Does “The Revenant” Live Up to the Hype?

The Revenant image from 20th Century Fox

The Revenant is one of those Hollywood films that are “Inspired by True Events… that I read about once in a magazine while waiting in the doctor’s office and I’ve now half-forgotten.” In this case, the true story is that of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper in the 1820s who was mauled by a bear and left for dead by his companions, only to survive and drag his broken body across 200 miles of wilderness to Fort Kiowa and safety.

I had been excited to see this movie from the moment I saw the first trailer. The vast majority of Westerns depict a nostalgic, idealized vision of the Wild West. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, I appreciate the few films that explore what the Wild West was actually like, openly acknowledging that the West was a brutal, dangerous, ugly place full of brutal, dangerous, ugly people. The Revenant clearly was aiming for such a tone.

Then the Golden Globes gave The Revenant three awards: it gave the film’s star, Leonardo DiCaprio, the award for Best Actor in a Drama, then it gave Mexican-born director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, Babel) the award for Best Director, and finally it gave the film itself the award for Best Drama. Now the film has been nominated for 12 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, and Best Cinematography.

This all made me wonder: Does The Revenant live up to its hype?

Time and again I’ve seen films that win all kinds of awards, or manage to get a massive box office take, or I hear through word-of-mouth that I just have to see it, that ultimately leave me disappointed. Nothing is worse than being super-excited to see a film only to have it turn out to be terrible. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be terrible; The King’s Speech was a genuinely good film but I found it rather underwhelming for an Oscar-winning “Best Picture”. On the other hand, though, on rare occasion I have sen a film or two that genuinely did live up to the hype – The Avengers and Star Wars: The Force Awakens come to mind. Which type of hyped-up film would The Revenant end up being? I had to find out for myself.

The film opens with Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) on a hunting expedition for a fur-trading company. The expedition is led by Captain Andrew Henry (portrayed by Domhnall Gleeson), and along for the ride are curmudgeon John S. Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), naive and inexperienced Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), and Glass’s completely fictional son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). When the company is attacked by Arikara Indians, the survivors flee into the woods, where Glass winds up on the receiving end of an angry grizzly’s temper. At first, the rest of the crew tries to save him, but soon they start giving up on him. Left behind and half-buried in a ditch with all of his weapons and most of his survival equipment taken from him, Glass is bound and determined to survive in spite of it all and begins his epic journey over miles of snow-covered perilous terrain.

Let’s break this movie down the only way that you can with Westerns: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Bad pun. Bad, bad pun.

Bad pun. Bad, bad pun.

First of all, let me just say that this film is absolutely stunning to look at. The cinematography really helps to capture the sense of loneliness and isolation Glass would have felt trekking through the forests, mountains, and plains. There are beautiful scenes of nature juxtaposed with ugly scenes of mud, dirt, and blood. Gritty is an overused word in Hollywood these days, but I can think of no better term to describe this film’s look. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Children of Men) really knows his stuff.

I can see why DiCaprio is being praised for his acting in this movie. He really deserves it here. What a performance he puts on, as he makes Glass’s pain, both physical and emotional, feel very real and genuine. Of course, whoever was working in the make-up department really helped with that as well. You forget that you are watching a movie as you see DiCaprio’s face and body get more and more beat up and ragged.

I admit to being a fan of hardcore survival stuff. I grew up reading Gary Paulsen and Jean Craighead George, and I love Les Stroud’s Survivorman show on TV. The Revenant is right up my alley, as much of the film is showing the many creative and surprising ways our hero manages to jury-rig what he needs to survive. I thoroughly enjoyed these moments in the film.

Having said all of that, the film has some inescapable flaws that one simply can’t avoid. For starters, it seems Iñárritu just can’t help throwing in some artsy, dream-like, bizarre sequences that I guess are supposed to be… dreams? Hallucinations? I’m not quite sure, but they were very distracting. I’m fine with filmmakers sometimes wanting to be artsy if it adds to the overall film, but in this case it seemed like it didn’t belong. The story this film tells is as harsh, brutal, and real as it gets, and so these artsy sequences clash with the rest of the movie in both style and content. I could maybe stand one or two to give the sense that Glass’s mind was suffering from what he was going through, but when the interruptions became near-constant it got annoying.

