On the 183rd anniversary of the publication of the Law to Confirm and Modify the ‘Fueros’ of the Basque Provinces and Navarre, we offer our thoughts about an event that initiated the disconnect of the feelings of most southern Basques from the idea of Spain.

This process got started just before the so-called Vergara’s Embrace, when Carlist officials abandoned the Pretender and especially the people that had supported them in exchange for the assurance of a place in the liberal army and the corresponding salaries.

The Betrayal: 1839

The Vergara Agreement (August 31, 1839)

“Agreement between the Captain General of the National Armies, Mr. Baldomero Espartero, and Lieutenant General Rafael Maroto.

Article 1.  Captain General Baldomero Espartero will highly recommend the government to comply with his offer to formally commit to proposing the concession or modification of the fueros to Parliament.

Article 2.  The employments, ranks, and honors bestowed on the generals, chiefs, officers, and other individuals who depend on the army of Lieutenant General Rafael Maroto, who shall present the lists of the men that belong to him, and they shall be free to continue serving, defending the Constitution of 1837, the throne of Isabel II, and the Regency of her august mother; o to retire to their homes should they no longer wish to bear arms.

Article 3. Those who opt for the first choice, to continue service, shall be placed in the corps of the army, either as soldiers or supernumeraries, depending on where they rank in the scale of the inspection that correspond to their arm.

Article 4.  Those who prefer to retire to their homes, if they are generals or brigadiers, shall have their home wherever they wish, with the salary that corresponds to them by law; the chiefs and officers shall have an unlimited leave, or retirement, depending on the law.  If any of this clases would rather have temporary leave, he shall ask the inspector of his respective arm for it and it shall be granted, without exemption to leave to travel abroad; in this case, if the petition is made to Captain General Baldomero Espartero, he shall grant them the corresponding passport, while their requests are being processed, recommending approval to H.M.

Article 5.  Those who ask for temporary leave to travel abroad, as they may not receive their wages until they return, according to royal orders, Captain General Baldomero Espartero shall provide them with four payments depending on the faculties conferred on them; all classes, from general to second lieutenant inclusive, are included in this class.

Article 6.  The preceding articles comprise all army employees, including civil servants who step forward within the twelve days after this agreement is ratified.

Article 7.  If the divisions from Navarre and Alava step forward in the same manner as the divisions from Castile, Biscay, and Gipuzkoa, they shall enjoy the same concessions expressed in the articles above.

Article 8.  The collections of artillery, armories, weapons deposits, clothing, and victuals that are under the control and management of Lieutenant General Rafael Maroto shall be made available to Captain General Baldomero Espartero.

Article 9.  The prisoners who belong to the corps of the provinces of Biscay and Gipuzkoa and those of the corps of the Castilian division who agree entirely with the articles of this agreement shall be set free, enjoying the advantages expressed for the rest.  Those who do not agree shall suffer the fate of prisoners.

Article 10.  Captain General Baldomero Espartero shall present to the Government of H.M. so that it may do so to the Parliament, the consideration that the widows and orphans of those who have died in this war deserve.

One need not think too hard to realize that in essence, the Bergara Agreement was an agreement between the Government of Spain, the liberal one, with the Carlist officers, to guarantee them good conditions in exchange for their surrender.  These matters are the only ones that are specifically, clearly laid out and committed to.

Thanks to this, the Spanish army was filled with Carlist officers whose only principle was that of absolutist ultraconservatism, and their ideology was the hypernationalist reactionary one.  The complete opposite of the fueros.  It will be they who have the greatest influence in this Spanish institution, with the consequences that we’ve been living through right up through the 20th century.

However, the first article, the one discussing the fueros of the southern Basque territories, is no more than a statement of principles, as part of a manifesto of intent that completely lacks content.

The main result of this agreement, or rather of Article 1 of this agreement, is the law taht would be passed by the Spanish Parliament on October 25, 1893.

The October 25, 1839 Law to Confirm and Modify the Fueros of the Basque Provinces and Navarre.

Isabel II by the Grace of God and the Constitution of the Spanish Monarchy, Queen of the Spains, and while she was a minor, the Queen Widow María Cristina de Borbón, her August Mother, as Queen Regnant of the Kingdom; may all who read and understand this know that the Parliament has decreed and sanctioned to Us the following:

Article 1.- The ‘Fueros’ of the Basque Provinces and of Navarre are confirmed, notwithstanding the constitutional unity of the monarchy.

