Repository: Museo de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain
Creator: Maeztu, Gustavo de
Repository: El carlismo entre siglos, la Segunda República y la Guerra Civil
Date Created: 1937
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Pamplona, Spain
This 1937 painting by Gustavo de Maeztu, “With This Sign I Shall Conquer”, shows a Carlist militiaman wearing a red beret carrying a cross into battle. The red beret is the symbol of Carlism, the ultra-Catholic, monarchist and reactionary movement that emerged in Spain during the 1830s. Ever since its birth during the civil war of 1833 to 1840, Carlism had a military and insurgent component. Its military forces, which eventually adopted the name Requetés, were reorganized in 1913, following contemporary examples in France and Ireland, and like the other militias that emerged in Europe in the years before, and especially after, World War I, they conducted themselves with increasing violence. Even though the Second Republic banned such militias, it was after 1932 that, under the direction of Colonel José Enrique Varela, the military organization of the Requetés, their training and armaments were strengthened. This included sending 500 young men to Italy where their Fascist counterparts taught them to use the most modern weapons. They were getting ready for the day they could destroy the detested democracy system.
On the eve of the Civil War, there were 30,000 combat ready Requetés. The largest contingents were in Navarra and the Basque Provinces, but there were also units in Andalucía, Aragón, Asturias, and Cataluña. They would not go into battle alone. For years, Carlist leaders had been engaging with other anti-Republican groups who had provided them with money, weapons, and contacts. In addition, General Emilio Mola, the organizer of the uprising, was stationed in Pamplona, the epicentre of Carlism. He knew the support of the Carlist militia was essential for the success of his strategy of having all rebel forces, and especially the Army of Africa, converge on Madrid as quickly as possible.
Mola and the Carlistas easily took control of Navarra, and this allowed them to help the other rebel forces subdue almost all of Castilla and León. In a climate of religious and military fervour, the number of Requetés climbed to 60,000. However, they did not achieve their final objective. At the end of July, Republican militias stopped them in the mountain passes north of Madrid. Meanwhile, the repression in the territories controlled by Mola’s soldiers and his Carlist and Falangist allies produced a massive death toll. In the first months of the war alone, some 2,800 Republicans were murdered in Navarra and another 2,000 in the neighbouring región of La Rioja.
The humble background of the Carlist Requetés, who were overwhelmingly relatively poor farmers, is striking. Their religious devotion and local identity combined with a visceral rejection of the liberal state first and then the democratic one, passed from generation to generation, drove their thoughts and their actions far more than their social position.