It’s fun to hate a guy like Manuel Godoy. The King lavished him with piles of cash and more titles than a bookstore, all while Godoy was recklessly—and secretly—sleeping with the Queen. Then, once Godoy got into a position of power, he basically ruined his country. You might call his life a master class in douchebag-ology. And here it is, one despicable fact at a time.
Manuel Godoy was born on May 12, 1767 in Spain. While Manuel Godoy’s family was of noble blood, there was one thing they didn’t have: money. Blood doesn't mean as much when you're dirt poor. When Godoy’s brother went to Madrid in 1784 in search of a better life, Godoy followed him. Their idea was to join the royal bodyguard.
Luckily, something much more exciting than that happened.
It’s not clear how good of a bodyguard Godoy was, but we do know that he was handy with a guitar and had a decent singing voice. With these skills—and a little bit of swagger—someone noticed him. It was Maria Luisa of Parma whose eye he’d caught, and this was a big deal. Her husband was the man who would be the next King of Spain.
As it turned out, Maria Luisa rather fancied Godoy and—despite being 16 years older than him—she took Godoy as her lover. A year later, Maria Luisa’s husband got the call to become King. This was Charles IV and he took a liking to Godoy as well. Well, you could say that the controlling Maria Luisa convinced her husband to like him.
Soon Godoy received an offer from the King: he was going to be “cadete supernumerario”: which, even with my basic Spanish, sounds pretty important.
It turned out that this promotion was just one of many for Goday, who was still in his early twenties. The King and Queen made him a duke, a knight, a marquis, and even a lord. Likely, the King had no idea that he was giving Godoy these titles only because his wife was having an affair with him. Someone else—I guess smarter than the King—got suspicious. This was the Prime Minister of Spain. He went for Godoy's throat: He flat-out said that Godoy and the Queen were having an affair.
Surely this was the end of Godoy and his relationship with the Queen. Right?
Yes, it was an end of sorts, but not for Godoy and the Queen. The suspicious Prime Minister had flown too close to the sun, and it was actually he who lost his position instead. And the guy who replaced him? He also lost his job. When the King saw how hard it was to keep a decent Prime Minister in office he turned to Godoy. It was time to give the job to someone the King could really rely on—which was ironic because Godoy was the last person the King should have trusted.
Godoy, who came from such humble beginnings, was now the Prime Minister of Spain. And with his influence over both the King and Queen, some even said that he was the most powerful person in the kingdom.
The King continued to lavish Godoy with extravagant gifts and titles. The King eventually gave Godoy his most outrageous title: “The Prince of Peace”. As you'll soon see, Godoy was anything but peaceful.
Somehow Godoy had become a sort of dictator of Spain and because of this, he was fast becoming the most hated man in Spain.
Over in France, the monarchy there was on its last legs. The French people had risen up against the royal family and Louis XVI had a lethal appointment with the guillotine. Godoy tried to step in and save Louis, but he was too late. The French, however, noticed Godoy’s effort to save their disgraced King, and they weren't too keen to hear that Godoy had been meddling in their affairs. Godoy would soon pay for the overreach.
Godoy’s little misstep with France was not quickly forgotten. In fact, it started a full-on battle. French armies came from both the east and the west to surround him and the Spanish forces. Cornered, Godoy was forced to sign a humiliating treaty. With the hastily signed treaty, Godoy lost acres of important land in the Caribbean. Now, the people of Spain had even more reason to hate the name Godoy.
Things, however, were about to get much worse.
Godoy seemed happy to solve his problems by signing treaties. In 1796, he signed the Second Treaty of San Ildefonso once again with France. But maybe Godoy didn’t read the fine print, because Spain was now under an obligation to join forces with France and attack Great Britain. This was more than a little awkward as Spain's neighbor, Portugal, was partnered up with Great Britain. Once again, Spanish people were able to find new levels of hatred for Godoy.
Let's see if Godoy’s love life was doing better than his international relations.