Article 2. – The Government, as soon as reasonably possible, and by first listening to the Basque Provinces and Navarre, shall propose to the Parliament the necessary modification that the interest in the same shall claim in the aforementioned ‘fueros’, reconciling it with the general one of the Nation and of the Constitution of the Monarchy, provisionally resolving in the meantime, and in the manner and meaning expressed, the questions and difficulties that may arise, giving a reckoning thereof to the Parliament.

We therefore order all Courts, Justices, Chiefs, Governors, and other Authorities, both civil and military and ecclesiastical, of any class and dignity, to guard and make guard, to follow and enforce, this Law in all its parts.  So that you may have it in order to follow it, it is printed, published, and circulated.- I, the Queen Regnant.- Signed by the Royal hand.- In the Palace, on October 25, 1839.

This Law, which in practice meant the subordination of the sovereignty of the Basques to the decisions of the Spanish Parliament, is the consequence of the betrayal some Carlist officers and leaders committed against the Basques who had supported them.  This betrayal took place with the so-called Bergara Embrace, where those Carlist officers abandoned the Pretender and also the people who had supported them, in exchange for a posting in the liberal army and the corresponding salaries.

The first article is a complete betrayal of the interests of the Basques, as it gave the ability to decide the future of the Basque fueros to the Spanish Parliament in a process wherein Espartera exclusively commits to … nothing at all.


Hope: October 25, 1979

That is the date when the Referendum on the Statute of Autonomy of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (CAPV) of 1979 was held.

After the death of dictator Francisco Franco, and the approval of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, again, just like in the Second Republic, it was impossible to obtain a single administrative reality for the Basques south of the Pyrenees.  The Navarrese anti-Basque right once again, just like in the 19th century, managed to keep Navarre separate from the other southern Basque territories.  They did so with the help of the Spanish Socialst Party, which stood behind a protest sign asking for self-determination, and ended up breaking up into the Basque Socialist Party and the Navarrese Socialist Party.

Nevertheless, the Basques of the CAPV approved the October 25, 1979 referendum, which has some interesting elements:

  • On the one hand, just like in Navarre, its foundation of self-government is based on the foral system, or Historic Basque Rights.  These are recognized in the First Additional Clause to the 1978 Spanish Constitution, though subjugated, as in 1839, by the limits of the Constitution.  This provision means that in practice, it is not supported by the citizens of the CAPV, but in the end, what it does mean is that the Spanish Constitution recognizes the existence of previous, autonomous, and independent collective rights within that constitutional framework.
  • As a consequence of this:
      • the recovery of the Basque parliaments, which had been abolished by the victors of the last Carlist War in 1876.
      • The recovery of the Economic Agreements for handling tax collection and payment via the traditional foral Economic Agreements (Art. 41).
  • Keeping a door open in order to achieve integration into a single administrative reality for the southern Basques, without this meaning any loss to the existence of the territories themselves.  This would be the realization of the Laurak Bat, the confederation of the four brother territories who unite as equals in freedom
  • The inclusion in the text of the Statute of a reservation of sovereignty through its Additional Provision: The acceptance of the autonomous community regime established in this Statute does not imply the renunciation of the Basque People of the rights that as such belong to them because of their history, which may be updated in accordance with what is laid out in law.
The Disappointment: 1979 – Present

Over 40 years later, the Statute of Autonomy is still not fully developed, and the Historical Rights have been put into danger by the attitude of the Spanish Government by its attempts to eliminate it by delegitimizing it across Europe.

What development has occurred has been via a treacherous system of getting powers passed from the central government via agreements between the PNV and the acting government in Madrid.  The Spanish parties and Spain have turned an Organic Law into a list of items to be exchanged, discrediting the Spanish legal system and impeding self-government from acting properly.

The Statute, specifically, and the autonomous system created by the 1978 Constitution, in general, have been exhausted and degraded by the irresponsibility and disloyalty of Spanish institutions.

The only hope is based on the strengthening of our political forces as a people whose will is to become their own political reality, but, more and more, by doing what Basque nationalism has been doing for over 100 years: looking to Europe and international forums.  This is all doing in close collaboration with the stateless nations of Europe in their struggle to be recognized as sovereign entities.

The Aguirre Doctrine, the United Europe of Free Peoples, the United States of Europe, seem to finally be presenting that opportunity.  At some point, sooner or later, Catalonia, Scotland, Flanders, and the Basque Country may be knocking on the door of the European Union to become free nations within a United Europe, with all the commitments and rights that that entails.


Header photo: the Bergara Embrace in 1839 which sold the Basque ‘fueros’ to their enemies in exchange for salaries and ranks for the Carlist soldiers who agreed to this treason

Last Updated on Oct 28, 2022 by About Basque Country

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