Esquilache: attempts at reform in 18th century Spain

Leopoldo de Gregorio, Marqués de Esquilache was born around the beginning of the 18th century, perhaps 1700? He became that most difficult of objects – a Spanish politician – and  was made Minister for War and Finance when Charles III (Carlos Tercero) was on the throne.

At that time Naples was a part of Spain and Leopoldo was sent there to be Minister of Finance by 1759. He returned to Spain where he bravely tried to introduce reforms, especially in the Spanish fiscal system, a permanent bugbear. It is still a bugbear today.

The Opposition naturally tried to block any reforms, as the Opposition in Spain has never been told, or perhaps never wished to know that their principal task is to aid, advise and control the Government in power, not oppose every move or opinion blankly and without remorse.

'The Esquilache Riots' Artist's impression / en.wikipedia.org

‘The Esquilache Riots’ Artist’s impression / en.wikipedia.org

From 1760 to 1766 a series of bad harvests frustrated Leopoldo’s attempted reforms of the Laws governing agriculture, and the result was unrest and rioting in several major cities. One of the most serious of these took place in Madrid, and was even called ‘The Esquilache Riot’ because someone had to be take the blame. When the riot was quelled he was sacked. Writers of the epoch nonsensically said that the disturbances were caused by Esquilache’s insistence on proper dress.  When the rioting started again there was no Esquilache to blame so all the Jesuits in the city were expelled. This did not work either.

Leopoldo returned to Naples where he was probably safer, and finally got his reward by being made Ambassador in Venice, a luxury posting if one could avoid assassination. He died in 1785, just missing the French Revolution and its after effects.

 

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