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Even though Godoy had been romantically linked to the Queen, he also had his own mistress. How he met her was quite the scandal. In 1796, a widow, Catalina Catalan y Luecia, moved into Godoy’s residence and she brought with her three young daughters. Godoy had certainly known the young women as they were growing up. When one of the daughters, nicknamed Pepita, reached the age of 20, she went from young girl around the house to Godoy’s full-time lover.
Making her his lover, however, was just the first way he used her.
Around this time, Godoy struck up a friendship with the painter Francisco Goya. Godoy had a habit of getting Goya to paint “questionable pictures”. Godoy made Goya paint Pepita lying on a bed of pillows with not a stitch of clothing on. What was even more shocking about the painting was Pepita’s gaze: In the painting, she stares straight at the viewer showing no shame at all—unheard of at the time.
The thing was, Godoy wanted these paintings for his private collection—not meant for the public to see. In fact, he kept the painting in a secret cabinet reserved only for scandalous works of art.
Now, Godoy wanted the best for his mistress, so he went to King Charles to get her an appointment. Charles happily agreed to give Godoy’s mistress a title, but this made the Queen seethe with anger. She was, after all, still in a relationship with Godoy. Seeing his mistress honored made her see red. So what did the Queen do when her secret lover’s mistress became a problem? She came up with a devious plan.
To put a stop to Godoy’s relationship with his mistress, the Queen had an idea that seems, at first anyway, counterproductive. She wanted Godoy to get a wife. You’d think that Godoy being married would make the jealous Queen twice as jealous. The Queen, however, knew this would be a marriage of convenience, and it would serve two purposes: With a wife, Godoy would have to cool things off with his mistress. The other purpose would be to deflect suspicion away from her own romantic relationship with him.
The Queen had decided that she wanted Godoy married, but now she needed to find him a wife.
The King had a cousin who was the child of a disgraced uncle. She also had a very long name: Maria Teresa Carolina de Borbon y Vallabriga…there’s more, but you get the picture. Maria Teresa needed a man to get her family fortune back, so she agreed to marry Godoy sight unseen—she didn’t even get to hear his wonderful singing voice. For Godoy’s part, he got a bunch of money just for marrying her.
Of course, the big question was: would this stop Godoy from carrying on with his mistress? If you know Godoy, you already know the answer.
Godoy’s love life was quite tumultuous, but it couldn't hold a candle to his chaotic career. In 1797, Godoy’s job changed from Prime Minister to Captain-General. Although it doesn’t sound like it, it was a promotion. Then, after struggling with both the French and the Queen, he found himself in hot water once again. He was facing yet another demotion, but it didn’t matter.
Something more exciting was about to happen to Godoy: He was going to be a father.
In 1798, Godoy’s wife gave birth to a daughter: Carlota Luisa Manuela. This would be the only child born to Godoy and his wife. There were, however, other—unofficial—children. As it turned out, Godoy had kept up his affair with his mistress Pepita. From that relationship, he had two sons: Manuel in 1805 and Luis in 1807. If he were a modern dad, he’d be up to his elbows in diapers. But, as it turned out, fatherhood bored Godoy.
Life as a father was not so exciting back then, and Godoy craved to be back running Spain. As chance would have it, his cousin had become Prime Minister and that gave Godoy a way back in. His cousin made him generalissimo of the army and Godoy started calling the shots again for Spain. His first move? He joined forces with France and declared war on neighboring Portugal.
The battle against Portugal went very well—for Spain anyway. When the dust had cleared, Godoy had gained some Portuguese land. Next, Godoy signed a treaty with Great Britain, which lost him Trinidad but gained Menorca. Overall, things were looking good for Goday politically—but there was trouble brewing, and it came in the form of a scandalous letter.
For some reason—maybe just for kicks—France’s Napoleon Bonaparte decided to play a little trick on Godoy. He wrote a letter and addressed it to the King of Spain. The contents of the letter would make life pretty much impossible for Godoy. Napoleon wrote that Godoy was the true King of Spain—obviously to infuriate the King. He also wrote that Godoy was sleeping with the Queen—which would also infuriate the King.
Luckily, one of Godoy’s staff got between the letter and King Charles. But no one could have predicted Godoy's response.
