On September 27, 1821, Spain’s imperial glory in the kingdom of New Spain ended as Agustín de Iturbide, leading the 16,000-man Army of the Three Guarantees, made his triumphal entry into Mexico City as the Liberator of the nation. Iturbide’s triumph consummated a short and notably peaceful revolution, one in which, as the usual interpretation has it, little resistance had been offered by the royal army. Garrison after garrison had gone over to Iturbide, and it would appear that the army of Spain in Mexico had simply refused to fight. Indeed, Iturbide’s success was largely the result of the wholesale transfer of the soldiers’ loyalties to the rebel side, a process which he personally exemplified more than any other man, for he too had been a royal soldier.

Some of the royal garrisons, however, did resist. Such was the case of the royal army in Mexico City under the command of Field Marshal Francisco Novella. From July 5 to September 13, 1821, the army controlled Mexico City and its environs in a desperate attempt to resist capitulation to the rebels. Though their effort failed because of the growing acceptance of Iturbide by all sectors of the population at large, these months constituted the last stand of the royal army in New Spain and formed a not inglorious final chapter to the history of Spanish arms in Mexico. The army assumed direct control over the viceregal government by a coup d’état in July. It hoped to rally loyal elements of the population by its action but, by overthrowing a popular and moderate viceroy, it only drove the subordinate civilian authorities, who previously had taken an active part in the resistance, into the rebel camp. Thus the army’s last stand may actually have hastened the ultimate collapse of the royal government.

In the spring and early summer of 1821, the Iturbide movement swept through the viceroyalty. A groundswell of popular support for the rebellion seemed to arise everywhere, as thousands of amnestied patriots, who had fought under Hidalgo or Morelos, rushed to join the new leader. In opposition to this threat stood the royal government of Viceroy Juan Ruiz de Apodaca, the Conde del Venadito. Apodaca, in power since 1816, had persevered in a policy of resolute moderation in government which had enabled him to consolidate the advantages that his predecessor Viceroy Félix María Calleja del Rey had won over the rebels by military means. Since the defeat of the Morelos movement in 1815, New Spain had been relatively free of rebel activity with the exception of the abortive landing of Francisco Xavier Mina and the obstinate refusal of General Vicente Guerrero in the south to accept royal amnesty. Until the uprising of Iturbide the rebellion was moribund. However, the royal cause had not grown any stronger during these years of calm, and when Iturbide raised a new independence movement Apodaca discovered that his strength was insufficient to defeat it. The effectiveness of the royal government in New Spain had been seriously undermined by the reimposition in 1820 of the liberal Spanish Constitution of 1812. The Constitution so threatened the traditional rights and privileges of such groups as the clergy and the army, that many of the royal government’s strongest adherents turned away from it in disgust. Apodaca was now required to combat the Iturbide threat with a government that was so hamstrung by constitutional restrictions as to weaken seriously its ability to act quickly. The Constitution also permanently tarnished the majesty and superiority of the king’s government, now no longer an autocracy yet still run by men with the mental outlook of autocrats.

Apodaca realized that the only pillar upon which his government rested was the royal army. Often since 1810 the viceroys of New Spain had called upon their army and provincial and urban militia to protect them. The army had generally responded admirably to its task. Indeed, from 1813 to 1816 viceregal authority had been vested in the former commander of the Army of the Center, General Calleja. Yet in 1820 and 1821 when Apodaca was forced to place his reliance upon the army, the army did not respond. The one pillar upon which an unpopular government can rest collapsed. Starting with the various militia, then extending into the regular army itself, Iturbide’s influence prevailed.

As Margaret L. Woodward has pointed out, the entire Spanish army was wracked by dissatisfaction and restlessness.1 An army uprising in Spain in 1820 led to the reimposition of the Constitution by a reluctant Ferdinand VII. In America the army was equally dissatisfied and contentious. The growing unrest within the army of New Spain was clearly known to Viceroy Apodaca. Throughout the Calleja regime the soldiers had been required to give up a percentage of their pay to increase government revenues. Now the army principally concerned itself with cutbacks in pay and the atrociously poor conditions of supply and maintenance in New Spain. Apodaca made some attempts to improve such conditions in the army. As early as 1818 he instituted a Commissary of War in Mexico City in order to economize on spending, improve the supply of necessities to the troops, and tighten up the entire financial organization of the army. The king had approved of this action wholeheartedly.2 Throughout 1819, Viceroy Apodaca put forward a large number of promotions for military officers, the better to improve morale in the service. From May to December he announced series of promotions in each of his monthly reports to the king.3 Finally, in January, 1821, Apodaca announced the arrival of a royal order for an increase in the salaries of all soldiers through the rank of lieutenant.4 Field Marshal Pascual Liñán, sub-inspector-general of infantry, dragoons, and militia, announced that the increase in salaries would cost 25,000 pesos a month for the troops under his command alone, while Field Marshal Francisco Novella, subinspector-general of artillery, and Colonel Juan Sociat, subinspector of engineers, computed comparable increases for their smaller branches. Salary increases were a definite step in the direction of improving morale in the service, but it came too late, for by January, 1821, Iturbide had taken the field.

