Pierre Soulé and the Queens of Spain

Pierre Soulé

Pierre Soulé

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456

The Soulés, more Pierre than Nelvil, burned plenty of bridges in Madrid. Demonstrating that you will shoot someone for something someone else said tends to do that. Even sympathetic American newspapers looked a bit askance at the elder Soulé’s judgment. What if business of state came up and he had to deal with the Marquis de Turgot, or some friend of his? Who would Soulé shoot next? The Pierce administration opted not to recall him at once, but did have a replacement in mind in the likely event that Soulé would do something else.

Soulé himself didn’t think matters had really gotten out of hand. He insisted that the French had plotted against him in all of this. Now that he shot the Marquis de Turgot through the knee, they should know to stop. But even if that did not suffice, and Soulé had alienated most of the court at Madrid, he wrote back to Marcy in Washington that

these, my troubles and trials, have, by no means injured my position here, but, on the contrary, have gathered around me the whole Democracy of Madrid and elicited from both Queens, who hate cordially the French Emperor, and like but little his representative at this court, manifestations from which I am authorized to infer that I have lost no favor with them on account of the same.

Isabelle II, Queen of Spain

Isabelle II, Queen of Spain

Isabella II of Spain turned 24 in 1854. Her mother, the Queen Mother Maria Christina, had served as her regent for years before.  The latter owned much of the Cuba in her own right and her opposition would certainly make any effort to buy the island much more difficult. But the Queen Mother appeared amenable to sale if it could wipe away some of Spain’s debt and avoid Spanish-American conflict.

As unreliable and self-serving as Soulé’s words sound, he might have actually had the right of it. On February 25, the Queen and King Consort threw a concert and paid Soulé considerable attention. That continued soon after when the Queen Mother invited him to a ball. The diplomatic establishment in general noticed, so Soulé had not just given in to a fancy. Maybe they really did hate Louis Napoleon. Rumors flew around that Spain would settle its debts in part by selling off Cuba to the United States. If the Spanish came to Soulé with an offer, he would hardly proclaim his hands tied and walk away.

Probably with that in mind, Soulé called on the Queen often and said so little about what went on between the two of them that Marcy wrote Buchanan in London to get more information. The Spanish court noticed as well and some wondered what exactly the American minister, aged 53, and the Isabelle II, thirty years his junior, did behind closed doors. It later came out that Soulé had behaved himself. I imagine that stunned quite a few observers more than proof of an affair might have.  Rather than keeping romantic company, Soulé had suggested that Spain accept a loan from the US against Cuban revenues with the island as collateral. And by the way, would Spain care to sell off the town of Melilla on the north African coast? Not everyone took these revelations seriously, but the Marquis de Turgot did.

Pierre Soulé, disgraced duelist, might just have his moment in the sun after all. Ultimately Isabelle II would make the decision, even if the rest of the court thought him a dangerous lunatic.

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