Biography of the Worst Stateman in Europe: Don Manuel de Godoy Part 1

About the worst statesman or politician in European history Don Manuel de Godoy of Spain, his failures dealing with Napoleon and fighting Portugal.

DON MANUEL DE GODOY (1767-1851).

Royal favorite.

He may have been the most inept statesman Europe has ever known. But then, his power over Spanish affairs--which was near total at the time of Napoleon--was derived more from his performances in the Queen's bedchamber than from any achievements military or diplomatic.

Godoy was just a muscular country boy when he came to Madrid in 1784. Assigned to the royal bodyguard at 17, Manuel cut a striking figure in the cocked hat and sword of the cavalryman. He was tall and uncommonly well put together, with creamy pink skin and dark, almond-shaped eyes.

Soon he was involved in a dozen dalliances with ladies of the court. In time, he was noticed by Maria Luisa of Parma, a notorious sensualist in her own right. She was also the wife of the next King of Spain.

Maria Luisa was remarkably unattractive: Sixteen years older than Godoy, she had beady eyes, a sallow complexion, and a tight, bitter mouth full of false teeth. Her appearance hadn't stopped her from acquiring an impressive number of lovers, even before she met Godoy. Afterward, though he would be the love of her life, she went right on enjoying the attentions of others as well. Everyone at the Spanish court knew all the lusty details. Everyone, that is, except her husband. By the time he became Carlos IV, his wife was already firmly under Godoy's spell.

With the Queen's patronage, the young officer was promoted a rank a month until, at 21, he was head of all Spanish armed forces. A local wag set a dog loose in the streets of Madrid with a collar note that read: "I belong to Godoy, I fear nothing." When the joker could not be found, the dog was put in jail instead.

Carlos IV did not have the stomach for leadership. He grew up thinking he would never have to lead. But when his older brother was ruled out of succession because he was an imbecile, the crown fell, by default, to Carlos, who was only half an imbecile. Not only did he never suspect the relationship between his wife and Godoy, but he was as fond of the handsome young cavalier as she was.

Don Manuel was a coolly confident man of the flesh, cast among a warbling brood of royal cretins whose swollen bodies and shrunken souls are forever preserved in Goya's devastating portraits.

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