Zenón de Somodevilla, 1st Marqués de la Ensenada bigraphy, stories - Spanish noble

Zenón de Somodevilla, 1st Marqués de la Ensenada : biography

April 20, 1702 - December 2, 1781

Don Zenón de Somodevilla y Bengoechea (April 20, 1702, Alesanco near Logroño - December 2, 1781), widely known as the Marquis of the Ensenada, was a Spanish statesman.

While after he had risen to high office, Ensenada's pedigree was touted as distinguished, little is known about his parents, Francisco de Somodevilla and his wife, Francisca de Bengoechea, nor is anything known of his own life prior to entering the civil administration of the Spanish navy as a clerk in 1720. He served in administrative capacities at the relief of Ceuta in that year and in the reoccupation of Oran in 1731. His ability was recognized by Don José Patiño, the chief minister of King Philip V, who elevated him to supervise work at the new naval arsenal at Ferrol; the main base of the Spanish Navy's Maritime Department of the North since the time of the early Bourbons.

Somodevilla was also heavily involved in the endeavors by the Spanish government to elevate the king's sons by his marriage with Elizabeth Farnese, Charles and Philip, on the thrones of Naples and Parma respectively. In 1736 Charles, afterwards King Charles III of Spain, conferred on Somodevilla the Neapolitan title of Marqués de la Ensenada. While an ensenada is a roadstead or a small bay, some of the ancestry-conscious upper-classes and nobility of the court, envious of the rise of this upstart self-made man delighted in the pun, that the name from the title can be phonetically divided into three Spanish words "en si nada," which means "in himself nothing."

In 1742 he became secretary of state and war to Philip, duke of Parma. The following year (April 11, 1743), after Patinos's successor Campillo died, the now Marquis of Ensenada was chosen by Philip V as minister of finance, war, the navy and the Indies (i.e. the Colonies). Ensenada met the nomination with a becoming nolo episcopari, humbly professing that he was incapable of filling the four posts at once. His reluctance was overborne by the king, and he became in fact prime minister at the age of forty-one. During the remainder of the king's reign, which lasted till July 11, 1746, and under his successor Ferdinand VI until 1754, Ensenada was the effective prime minister, leading the country to victory alongside France and Prussia in the War of the Austrian Succession.

His administration is notable in Spanish history for the vigour of his policy of internal reform. The reports on the finances and general condition of the country, which he drew up for the new king on his accession, and again after peace was made with Britain at Aix-la-Chapelle on October 18, 1748, are very able and clear-sighted. Under his direction the despotism of the Bourbon kings became paternal. Public works were undertaken, shipping was encouraged, trade was fostered, numbers of young Spaniards were sent abroad for education. Many of them abused their opportunity, but on the whole the country gained in prosperity, and the way was cleared for the more sweeping innovations of the following reign. Since 1749 Ensenada encouraged the most important census and statistical investigation in the Europe of his time, known as Catastro of Ensenada, as a first step of a broader reform on taxes that no reached success.

Ensenada was a strong partisan of a French alliance and of a policy hostile to Britain. Sir Benjamin Keene, the British minister, supported the Spanish court party opposed to him, and succeeded in preventing him from adding the foreign office to others which he held. Ensenada would probably have fallen sooner but for the support he received from the Portuguese queen, Barbara. In 1754 he offended her by opposing an exchange of Spanish and Portuguese colonial possessions in America which she favored. Following a scandal at court resulting from a conspiracy between anglophile José de Carvajal and the British ambadassor to Spain, he was arrested by the king's order on July 20, 1754, and was sacked as prime minister upon Carvajal's death (see Enlightenment Spain). He was sent into mild confinement at Granada, which he was afterwards allowed to exchange for Puerto de Santa Maria.

On the accession of Charles III in 1759, he was released from arrest and allowed to return to Madrid. The new king named him as member of a commission appointed to reform the system of taxation. Ensenada could not renounce the hope of again becoming minister, and entered into intrigues which offended the king. On April 18, 1766 he was again exiled from court, and ordered to go to Medina del Campo. He had no further share in public life, and died in 1781. Ensenada acquired wealth in office, but he was never accused of corruption. Though, like most of his countrymen, he suffered from the mania for grandeur, and was too fond of imposing schemes out of all proportion with the resources of the state, he was undoubtedly an able and patriotic man, whose administration was beneficial to Spain.

For his administration see William Coxe, Memoirs of the Kings of Spain of the House of Bourbon (London, 1815), but the only complete account of Ensenada is by Don Antonio Rodríguez Villa, Don Cenón de Somodevilla, Marqués de la Ensenada (Madrid, 1878).

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