CALL IN THE MARINES:
THE FIRST CARLIST WAR, SPAIN, 1834-39
Lieutenant Charles Hockin, Royal Marines
St. Felicitas, Phillack, Cornwall
Phillack is on the north coast of Cornwall, across a canal from Hayle, and separated from St. Ives Bay by a stretch of sand dunes. It is an area which in the early 19th century was a centre of copper mining and smelting, and in the early 19th century the rector there was a native of that place, William Hockin. Hockins had been rectors there since 1754, when one of the family purchased from Baron Arundell of Wardour “the lease for three lives of presentation to the rectory of Phillack, with the chapelry of Gwithian”, and Hockins then remained as rectors of Phillack until 1922. It strikes me that if you wanted to indicate how the way we think now differs profoundly from the way our ancestors thought that tale stands as an exemplar. How on Earth can someone buy the right to appoint a vicar? For three generations? The church was rebuilt, apart from the tower, in 1856, but the Hockins carried on. Ironic that William’s fifth son, Charles Francis, born in 1813, was to feature in two of the more obscure campaigns of the century that, unlike most of the others mentioned here, were not empire-building, and did not really involve Britain, although British troops were involved. The scion of a line of Church of England vicars was to be decorated by a Catholic monarch, and die fighting to support a Muslim one.
Hockin’s active military life appears to have been dedicated to obscure conflicts, as four years in Northern Spain were as part of a Royal Marine force in a struggle that was a Spanish civil war, in essence nothing to do with Britain – but we do like to interfere.
This war is known as the First Carlist War, so called because it was about the putative claim to the throne of Carlos, younger brother of Ferdinand VII. In four marriages Ferdinand had only daughters, so in 1830 he introduced the Pragmatic Sanction, removing the existing Salic law (only introduced the previous century) which prohibited women from succeeding to the throne. The corollary of this was that Carlos was no longer the heir to the throne, which was presumably fairly galling for an ambitious man in his early forties, and for his supporters.
When Ferdinand died in 1833 he was succeeded by his infant daughter, Isabella, with his wife Maria Christina being appointed regent. The stage was set for the conflict, with the opposing sides named after their chief protagonists: the Carlists were in favour of absolute monarchy and, in a rather contradictory fashion, regional autonomy (hence support from the Basques), were conservative and traditional in terms of religion, and had support from the Austrians, Prussians and Russians; the Christinos were more liberal and progressive in political and religious terms, were more popular in the cities, and had support from Britain, France and Portugal. In essence, it was yet another conflict between liberals and conservatives, with corruption and venality thrown in.
The fighting began in 1834, and from the outset appears to have been conducted with savagery; prisoners were not taken, with all that that implies. Although both sides won battles the Carlists on the whole had the better of the exchanges, so in 1835 the Christinos asked their allies for help. Neither Britain nor France really wanted to get too involved, so the French sent their Foreign Legion, which was causing disruption in France anyway, and the British sanctioned the creation of what was essentially a mercenary force called the Westminster Legion, a volunteer force under one Sir George de Lacy Evans. By October 1835 the French had landed four thousand men, and the British seven thousand, eight hundred.
So was our brave Lieutenant Hockin a mercenary? The answer is no, for in April 1836 a force of British marines garrisoned the Basque port of Portugalete, to the west of Bilbao, and British ships lay off the coast. The intention seems to have been precautionary, or to act in some form of support capacity, but not to get too involved, as indicated by an incident in March, 1837, when the marines were drawn into the capture of the fortress of Oriamendi near San Sebastian, but were then ordered back, allowing the Carlists to retake it. This seems to have been the pattern throughout the marines’ tenure. Although Charles was decorated for his services by Maria Christina, a contemporary source, Alexander Somerville, who fought in the war as part of the British Legion, makes it clear in his memoirs that the marines rarely saw major action. Charles Hockin, as a marine, had to be a hero, for political expediency, to justify his presence, but it was a symbolic as much as a practical role.
A temporary peace came to Spain in August, 1839, when the defeated Carlist forces agreed terms. It would not last, but by then Hockin and the Marines had moved on.
Continued under Middle East: The Oriental Crisis
Carlos Maria Isidro of Bourbon - Royal Academy of Fine Arts, San Fernando - Wikimedia Commons
Maria Cristina de Borbon-Dos Sicilias - Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Palace of Versailles - Wikimedia Commons
A Narrative of the British Auxiliary Legion with incidents, anecdotes and sketches of all parties connected with the war in Spain, from a journal of personal observations by Alex. Somerville (published Muir, Cowans & Co., Glasgow, 1838)
© Jonathan Dewhirst 2013