The exhibition illustrates the changes in Basque society in the course of the 19th century, and looks at the causes, the key issues and the consequences in the Basque Country of the Carlist Wars.

Our most honest gratitude to Benjamin Marek for translating the sectionBenjamin Marek, translator of the following section.

Before You Enter

Peninsular War

In 1807, the troops of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain. At the time, the French Empire had by far the greatest military in Europe, with its hegemony spanning the continent. Spain, by contrast, was a declining European power, previously strong but now struggling to hold on to its colonies. And yet the Spanish were able to resist the French forces for almost 6 years, eventually expelling Napoleon’s armies with the help of Britain and Portugal. This was achieved through the use of “guerilla” warfare.
Guerilla warfare is irregular warfare, in which one side uses ambushes, partisan fighters, and hit and run tactics with small groups that can escape easily. Highly unusual for the age, all of the eventual commanders in the Carlist Wars perfected these strategies during the Peninsular War. Before their eventual defeat, French forces were able to capture most major cities and forced the Bourbon monarchs to abdicate. This deeply shook the traditional political order of Spain, and regional governments sprung up to oppose the French. In contrast to the conservative central Bourbon monarchy, these governments (most notably the legislative Cortes of Cádiz) had the liberal spirit of the age. Spanish forces across the liberal and conservative political spectrum joined together in support of Ferdinand VII, the “Desired One,” in a great patriotic war of independence against the French. After the defeat of France, this unity splintered and became fuel for the Carlist Wars.

Carlism began as a movement to place Don Carlos V on the throne. Ferdinand VII ruled during the early 1800s, and after the Peninsular War became hated by both the liberals and conservatives. Upon his death, Carlism aimed to disrupt the accession of his 2 year old daughter and regent queen, and supported Don Carlos V, Ferdinand VII’s brother, in order to restore an absolute monarchy rooted in Catholic traditionalism. A part of the broader conflict between conservatives and liberals in Spain throughout the 1800s, Carlism was relevant even through the Spanish Civil War and Francoist Regime. Even today, Carlism remains a minor Catholic conservative monarchist political philosophy.

One of the goals of the Carlist Wars was protecting the fueros. Fueros were special laws and grants specific to Basque Country and Navarre. Long culturally distinct from the rest of Spain, the fuero created a legal distinction for Basque Country as well. Because of this, fueros became a critical part of Basque identity, legally recognizing them as a unique group. But in the age of liberalism and nationalism, where a nation was supposed to be entirely homogeneous, the fueros became an obstacle in the formation of a united country. The Carlist Wars became, in large part, a conflict over the future of the fueros, and thus the fate of the Basque identity.

Low level

Zumalakarregi Museum plan. Low level

1. Zumalacárregui and His Time

 At the end of the 18th century, conflict between the conservative defenders of the Ancien Régime and proponents of liberalism began, which lasted throughout the life of Tomas Zumalacárregui. Throughout the early 1800s, a growing liberal bourgeoisie repeatedly tried to limit the absolute power of the monarchy and end the privileges of the nobility and clergy. Zumalacárregui, a soldier and statesman, would fight for the Carlist tenets of conservatism and monarchy through it all.

The Basque peasantry, who benefited from the old fuero system, bore the brunt of the negative impacts of liberal reforms pushed by the bourgeoisie, such as higher prices for basic products, higher taxes and rents, and loss of communal lands, and so allied themselves with the petty nobility and the clergy against the liberal bourgeoisie. Not only economically motivated, they were also often highly religious, and clung to their unique cultural identity, which was now threatened by liberal attempts to form a homogeneous nation state.

Old Regime

Introduction: Monarchy and the clergy, intimately linked, held economic, political, and ideological power.

  • The majority of the population, peasants and artisans, were disenfranchised and kept out of power.
  • A commercial bourgeoisie emerged, gradually acquiring economic power and attempting to assert its presence in political affairs.
  • The Inquisition, beyond ensuring Catholic orthodoxy, pursued political repression and censorship.
  •  Influenced by the Enlightenment in France, a group of aristocrats created the Royal Basque Society of Friends of the Country, intended to promote economic reforms without weakening the political order.
  • The people suffered intensely from the failure of the system and reacted, at times, with violence.

