Carlism was (and is) a purely Spanish political movement of the Right. The name comes from Carlos-María Isidro de Borbón. With the death of his brother the unlamented Fernando VII in 1833, Carlos disputed the right to the Spanish throne of his own niece Isabel II. Civil wars were the result, from 1833 to 1840, 1846 to 49 and 1872 to 76. The Carlists failed to gain anything during these periods, partly because they chose to protect their own strongholds without necessarily making aggressive advances.
The strength they said of the Carlists’ cause, lay in its conservatism, strong Catholicism and defence of local tradition and custom. Secularism was opposed fervently, as well as any extension of capitalism, or more government intervention in urban or rural life. Their base lay in the Basque regions and Navarra, though there were Carlist uprisings in Castilla, Aragón, Cataluña and Valencia. The last resounding defeat in 1876 made them stop anti-capitalist protest and withdraw hurt, but not dispirited to the Basque Country and Navarra.
From 1976 to 1931 the Carlists maintained a low profile. Various Alfonsos were enough to undermine Carlism’s conservative appeal. They remembered the First Republic’s help towards revival in 1873, when their movement underwent a sudden surge, and the coming of the Second Republic gave them a similar boost in 1931. Natural conservatives rallied to the Carlist banner during this second republic because of its secular and liberal reforms, much helped by a general demoralization among the population, and the disorganisation of the anti-Republican Right.
The Carlists made their point crystal clear at this time: they aimed to overthrow the Republic for the ‘public good’ and the ‘traditional monarchy’. But would a new monarch be called Alfonso? Despite doubts on this score, and though they had limited support and lacked a programme, the counter-revolutionary activism of the Carlists very much helped towards the eventual collapse of the Second Republic, but it did not make them any more popular with the majority of Spaniards. Carlists played a definite role in the July rising against the Republic in 1936, and during the ghastly years of civil war which followed they greatly contributed to the Nationalist war effort, offering at least 100,000 military volunteers.
These big efforts did not succeed however, because in April 1937 General Franco forced the Carlists to fuse with the Falange (q.v.) to form a National Movement (movimiento nacional): This was a deliberate piece of strategic strategy on Franco’s part, for he wanted the two factions to unite to form his ‘single party’.
When the civil war ended most Carlists were unhappy and disillusioned and the movement partly disintegrated. Though forgotten as an independent political force, it is true to say that many of their ideological aims were achieved during the opening years of the Franco regime.