The second major flaw is the pacing. It just feels like this film goes on and on and on. I’ve seen plenty of movies that were longer but didn’t feel long at all, because they kept your interest throughout. This film feels its length, as you watch long stretches of basically nothing happening. I feel this film could easily have been cut down to a more manageable length.

The Revenant image from Premiere

Lastly, the ugly: the CGI. Goodness gracious, that CGI. I get why the filmmakers might not have wanted an actual bear to bite, claw at, and climb on top of Leonardo DiCaprio, but my word is the computer-animated bear absolutely hideous. Can you say “uncanny valley effect”? It’s realistic enough that it almost looks like a grizzly, but something about it just seems… off.

Not only that, but almost all of the animals in this film (apart from the horses) were computer-animated, and it clearly shows. All of these animals have the same issue; they just don’t look that realistic. You can tell they are fake, and it breaks the illusion of the film. Just like the dream/hallucination sequences, it clashes with the grim, gritty realism of the rest of the movie.

Is The Revenant a good movie? Absolutely. It’s a solid film overall, and if you like hardcore realism, wilderness survival, or Leonardo DiCaprio, this film is clearly a must-see. However, that wasn’t the question I was asking with this review. I wanted to know if this movie lives up to its hype, and quite frankly, it does not. Sorry, Oscars and Golden Globes, but I think this time you may have gotten it a bit wrong. In my book, this film only earns a 7 out of 10.

History of the Spanish Monarchy, Part 2

King Ferdinand VII returning to Spain

King Ferdinand VII returning to Spain

Last week, I decided to trace the history of the Spanish monarchy from the famed royal couple Ferdinand and Isabella (who co-founded modern Spain and sent Christopher Columbus on his way) to the present. When we left off, Spain had just liberated itself from Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies, adopted a democratic constitution, and freed their king from French imprisonment. King Ferdinand VII returned to his country greeted by cheering crowds as a wave of optimism swept the land. What could possibly go wrong?

How it all went wrong

King Ferdinand VII portrait by Vincente Lopez

So, let’s talk about that constitution. Adopted by the Spanish resistance in 1812, it was one of the most progressive and democratic documents of the time. However, it was far from universally accepted. There were many conservative forces in the country that opposed the new constitution, including King Ferdinand VII himself. It wasn’t long after his return that the king declared that the constitution was invalid because HE hadn’t signed it.

I mean, technically, that’s true, but he was a prisoner at the time, so…

In any case, Ferdinand VII decided to return Spain to an absolute monarchy where his word was law and “enemies of the state” were anyone he didn’t like. Naturally, fighting for years against Napoleon’s repression only to be rewarded by the repression of the very king you had fought for was a recipe for popular revolt and political instability. From 1820 to 1823, Ferdinand found himself a prisoner once again, this time of his own people, and had to be rescued by a French military expedition.

Of course, while Spain was suffering from instability and insurrection, its Latin American colonies decided that they wouldn’t get a better opportunity to win their independence, and one by one they broke free from Spanish rule. By the end of Ferdinand’s reign, only Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and some smaller islands remained under Spanish rule.

Then, on his deathbed, he managed to make things even worse just one more time before passing away. You will recall from last week that Ferdinand was descended from Philip V, a French prince who inherited the Spanish throne. One of the things that the prince had brought with him from France was the Salic Law, the rules of inheritance used by the French monarchs since the Middle Ages. One of its core tenets was that women could never inherit anything, ever. Ferdinand decided to ignore this, declaring what he called the “Pragmatic Sanction” and allowing his daughter, Isabella, to succeed him.

The problem was that Ferdinand’s brother, Don Carlos, Count of Molina, had spent his entire life believing that inheriting the Spanish throne was his God-given right, and refused to accept his three-year-old niece as his queen. Instead, he launched the first of what would be several “Carlist Wars” over the succession to the Spanish throne. For seven years, Spain was torn apart by civil war over rival claimants to the crown.

A century of instability

Battle of Trevino painting by Francisco Oller y Cestero

The young Isabella’s mother had to act quickly to get some sort of support for her daughter or else Don Carlos would walk all over Spain. Out of desperation more than anything, she declared her support for the very same pro-democratic forces her late husband had so brutally suppressed, offering to pardon them all. The ploy worked, and the princess was crowned Queen Isabella II.

Unfortunately for Spain, Isabella II’s reign was always wobbly and had a weak foundation. She was constantly forced to balance various scheming, back-stabbing factions and weather military coups. At last, she was overwhelmed by these forces in 1868, fleeing to Paris as revolutionaries seized Madrid.

