The historians define the 18th century as a
period of economical growth in all Spain and also in Madrid. The capital of the
new dynasty increased its economic importance at the same time that its
political control increased all over Spain.
One of the first symptoms of the economical
growth was the increment of the Madrilenian population during this century. The
first cadastres allow to approach with more accuracy to the number of
inhabitants that had the city: by the middle of century 142.000 people lived in
Madrid and in 1799 the number had ascended to 195.000.
It is an important increase, but the
Madrilenian population is much lower that in cities like Paris or London, that
duplicate and triplicate it. The Madrilenian population's growth was due,
partly, to an immigration process looking for bigger opportunities in a city
with more resources and work positions.
It can be verified a clear prevalence of the
Basque names in certain mercantile activities and from Catalan origin for last
names in handmade occupations. From outlying areas arrived at the capital
pushies people with means, and from the bordering provinces arrived groceries
salespersons and servants of different types for wealthy families.
Above all, Madrid was a political city, the
capital of a vast territory, located in the center of the peninsula, but
isolated of the flourishing mediterranean and atlantic market.
Any important European city in that century
and the previous ones, it was so far from the sea and with so few possibilities
of being connected with the coast.
The capital was a very important consumption
center. It needed to be supplied from different places to satisfy its
necessities, and at the same time it was not a very important production center,
because all that it produced was practically consumed inside the city, without
being able to be sold in other places.
Approximately, the Madrilenian active
population was about 30% during the whole second half of this century, reduced
quantity that shows us a city with wide groups of inactive or not very
productive population, included most part of the lower aristocracy, that
continued considering the manual work as a dishonor.
The most active group was the servants,
about 30%. The second place in importance was occupied by the bureaucrats, who
were 6.482 at the end of the century - their growth had accelerated in the
second half of the century.
Fundamentally, these data confirm the
reality of Madrid as a consumer city of which the authors of the 19 century were
talking about. With this population's characteristics, Madrid could provide
goods and services to the bordering regions difficultly, something logical in a
more dynamic economy that this.
The Madrilenian population's characteristics
make us think, and diverse authors have manifested this way, in a very unequal
market, in which cohabited the great part of the population - about 70% - who at
the survival level spended practically all their incomes on food,as well as
several hundreds of very rich families, who swam in the abundance, and who were
those who demanded luxury articles manufactured in our city or in other European
There are testimonies in those that a
nobleman ordered a pair of shoes from Paris for his wife, because she didn't
like those which were made in Madrid or that of the duchess sent a horse car to
pick a dress to the same French city, similar to the queen's ones, to show off
it in the walk or in the corresponding party.
In spite of these examples it is necessary
to affirm that Madrid had very good artisans in most of the professions, that
produced goods and expensive objects, very appreciated by the upper classes.
In fact, if we analyze the growth data and
the union activities concentration, those that grew more bigger are dedicated to
this type of products, as the linen, tapestries, laces, silversmith's craft or
the silk goods. Only the unions that work the rope and the esparto are among
those that grew and don't manufacture value objects or luxury articles.
In addition to the unions, during this
century were put into operation the "Royal Factories", imitating the
French ones. The most outstanding ones were those of glasses, porcelain and
tapestries, located in La Granja (Segovia) the first one and the other two in
The most important one was the Retiro's
Royal Porcelains Factory, built by Charles III's initiative that brought masters
and Italian techniques for its beginning, and which was destroyed by the English
troops at the end of the war against Napoleon.
Its production was selected and restricted.
Its clients were the European royal houses and the main nobiliary houses. Some
of its magnificent pieces can be contemplated in the Municipal Museum of Madrid.
In spite of the economic growth of the 18th
century, the wages diminished in the second half and in the last twenty years
the urban misery increased. Some of the disturbances and outcries had to do with
this situation, ending up the Crown, in 1780, to take the decision to produce
bread for poor people with a lower price and to avoid extreme situations.
A few economic institutions were appearing
in the Madrilenian economiy during the century. Some of them have survived with
different modifications until the present time. One of the most flourishing was
the "Biggest Five Unions" founded in 1667, whose wealth and power
increased vastly during the century that occupies us.
The unions that formed it were the jewelers,
haberdashers, silks, clothers and drapers that controlled exclusively the
import, production and sale of these products.
They built an elegant palace in Jacinto
Benavente's Square, near Sun Gate, as headquarters of their operations and
nowadays is one of the Madrilenian neoclasic representative buildings.
The Five Unions were a powerful economic
institution that lent money to the State, participated in other economic
companies, received deposits of money to a certain interest, collaborated or
controlled commercial companies, etc.
Another institution born at the beginning of
the 18th century was the "Pawnshop".
It was founded by Francisco Piquer Rodilla -
known as father Piquer -. It was dedicated to help the families or individual
people to improve their life style. From 1713 it was settled in a house given by
king Philip V in the Barefoot Square.
Its economic growth was quick, parallel to
its social work.
Another form to obtain money to assist
social necessities was the "lottery", introduced by king Charles III
in 1673. Its profits were dedicated, according to the royal decree, for the
benefit of "...hospitals, orphanages, pious
and public works in which are wasted many properties of my Royal Treasury
Although the biggest prize hardly arrived at
250 reals, the success of this game was quick. The profit for the Public
Treasury was very high, which allowed, in six months, to increase the quantity
It began in this way the possibility that
poor people or with very few opportunities, overnight, becomes in rich citizens.
The economic institution with a better
future projection was the "Bank of Saint Charles" that became Bank of
Spain some years later. This bank was born at the end of Charles III's reign,
although already in the previous reign had put mainly into operation the Royal
Bank of Giros, taken charge about all, of the external payments.
The necessity to stand up to the yoyal
vouchers that king Charles had emitted to assist different expenses of his
Kingdom, accelerated the necessity of this financial institution.
Initially, the bank was formed through the
subscription of actions for individuals, guaranteed by the Public Treasury.
The funds of the Bank were used in many
different commitments, as the agriculture improvement, - basic piece of the
economy for the erudites - in rivers canalization as the Manzanares or the
Guadarrama, - the intents of the Madrilenian rivers canalization failed - or in
different roads construction.
Some of these initiatives showed the
interest of the Madrilenian merchants and the agricultural proprietors in
improving the home trade of their products and in participating in the atlantic
The Madrilenian economy structure at the end
of the century continues being enough unbalanced when depending, mainly, of its
predominant politic function.
Its trade and its industry continued
responding to the necessities of a home market and the economic surpluses of the
richest social groups are devoted to increase the number of servants and to
enjoy a bigger quantity of sumptuary goods instead of investing them in
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