Three symbols of Franco’s Spain
80 years ago today, on 18 July 1936, Spanish generals, later led by Francisco Franco, staged an uprising . By 1 April 1939 what became the Spanish Civil War was over and Franco made a triumphal entry into Madrid. Three years of war and 40 years of dictatorship (the Generalísimo finally died on 20 November 1975) turned Spain from what had been a progressive republic with a programme of mass literacy and the most liberal divorce laws in Europe to a pseudo-medieval dictatorship, priest-ridden, vindictive and subject to famine.
Regressive regimes often look back into history to legitimise themselves, and Franco’s was no exception. The regime’s appropriation of three historical symbols is described below:
1. Yugo y flechas
Francoism – motto [España] ‘Una, grande, libre’ – looked back with nostalgia to the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs, who united Castile and Aragon by marriage in 1469 and won Granada from the Moors in 1492. What better emblem for the new-old Spain than the Yugo y flechas, Yoke and arrows?
Coat of arms with the yoke and arrows motif from a 16th-century Rationale divinorum officiorum (Granada, 1504) 1474.dd.9.
The Gordian knot, attached to a broken cord, signifying that the end justified the means, was juxtaposed with the arrows bound together, a version of the Roman fasces (unity is strength).
It also represented the initials Y (Yoke-Yugo-Ysabel) and F (Arrows-Flechas-Fernando).
Inscribed half-title page of Candido G.Ortiz de Villajos, De Sevilla a Madrid: ruta libertadora de la columna Castejón (Granada, 1937) 9043.ff.30, showing the yoke and arrows.
The appeal to the political strongman of the 20th century is obvious.
After the Civil War, and when I first saw Madrid in 1975, it was everywhere – banknotes, public buildings, etc. It was added to the flag.
A law of 2007 called for the removal of Francoist insignia.
2. El Cid
There’s the Cid of history, the Cid of literature and the Cid of Franco.
The historical Cid, Rodrigo [Ruy] Díaz de Vivar (ca. 1043-1099),won Valencia from the Moors. He was probably neither more or less cruel than any other medieval knight.
His deeds are sung in the Cantar de Mio Cid (circa 1207). Here he’s praised for his moderation. His motivation is political rather than ideological: he’s no culture hero fighting for Spanish Christian values against the Moor: Moors and Christians are both his allies and his enemies.
Title-page of Cronica del muy esforçado cauallero el Cid ruy diaz campeador ([Seville], 1541). C.39.g.5
The domestic element is strong in the Cantar: The Cid takes revenge on his son-in-law princes who batter his daughters, and this was extended by Guillén de Castro (and hence Corneille in Le Cid, who focus on his marriage.
Statue of The Cid by Cristóbal González Quesada in Burgos, unveiled by Franco in 1955. (Picture by ElCaminodeSantiago09 2006 via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.0)
Quite a benevolent figure. But by 1939 he has regressed and has become as primitive as Franco himself, a symbol of a unified Christian Spain fighting the Crusade, which was what the Francoists called the Civil War.
3. Isabel the Catholic
She and Fernando of Aragon married in 1469: Castile and Aragon were united in person but were separate kingdoms with their own laws until 1715.
Theirs was a magnificent court, full of latter-day troubadours and Latin humanists and decorated with Flemish primitives. And obviously their reign founded various institutions of the modern state: they patronised the introduction of printing, exempting imported books from tax in 1477 ‘Because foreign and Spanish merchants have recently brought in many good books, which redound to universal benefit and the ennobling of our kingdom ...’.
And Nebrija dedicated the first Spanish grammar to Isabella.
Dedication to Isabella on the first page of Antonio de Nebrija, Gramatica Castellana (Salamanca, 1492) IA.52814.
It’s only fair to point out that the Catholic Monarchs were not wholly benevolent or modern in outlook: they also ordered the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.
By 1939 the Queen had regressed. Franco made her the model of the 20th-century Catholic wife and mother, ready to make every sacrifice for church and state: she was said to have sold or pawned her jewels to finance the voyages of Columbus, and swore not to change her chemise until Granada was delivered from the Moor. In 1958 he tried to have her canonised.
This life of the Queen draws parallels between the contemporary situation in Spain and her reign. For César Silió Cortés, Isabel’s reign saw
the transformation worked in Spain as an already decadent age was being replaced by a new one, with its roots in the past [...] made gay with plumes of youthful growth, swelling with plans of growth and expansion. [...]
His book had been begun with the intention of studying these great changes – a revolution from above – in tranquility, but
the fates have wished it to be written amid the clamour and horrors of another revolution undertaken by the canaille of the river beds, in which Spain continues to be bled dry as the author writes these lines and whose significance will be given to us by the future [...]
Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies