Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Spain 1936

Today is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War with the army rising against the second republic.

There is a very good article on Rorate Coeli The Passion of Spain -75 years which I recommend.

Civil wars are terrible things, and the Spanish war of 1936-9 particularly dreadful. Nonetheless the fact that it occured reflects the tensions within Spain at the time. What took place was a battle not merely for power - Spanish nineteenth century history is strewn with such episodes - but of two wholly opposed world views. The horrific violence unleashed against the Church and any imagined supporters of the traditional Spain in the wake of the army's move illustrates what they were acting against - for many on the left this was the opportunity to create a new world order, with Spain as the laboratory. After five years of radical change and turmoil the Nationalists may have finally precipitated the conflict, but the actions in the name of the republic which ensued were post factum validation for the actions of the army and its supporters

My sympathies have always been entirely with the Nationalists - my ideas were formed as a schoolboy reading Luis Bolin Spain:The Vital Years (Bolin arranged the aircraft to fly General Franco from the Canaries to Spanish Morrocco) and C.E.Lucas Phillips The Spanish Pimpernel. I have never had sympathy for the International Left and the "poor little rich kids" like John Cornford and Esmond Romilly (and his girlfriend Jessica Mitford) who decided to visit left-wing revolution in its nastiest form on Catholic, traditional Spain. I once tried to read some of Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, and was bemused to find that the hated "right wingers" were the official Communists...

Speaking of the regions of Spain it is interesting to reflect that the geographical division in the country during the war was essentially, though by no means exactly, that between Castille and Leon, on the Nationalist side, and republican control in Aragon, and the north-east. Similarly the Basque nationalism sponsored by the republic reflected ancient traditions of autonomy, and conflicted with the Catholic, and indeed Carlist, traditions of the north of the country. To understand the background to the conflict means stretching deep into the past of the country.

Paul Preston in his definitely left-leaning, but very readable, set of pen portraits of major players in the Civil War and the years that followed that comprises Blood of Spain discusses the existence of a "Third Spain" - raising the question as to whether the conflict was necessary? I suspect the answer lies in what happened in 1931 - the unexpected revolution which overthrew the monarchy and the traditional order in Spain led to a polarisation within an already essentially turbulent political order. By 1936 the alternatives were clear, the possibility of conciliation gone with the absence of an institution or institutions which could hold or bind the totality together. The events of 1931 were only resolved with the restoration of 1975.


Richard Collins said...

Thank you for this post John. I had wanted to cover it but never actually made the research schedule. Roy Campbell also makes good reading on the subject and he was, of course, both a Catholic and a supporter of Franco.
After the Civil War and up to the time of his death, Franco's Spain could be described as 'poor but honest'- the Spain of today is sadly, very far from that description.

Scott Quinn said...

Nice post, well done. Stanley Payne's books are must-reads.

James Griffith said...

John - a really good book, and one which I have recommended to others is Jose Maria Gironella's novel 'The Cypresses believe in God', which tells the story of the unravelling of the 2nd Republic right up to the beginning of the war (it is followed by 2 sequels which cover the war itself and its aftermath).

Gironella was a Catalan who escaped to Nationalist Spain and ultimately fought in a Carlist unit. After the war he spent years reading accounts from all sides as research for his novel, which is simply majestic. It is also very fair - he presents his characters on both sides as the people they were as well as showing how they were changed by the deeds they did (and had done to them). As such he manages to invert Stalin's maxim and you discover every death - even those that are truly deserved - to be a tragedy.

The book is long - and by modern standards takes a little while to get going - but it works well because by doing so it is able to maintain an amazing range of characters representing all the different factions.