Liberal System
Introduction: The bourgeoisie were the leading proponents of the liberal cause.

  • Europe was fraught with political upheaval
  • France 1789/1830, Portugal 1820, Spain 1820, Naples 1820, Piedmont 1821, Russia 1825, Belgium 1830, Poland 1830
  • The border status of the Basque Country meant it was often a battleground in the frequent wars between France and Spain.
  • The new bourgeoisie, largely liberal, scorned the old conservative aristocracy
  • The clergy, the main victim of the liberal reforms, stoked peasant discontent
  • The people of Spain suffered numerous maladies of war
  • The constitution of Cádiz of 1812, which marked the birth of Spanish liberalism, was more symbolic than functional.
  • The Trienio Liberal (1820-1823) failed in its attempt to fully institute the Cadiz Constitution.
  • The decade before the First Carlist War (1823-1833) was characterized by repression of the liberal movement.
  • The return to the throne of Ferdinand VII, the “Desired One,” meant a restoration of the Ancien Régime of conservative monarchy
  • The death of Ferdinand VII led to the First Carlist War.

The Zumalacárregui Brothers

The introduction of liberal policies upset the already precarious social, political, and economic balance of Spain. In response to these abrupt changes, the gentry, including the Zumalacárregui family, was divided. Some clung to old traditions while others tried to break with them.
The Zumalacárregui family belonged to the minor nobility, widespread in the Basque Country. Not particularly wealthy, they married their daughters with good dowries and educated their sons well so that they could serve in civil society, the Catholic Church, or the army.
Tomás de Zumalacárregui was the thirteenth of fourteen siblings. His family, who once resided in this very house, decided that he should be a scribe, like his father. He most likely would have led a quiet life, similar to that of his parents, if the Peninsular War had not put him on the path to becoming a Carlist legend. In time, Tomás Zumalacárregui would come to command the main Carlist army. His older brother, Miguel Antonio de Zumalacárregui, a jurist and an active liberal, traveled other paths.
One a Carlist and the other a Liberal, the Zumalacárregui brothers are a good reflection of the fratricidal struggle that was the First Carlist War.


· Births:
    · Miguel Antonio: November 20, 1773
    · Tomás: December 29, 1788

· 1808/1814: Peninsular War
    · Miguel Antonio: Guerilla fighter in Asturias. Deputy in the Cortes of Cadiz
        · Tomás: Guerilla fighter in Gipuzkoa. Sent to Cadiz to contact Miguel Antonio

· 1814/1820: Post War Period (Monarchy Under Ferdinand VII)
       · Miguel Antonio: Jailed as a liberal agitator. Was tried and acquitted, but nevertheless exiled to Valladolid.
       · Tomás: Began his official military career as a captain. Stationed in Tolosa, Pamplona, Cadiz, Pamplona, and Vitoria.

· 1820/1823: Liberal Triennium (3 Years of Liberal Government Rule Following a Coup)
 · Miguel Antonio: Participated in the insurrection of Valladolid. Minister of the Audiencia of Madrid. Member of the Supreme Court. Fled to Seville and Cadiz from the Duke of Angouleme's troops, sent by France to restore Ferdinand VII.
        · Tomás: Patrolled Pamplona. Anti-liberal guerrilla. Supported Angouleme's troops

· 1823/1833: Ominous Decade
        · Miguel Antonio: Retired with half salary in Cadiz, Jerez de la Frontera, and Chiclana. Wanted to go to Madrid but the authorities prevented him.
        · Tomás: Head of volunteer soldiers. Member of a commission for the repression of political crimes. Military Governor of Ferrol in Galicia

· 1833/1839: First Carlist War
        · Tomás: Died of wound complications after being shot in the leg in Bilbao, 1835

· 1839/1867: Postwar
        · Miguel Antonio: Mayor of San Sebastián in 1840. Senator for Segovia. Minister of Grace and Justice with Espartero (1842-43). Retired in Madrid. Died in May 1867

2. The Zumalacárregui Family

In 1804, Tomás Zumalacárregui was sent to Pamplona to continue his studies and met his future wife, Pancracia de Ollo. Modestly wealthy, the Zumalacárreguis passed small luxuries from generation to generation, now displayed here.

