Book Review: Basque-Made Rolling Blocks of the 3rd Carlist War

This new book from Mowbray is an English translation of a work originally written in Spanish by Fernando de Aguinaga and Jose Luis de Aguinaga, which clearly involved a tremendous amount of original research. The full title is “Spanish Rolling Block: The Basque Made Rifles of the Third Carlist War“, and it is a very specifically focussed book. The main production of small arms for the Spanish military during this period (the 1870s) was the Oviedo Arsenal. However, the Carlist Wars and the fighting in Cuba and Puerto Rico involved substantial numbers of locally organized volunteers, who could not source their arms form the military. Instead, they purchased gun made by private companies, most substantially La Escalduna in Placencia and La Azpeitiana in Azpeitia.

The military also contracted for rifle production from these factories, and this led to several different classes of arms: commercial contracts, military contracts, and Carlist occupation production. Most of the guns made were versions of the Remington Rolling block, but they also included pinfire swivel breech guns, Snider conversions, and more.

This book does an excellent job of documenting the variations in these arms and the history surrounding their production. Many original documents are reproduced and cited to explain different production orders, and the subtle variations between the different models are well documented photographically. It is a very well done book on a very specific and narrowly focused subject.

Available direct from the publisher, Mowbray/Man At Arms.


  1. I looked at the title and got strangely excited (even by my own standards).
    I know about the 1st Carlist War because I read in my teens (George Borrow is an argumentative forgotten genius of a writer from the 19th Century); but I did not know there were 2 Carlist War remakes.
    I know about rolling blocks from watching Forgotten Weapons, but knew nowt about C19th Basque gun manufacturing.
    I learned a lot from this. The only disappointment is that I am saving up for a book about French rifles, so really cannot afford this book: but am grateful to be shown information that goo-pit-le is making almost impossible to find.

  2. As late as 1936-9, at least some portion of the Franco-supporting Spanish were described as ‘Carlists.’ I think some writers labelled the whole Insurgency that way, other used the term for a particular strain of militant Catholics.
    (NB, this is off the top of my head, your research may vary.

    • Viva Christo el Rey! remained a Carlist requeté war cry into the Franco Nationalist ranks during the Spanish Civil War. The red beret or “basque mütze” in German remained the militia headgear of ultramontaine Catholics in the Spanish Civil War too. Remember that the Nationalists were an odd coalition of anti-communists, anti-democrats, and even anti-Enlightenment types. The Monarchist CEDA used the stiff-armed fascist salute and whipped up crowds with various slogans as if they were Mussolini’s black shirts or Hitler’s brown shirts. The actual fascists, the Falange JONS used red and black flags and blue shirts… When their leader was killed early on the “national uprising” Francisco Franco infuriated everyone by declaring himself the new party leader and combining the blue shirt with the Carlist requeté red beret!

      A bit narrow a research focus, no? I mean, what of the enormous numbers of Spanish “quintos” or conscripts sent off in the Ejército Ultramar to die in Cuba and the Philippines and in Morocco? Throughout the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s huge numbers of U.S. made Remingtons, Oviedo Asturian-made government arsenals churned out the Spanish service rifle, and yes, the Basque gun manufactories also made very many such rifles… Seems to me the book might have simply gone for all Spanish-used rolling blocks in .43 Spanish, and the Reformado cartridge whether U.S., Spanish, or Basque factories were involved.

  3. I think that the book has been published only in English. Probably the authors thought that there is a broader market.

    About origin of Carlist wars, they were not a mere dynastic struggle but a social, political and armed conflict between liberals (“Liberales” or “Isabelinos”) and absolutists (“Carlistas”). The conflict upraised in 1833 with the death of king Fernando VII (who have abrogated the 1812 liberal constitution), when supporters of absolutist cause vowed fidelity to Fernando’s brother, Carlos (hence the name of his party), arguing that the king has no male heir and women can’t carry the crown, whereas the liberal cause rallied on Fernando’s daughter, Isabel, whose mother (the widower queen) has no chance but adhere to moderate liberal party. First Carlist Civil War lasted from 1833 to 1839, ending with the victory of queen Isabel II or liberal army. Carlist cause was has much support in several regions of Spain, as Catalonia, Galicia or Old Castille, but mainly in the Basque Country so the Basque beret (‘boina’ or ‘chapela’) became the distinguishing garment of Carlist Army.

    War erupted briefly between 1846 and 1849 as a low intensity conflict, but after the queen Isabel II was dethroned in 1868 Spain entered in a period of instability, increased with the first Cuban insurgence, that conducted to a new Carlist uprising in 1872, and a third Carlist War that lasted to 1876. In 1873 a Republic was established, and many conservatives gave support to Carlist party that reached great strength, controlling a good part of northern Spain, including most of the Basque Country (where most of Spanish private gun-makers were).

    When the war began the Spanish Army, already fighting the Cuban rebel, was armed with the excellent Remington model 1871 11mm rifle, complemented by the breechloading Berdan conversion of the model 1857 rifles (similar to Enfield P-1853 or Springfield M-1855). Remington rifles were made in Oviedo Factory, but also acquired from Remington’s factory in USA. Berdan 14.8mm conversions (identical to Springfield-Allin ‘trap door’) were made by private industries in the Basque Country, but during the war part of this area was occupied by the Carlist Army and their arms production turned to this army, including Berdan, Snider or pin fire rifles. Remington system arms were also made by private Basque manufacturers like ‘La Euscalduna’, ‘La Azpeitiana’ or Orbea, for both Liberal a Carlist Armies.

    As Dave has said, the Carlist Party adhered to Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War and their militias (called ‘Requetes’) contributed heavily to his faction war effort, especially during the first months. Their mottos were ‘Viva Cristo Rey’ (heil Christ the King) and ‘Dios, Patria y Rey’ (God, Fatherland and King).

  4. Gracias Carlos! Muy bien explicada.

    In Cuba during the Guerra Grande o sea, Guerra de Diez Años, the various Spanish groups who formed Voluntarios and contraguerrilla units privately purchased arms. Some of them acquired not only Remingtons from Ilion, NY, but also Peabody rifles from Rhode Island. Before the Peabody was able to be chambered in the .43 Spanish/ 11.15x58mmR caliber, some of the Peabody rifles were chambered for the Spencer cartridge. The Mambíses or Cuban insurgents tried to bring in weapons from abroad, principally the United States. One such arms smuggling operation to Oriente in Cuba was undertaken aboard a Scottish-made specialized contraband blockade runner left over from the U.S. Civil War, the _Virginius_ commanded by an ex-Confederate Navy commodore, Joseph Fry. The ship was seized by the ex-Chilean Spanish ship Tornado, and the crew of smugglers and Cuban rebels were in many cases summarily executed–“pasado por las armas.” This almost proved a war between Spain and the United States in October 1873 rather than April 1898! The executions were brought to a halt by the intervention of HMS Niobe that sailed north from Jamaica to the Paso de Viento/ Windward Passage where the skipper threatened to bombard Santiago de Cuba.

    • The Virginius (initially named Virgin) was initially an ACW blockade runner which carried cotton to Spanish Cuba breaching Union blockade until it was captured by U.S. Navy. In 1870 she was purchased by the “Junta Cubana de New York” and destined to several task, specially arms smuggling to the rebel of Cuba, carrying in several expeditions Remington, Spencer or Winchester rifles.

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