Miguel Ricardo de Álava y Esquivel

Don Miguel Ricardo de Álava y Esquivel

Detail of a portrait of Miguel Ricardo de Álava by William Salter
Born 7 July 1770
Vitoria-Gasteiz, Álava, Spain
Died 14 July 1843(1843-07-14) (aged 73)
Barèges, France
Allegiance  Spain
Service/branch Navy/Army
Years of service 1785–1815
Rank Brigadier General

War of the Third Coalition

Peninsular War

Hundred Days

Relations Ignacio Maria de Alava y Saenz de Navarrete (uncle)
Other work Politician/Diplomat

Don Miguel Ricardo de Álava y Esquivel Order of Santiago, Order of Charles III, KCB, MWO (7 July 1770 – 14 July 1843) was a Spanish General and statesman. He was born in the Basque Country of Spain, at Vitoria-Gasteiz, in 1770. Álava holds the distinction of having been present at Trafalgar, and Waterloo, fighting against the British at the former and with them at the latter.[1](Swinton 1893, pp. 124–132)

Alava served as a naval aide-de-camp during the time of Spain's alliance with France but switched sides in 1808 when Napoleon invaded Spain.[1] The Spanish Cortes appointed him commissary (military attaché) at the British Army Headquarters, and the Duke of Wellington, who regarded him with great favour, made him one of his aides de camp. Before the close of the campaign he had risen to the rank of brigadier-general. Later he joined the headquarters of the British Peninsular Army as a military attaché and became a close friend of the Duke of Wellington. During the Waterloo Campaign in 1815, Alava was the Spanish ambassador to The Hague (the court of King William I of the Netherlands), which allowed him to attend the Duchess of Richmond's ball and to be at Wellington's side during the Battle of Waterloo.[2]

War of the Third Coalition

Álava served first in the Navy, and had risen to be captain of a frigate when he exchanged into the army, receiving corresponding rank. He was present as a Marine at the Battle of Trafalgar on board the flagship of his uncle Admiral Ignacio Álava.[2]

Peninsular War

At the assembly of Bayonne in 1808, he was one of the most prominent of those who accepted the new constitution from Joseph Bonaparte as King of Spain. After the national rising against French aggression, and the defeat of General Dupont at Bailen in 1808, Álava joined the national independence party, who were fighting in alliance with the British.[2] At the end of January 1810 he was ordered to move to Portugal in order to communicate Wellington the difficult military situation in that they were against the French. During this stay a friendship between Wellington and Alava was created, to the point that the Duke had him remain as delegate of the Spanish forces in the British units. He was promoted to Brigadier by express recommendation of Wellington.[2] He saw action in the battles of Salamanca, Vitoria, Bussaco and at the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, as well as taking part in the storming of Badajoz.[3]

Hundred Days

On the restoration of Ferdinand, Álava was cast into prison, but the influence of his uncle Ethenard, the Inquisitor, and of Wellington secured his speedy release. He soon contrived to gain the favour of the King, who appointed him ambassador to The Hague in 1815. It was therefore his remarkable fortune to be present at the Battle of Waterloo with Wellington's staff.[2] Álava stuck close to the Duke during the Battle. Like Wellington, and unlike many of his staff, Alva survived the battle without sustaining any wound although Wellington and his staff were in the thick of the action, with the Duke declaring to Alava: "The hand of Almighty God has been upon me this day".[4] Álava is presumed to have been the only man on the Coalition side who was present at both Waterloo and Trafalgar.[2] [lower-alpha 1]

Politician and diplomat

Equestrian statue of the General in the Monument to the Battle of Vitoria (1813), Vitoria, Spain.

On the breaking out of the revolution of 1820, he was chosen by the province of Álava to represent it in the Cortes, where he became conspicuous in the party of the Exaltados, and in 1822 was made President. In the latter year, he fought with the militia under Francisco Ballesteros and Pablo Morillo to maintain the authority of the Cortes against the rebels. When the French invested Cádiz, Álava was commissioned by the Cortes to treat with the Duc d'Angoulême, and the negotiations resulted in the restoration of Ferdinand, who pledged himself to a liberal policy. No sooner had he regained power, however, than he ceased to hold himself bound by his promises, and Álava found it necessary to retire first to Gibraltar and then to England.[2] There, he was given a house on the Duke of Wellington's Hampshire estate Stratfield Saye and introduced to his bank Coutts: "This is my friend, and as long as I have any money with your house, let him have it to any amount he thinks proper to draw for".

On the death of Ferdinand, he returned to Spain, and espousing the cause of Maria Christina against Don Carlos was appointed ambassador to London in 1834, and to Paris in 1835. Proposed as Prime Minister in September 1835, he rejected his nomination. After the insurrection of La Granja, he refused to sign the constitution of 1837, declaring himself tired of taking new oaths, and was consequently obliged to retire to France, where he died at Barèges in 1843.[2]

Frequent and honourable mention of Álava is made in Napier's History of the Peninsular War, and his name is often met both in lives of the Duke of Wellington and in his correspondence.[2]



  1. Christopher Summerville mentions that the French General Antoine Drouot was also present at both battles,[5] and Bernard Cornwell has pointed out that at least one battalion of French soldiers present at Waterloo had served as marines at Trafalgar.[6]
  1. 1 2 Summerville 2007, p. 4.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Chisholm 1911, p. 478.
  3. Arthur Wellesley, "The dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington...": Volume 10.
  4. Summerville 2007, pp. 4–5.
  5. Summerville 2007, p. 5.
  6. Cornwell 2015, p. 42.



Political offices
Preceded by
The Count of Toreno
Prime Minister of Spain
14 September 1835-4 October 1835
Succeeded by
Juan Álvarez Mendizábal
Minister of State
14 September 1835-4 October 1835
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