Upon this victory the revolutionaries all unanimously cried, “We won! Um, now what?”

The factions that had overthrown Isabella were far from united, and bickered among each other about what sort of government to create. It wasn’t until 1870 that they settled on a new monarch: an Italian prince named Amedeo, Duke of Aosta. He accepted the invitation and was crowned King Amadeo I.

He fared even worse. The Carlists, upset that an Italian had been chosen over Don Carlos’s grandson, rose up in revolt again. Meanwhile, the political infighting between rival factions continued, one of Amadeo’s biggest supporters was assassinated, and worst of all, in 1873, the army went on strike.

Let me repeat that. The army. Went. On strike.

Amadeo knew full well that no regime lasts long without the military’s support, so he decided now would be as good of a time as any to make a gracious exit. This left the Spanish government in another bind; they certainly didn’t want Isabella II back, nor did they want the Carlists to win, and with Amadeo declaring Spain “ungovernable” it was unlikely that they could find another European prince to elect. Then, somebody remembered that Spain didn’t have to be a monarchy if it didn’t want to be.

Thus was born the First Spanish Republic, a fresh, new experiment in Spanish politics. Unfortunately, said fresh, new experiment had to face down three simultaneous civil wars and even more political struggles and military coups. The short-lived republic managed to have five presidents in less than two years, before it was ultimately overthrown by the royalists.

Rather than bring Isabella II back, it was decided that her son, Alfonso XII, should take the throne. Wait, Alfonso XII? There was never a king of Spain named Alfonso before now! Well, just as his great-great-grand-uncle Ferdinand VI had done, Alfonso was counting the kings of the various kingdoms that existed in Spain before it was united. Or he was just making things up. I’m going with “he was making things up”.

Made-up numerals aside, Alfonso managed to defeat the Carlists and other rebels and to find a way to bring peace to Spain’s political factions. Namely, he had the elections rigged so the party that was in power always alternated with each election. This plan worked, Spain started rebuilding at last, and the economy started to flourish.

Alfonso XII’s reign was short-lived, though. In 1885, he contracted both tuberculosis and dysentery, as if one of those diseases wasn’t horrible enough by itself, and died soon after. However, during his very short reign he had managed to produce an heir that could inherit the Spanish throne, keep the dynasty in power, and maintain this new stability.

It’s just that this heir happened to be in his mother’s womb at the time.

Alfonso XIII and his mother painting by Luis Alvarez Catala

Alfonso XIII is, as far as I can tell, one of only a tiny handful of monarchs whose reign began at birth. Naturally, his mother acted as regent for him as he grew up. Though, by the time he had come of age enough to rule on his own, Spain had lost the Spanish-American War, and with it, what was left of its empire. Oops.

In power, Alfonso managed to keep Spain out of World War I, but then made the mistake of befriending a military officer and nobleman named Miguel Primo de Rivera. The reason this was a mistake was that Primo de Rivera was a brutal dictator. In 1930, with uprisings in the streets, Alfonso XIII fired the dictator, but it was too late. His reign had been stained. Alfonso fled to Rome, and the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed.

The new Spanish Republic was a bit more successful than its predecessor in that it lasted a bit longer and didn’t immediately get overwhelmed with crisis after crisis. Then the 1936 elections brought to power a coalition known as the “Popular Front”, a political alliance joining more moderate liberals and progressives with socialists and communists. To Spain’s conservatives, this was the last straw, and civil war broke out.

The infamous Spanish Civil War shocked the world with its sheer brutality, as Nationalist rebels led by Francisco Franco and backed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy fought a loose alliance of pro-Republican liberals backed by Mexico, communists backed by the USSR, anarchists, and international volunteers from around the world. Collateral damage was horrific as cities were blasted to bits. Both sides are known to have committed atrocities, with about 38,000 killed in the communist “Red Terror” and about 200,000 killed in Franco’s “White Terror”. Yet the advantage was always Franco’s on the battlefield – the Nazis kept him well-supplied while his enemies fought each other as much as they fought him. By 1939, Franco’s power was secure.

The dictator and the king

Francisco Franco image from Revista Argentina

Francisco Franco turned Spain into a fascist state modeled on Mussolini’s Italy and Nazi Germany. All power vested in a dictator whose title translated into English means “leader”? Check. Thugs and secret police keeping the people too scared to speak out or resist? Check. Repression of minority groups, especially Jews? Check. The dictator’s will imposed by a unified, blindly loyal, ideologically zealous political party with a monopoly on power?

