In the month of July 1808, panic reigned in Madrid. A French army of 100,000 men was marching towards the city, determined to prevail. For a year coups d’état, revolts and repression had wracked the city. Napoleon, after having dethroned the Bourbon dynasty, was determined to put one of his brothers on the throne of Spain, but, more than once, the Spanish people had risen up in violence which Goya would go on to immortalise. Napoleon then decided to use the great power at his disposal: an army that would crush everything in its path. As we pick up the story, the French are only one or two days’ march away.
At the Royal Palace, no-one knew quite what to do. The king had been kidnapped by the French who moved with such speed that no-one at the palace had time to carry anything away or to hide anything. Furthermore, there was to be found there an extraordinary collection of watches and clocks as well as the fabulous set of jewels belonging to the Spanish Crown. The Governor of the Palace decided to act on his own initiative and hide these two sets of collections. He ordered that the silk hangings be detached from two rooms of the palace, and that two cavities be opened in the walls into one of which the clocks were hidden and the jewels in the other. The cavity was then mended over with embroidered silk. There was then nothing left to do but to wait for events to take their course.
The French entered Madrid and Napoleon placed his brother Joseph on the throne of Spain, but it was not to last. Revolt spread which was supported by the English. Soon King Joseph was forced leave Madrid, yet he did so not without carrying three hundred canvases of the fabulous collections of Spanish royal paintings with him. As the chronicler says: not being able to put the crown on his head, King Joseph put it in his pocket. But as for the clocks and jewels which had been hidden, the French had never found or looked for them.
The legitimate Bourbon dynasty rose up once more to claim the throne and occupy the Royal Palace. King Ferdinand VII then asked for samples of the hangings of the two rooms where the precious collections had been enclosed in order that he might be able to dig into their walls. Two samples were brought in and the search began for the corresponding hangings in the Palace, only that King Joseph, in his short reign in that palace, had had time to change the hangings of all the rooms of the Royal Palace, so it was impossible to find the rooms in which the jewels had been locked. Of the workers who carried out the work and could thus have assisted in the search, no trace was found. Two solutions seemed to present themselves: either the Royal Palace – the 600 sumptuously decorated rooms – must be turned inside out in order to uncover the lost treasures or the collections must forever be left undisturbed. In the end, fate dictated that the Royal Palace would remain intact.
As time passed and the generations succeeded one other, the story of the two collections passed into legend. This was to change in the reign of Franco. One day, it became necessary to have some plumbing work done at the Royal Palace. In one of the rooms where the work was being carried out, the wall collapsed and a shower of clocks fell onto the patterned, wooden floor. It had to be the precious collection of King Charles IV. But if the clocks existed, then the jewellery must also have existed.
But how and where could they be found? The King found himself facing the same dilemma as that confronted by his forbearers in the 19th century. Dig up the whole Royal Palace or let the jewels lie. It is certainly a palace full of secrets. My grandmother told me that when she was staying there, the reigning queen, Marie-Christine, had offered her the chance to go alone to the other end of the palace in that room. My grandmother went, only to find that the queen regent arrived there long before her. There is to be found in the Royal Palace a series of corridors and secret staircases that lead from one place to another, allowing one to travel from room to room without ever being seen. As for the marvellous and priceless jewels of the Spanish Court, they remain locked up in the same hiding place as that in which they were locked in 1808.