The rebellion of Iturbide was both a symptom of the dissatisfaction of the army and a cause of further unrest. Where Hidalgo and Morelos had failed, Iturbide was a consummate master. He knew the army, he knew its high command intimately, he knew the frustration of the peninsular soldier in New Spain, and he knew the pretentiousness and desire for power which motivated many officers of the militia. By his example alone he preyed upon the weakest finks of the military structure. The creole officers who had purchased commissions in the militia flocked to him because he promised an independent state organized on the principles they held as their own and with greater privileges for themselves. Royal soldiers on tour of duty in New Spain were rarely attracted by that aspect of Iturbide’s program, but they were attracted by his promise that their capitulation would result in their being allowed to return home to Spain without danger and with honor. The army, consisting as it did of many independence-minded creoles and frustrated peninsulars, could not withstand the pressures resulting from the appeal of Iturbide’s Plan of Iguala. Garrison after garrison capitulated to Iturbide as he began to take towns and whole provinces, first to the south then to the north of Mexico City, constantly narrowing the territory over which the viceroy had effective control. Loyal remnants of the army withdrew to Mexico City in hopes of forming a force sufficient to move against the rebels yet the viceroy and his military advisers could no longer take for granted the loyalty of their troops. The entire general staff of the royal army congregated in Mexico City where it established itself as a powerful source of influence within the viceregal palace. The officers chafed at the inactivity of Viceroy Apodaca who, it seemed to them, was too devoted to the new Constitution to take the required measures to stop Iturbide. It appears, indeed, that Apodaca could propose no solution, short of the infusion of vast numbers of new troops from Spain.

The general staff incessantly urged Viceroy Apodaca to suspend certain portions of the Constitution which it felt to be detrimental to royal efforts to counter the revolt. The officers felt that Article 137 of the Constitution, which guaranteed freedom of the press, was the most dangerous provision, for it permitted the free publication and distribution of Iturbide’s incendiary Plan of Iguala in unaffected regions of the kingdom, including the capital. Apodaca could no longer escape the pressure upon him, and in the first week of June, 1821, prepared to suspend the freedom of the press. But the ayuntamiento, or city council, of Mexico City, which had long considered itself to be the nation’s chief guardian of the Constitution, urged the viceroy not to tamper with it. On June 2, four members of the ayuntamiento accused the viceroy of creating a state of general anarchy in the government and warned him that if he continued in his plans to suspend free speech he would no longer be able to count on the cooperation of the city council.5 As the recognized spokesman of the creoles in the capital, this warning to the viceroy carried great weight.

In 1821 the ayuntamiento of Mexico City came to assume a symbolic and actual importance rarely granted to it, because of its role as the bastion of both the creoles and the Constitution. Its members, in keeping with the new constitutional regime, were elected, and were all creoles. Iturbide’s Plan of Iguala included the names of three members of the ayuntamiento among the Supreme Governing Junta which he expected to form following the achievement of independence.6 Though maintaining the pretense of loyalty, the ayuntamiento was more radical than it had ever been and provided a type of fifth column in the very capital itself, growing ever bolder as Iturbide’s success became more probable. Apodaca’s government was soon so weak that the ayuntamiento could commit virtual treason with impunity.

Unable to resist the pressure of his military advisers, Apodaca on June 5 suspended freedom of the press,7 and on June 7 issued a decree ordering the general enlistment of all men in the capital from the age of sixteen to fifty years.8 The city council immediately lodged a strong protest, and on June 14 wrote Apodaca that he had, in its judgment, outraged the fundamental law of the state and was consequently no longer deserving of the support of loyal citizens.9 Other lesser civilian authorities also withdrew their support from the beleaguered viceroy, who now stood at the head of a tottering regime with no support other than that of the die-hard elements of the army. As further indication of the ascendancy of the generals, on June 15 Apodaca announced the appointment of Field Marshal Francisco Novella as interim Military Governor of Mexico City.10 Major General Pascual Liñán, formerly commander of the army in the south and highest ranking officer in New Spain, had been asked to accept that job, but refused, saying that the burdens of his position as subinspector-general of infantry, dragoons and militia did not permit him to undertake further duties.

Viceroy Apodaca’s position was now too weak to resist internal pressures for his resignation. The creole liberals within Mexico City would no longer support him because of his illegal insubordination to the Constitution, while the army could no longer countenance him because of his continued moderation. Iturbide’s power was now everywhere dominant, as his supporters continued to take major cities and garrisons throughout the region. It was clear that Apodaca could not hope to rally the government. Only the boldest measures would now suffice, though no one royalist was able precisely to foresee what measures were required. The chief military officers, nevertheless, determined upon the necessity of taking direct action themselves to field an army against Iturbide or at least to hold Mexico City as a last royalist enclave. The moderate, civilian-oriented government of Apodaca had ignored them too long. To meet the power of Iturbide’s image, the royalist cause required its own man on horseback. Francisco Novella attempted to fill that need.

Francisco Novella, as subinspector-general of artillery, was the second highest officer in the royal army in New Spain after General Liñán.11 Probably because his personality did not lend itself to such an act, General Liñán refused to lead the coup then being planned by the army high command in the palace. He feared illegality, supported the constitutional regime, and had nothing to gain. General Novella, a man who apparently felt his own talents and contributions to the cause of the king had not been adequately recognized, had no such scruples. He had at his disposal in Mexico City a royal army of nearly 10,000 men, including both cavalry and infantry.12 They were well-clothed and well-trained, though not particularly enthusiastic to carry on the war. In opposition, Iturbide’s rag-tag forces were, as he himself later described them, “naked,” ill-clothed, ill-supplied, and ill-trained.13 Though vast in numbers, Iturbide’s forces were poorly trained patriots who had come forth to join him. The army officers reasoned that it was still not too late to stand against Iturbide.

