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1 Background information

1.1 Introduction

An interesting analysis of Napoleon's involvement in Spain is provided by Stendhal in A Life of Napoleon, chapters 36 to 43. Stendhal argues that Napoleon's basic error was to see Spain as susceptible to the imposition by the French of the kind of enlightened reforms which had been welcomed elsewhere in Europe. Stendhal particularises, in a way characteristic of Romantic writers, on what he considers a highly distinctive Spanish national character, which in his view explains the hostile reaction to Napoleon's intervention. ‘Cowardly despotism’, ‘rogues’, ‘idiots’, ‘stupid’ ministers, a people not yet ready to enjoy liberty – these are among the forces Stendhal names as resistant to the (beneficial) government reforms Napoleon sought to introduce.

Figure 1
Figure 1 Francisco de Goya, Self-Portrait, Plate 1 of Los Caprichos print series, 1799, etching, 22 x 15.3 cm, private collection. Photo: Bridgeman Art Library.