3. (Temporary exhibition hall)


FIirst floor

Zumalakarregi Museum plan. First floor



-    Bolivar (1783-1830)
As a leader of South American independence movements, I fought against Spanish colonial troops, whom I defeated. But I failed in my main objective, as division among my comrades-in-arms prevented the creation of a united Latin America.

-    Napoleon (1768-1821)
Military triumphs gave me half of Europe and the crown of emperor. My armies spread the ideas of the revolution and aroused nationalism in subjugated countries across the continent. I was the greatest military figure of the century.

-    Goya (1765-1827)
I was a court painter, but my disillusionment took me away from it. I discovered like no one else the horrors of war and the miseries of our society. My paintings are the best reflection of the hectic times in which we live.

5. (Audiovisual)



The experience of the Peninsular War set the stage for the First Carlist War in Basque Country. It provoked a social and economic crisis and forged the military experience of many of the main actors.

The First Carlist War broke out due to a dynastic dispute. The Pragmatic Sanction, promulgated by Ferdinand VII, repealed the previous Bourbon succession law, known as Salic Law, to allow a woman to ascend to the throne. This promoted his daughter, Isabella, and bypassed his brother Carlos V.



At the beginning of the war, 1833, the imbalance of forces was remarkable. The Liberals fought with the Spanish army, while the Carlists were poorly organized and armed volunteers. By 1835, however, two true armies faced each other. While guerrilla tactics still remained critical, confrontations in the open field became widespread. The Carlists prevailed in rural areas, but ultimately failed to conquer the urban regional centers.

In little less than a year, Tomás Zumalacárregui turned what were scattered groups of volunteers into an army of 35,000 soldiers. The Carlists used all kinds of weapons, especially at the beginning of the war. The precarious logistical situation of the Carlists at the beginning of the war, as well as the war’s cruelty , are attested to by the Prince of Schwarzenberg, an Austrian serving in the Carlist army: “In general, the Basque battalions had acquired great skill in looting the dead. The most skilled valet could not match them. After the combat you have to wait a while to give the soldiers time to get dressed, before meeting up. The English are left with black bow ties and socks, useless garments for the Carlists, who do not use them. The appearance of the naked corpses, with no other clothing than the tie and socks, is macabre.” But not only the dead were stripped: prisoners who were going to be shot were forced to undress while still alive so as not to damage their clothing. The Carlists took all the weapons they could, whether old, stolen from the Liberals, or smuggled into the country, but their lack of artillery prevented them from taking the cities required to win the war.

The Liberal army managed to mobilize 100,000 soldiers, although due to poor organization its forces suffered constant delays in supplies and salaries. The Liberals easily prevailed over the Carlists in the first clashes. Vitoria and Bilbao, for example, were conquered by the mere presence of Liberal troops. The Liberal army was equipped with modern cannons and French-style uniforms. But they faced difficulties when opposed by guerilla tactics, described by General Fernandez de Cordova. “Our soldiers are as fast and much more patient than the rebels; but they march tightly together, in large, heavy, indivisible bodies; They are loaded with a huge backpack, caught with their straps that suffocate them, suffocated by their team, and they commit suicide without fighting, by continually going up and down mountains, jumping fences, parapets, and ditches.”

Humanization of the War
British diplomacy mediated between the two sides to moderate the worst excesses of the war. On April 28, 1835, Tomás Zumalacárregui and Liberal General Valdes signed the Eliot Convention, named for the British diplomat who negotiated it. It established a code of respect that put an end to executions of enemy prisoners and facilitated prisoner exchanges. At the same time, it also meant the international recognition of the Carlist army.


When analyzing the First Carlist War, it must be remembered that hand-to-hand fighting was still essential, as muzzle-loading weapons were still being used. This brutal, close quarters combat made guerilla tactics absolutely deadly when used by the Carlists. Carlist fighters and partisans often knew the territory much better, and thus could conduct fierce attacks before melting away into the Basque mountains. Despite this, the imbalance in foreign aid and, more importantly, the inability of the Carlists to conquer cities determined the outcome of the war.