Novella did not act as a free agent either in planning the coup which overthrew Viceroy Apodaca or afterward. Rather he seemed to act only as the spokesman and the visible leader of the small military cabal which had established itself in the palace. Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Buceli apparently was the officer who played the major role in shoring up faint hearts and spurring his peers to commit an unprecedented act. Novella himself had long felt Viceroy Apodaca was not sufficiently bold in his policies. Clearly, Novella also was motivated by a desire for personal glory or promotion. What a splendid achievement to be the savior of New Spain in its darkest hour! Having served in New Spain during the Apodaca regime, Novella was impressed by his own importance. In 1820, believing his services merited some distinction, he had applied to be granted the grand cross of the military order of San Hermenegildo. A caustic royal cédula informed the viceroy that “the king has not seen fit to concede to Field Marshal Novella . . . the grand cross,” because he had not served as an officer for the forty years required to make him eligible for the decoration according to the regulations of the order.14 If Novella had sufficient belief in his own distinction to have applied for such a high military decoration, he must indeed have been pained by the king’s curt refusal. How galling it must have been to this pretentious man that the same summer he was refused the grand cross the ayuntamiento of Mexico City sent to the king a representation in high praise of Viceroy Apodaca, particularly honoring him for his brilliant military plans against the rebels, his moderation in granting 35,000 amnesties, and his defense of the Constitution.15 This same moderation now came back to haunt Apodaca, and in the minds of the die-hard military officers was the essential cause of the Iturbide success.

In March, 1821, the military corps collected in Mexico City flooded the capital with printed manifestoes, protesting their loyalty to the Constitution and their desire to die to protect the viceroy and his government. The messages were fulsome in their praise of the king and promised such great sacrifices in the royal cause that some of them appear to have been little more than propaganda, especially in view of the fact that few of the promises were carried out.16 Viceroy Apodaca ordered these documents published for the edification of the populace. Francisco Novella had authored one of these manifestoes in March, swearing his undying loyalty and that of his artillery corps and promising to resist the iniquitous plot of Iturbide. Like many of the other proclamations, Novella’s statement implied a censure for Apodaca’s moderation in putting down rebellion and hinted that this hesitancy lay at the heart of Iturbide’s treason.17 Novella, along with many other high ranking officers, considered Apodaca’s continued administration insufferable.

Consequently, in an act unprecedented in the history of New Spain, the army determined to overthow the viceroy and assume supreme power itself. The immediate impetus for the coup came, both figuratively and literally, from outside the palace. Bustamante’s Cuadro histórico de la revolución mexicana tells the most complete story of the events of July 5, 1821.18 Between nine and ten o’clock in the evening, approximately eight hundred to a thousand troops from various regiments in the city turned out under the immediate leadership of Lt. Col. Francisco Buceli of the Regiment of the Infante Don Carlos and other officers of the regiments. They surrounded and entered the palace after overwhelming some minor resistance from the viceroy’s guards. At that very moment, the permanent Junta of War, consisting of the viceroy and the four subinspectors of the army, was meeting on the main floor of the palace. The military officers came down to receive the demands of the troops who, professing their lack of confidence in the war plans of the viceroy, asked for his resignation in favor of one of the subinspectors. General Liñán, replying first, informed the men that effective war plans were even then being made, and urged them to remember their duty. His mild remonstrance having no effect, Liñán said that he would refuse to take control under a mandate given by his own subordinates. Apodaca himself, coming downstairs, told the mutineers that although he would like nothing better than to give up the impossible duties of his office, he nevertheless feared that his resignation might bring complete chaos. Unmoved, the troops replied that they could not guarantee Apodaca’s personal safety unless he resigned, and since Liñán had refused to take power, it fell to Novella as next in line. Novella momentarily attempted to excuse himself, but soon consented. The conference moved upstairs where the proposal was advanced that General Novella be designated only as Captain-General in charge of the army while Apodaca retain the civil government as Superior Political Chief. But this compromise was unacceptable to the mutineers. Thus Novella became, as the rebel forces were later to characterize him, “accidental” commander at Mexico City.

To make his overthrow less difficult, the officers presented the viceroy with a notice of resignation prepared beforehand and requiring only his signature. The viceroy, incensed, refused to accept it and actually tore it up, offering to write in his own hand whatever they required of him. Thus in his decree of resignation Apodaca announced that he was turning all military and civilian power over to Novella “upon the respectful petition of the officers and expeditionary soldiers,’ asking only safe conduct for himself and his family to Veracruz.19 At the end of a long and sleepless night, the entire Apodaca family evacuated the palace at seven o’clock the next morning, and moving to Guadalupe they awaited the promised escort to Veracruz. It was the second palace coup in the history of New Spain, the first being the overthrow of Viceroy José de Iturrigaray by conservative peninsulars in 1808, and the first bold assertion by an army in Mexico of its presumed ultimate right to determine government.

This military coup was the ultimate blow to the once majestic authority of the viceregal office. It left the government in shambles and caused a schism among the civil officials, many of whom firmly refused to accept Novella’s authority. From this point the final disaffection of many of the citizens of Mexico City with the royal government can definitely be traced. The two chief civilian authorities in Mexico City, the ayuntamiento and the provincial delegation, already had refused to cooperate with Apodaca. They were not to be expected now to give any aid to the Novella clique. The city council, indeed, wrote secretly to Novella saying that although it recognized him as “Chief General and Political Captain” of New Spain, it did so only with reservations.20 Since Novella claimed to possess the titles and offices of Captain General and Superior Political Chief, only the closest reading would have enabled him to detect that the city government used terms that were not identical. The implied refusal of the ayuntamiento to recognize Novella was made explicit by the provincial deputation, the nebulous local executive authority set up under provisions of the Spanish Constitution. On June 6 that organization, which under the Constitution should have assumed control of the province and city of Mexico in the event of the viceroy’s renunciation of his powers, wrote to the deposed Apodaca refusing to acknowledge his right to turn supreme command over to Novella.21 The letter of the provincial deputation to Apodaca brought applause from the ayuntamiento, which wrote the deputation the next day thanking it for its firm stand and referring to Novella merely as “the Field Marshal.” Thus the positions were delineated, and Novella was made to know that the watchdogs of the Constitution refused him their endorsement. Nevertheless, on the morning of July 8, Novella took the oath22 as viceroy of New Spain in the salon of the royal palace—an act so illegal that it left little doubt in the minds of adherents of the Constitution that the royal regime could now make no claim to legitimacy. Nevertheless, Novella’s assumption of power constituted the army’s declaration that it was not yet dead and that it would take its last stand against independence. As Iturbide’s force continued to win victories throughout the viceroyalty, the army showed that it would make of Mexico City the last bastion of royal power and, if necessary, would establish an enclave there.