Uh… sort-of check?

On the surface, Franco’s political party looked like the fascist parties it was modeled on, but its name gives away its true nature: The Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional Sindicalista. When you see a super-long name like that, you know that you have something formed from the fusion of many different groups. These different groups competed with each other for Franco’s favor, as Franco’s favor meant power. Franco liked to keep these groups so busy competing with each other that they couldn’t turn against him.

However, one of those factions that helped Franco gain power and stay in power was the Carlists. Yes, more than a century later, the Carlists still were influencing Spanish politics! Indeed, part of how Franco got them on his side was that he promised to install a descendant of old Don Carlos on the Spanish throne. Eventually. At some point.

This came to be a bit of a problem as Franco grew older and the need to put a successor in place grew stronger. Wait, what’s this? A Spanish prince, a grandson of Alfonso XIII, who is also acceptable to some of the Carlists as a legitimate heir? Not only that, but he’s a public and outspoken supporter of Franco’s regime? Why, it’s too good to be true!

In 1969, Franco declared Juan Carlos de Borbón his heir, giving him the title “Prince of Spain”, and having him appear side-by-side with him at important state functions. As Franco’s health worsened, the prince took over more and more of his official duties, and when Franco passed away in 1975, the prince was crowned King Juan Carlos I.

Juan Carlos as Prince image from Wikipedia

It’s always the quiet ones…

Then, upon taking the throne, Juan Carlos announced, “Surprise! I’ve actually been a secret supporter of democracy and opponent of Franco all along!” In the years that followed, Juan Carlos restored democracy, removed all of Franco’s oppressive restrictions on the Spanish people’s freedoms, and held free elections. In 1981, hard-line supporters of Franco’s old regime attempted to stage a military coup to stop this new king from destroying their late leader’s work, but Juan Carlos gave a televised speech condemning the coup, and with public support clearly backing the king, the coup plotters surrendered.

With that out of the way, Juan Carlos settled into his new role as constitutional monarch in the style of Queen Elizabeth II. He allowed the democratically-elected representatives of the people govern Spain while he accepted a role that was largely ceremonial. But he had one more political act to make.

On June 19, 2014, Juan Carlos abdicated his throne, passing the crown to his son, Felipe VI. In so doing, he made sure that this newly-restored monarchy and democracy would continue to function after he was gone, rather than waiting until he passed away and hoping on his deathbed that things work out. As king, Felipe has mostly kept his father’s policies of staying out of direct involvement in politics and letting democracy do its thing. The biggest move the new king has made so far is announce that he’s giving himself a 20% pay cut.

Juan Carlos and his wife, Sophia of Greece and Denmark, still are called “King” and “Queen”, so if you are in Spain and mention “the King” or “the Queen” it might be wise to specify which one you are talking about. King Felipe is married to Queen Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano, a former news anchor. They have two daughters: Leonor, Princess of Austurias, the first in line to succeed her father, and Infanta Sofia. As of this writing, Princess Leonor is 10 years old and Princess Sofia is 8. With that, we have finally reached the end of our look at the history of the Spanish monarchy.

Oh, and before you ask, “Felipe” is Spanish for “Philip”, so he’s technically “Philip VI”, but apparently he prefers the Spanish name. Spain, your kings’ chosen royal names are always confusing.

A Brief History of the Spanish Monarchy

Spanish coat of arms

Yeah, this is a pretty random topic to kick off the new year with. However, after watching this excellent video by C.G.P. Grey on the history of the British monarchy, I found myself inspired to discuss another European monarchy with an even more complicated and bizarre history. Plus, it looks like Spain just might be the center of attention in the news this year. One of the worst-hit by the 2008 recession, Spain’s economy is starting to recover. Its most recent elections have shaken up the country’s political scene, and one of its most populous and prosperous regions, Catalonia, is gearing up to try to fight for its independence. On top of that, the country is still reeling from a corruption scandal involving the current king’s sister, who has been stripped of her titles and is awaiting trial for tax evasion.