Napoleon's inflammatory letter was now in Godoy’s possession. He could easily destroy it and the King would be none the wiser. Well, that didn’t happen. For some reason, Godoy let the letter go through to the King. Why? Maybe he was out to humiliate the man who had given him so much. Or maybe he just knew that the King was in the palm of his hand.
So, what backlash did Godoy suffer? In 1807, the King gave him a new title: Most Serene Highness. And yes, it is every bit as powerful as it sounds.
Godoy didn’t hold a grudge against Napoleon. Instead, he signed yet another treaty—and this one was a doozy. With the Treaty of Fontainbleu, France and Spain intended to conquer Portugal and divide it between them. As a signing bonus, Godoy would get to be the Prince of the southern half. It was a daring move, but Godoy was in dangerous times.
You see, the King that would eventually replace Charles was not a fan of his. Not at all.
As it turned out, Godoy could rely on neither Napoleon nor the Treaty of Fontainebleau. The truth was, Godoy wasn't going to be Prince of Southern Portugal. Even worse, Napoleon was about to make his own brother the King of Spain. But Godoy was out of options: Even when it was clear that Napoleon had double-crossed him, he had no choice but to let the French army into Spain.
If the Spanish population hated him before, this would take it to a whole new level.
The average Spaniard was livid at having the French army in Spain, and their anger soon turned to violence. For this reason, Godoy, the King, and the Queen had to flee Spain for their own safety. But wait a minute, what about Godoy’s wife? Don't worry about her: It seemed that she’d already seen the writing on the wall and left him high and dry.
So Godoy and his King and Queen ended up in Rome, and it was from there that they heard the news: The people of Spain wanted nothing more to do with any of them.
With King Charles and his Queen out of Spain, his son could do as he pleased. Ferdinand soon started spreading terrible rumors about Godoy—and, to be fair, they were kind of true. He said that Godoy had basically sold their country to France. The people went crazy with rage and on March 18, 1808, a mob descended on Godoy’s home.
When they got inside, they found only a rather terrified Pepita. The mob was out for Godoy’s blood, and nothing would stand in their way.
There was another reason for the Spanish public to be angry at Godot—he was indecent. When the Spanish Inquisition took an inventory of works of art, they made a shocking discovery in Godoy's home: They found his secret cabinet of indecent paintings. This included the painting of his mistress wearing nothing but a penetrating gaze. The members of The Inquisition went berserk. They located Godoy and demanded to know who the painter of this obscene picture was.
Godoy obviously knew that it was Goya, but would he rat out his friend?
Since the Inquisition was calling the paintings “indecent and prejudicial to the public good” Godoy wanted to place himself as far away from them as possible. So for this reason, Godoy had no problem giving over Goya’s name. The quick-thinking Goya avoided punishment by claiming that he was just copying the masters of painting that everyone else already liked. Godoy, however, didn’t get off that easy.
When the people finally found Godoy, the King had to do something to appease them. He took all of Godoy's property and placed the disgraced politician in prison. Well, it wasn’t really a prison: It was the Castle of Villaviciosa de Odon. The people of Spain, however, were still angry, and they wanted blood. Godoy’s life was in serious danger. Only one thing would save him from the mobs of people who cried for his head.
Even though Godoy had made a fool of the King by having a long-standing affair with the Queen, Charles took pity on Godoy and made a huge sacrifice. To appease the angry citizens of Spain, the King stepped down as their ruler—thus saving Godoy’s life. And who was waiting in the wings? Of course, it was Charles’ son Ferdinand—number one on the list of Godoy haters.
With Ferdinand as King, life was about to get even more difficult for Manuel Godoy.
In a quick turn of events, Charles suddenly changed his mind and decided that he no longer wanted his son to be King. He now regretted stepping down and looked in the strangest place for advice: He asked Napoleon. Napoleon—who was big on drama—invited all the affected parties to a meeting.
King Charles, his wife the Queen, Ferdinand, and Godoy all went to see Napoleon and hear his advice. None of them expected what happened next.