Novella set himself quickly to the task of attempting to shore up the remaining powers of the government. His first action was the creation of a military junta, presided over by himself, to consider “whatever may be good for the reestablishment of military discipline and the increase of the armed forces.”23 To compose the junta, the Field Marshal called upon his closest supporters, the men who had been instrumental in the coup. The junta, in fact, constituted the government, with Novella as leader. The military had been denied its say too long, and now it had an opportunity to control the government itself. This was, indeed, the first attempt at military dictatorship in the history of Mexico.

In the next two and a half months Novella’s government showered Mexico City with decrees and demands, as it prepared for the anticipated rebel siege of the capital city. Day after day the Field Marshal asked for new sacrifices from the people, but they were increasingly caught up in the same enthusiasm for Iturbide that already characterized the rest of New Spain.

Faced with the necessity of preventing the wholesale desertion of the capital garrison, Novella immediately addressed a rousing manifesto to the men. He warned that “the times are dangerous, the circumstances seem critical.”24 Specifically, he cautioned each man not to listen to the insidious propaganda of the enemy, for he recognized its efficacy. He soon issued a decree prohibiting “suspicious meetings” in private houses, shops, cafés, bars, or any other location. At the same time, he forbade political discussions, the carrying of arms on the streets, and the distribution of seditious publications.25

Following quickly upon these decrees came an order for the general mobilization of all men in the capital city that extended the age limits from the starting age of sixteen to a new maximum of sixty years.26 This order was the third for general enlistment published in Mexico City since the uprising of Iturbide. Apodaca had twice before ordered enlistment — on June 1 and on June 7 —, and the opposition to those orders that arose in Mexico City went far toward weakening any popular support Apodaca might have been able to call upon to prevent his overthrow.27 Any man who refused to come to arms within forty-eight hours now was made liable to a penalty of six years forced service in the front lines. As usual, enlistees were expected to provide their own food, but for the first time in the War of Independence, it was not necessary for them to provide themselves with uniforms. To add further strength to the decree for enlistment, a long-standing law against persons guilty of inducing soldiers to desert or commit treason was quickly reinstituted, setting up severe penalties for such crimes.28 The repetition of these orders three times during the span of one month indicates that the citizens of Mexico City were not responding to the enlistment call. At any rate, the desertion of royal troops, especially in garrisons beyond Novella’s control, had become the greatest single tribulation of the royal regime. By the end of July nearly all the royal army outside Mexico City either had joined Iturbide or accepted his generous terms of capitulation.

In his desperate effort to rally popular support behind his regime, Novella resorted in the latter half of the month of July to two strongly worded proclamations calling on the people to remember their duty and to support his government. One was addressed to all Spaniards, and it reviewed the unhappy situation in which Spain had found itself in 1808, with 500,000 Frenchmen overrunning the peninsula, their way prepared for them by treason, intrigue, and cowardice. Novella said that New Spain was now in almost as desperate a condition and that it was necessary to remember in such critical circumstances what the patriotic citizenry of Spain had done in rising up to throw off the French tyrant. New Spain could do the same with Iturbide. Novella called for “war against treason, war against cowardice and egoism, and war to victory or death.”29 In an even more unusual proclamation Novella addressed himself directly to those “egoists of all classes” who had gone over to the enemy, saying; “Your criminal conduct is not hidden from the Government; I see with horror that some of you have absented yourselves from the capital and fled to nearby towns; others are in hiding in their houses, and some have gone over to the side of our enemies.” Anyone who did not come to the aid of the government would be guilty of treason, and he damned all such traitors to eternal perdition, saying that they no longer deserved to be called human beings.30

Meanwhile, Novella rushed all possible support to the royal engineers, who were engaged in a vain effort to improve the long-neglected fortifications of Mexico City. At the end of July Novella put the management of defense works in the hands of Juan Sociat, who submitted a list of the costs of necessary repairs to the entry gates of Mexico City. Novella ordered the ayuntamiento of Mexico City to make available as many municipal laborers as it could for this work.31 The engineer Rafael María Calvo submitted to Novella an itemized list with estimated costs of those works of defense he considered vital to protect the city. Necessary repairs had to be undertaken at nearly all the gates of entry into the city, at the fortress of Chapultepec, at the military barracks, and at several other places. In addition, a special new esplanade was to be constructed around the viceregal palace to provide a better vantage point from which to defend it, and various of the highways leading into the city were to be fortified. The total projected cost of these repairs was 26,000 pesos.32 The municipal council of the Villa of Guadalupe had been ordered to undertake necessary repairs as well, but was forced to suspend work in July because of a lack of funds. On July 19, the municipal council of Guadalupe asked Novella to loan it enough money to undertake such work, but he had to refuse the request. Very few of the last minute projects for the fortification of Mexico City and the surrounding towns were completed.

In August Novella resorted to emergency measures to assure the continued supply of food to his base. In a decree dated August 4 Novella admitted that the city needed food if it was to defend itself from Iturbide. He therefore decreed that for the next two weeks, anyone who desired to bring in wheat, maize, barley or any other cereal, hogs, liquor, charcoal, cheese or vegetables could do so without paying any fees or customs dues of any kind, neither the alcabala (sales tax) nor any other national or municipal tax. Anyone introducing grains into the city who could not find a suitable place to store them, could go to the city council and would be assigned a building for storage. All the farms and villages surrounding the capital city also were exempted from the payment of taxes on the sale of foodstuffs in the hope of facilitating the movement of such items into the metropolis.33

The efforts of man alone were not considered sufficient to protect royal power in a time of such troubles, and Novella appealed for divine aid, as had so many of his predecessors, to protect the royal cause. At Novella’s order a solemn novena to the Virgin of Los Remedios, the patroness of the royalist cause, was conducted from July 30 to August 7, so that the populace could unite its prayers in supplication for heavenly mercy upon the king’s forces.34 Indeed, the hierarchy of the church in Mexico City appeared to support Novella, at least it never denied him its support. While it is true that most of the clergy of New Spain, especially the lower clergy and those in the countryside, favored Iturbide, in Mexico City itself the presence of the archbishop and other hierarchs imposed a veneer of loyalty upon the church. Archbishop Pedro José de Fonte had joined his voice to those of high ranking military officers in March as he condemned the ingratitude and iniquity of Iturbide’s actions.35 Undoubtedly, as N.M. Farriss has demonstrated, the loyalty the archbishop represented was not reflected in the opinions of many of the canons of the Metropolitan Cathedral chapter who supported the Plan of Iguala with enthusiasm.36

The supporters of Iturbide continued their inexorable march of conquest. On August 3 Novella announced the fall of Puebla to the Iturbide forces.37 This put the rebels within easy striking distance of Mexico City and removed the last major provincial garrison from Novella’s command. The Field Marshal warned the ayuntamiento of Mexico City that the enemy would probably come directly from his new fortification at Puebla, cutting off communications on the way. All live animals and grain in the immediate vicinity of the capital were ordered gathered and brought within the city, in preparation for a siege. During the same first week of August the rebels took the city of Oaxaca; and under Antonio López de Santa Anna they took the province of Veracruz, leaving the port city in royal hands. Mexico City was now totally alone in its loyalty, the last bastion of the royalists, while the rest of the country had turned to Iturbide and independence.

It was at precisely this crucial point, only days after the capitulation of the province of Veracruz, that General Juan O’Donojú, newly appointed Captain-General of New Spain, arrived at that port, where he was faced with a fait accompli. The royal army of which he was to be commander had deserted everywhere except in Mexico City, and with the territory between Veracruz and the capital in the control of the rebels, there was little O’Donojú could do. Iturbide was actually on the road, advancing toward Mexico City from Querétaro,38 when he was informed of the arrival of O’Donojú. He then gave orders that the towns and villages surrounding the capital were to be occupied, but Mexico City itself was not to be stormed. Then, with the gleam of victory in his eyes, he turned and raced toward his fateful meeting with O’Donojú at Córdoba.

The Treaty of Córdoba, signed by O’Donojú and Iturbide on August 24, 1821, declared the independence of New Spain and the creation of the so-called Mexican Empire. Article 17 of the Treaty recognized the existence of a die-hard military regime in Mexico City, the presence of which was declared to be “one obstacle to the realization of this treaty,”39 and the removal of which was said to be necessary for the successful establishment of independence. For nearly every issue facing the new nation the Treaty of Córdoba proposed a moderate resolution, and the trying problem of the intransigence of the Novella clique in Mexico City received equal treatment. Article 17 declared that the conquest of Mexico City would be “indispensable,” but went on to say that since Iturbide himself, in unison with the common wishes of the nation, did not desire to take the capital by force of arms, he therefore would “consider methods of dislodging these troops peacefully, because, despite their valor and constancy, they lack the means and goods to sustain themselves against the system adopted by the entire nation.” General O’Donojú, furthermore, had offered to employ his authority as Captain General to order the withdrawal of the royal garrison at Mexico City “without the loss of blood.”

While Iturbide and O’Donojú were advancing toward Córdoba and meeting together, the frantic preparations for defense continued unabated in Mexico City. Manifestoes flooded the city, officers galloped about, and the citizens watched. To the royal officers in charge of the government it seemed quite impossible that after eleven years of bloodshed and unexampled sacrifice, independence might come without the ultimate holocaust of a final showdown. The Novella clique decided to make a last stand.

But the citizens of the capital and their constitutional spokesmen were not ready to follow Novella. The indications were everywhere to be seen. Three uncompromising demands for universal mobilization had brought no response. A decree of July 25 requesting the people voluntarily to turn over their horses to the army for use in the defense of the city was ignored; not one single individual voluntarily presented his horse.40

The clearest indication of the refusal of the people to support Novella came in response to his order, issued August 8, for the creation of a special commission to propose methods of raising a contribution of 100,000 pesos a month for the support of the army. The money was to come from the very small area that remained under Novella’s active control—which, by the first week of August, was reduced to Mexico City and a few outlying villages. Novella requested the ayuntamiento to name two representatives to sit on the special commission.41 In an act almost unprecedented in its long history, the city council refused to endorse Novella’s attempts to raise the money, saying: “This ayuntamiento, being charged with the security of the neighborhood and of the persons and properties of the citizens, considers that you cannot realize as you wish the contribution of 100,000 pesos a month, because of the deplorable misery to which the Capital has been reduced as a result of the war.”42 In response to a second request from Novella for cooperation, the city council on August 16 discussed whether the two members it was asked to designate for the special junta should be chosen. After a long debate, eleven of the fifteen members of the cabildo voted that the city should not cooperate with Novella in the matter.43

Ignoring the lack of cooperation from the ayuntamiento, Novella continued to plan his 100,000 pesos forced contribution, and on August 31 informed the cabildo that it would be required to collect 50,000 pesos in the first round of donations.44 On September 4, however, the cabildo boldly replied that it would not comply with the order, for the collection of so large a sum was patently impossible and would impose severe privation upon the citizens. Clearly, by the end of August the city council of Mexico City had determined to join the provincial deputation in its refusal to recognize the authority of Field Marshal Novella and, in the future, withhold all cooperation from him. The defection of the city council removed the last important civilian prop from under the Novella regime, which now functioned on the basis of its military power alone. No legitimate civilian authority supported it.