So, let’s take a look at one of Europe’s most fascinating royal histories, starting with one of the most famous royal couples of all time:

The (Convoluted) Birth of Spain

Ferdinand and Isabella image from Wikipedia

In 1469, Prince Ferdinand of Aragon married Princess Isabella of Castile. This marriage meant that the heirs to the thrones of the two largest kingdoms in Spain were husband and wife, and when they succeeded to their respective thrones the two kingdoms would be united. It was this marriage that laid the foundations of modern Spain.

But not yet. See, when Isabella’s half-brother, King Henry IV of Castile, died in 1474, there was a dispute as to who should succeed the throne. Henry IV had a daughter, Joanna la Beltraneja, who was married to the King of Portugal and claimed that she was rightful heir to the throne. In response, Isabella and her supporters claimed that Joanna was actually the illegitimate daughter of some duke and therefore couldn’t inherit anything.

This cat-fight was resolved with a swords, guns, and blood fight that ended with Isabella and her husband victorious over the Portuguese. Now securely in power, Isabella decided to invade Granada, the last surviving Muslim kingdom in Spain, and conquer it for herself. I mean, for Christianity. Yeah, that’s it.

On January 2, 1492, Granada fell and Isabella annexed it to her kingdom. She then decreed that all Jews and Muslims had to convert to the Roman Catholic Church or leave the country. To make sure that the new converts were not secretly practicing their old faiths behind closed doors while pretending to be Catholic in public, she launched the now-infamous Spanish Inquisition.

Of course, 1492 was also the same year that she sent Christopher Columbus on his fateful voyage across the Atlantic. This was the beginning of the Spanish Empire in the Americas, an empire that would flood Spain with New World silver and help build the new country into a major global power.

Isabella wouldn’t live to see those days, though. She died in 1504, leaving Castile to her daughter, Joanna of Castile.

Just one problem: her husband was still alive. Ferdinand had grown quite fond of being king of all of Spain, and suddenly losing more than half of “his” kingdom to his daughter was something he just couldn’t bear. He also didn’t like Joanna’s husband, Philip the Handsome. Philip was Duke of Burgundy, which meant he ruled a domain in central Europe where the Netherlands, Belgium, and eastern France are today. When Philip heard that his father-in-law was minting coins that had the inscription “Ferdinand and Joanna, King and Queen of Castile”, he and his wife sailed for Spain in order to prevent Ferdinand from denying their rightful inheritance.

Then in 1506, Philip suddenly died of a, um, “fever”.

Because that's not suspicious at all.

Because that’s not suspicious at all.

This left Joanna vulnerable to her father’s whims, and soon he was able to strong-arm her into accepting him as “regent”. This arrangement lasted until Ferdinand died in 1516, at last leaving Joanna as sole ruler of Spain.

“The Emperor” and his heirs

Charles V painting by Titian

Now we turn our attention to Philip and Joanna’s son, Charles. Born in Belgium, he had been raised there by his aunt and was now in his late teens, ready to take on the adult responsibilities of royalty by the standards of the day. When he heard of his grandfather’s death, he set sail for Spain. Upon arrival, he met with his mother, and promptly declared her to be mentally ill and locked her in a convent, where she would spend the rest of her days.

Now reigning in Spain as Carlos I, he soon found that even this level of power didn’t satisfy him. After bribing some of Germany’s most prominent and powerful families, he had himself elected Holy Roman Emperor as Charles V, a title that gave him nominal power over a huge swath of central Europe south of Denmark that included Germany, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), Austria, Hungary, and Italy. On top of this, his conquistadors Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro gave him a massive and rich empire in the Americas. Soon, people were saying “the sun never set” on Charles’s empire. Yes, that term was originally coined for the Spanish Empire, though it would later be applied to the British one.

In spite of all this, Charles came to view his reign as a failure. He failed to protect the rights of the Indians in his newly-won empire from being enslaved and slaughtered by his conquistadors. He failed to stop Martin Luther from growing more popular and splitting the Christian church into Protestant and Catholic camps. He failed to prevent Hungary from falling to the Ottoman Turks. In old age, suffering mightily from gout, he decided to give up all his thrones and power. He made his brother Holy Roman Emperor in his place, and gave Spain, southern Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and his overseas empire in the Americas to his son Philip.

Philip took the throne of Spain as Philip II (Felipe II in Spanish), counting his “handsome” grandfather as “Philip I” for his purposes. Speaking of names, Philip II is the “Philip” for whom the Philippines, which were conquered by the Spanish during his reign, were named.

