but when the Treaty of Vergara called an end to the war, Cabrera’s territory had become the most prominent one of the Carlist war-effort. On Don Carlos’s orders, he held out for another year, but in the end had to make his escape to France in mid 1840. He joined the Carlist exile court in London, where he stayed until the outbreak of the second Carlist rebellion, the so-called “War of the Matiners” of 1847. This rising was however too weak an attempt to succeed or to last very long, and Cabrera retired once again to England in 1849, where he married a wealthy English lady with whom he had four children. For reasons of pride and prominence he kept aloof from the third Carlist War in the 1870s, and shortly afterwards, vengeful for not having been given supreme command of the Carlist forces, recognized Alfonso XII, Queen Isabel II’s son, as legitimate King of Spain instead of the Carlist pretender Carlos VII. In reward he was granted the title of Conde de Morella and made Captain General. Cabrera died in 1877, on his estate in Wentworth, where he lies buried.
; Miguel Gómez eked out a living by giving Spanish lessons. Time after time he rejected the most lucrative and seductive offers from the Spanish government to recognise Isabel II as Queen of Spain. At one point he said No to half a million reales
and the rank of full general if only he would head a list of the reconciled. He never did so. He stayed loyal to his phantom King for another 25 miserable years in Bordeaux.
The Bordeaux house at the present Rue Judaique 105, where Gómez lived out his last years. Note that it is uncertain if this building is the original one.
Until the last days of his life. On his deathbed, on 11 June 1864, he finally wrote a letter to Isabel II in which he formally recognised her as Queen of Spain. He did not do so from conviction. He did it, so that after his death, his ageing wife, to whom he could not leave a dime, might claim a small pension, to which she was entitled if he accepted the amnesty. One may well call that a most touching and self-sacrificing gesture.
Miguel Gómez died in the night of the 15th to the 16th of June 1864, at the age of 79. He was so poor that he had to be buried in the family-tomb of a Carlist sympathiser (19)
Click Yellow Bar to Hide Note(Peter Missler, A Most Extraordinary Man footnote 19).
According to the graveyard’s register for 1864, it was tomb n° 209, directly next to the southern wall of the graveyard, the family-sepulchre of the Véa Marguia’s.
. In the summer of 2001 I visited the Bordeaux Cimetière de la Chartreuse
to see the grave. To my dismay, I was told that it had been cleared in 1977, when no one came forward to claim its property and pay for its upkeep. That, I must say, is really extremely unfair, for this was the tomb of an honest and an honourable man, a man who put his ideals before all wealth, before all power, and even before all happiness. I think it ought to have been preserved as a monument to human nobility, and that it should have read for an epitaph: “Here lies a Most Extraordinary Man.”
the spot where Miguel Gómez’s grave used to be
The contemporary, first-hand, and eye-witness accounts of the Gómez Expedition are remarkably rich, many and varied. On the Carlist side, two participants left elaborate memoirs, the Spaniard Delgado, who was part of Gómez’s staff (Delgado, D.J., Relato oficial de la meritísima expedición carlista dirigida por el general andaluz Don Miguel Gómez
, San Sebastian, Grafico-Editora SL, 1943, a reprint of the original of 1839) and the German mercenary officer Wilhelm Rahden, who gives a most valuable professional view of the episode (Rahden, Wilhelm Baron von, Wanderungen einen alten Soldaten
; Teil 4, Supplement zu Teil III, Miguel Gómez, Ein Lebenslichtbilt
, Berlin, Decker, 1859.) In the liberal camp, Luis de Evans, a soldier in the 3rd Division, published a fascinating account of the chase of the Expedition under Generals Espartero and Alaix (Evans, Luis de, Memorias sobre la guerra de Navarra
, Barcelona, 1837). A hostile account of the expedition was published by Gómez’s Carlist prosecutor Mazarassa, who bundled the abundant material derived from his many interrogations of the general and his collaborators (Mazarassa, José de, Expedicion de Gómez, ò Historia exacta, verdedera y critica de la expedicion que bajo las ordenes del mariscal de campo D. Miguel Gómez recorrio en menos de seis meses toda la peninsula
, Paris, Garnier Frères, 1843.)
The redrafted Magues portrait of Gomez from the title page of the 1943 edition of Delgado’s Relato Oficial
Ever since the end of the Carlist War, the Gómez Expedition has received its fair share of attention from general and military historians. Overlooking, for the sake of space, a vast number of articles, the ones most worthy of mention are the Historia de la guerra civil y de los partidos liberal y carlista
(3° edicion, tomo I-III, Madrid 1889f) by Espartero’s friend Antonio Pirala; the Historia del Carlismo
(Madrid 1969) by the Carlist author Román Oyarzun; the two articles on Gómez and Flinter respectively in Baroja y Nessi, Pio, Silhuetas romanticas y otras historias
(Madrid 1934); and the most recent, and admirably complete, description of the Expedition by Alfonso Bullón de Mendoza, La expedición de Gómez
(Madrid 1984), which captures and summarizes nearly all the information contained in the above sources.