Voices from the 19th Century: “And death to Napoleon”



Statue of Napoleon (detail), Musée d'Orsay (photo: Ahmad Alnusif)

The invasion and subsequent occupation of the Iberian Peninsula (1807-1814) by France during the Napoleonic Wars inspired not only serious anti-Napoleon sentiment among the Spanish citizenry, but also brought about an high level of patriotism.

One of the most unusual places that this patriotism manifested itself, as I discovered not long ago, was in an undated (anonymous) Christmas villancico composed following the French occupation.

It’s both a fascinating and disturbing example of a strong political statement found in devotional music of the period.

Here’s an excerpt:

O Holy Virgin!
Offerings are given
By all Christians
Free of the French

Everyone proclaims in a single voice
Long live the Virgin and Child
And death to Napoleon

At the gate, the Shepherds
Played their shawms
And here, free of the Frogs,
We play with joy

Everyone proclaims…

An Angel gave account
To the Shepherds of the Holy Birth
And that’s why the Marshall
Fled so dissatisfied

Everyone proclaims…

The Shepherds bid farewell
With great joy and delight
No such farewell was given
By the French curse

Everyone proclaims…

Learn more: Peninsular War (Wikipedia)

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