At this critical juncture, on August 29, Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Ruiz de Arco arrived in Mexico City as a representative of O’Donojú, carrying copies of the Treaty of Córdoba and an order to submit to its provisions. On the next day Novella, frightened and unable to reach a decision without some indication of the support he might expect to receive in Mexico City, called upon various organizations in the capital to meet with him at four o’clock in the afternoon to hear the “report” sent by O’Donojú, a report “containing many subjects of gravity and importance.” Novella asked the cabildo, among others, to send two representatives to this meeting “to consult with me concerning what is contained in this report from Señor O’Donojú with the object of avoiding errors in my deliberations.”45 At the same time, Novella issued a general alert to the city, announcing that an attack from the rebels could be expected at any moment, and ordering all citizens not required to take up the defense of the city to remain in their houses and to close and bar their door. “The enemy is in the immediate vicinity of this capital,” said Novella.46

The participants in the meeting on August 30 were unable to come to a decision concerning whether or not to capitulate, and it had “broken up tempestuously,” according to the cabildo records, with the Field Marshal ordering all representatives to gauge the level of public opinion among their constituents. The matter was not an easy one to decide, and Novella called for further meetings on September 9 and September 15. Meanwhile, on September 1 he dispatched commissioners to meet with O’Donojú. The cabildo, on September 2, sent Novella a long report in which it clearly indicated its defection to the side of Iturbide and its refusal to support the royal cause in the future. Assuring Novella that “to continue the resistance . . . which this capital has made would be and is illegal and useless . . . and would result in deplorable consequences,” the ayuntamiento asked for immediate capitulation to Iturbide. In summary, the cabildo announced that “we have arrived at circumstances where we do not have the legal faculties nor the financial faculties to resist any longer the system embraced by all the rest of the kingdom.”47

It did not take Novella too many days to agree with the estimate of the cabildo, for he soon realized that the capital was entirely surrounded by the forces of independence, and that, after the announcement of the Treaty of Córdoba, the continued loyalty of the troops under his command could not be counted upon. The various facesaving devices built into the Treaty made it easier for Novella to submit, and those clauses—which urged that the capital not be taken by force, called for voluntary and honorable withdrawal of royal troops, and suggested the establishment of a Mexican throne under a member of the Spanish dynasty-may have saved many lives. In the first week of September, 1821, the life went out of the resistance movement in the capital, and by September 7 the director of the project to repair the city’s fortifications ordered his engineers to stop their work.48

On the morning of September 7, the representatives of Novella travelled outside the city to meet with the representatives of Iturbide and O’Donojú at the hacienda San Juan de Dios de los Morales, where, after a short conference, an armistice between the royal troops in the capital and the army of Iturbide was accepted and ratified by both Novella and Iturbide. Both armies agreed to lay down their arms and suspend military activities for six days.49

Novella’s communications with the rebels now centered around General O’Donojú, who in theory was the Field Marshal’s superior. During the six day truce the will of the royal soldiers to fight had melted away. For a moment, however, it appeared that Novella might refuse to capitulate. On September 11, O’Donojú wrote Novella saying that he was the legitimate authority in Mexico City, and proposing that the Field Marshal should meet with him. Novella, however, replying the same day, refused to accept the Treaty of Córdoba. He intimated that O’Donojú might have to take the capital by force. To this letter O’Donojú bluntly replied that he did not recognize Novella’s authority and threatened retribution if Novella continued to oppose him. By September 11, the rebel soldiers had advanced to a line extending from the Villa of Guadalupe to Chapultepec, thereby completing their enclosure of the city. Faced with such odds, Novella determined to meet with O’Donojú.

On September 13, the Field Marshal left the city, accompanied by the ayuntamiento, and at the l'Iacienda de Patera, near the Basilica of Guadalupe, met with O’Donojú and Iturbide. Novella perused the papers of O’Donojú’s appointment as Captain General, and proceeded to recognize the latter’s authority. Waiving the vital question of O’Donojú’s right to negotiate the Treaty of Córdoba, Novella submitted to him and placed the garrison of Mexico City under his orders.50 This, in effect, constituted the surrender of the garrison of Mexico City, and the achievement of independence. Aside from Novella’s acceptance of O’Donojú’s authority, and his public announcement of that fact, there was no formal surrender or capitulation, no ceremonial degradation of the royal standard.

In keeping with the provisions of the Treaty, the royal forces which refused to join Iturbide’s army proceeded to evacuate the capital. On September 23, with Novella at their head, the last of the loyal troops marched out.51 After a brief stay at Toluca,52 the soldiers retreated to Veracruz where they either sailed for Spain or joined the Governor of Veracruz, who had refused to accept independence and had established a Spanish stronghold in the fort of San Juan de Ulloa in the harbor of that city. Novella fled to Havana on a sloop bearing refugees and treasure. He arrived in Havana the day after former Viceroy Apodaca and three hundred refugees had arrived on another ship from Veracruz.53 The last viceroy of New Spain and the general who deposed him may well have met face to face in the bustling Cuban port, both on their way home in defeat.

