The Spanish statesman Manuel de Godoy y Álvarezde Faria (1767-1851) was the favorite of Maria Luisa, Queen of Spain, and her husband, Charles IV. He was the most important political figure in Spain between 1792 and 1808.
Manuel de Godoy was born in Badajoz on March 12, 1767, of noble but poor parents. He received a limited education, and in 1784, at the age of 17, he went to Madrid, where he was admitted to the Royal Guards. At this time he was an unusually handsome young man, with a gracious smile and bold, black eyes.
In September 1788 the young guardsman came to the attention of Maria Luisa of Naples, the domineering wife of the heir to the throne of Spain. She became extremely fond of Godoy, a fondness which her husband came to share. In later years Godoy was accused of being Maria Luisa's lover, but there is no real evidence to support this allegation.
In December 1788 Charles III died and was succeeded by his son Charles IV. Godoy's rise in the new reign was meteoric. He was created Duke of Alcudia and a grandee of Spain, and in 1792, at the age of 25, he replaced the Count of Aranda as head of the government. Godoy held that post until 1798, when he was forced to resign; in 1801 he returned to office.
In 1796 Godoy worked out an alliance with France, and from then until 1808 Spain and England were almost continuously at war. It was a costly and unsuccessful war, and as the years passed Godoy became more and more unpopular. By 1807 a conspiracy to overthrow him, centered on the heir to the throne, Ferdinand, had developed. In March 1808, at Aranjuez, the conspirators acted. With the help of a well-organized riot, they frightened Charles into dismissing Godoy and abdicating in favor of his son, who now became Ferdinand VII.
By this time Napoleon had decided to replace the Spanish Bourbons, his allies, with a member of his own family. Ferdinand was lured to Bayonne in April 1808. Soon Maria Luisa, Charles, and Godoy were also sent there by the French, who had been moving into Spain since autumn 1807. At Bayonne, Napoleon forced the Spanish royal house into abdicating in his favor. A few months later Napoleon's younger brother entered Spain as Joseph I.
After the events at Bayonne, Maria Luisa, Charles, and Godoy went to live in Italy. Maria Luisa died there on Jan. 2, 1819, and Charles died a few weeks later. Godoy was with them to the end.
After the withdrawal of the French armies from Spain in 1814, Ferdinand returned as king. While he lived, Godoy was not allowed back in his country. On Ferdinand's death in 1833 Godoy went to Madrid in the hope that he would have his properties restored to him, but he failed. He finally settled in Paris and died there on Oct. 4, 1851.
The most useful biography of Godoy in English is Edmund B. D'Auvergne, Godoy: The Queen's Favorite (1912). For a scholarly and readable account of the political, social, and economic situation in Spain during this period see Raymond Carr, Spain, 1808-1939 (1966).