Aid to the Carlists
The absolutist, conservative powers of Europe were officially limited to helping the Carlists financially, through the purchase of bonds in the European stock markets. However, the Carlists had the support of foreign volunteers. Many of them left testimony of their experiences in the war.

Aid to the Liberals
With the great powers of France and Britain, as well as liberals in Portugal, the Spanish Liberals formed the Quadruple Alliance. As a consequence, the British navy controlled the Spanish coastline to prevent the importation of weapons by the Carlists. After 1835, the British, French, and Portuguese even sent troops in support of the Liberal cause.

“Panoramas” were 360° views of landscapes or various events, generally battles, which became popular during the 19th century. From the beginning of the century, the most important European cities built circular buildings, rotundas, which housed these paintings that allow the viewer an immersive circular view. The most common subjects were cities such as Edinburgh, which was displayed in the first known panorama, made by Robert Barker in 1787. On a smaller scale, this panorama of San Sebastián, unfortunately incomplete, offers a unique look into the city at the time.

War Weariness. Peace
The length and ferocity of the war drove Basque Country to exhaustion. Hoping to exploit this, a group of liberal aristocrats exiled in Bayonne drew up a peace project, led by Jose Antonio Muñagorri, under the motto “Peace and Fueros.” The goal of the movement was to split the Carlists from their base of peasant support by politically separating the preservation of the fueros from the ascension of Don Carlos, thus forcing peace. Eventually, a peace treaty, the Convention of Vergara, would be signed, preserving the fueros at the cost of ending Basque home rule and integration as a Spanish province.


Basque society underwent profound changes between the two Carlist wars (1839-1872). While liberal governance was being consolidated in Spain, the fuero system was being transformed in Basque Country. Despite agreeing to respect the fueros in the Convention of Vergara, the liberals began attempts to undermine them, transferring customs assessments from the Ebro River to the Bidasoa River in 1841. This redefined Spain’s border, and split the Basque people into French and Spanish territories . Industrialization began in Basque Country, bringing with it  the development of communication and the expansion of cities. Despite these changes, fuerism (preserving the fueros), grew popular with much of Basque society, including moderate liberals.



The Outbreak of the Second Carlist War
The political instability of Spain combined with a lack of solutions to the numerous political, economic, and social conflicts  sparked the outbreak of the Second Carlist War (1872-1876). Advances in communication, mobility, weapon effectiveness, and technology over the interbellum period changed the nature of the war.

The Beginning of the Second Carlist War
The Carlists planned their uprising for April 21, 1872. Across Basque Country, thousands of volunteers signed up for service with the Carlists, awaiting the arrival of Don Carlos VII, their leader aspiring for the Spanish throne. In Catalonia, Aragon, and Valencia, significant numbers of Carlist sympathizers took up arms. Despite early defeats on the Basque front, the Carlists regrouped and reorganized, growing Carlist forces to 50,000 by early 1873. Throughout 1873, the rebel forces steadily gained territory and strength, setting up a capital at Estella.

Santa Cruz
The Carlist priest Santa Cruz was the most controversial character of the war. Unaccustomed to usual military behavior, undisciplined, and willing to fight through anything, he was a ruthless guerrilla fighter and militant Catholic fundamentalist. In 1873, having incurred the enmity of the Carlists themselves due to his unnecessary and brutal executions of prisoners, he fled across the border into France before emigrating to Jamaica and then South America, where he ended his days as a missionary.

Battle of Montejurra
In October 1873 the Battle of Montejurra took place, which years later would become a symbol of Carlism. Liberal troops tried to recapture the Carlist capital of Estella, but were defeated on the slopes of the mountain. It seemed that the Carlists might be capable of winning the war.