To Francisco Novella, a little known and unremembered career army officer, went the honor of being the last royal chief of New Spain. For two and a half months the army asserted itself in a final effort to preserve New Spain for the crown. The army assumed power over the government because of the recognized inability of the legal civilian authorities to forestall the victory of Iturbide. The ordinary civilian government—the duly constituted regime of Viceroy Apodaca—collapsed first, the army only later. As late as July, 1821, a significant portion of the royal army preserved its will to fight and remained quixotically true to its oath of allegiance to the king and constitution. When finally forced to capitulate because of the sheer weight of numbers and public opinion on the side of the Iturbide movement, the garrison at Mexico City chose to evacuate New Spain and ignore the glittering promises of promotion and advancement held out to it by the First Chief of the Army of the Three Guarantees. In the eyes of Spaniards, the army under Novella upheld the honor of Spain by an act of heroism, which stands in stark contrast to the example of the vastly larger creole militia corps, whose members deserted to Iturbide en masse.

On the other hand, it was also true that the army assumed ultimate power only because no one else would do it, and having established its illegal regime over the royal government, it found that it was in turn rejected by the civilian population. For eleven years New Spain had existed in a state of warfare which was no less destructive for being sporadic, neither side able to win a decisive and final victory. At long last one leader had rallied enough strength to determine the outcome. Iturbide had won over the allegiance of the people of New Spain long before he completed the necessary formality of deposing the royal government. The spokesmen for the articulate minority of the population of Mexico City—the ayuntamiento and provincial delegation had withdrawn their support from the royal government before the overthrow of Apodaca. They could not have been expected to support Novella in his irregular activities. Thus, the overthrow of Apodaca by the army may have hastened the final end of the royal regime, for it left the government of New Spain in the hands of a diehard faction which could promise only further conflict and blood in support of a king whose subjects no longer found the throne of Spain worth fighting for. Iturbide promised peace and independence, Novella promised further misery, and that was a clear enough choice to permit the majority of the population—which neither held nor understood ideological opinions—to reach its decision.


Margaret L. Woodward, “The Spanish Army and the Loss of America 1810-1824,” HAHR, XLVIII:4 (Nov. 1968), 586-607.


“Aprobando el establecimiento de una comisería de Guerra de esta capital, 10 de junio de 1818.” Archivo General de la Nación, México, (hereafter cited as AGN) Cédulas reales, vol. 218, exp. 49.


“Oficio del Exmo. Sr. Virrey insertando las Reales órdenes de 19 de julio de 1820 aprobando los grados militares dados por S.E. y expresando la conclución de la pacificación del Reyno.” Archivo del Ex-Ayuntamiento, México (hereafter cited as A. Ex-A.), Cédulas y reales ordenes, vol. 2979, exp. 371.


“Circular con inserción de Real Decreto previene el aumento de sueldo a todos los cuerpos del Ejército desde la clase de soldado a la de teniente inclusivo,” 27 de enero de 1821. AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 44.


A. Ex-A., Actas de Cabildo, vol. 672, 2 de junio de 1821.


They were the regidores Francisco Manual Sánchez de Tagle, José Manuel Velásquez de la Cadena, and the second syndic Juan Francisco Azcárate. “Sobre que se nombren individuos en lugar de los Sres. . ..”, 24 de septiembre de 1821. A. Ex-A., Elecciones de ayuntamiento, vol. 862, exp. 4.


A. Ex-A., Actas de Cabildo, vol. 672, 5 de junio de 1821.


“Apodaca ha resuelto se renueve el bando promulgado por Calleja de 26 de octubre de 1813, que previene todos los habitantes de la capital presentasen para servicio en defensa de la patria, 7 de junio de 1821.” AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 60.


A. Ex-A., Actas de Cabildo, vol. 672, 14 de jumo de 1821.


A. Ex-A., Actas de Cabildo, vol. 672, 15 de junio de 1821.


Novella held the offices of Lieutenant General, Field Marshal, Sub-inspector-general of Artillery, and interim Military Governor of Mexico City, to which he illegally added the title of viceroy. The office of viceroy did not exist under the Constitution, and its place had been taken by the title of Superior Political Chief.


William Spence Robertson, Iturbide of Mexico (Durham, 1952), p. 78.


Ubaldo Vargas Martínez, La ciudad de México, 1325-1960 (México, 1960), p. 9.


“Negando al Mariscal de Campo Francisco de Novella la gran cruz de la orden militar de San Hermenegildo, 9 de agosto de 1820.” AGN, Reales cédulas, vol. 223, exp. 475.


A. Ex-A., Actas de Cabildo, vol. 139, 19 de junio de 1820.


“El Batallón de Barcelona se ofrece al virey para hacer la guerra en contra de Iturbide, 11 de marzo de 1821:” “Manifiestan las compañías de marina al virrey que tendrán la dulce satisfacción de morir por la defensa del Rey, 10 de marzo;” “Los escuadrones de dragones del rey en México, a la proclama del Exmo. Sr. Virrey de este reino Conde del Venadito de 3 del presente, 10 de marzo;” “Proclama del mayor de plaza Mendivil a los havitantes de Méjico para que desprecien los proyectos de Iturbide, 23 de marzo.” AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 44.


“A la proclama del Exmo. Sr. Virrey de Nueva España, el Cuerpo de artillería nacional,” 8 de marzo de 1821. Archivo Histórico, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México, Antigua Colección, Tomo 2-31, fol. 14-51.


Carlos María Bustamante, Cuadro histórico de la revolución mexicana. (3 vols, reprint, México, 1961) III, 268-273.


“Renuncia que hace el Exmo. Sr. Virrey Conde del Venadito en Novella y encargo de este del mando militar.” A. Ex-A., Historia, en general, vol. 2255, exp. 106.