Napoleon loved having everyone looking to him for answers—and he jumped at the opportunity to double-cross both Ferdinand and his father Charles. He shocked everyone by saying that neither of them should be King and that the Kingdom should be...Napoleon's! You can’t say he lacked gumption. Of course, there was no way that Charles or Ferdinand would agree to this—or was there?
For some reason, Charles immediately signed on with Napoleon's decision. And then Ferdinand, after some careful consideration, did the same. Charles and Ferdinand had basically sold their country to someone they knew they could not trust. Of course, the big question was: What the heck were they thinking?
The answer? They were thinking about money.
Charles and Ferdinand got what they called “generous pensions” for their families and some promises regarding land and religious freedom for Spain. And what did this mean for Godoy? Well, he was heavily linked to Charles and Maria Luisa, so when they went into exile, so did Godoy. But it wasn’t just the three of them, it was an entourage—and quite a dysfunctional one.
Want to hear a good idea for a reality show? Try the situation of Godoy’s exile. There was Godoy and Maria Luisa—who were still in a "secret" relationship. Of course, Charles was there as well, so they had someone’s back to run around behind. There was also Godoy’s mistress, who I figure he was messing around with as well. Then there were the children. He had his daughter from his wife, and two boys from his mistress. This rag-tag—and I’d say dysfunctional—group slummed it around France for a few years before ending up in Rome.
One person that didn’t join this exiled bunch was Ferdinand—he was up to something much more sinister.
Charles’ son—and massive Godoy hater—somehow got Napoleon to make him King of Spain. Once he’d done that he made a proclamation: Charles and Maria Luisa—and especially Godoy—were not welcome back in Spain. Ever. The vindictive Ferdinand then went one step further. With the Pope’s permission, he sent Godoy into exile far away from Charles and Maria Luisa.
Ferdinand only had one kindness for Godoy: He let him bring Pepita and their kids with him.
In the meantime, Napoleon was in his own kind of trouble. During what’s known as Napoleon’s Hundred Days, Charles and Maria Luisa felt it safer to head for Rome. Godoy hoped to join them and asked the Pope for permission. The Pope said he would gladly let Godoy join Charles and Maria Luisa in Rome...on one condition: He couldn't bring his mistress or the kids. Oof.
It seemed that everyone was out to make Godoy’s life miserable.
Godoy’s mistress Pepita and her two sons eventually found a home in Pisa. When they got there, however, tragedy struck. In March 1818, Godoy and Pepita's youngest son Luis suddenly passed. Six months later, Godoy himself came down with malaria. It was so bad that a priest read him his last rites. Miraculously, he survived—but he wasn't out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot.
Next up on the illness parade was the ex-Queen Maria Luisa. She got hit with pneumonia and, to make matters worse, her husband wasn't around to offer support. The King was in Naples, so Godoy did what Godoy did best: He stepped in for Charles. Godoy held a vigil by the sick woman’s bed, but it wasn't enough. She passed soon after.
Now all Godoy had to do was wait for his friend Charles to thank him for his efforts. Somehow, that didn’t happen.
Charles did not thank Godoy for seeing his wife to her final end. Instead, he did something horrible. Charles wrote a letter from Naples telling Godoy to pack his things and get out. Could it be that Charles had only been putting up with Godoy because his wife made him? Regardless of the reason, Godoy was out. In a short span of time, he’d lost a son and a lover. He’d also lost the right to be with his mistress. To make matters even worse: He had nowhere to live.
Godoy had hit rock bottom—could it get any worse?
After writing his letter and kicking Godoy out of the home they shared, Charles followed in his wife's footsteps: He got sick and passed. Godoy was now seriously on his own. Even though Charles had been a bit of a “frenemy”, he’d been a constant source of power and wealth for Godoy. All Godoy wanted now was to return to his country, to Spain.
King Ferdinand, however, wasn’t budging. In fact, he was about to make Godoy’s life even worse.
Ferdinand insisted that Godoy not return to Spain, and then he served up another devastating disappointment: Godoy was not going to get any pension. It seemed that Ferdinand was going to destroy his enemy if it was the last thing he did. But Godoy had another way to get an income—through his daughter. Carlota was of marrying age, and she was about to enter a marriage to a man in a sovereign house. Problem solved! Godoy could live off of that family.