Carlist Administration
During the war, the Carlists organized an administrative state in Basque Country, based on the Provincial Councils. Miguel Dorronsoro, the Carlist Deputy General of Gipuzkoa, effectively marshaled reinforcements and obtained weapons for the Carlist armies. But he also emphasized education, promoting the teaching of Basque and reopening the University of Oñate. The Carlist government organized courts and published a new Penal Code. Dorronsoro minted currency in Oñate and spread propaganda on behalf of the Carlists. The official Carlist newspaper, "El Cuartel Real" was published in Oñate, along with a multitude of brochures and proclamations. Notably, Dorronsoro opposed the priest Santa Cruz, speaking out against him.

The Carlists attached great importance to the propaganda of their cause. Depictions of the pretender Carlos VII spread through photography until reaching every last corner of Basque Country, before, during and after the war.

Turning points
Once again the major regional cities remained in Liberal hands and became the main Carlist objective. In January 1874, the Carlists took the town of Portugalete and started a new siege of Bilbao. In February, after enduring a seven-month siege, the Liberals broke out of the town of Tolosa and gathered their forces around San Sebastian. In March, the Liberals attempted to break the siege of Bilbao, leading to the bloody Battle of Somorrostro, a narrowly won Carlist victory. Despite the intensity of the siege of Bilbao (the Carlists dropped more than 5,000 shells over two months), it did not surrender, and at the beginning of May the Liberals successfully flanked the Carlists to enter the city and end the siege. History repeated itself as the Carlists once again failed to capture an urban center. To make matters worse for the Carlists, they suffered defeats in Aragon, Valencia, and Catalonia, turning the tide of the war entirely against the rebels.

The Defeat of the Carlists
Throughout 1875, the Carlists advanced little,  reduced to defending territory acquired in 1873 and 1874. Liberal assaults, while costly, made steady progress and the remaining resistance in Catalonia was crushed.  In February 1876, after the loss of the final Carlist stronghold at Estella, Don Carlos fled across the border with France. Despite his vow, "I'll be back," the Carlist movement would never again reach the influence it once had. This time, there was no peace settlement, but instead military defeat and the final abolition of the Basque fueros.


Surely, Tomás Zumalacárregui would have been the first to be surprised by his importance. Until the First Carlist War broke out, Zumalacárregui was a good but not brilliant soldier, known for his conservative ideas but with no intention of engaging in politics. But in less than two years, he turned a few thousand peasants into a victorious army. His successes gained him the admiration of all Europe.
Looking back, a few names can sum up an entire era. Although he was above all a military man, Zumalacárregui embodied all of the political, social, and ideological tenets of Basque Carlism. The outcome is a diffuse, contradictory, contentious figure. Sometimes he seems more legendary than real, and yet, like Carlism itself, his story is critical to understanding the contemporary history of Basque Country.


Prussian Carlist Volunteer

  • The memory of this general is as revered as that of a saint in these valleys. The villagers speak of him with sad reverence. Tomás Zumalacárregui is the hero of songs and ballads that will make his name resound when no one remembers Don Carlos or Cristina.

Officer of the British Legion

  • Zumalacárregui had almost made up his mind to accept the crown of Navarre, which the people were willing to grant him, and once the four provinces of Spain were separated, to rule as Don Tomas I, King of Navarre and Lord of Vizcaya.

Spanish Writer

  • Zumalacarregui burns the church of Villafranca de Navarra, where the garrison of urban people took refuge when entering the village of Carlistas. The women, seeing the church where they had taken refuge with their children and their husbands burning, beg for mercy, and Zumalacarregui, aware that at dawn the women and children descend from the tower, whips them as they descend, clashing with Claudia, the chief's wife, a beautiful woman.

Francis BACON,
“Six Years in Biscay”
English Merchant

  • The abilities of Zumalacarreguy have been greatly overrated, by both his friends and opponents. It was highly natural for his followers to praise their fortunate leader; and his antagonists thought, probably, by giving him the credit of great military talents, to lessen their own humiliation. So far from Zumalacarreguy having recast the art of war, he simply did what Mina had done before

Joseph-Augustin CHAHO,
Basque Writer

  • Zumala's name
    and his fame
    stretch far:
    in the royal courts
    in the fields and cities
    who does not hear
    talk about Zumala?
    Joseph-Augustin CHAHO,
    Basque Writer