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Richard Wall, the Irish-Spanish Minister [1]

By Diego Téllez Alarcia
Universidad de La Rioja, Spain


The Character

Ricardo Wall (1694-1777)
(Anonymous, Museo Naval, Madrid)

Richard (Ricardo) Wall and Devereux (born in Nantes, 5 November 1694, died in Soto de Roma, 26 December 1777) was the son of Jacobite refugees. His father, Mateo Wall, fought in the Fitz-James Infantry Regiment of Lord Grand Prior, in the army of James II. [2] His family lived in Kilmallock, County Limerick, well known in those times as the 'crossroads of Munster,' and belonged to a branch of an Old English lineage. In fact, the Walls originally came from Normandy (Wall = Du Val) with William the Conqueror in 1066, and were transferred to Ireland in the following century. [3]

As Ricardo's father supported James II, the family had to escape to France around 1691. Soon after, Ricardo was born, and was baptised at Saint Nicholas's Church in Nantes. They lived then in the 'Pit of the Well of Silver' and were given shelter by a relative, probably Gilbert Wall, who was Ricardo's godfather. [4]

Links between Irish refugees and the French nobility were strong at that time. This was why Ricardo became a page to the Duchess of Vendome, one of the most important French houses. He was transferred to Spain in 1716 on the recommendation of the latter, to Cardinal Alberoni, Prime Minister in Spain. Thanks to this recommendation he was accepted as a midshipman in the Spanish Navy. He entered the Royal Company of Naval Cadets ('Colegio Real de Guardiamarinas') in 1717, where he graduated with the second promotion. Immediately thereafter, he embarked on the Real San Felipe (74 guns), under the command of Admiral Gaztañeta. However, the defeat of the Spanish Armada at the battle of Cape Passaro a few months later in 1718, coupled with a series of health-related problems that hindered his adjustment to the rigours of life at sea, prompted Wall to join the infantry. He first joined the Hibernia infantry regiment (1719) and, after that, the Batavia dragoons regiment (1721).

He participated in different engagements and campaigns during his life: the Sicily campaign (1718-19), the raising of the Siege of Ceuta (1720), Prince Charles' expedition to take possession of La Toscana (1731), the War of Naples (1734-35) and the Lombardy campaign (1743-46). [5] The infant D. Felipe served in the latter campaign. [6]

He made a brief incursion into the diplomatic field as well. Ricardo accompanied the Duke of Liria on his ambassadorial post to Moscow in 1727. Liria had also been born in French exile (Saint Germain-en-Laye, 1696) and was the son of the Duke of Berwick, a descendant of James II. Wall was, according to the Duke, 'a man in whom I put all my confidence, with whom undid my heart in all my misfortunes, that were not few'. [7] The sponsorship of the Duke, based on this solidarity of origin, relaunched the military career of Wall. He was entertained by the King of Prussia; he received the Order of Generosity, and he was proposed as ambassador in Berlin, though the project did not prosper. Wall thus had his first contact with the diplomatic world and became familiarised with some of the most representative capitals of the continent: Parma, Vienna, Dresden, Berlin, Saint Petersburg and Moscow.

Finally, he was invested with the habit of Santiago (Saint James) in 1737 and was awarded the 'encomienda' (landlordship) of Peñausende (1741). [8] This encomienda included the villages of Peñausende, Peralejos de Abajo, Saucelle, Saldeana and Barrueco Pardo (now in the provinces of Zamora and Salamanca). This was a fitting acknowledgement of his noble origins and allowed him to ascend in the Spanish administration.

After passing up through all the military ranks, thanks to the protection of the Duke of Huéscar (since 1755, Duke of Alba, and Liria's son's brother-in-law), he abandoned the sword for the pen. Ricardo was first posted to Genoa (1747) before moving on to London, where he took part in a secret mission of rapprochement between Spain and England (1748). He was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary after a peace accord was signed (1749), and later ambassador (1752). During a brief visit to Spain (1752), Wall was finally promoted to Lieutenant General and made a good impression on the king and queen, who in 1754 appointed him successor to Carvajal, the Secretary of State, following the latter's death. In 1759, he was also appointed Secretary of War. He resigned in 1763, [9] retiring voluntarily to the Royal Residence of Soto de Roma, where he was Governor. Wall led the works on the restoration of the Arab Palace of La Alhambra. [10] He died in 1777. [11] 

The Ministry

As Spanish Prime Minister, Ricardo Wall played a very important role. The core points of his political thought were neutrality and monarchism. Both were divested of negative overtones. In fact, historians use two stereotyped labels to define these principles. So neutrality is conceived as Anglophile and monarchism as anti-Jesuit. However, the supposed anglophilia and the presumed anti-Jesuitism of the minister were no more than political weapons used by his enemies to discredit him and to try to remove him from power. Unfortunately these are weapons that have proved extraordinarily persistent concepts in the later historiography. [12]

Wall's signature
(Archivo Histórico Nacional, Madrid)

With regard to international relationships, Wall's policy was not as unmoving as historians claim. The concept of neutrality evolved during this time. Spain adopted different positions during the critical conjuncture of the Seven Years War. Wall was actually in favour of participating in the conflict, for instance, in 1757, when English insolences became unbearable. The king's illness postponed sine die this change of direction. Nevertheless, the minister himself would lead, some years later, - and not against his will, as historians think - , the final change. He signed the Third Family Compact (1761), the failure of which must be put in perspective by analysing the events of the rest of the reign. [13]

In any event, we must not exaggerate the ministerial performance of the Irish secretary. In reality there were some successes such as the signature of a convention with Denmark in 1757, or the 'second neutralisation' of Italy, with the marriage between the Spanish infant Maria Luisa and Archduke Leopold of Austria, and the solution of the question of the Placentino. But there were also failures, such as the attempt to approach England or the cancellations of the border treaty. It was not possible for Wall to resolve American conflicts with both powers: the English settlements in Belize and the Portuguese settlements in Colonia del Sacramento (present-day Uruguay). However, a certain revaluation of the personage is necessary in considering these and other issues related to Wall's ministry.

In fact, during his ministry, important institutional reforms took place such as the connection of the diplomatic career with the offices of the Secretary of State, the preparation of a Consular Regulation, the beginning of the debate on free trade with America, and reforms in the postal service. There were many measures undertaken in the army also: regulations, the creation of the 'Monte Pío' and of the Academy of Artillery in Segovia and the preparation of the new Royal Ordinances of 1768. Notwithstanding, there were other negative measures: the sale of military ranks, the return to the system of fleets and galleons and the intensification of censorship, with the taking over of newspapers such as the Gaceta de Madrid and the Mercurio Histórico-Político by the State office.


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 31 August 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Téllez Alarcia, Diego, 'Richard Wall, the Irish-Spanish Minister
' in Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, 5:2 (July 2007), pp. 131-134. (www.irlandeses.org), accessed .


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