If only life were only that easy.
Ferdinand got wind that Godoy’s daughter was about to get married. The only problem was that she couldn’t marry a sovereign unless the King authorized it. What were the chances that King Ferdinand would allow Godoy’s daughter to marry a sovereign? You got it: He gave the marriage a big thumbs down. Wherever Godoy turned, there seemed to be Ferdinand waiting to destroy him.
Godoy was likely looking anywhere for some good news. Some did eventually come, but in a weird way.
In November of 1828, Godoy got some unexpected news. His estranged wife had passed. Now, after so many years, Godoy was free to marry the woman he’d always wanted: his mistress Pepita. The two finally married in December 1828. But this wasn't quite a simple "happily-ever-after".
Yes, Godoy was with Pepita, but their lives weren't exactly posh. The truth was that Godoy and Pepita were living in poverty. So, could they be happy together with no money? Well, I guess we’ll never know, because Godoy’s circumstances quickly changed. Louis Phillippe, then the King of France, took pity on Godoy and gave him a much-needed pension. Godoy was once again saved by the skin of his teeth.
Godoy was all set for retirement—but what would he do with his time?
Godoy was getting on in years and considered writing his memoirs. Previously, something had always stood in his way: King Charles had told him not to. Charles didn’t want a book about Godoy out there until one thing happened: His son Ferdinand had kicked the bucket. It seemed highly unlikely that Godoy would outlive the much younger Ferdinand, so it looked like Godoy would never get the chance to write his memoirs.
Well, fate has a way of throwing curveballs.
Remember, it was Ferdinand who had made much of Godoy’s later life unbearable. He’d done this because he had always disliked Godoy—maybe he knew that Godoy was secretly carrying on with his mother behind his father’s back. Whatever the reason, Ferdinand was always out to get Godoy. So, it seems strange that Godoy would keep his promise to not write his memoirs until after Ferdinand’s passing.
And what’s even stranger? Godoy outlived Ferdinand.
In 1833, at the fairly young age of 48—and after being married four times to four different Marias—Ferdinand did pass. This left Godoy free to finally—at the ripe old age of 65—get his life down on paper. He ironically called his book Memorias del Príncipe de la Paz, which translates to: Memories of the Prince of Peace. He published it in 1839.
So Ferdinand’s passing had allowed Godoy to write his book, but what else would change with Ferdinand gone?
One thing that Ferdinand always refused to give to Godoy was permission to return to Spain. With Ferdinand out of the picture, Godoy finally got his chance. In 1844, not only was he allowed to return to Spain, but the government decided to return some of the property they had taken away from him. This must have seemed like sweet revenge for Godoy, who’d suffered so much hatred from the Spanish people.
Godoy’s return to Spain, however, was short-lived. He soon relocated to Paris. Maybe the sight of his beloved Spain held too many bad memories.
Godoy spent the last years of his long life in Paris. He passed in 1851, at the age of 84. Pepita eventually returned to Spain: She hoped to get Godoy’s possessions back. A reporter caught up with her when she was 90 years old. When asked about what it was like being in a relationship with a man like Godoy, she had this surprising answer: Godoy’s only true love was the Queen.
We hadn’t, however, heard the last of Godoy. The poet Lord Byron mentioned Godoy in his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. In the poem, Byron calls Godoy “lusty”—which probably would have flattered Godoy. The praises, however, stop there. Byron goes on to explain that Spaniards hated Godoy and that he was the “ruin of their country”. I’m guessing this nasty poem didn’t rhyme.
There was one more thing to remember Godoy by: those scandalous paintings.
And what of Godoy’s artistic legacy? Remember he’d had that collection of indecent paintings commissioned from Goya. The one of Pepita, which the government at the time considered obscene, now hangs in Madrid’s Museo del Prado. And to remind you how times have changed, it became something quite public. In 1930, the painting of an unclothed and shameless Pepita became a postage stamp. The trouble-loving Godoy would have loved it.
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