Philip II and Mary I by Hans Eworth

Philip was married to Queen Mary I of England, and naturally wanted to be considered England’s king as well. However, by now his family’s pattern of collecting kingdoms had become quite obvious, and England’s Parliament had no desire to be absorbed into Spain. Instead, Parliament declared Philip to be “King IN England”, but not “King OF England”. This was an important distinction, as it meant that when Mary died, the English throne didn’t go to her husband, but instead passed to her sister, Elizabeth. Philip tried to propose to Elizabeth, but the famous “Virgin Queen” had no interest in him. This was the start of a rivalry between the two countries that ended with the Spanish Armada being smashed by the English.

In the meantime, though, the throne of Portugal happened to fall vacant in 1580, with no clear heir. Philip II decided that he was as good a candidate as any, and seized the kingdom, having himself crowned king of Portugal.

When Philip II died, his domains passed to his son Philip III, who in turn passed them to his son Philip IV. Philip IV managed to lose both Portugal and the Netherlands to revolutionaries before passing the rest of his domains on to his son, Carlos II.

Poor Carlos II. In an age of arranged marriages among European royals who were all related to each other, Carlos II really lost when it came to the genetic lottery. He was handicapped both mentally and physically, and died without an heir at the age of 39. However, he did declare in his will that his nearest male relative, the 16-year old French prince Philippe d’Anjou, would succeed him as King of Spain. So no worries, right?

The War of the Spanish Succession and its consequences

Philip V in battle by Jean Alaux

There was a problem with the young French prince becoming king of Spain. See, Philippe was the direct grandson of King Louis XIV of France, meaning there was a very strong probability that the thrones of France and Spain could be united. Many of Europe’s great powers feared that such a union would be too powerful, so they formed an alliance to stop Philippe from taking the Spanish throne. The result was the 13-year-long War of the Spanish Succession. Eventually, Philippe won and was able to be crowned Philip V of Spain, but on certain conditions. He had to give Belgium and southern Italy to Austria, and he had to super-promise that the thrones of France and Spain could never be united.

So, what does one do after spending 13 years fighting for the throne of a country? Apparently, retire after sitting on that throne for only 11 years. In 1724, he handed the throne to his popular son, Louis. Unfortunately, Louis died of smallpox after a reign of only seven months. As his younger sons were not yet ready to take the throne, Philip V decided to return and reign until his death in 1746.

Philip was succeeded by his next-oldest son, Ferdinand VI. Wait, Ferdinand VI? Why six?

See, way back when Ferdinand and Isabella reigned in Spain, Ferdinand may have been the first king of Spain and the second “King Ferdinand” of Castile, but he was the fifth “King Ferdinand” of Aragon. I guess Ferdinand VI decided that the higher numeral made him sound cooler, or something.

In any case, after Ferdinand VI’s wife died, he sunk into a deep depression and grief, dying soon after. As the couple had no children, the throne passed to his brother, Charles.

Just one problem. Ferdinand VI’s brother had just re-conquered southern Italy and was ruling as king there. If he succeeded as king of Spain, there might be another succession crisis and war, just as Philip V had faced. To avoid this, Charles abdicated his Italian throne, giving southern Italy to his third son, Ferdinand. This allowed Charles to return to Spain and take the throne as Carlos III.

Carlos III was succeeded by his second son, Carlos IV, whose reign was marked by economic depression and popular revolt. In 1808, he handed the throne to his son, Ferdinand VII. Trouble was, Ferdinand VII wanted Spain to ally with the British against Napoleon Bonaparte, the man famous for two things: being short (which he actually wasn’t) and conquering, like, all of Europe. Ferdinand VII had barely sat on the throne when Napoleon’s armies marched in and captured him, locking him up for the next six years. Napoleon declared that his older brother Joseph Bonaparte was now King Jose I of Spain.

The people of Spain rejected this, and rose in revolt against the French occupation. The rebel leaders declared a new, democratic constitution that created a constitutional monarchy with the imprisoned Ferdinand VII as its king. At last, with British help, Spain regained its independence. Joseph Bonaparte fled to the United States, and Ferdinand VII reclaimed his throne to massive cheers and acclaim.

Next time on Cat Flag, we’ll look at how Ferdinand VII turned around and messed everything up, leading to more than a century of instability in Spain. We’ll also examine the bizarre yet brutal fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco, and finish with the story of how the current Spanish royal family came to be where it is today. See you then!