A. Ex-A., Actas de Cabildo, vol. 672, 7 de julio de 1821.


A. Ex-A., Historia, en general, vol. 2255, exp. 106.


A. Ex-A., Actas de Cabildo, vol. 672, 8 de julio de 1821.


“Bando para el establecimiento de una junta presidida por Novella con toda autoridad para el restablecimiento de la disciplina militar, 7 de julio de 1821.” AGN, Impresos oficiales vol. 60. The junta of war was composed according to Novella’s announcement, of himself as chief, José de la Cruz, the Counts of San Mateo Valparaíso and la Cortina, Colonels the Marqués de Vivanco, José Gabriel Armijo, Juan Marcos Rada, Lorenzo Noriega, José Ignacio Agguirrenvengoa, José Antonio Camblor, Lieutenant Colonels the Count of Heras, Eusebio García, Manuel Gutiérrez and Martín Angel Michaus. Further, each battalion was to be represented by an officer elected by the battalion itself. José de la Cruz was not in México City during this entire period and did not participate in the junta. The Marqués de Vivanco later deserted to Iturbide and was put at the head of a patriot regiment.


“Novella al ejército real, 8 de julio de 1821.” AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 60, exp. 101.


“Novella prohibe toda reunión sospechosa en casas particulares, 13 de julio de 1821.” AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 60.


“Novella ordenando que todo ciudadano desde edad de 16 a 60 años los presenten dentro de 48 horas para servicio en defensa de la patria, 16 de julio de 1821.” AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 60, exp. 88.


“Apodaca ordena que todos los que puedan sostenerse y uniformarse a sus expensas a tomar las armas desde la edad de 16 años hasta 40, 1 de junio de 1821;” AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 60. Ibid, “Apodaca ha resuelto se renueve el bando promulgado por Calleja. . ..”


“Apodaca ordena que las Ordenanzas sobre el delito de inducir a las inocentes tropas a la deserción son aplicadas en el presente situación, 5 de julio de 1821.” AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 60.


“Proclama de Novella a los Españoles, julio de 1821.” AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 60, exp. 102.


“Proclama de Novella a los egoístas, julio de 1821.” AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 44, exp. 75.


El Sr. Governador Militar de esta Plaza pidiendo operarios y herramienta para las fortificaciones de Peralvillo y Vallejo, 21 de julio de 1821.” A. Ex-A., Historia, en general, vol. 2255, exp. 95.


“Papeles varios.” AGN, Historia, Defensa de la capital, 1821, vol. 378.


“Bando sobre el abastecimiento del capital de toda clase de alimentos, 4 de agosto de 1821.” AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 60.


“Aviso al público que se haga un solemne Novenarío a María de los Remedios, 30 de julio de 1821,” AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 60, exp. 89; A. Ex-A., Actas de Cabildo, vol. 672, 28 de julio de 1821.


“Pedro José de Fonte, Arzobispo de México, al venerable clero secular y regular, sobre el inicuo proyecto del ingrato Iturbide, 19 de marzo de 1821.” AGN, Impresos, oficiales, vol. 60, exp. 67. In his decree Archbishop Fonte ordered the clergy to obey the “legitimate civilian power” of the viceroy’s government, which meant that many of his priests considered themselves released from obedience after the coup of Novella. The archbishop’s stand was so intransigent that he left the country in 1821, following the success of independence, and never returned, although he continued to claim his see until ordered by the papacy to relinquish it.


N. M. Farris, Crown and Clergy in Colonial Mexico, 1759-1821, (London, 1968), p. 249.


A. Ex-A., Actas de Cabildo, vol. 672, 3 de agosto de 1821.


Henry George Ward, Mexico in 1827 (2 vols., London, 1928), I, 200.


“Tratados celebrados en la villa de Córdoba, 24 de agosto de 1821.” AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 60, exp. 100.


“Bando sobre números de caballos permitidos a los oficiales del ejército, 4 de agosto de 1821.” AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 60.


A. Ex-A., Actas de Cabildo, vol. 672, 9 de agosto de 1821.


A. Ex-A., Actas de Cabildo, vol. 672, 10 de agosto de 1821.


A. Ex-A., Actas de Cabildo, vol. 672, 16 de agosto de 1821.


“Oficio del Sr. Novella sobre que el ayuntamiento nombre dos individuos para la Junta que ha determinado establecer con el objeto de una contribución de cien mil pesos mensuales.” A. Ex-A., Hacienda, contribuciones, vol. 2019, exp. 6.


“El Sr. Novella convoca a todas las corporaciones para tratar sobre la llegada del Sr. O’Donojú, 30 de agosto de 1821.” A. Ex-A., Historia, en general, vol. 2255, exp. 87.


“Disposición suprema para que se encierren en sus casas los que no deban tomar las armas, 29 de agosto de 1821.” A. Ex-A., Historia, en general, vol. 2255, exp. 93.


Representación del Exmo. Ayuntamiento de Méjico al comandante accidental de armas de la misma ciudad mariscal de campo D. Francisco Novella,” 2 de septiembre de 1821. AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 60, exp. 103.


“Papeles varios.” AGN, Historia, Defensa de la capital, 1821, vol. 378.


“Avisa haverse hecho un armisticio con el Ejército Trigarante por seis días contados desde la ratificación del tratado, 7 de septiembre de 1821.” AGN, Impresos oficiales, vol. 44, exp. 77.


Robertson, Iturbide of Mexico, p. 125.


Francisco de Paula de Arrangoiz y Berzábal, Méjico desde 1808 hasta 1867; relación de los principales acontecimientos políticos que han tenido lugar desde la prisión del virrey Iturrigaray hasta la caída del segundo imperio, (4 vols. in 2, Madrid, 1871), II, 66.


Joel R. Poinsett, Notes on Mexico, Made in the Autumn of 1822 (Philadelphia, 1824), p. 268.


Robertson, Iturbide of Mexico, p. 128. Bustamante says Apodaca did not leave Mexico City until September 25, that is, after Novella.

Author notes


The author is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Manitoba.