The antecedent regiments of the Royal Green Jackets where all involved in The Peninsula War (1807 to 1814)
Battle Honour (Peninsula) on the Royal Green Jackets Cap Badge
The Peninsular War (1807–1814) was a military conflict between France and the allied powers of Spain, the United Kingdom and Portugal for control of the Iberia Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war started when French and Spanish armies occupied Portugal in 1807, and escalated in 1808 when France turned on Spain, its ally until then. The war on the peninsula lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814, and is regarded as one of the first wars of national liberation, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare.
The Peninsular War overlaps with what the Spanish-speaking world calls the Guerra de la Independencia Española (Spanish War of Independence), which began with the Dos de May Uprising on 2nd May 1808 and ended on 17th April 1814. The French occupation destroyed the Spanish administration, which fragmented into quarreling provincial juntas. In 1810, a reconstituted national government, the Cadiz Cortes—effectively a government-in-exile—fortified itself in Cadiz but could not raise effective armies because it was besieged by 70,000 French troops. British and Portuguese forces eventually secured Portugal, using it as a safe position from which to launch campaigns against the French army and to provide whatever supplies they could get to the Spanish, while Spanish armies and guerrillas tied down vast numbers of Napoleon’s troops. These combined regular and irregular allied forces prevented Napoleon’s marshals from subduing the rebellious Spanish provinces by restricting French control of territory and the war continued through years of stalemate.
The years of fighting in Spain was a heavy burden on France’s Grande Armee. While the French were victorious in battle, their communications and supplies were severely tested and their units were frequently isolated, harassed, or overwhelmed by partisans. The Spanish armies were repeatedly beaten and driven to the peripheries but time and again they would regroup and hound the French. This drain on French resources led Napoleon, who had unwittingly provoked total war, to call the conflict the Spanish Ulcer.
The British force under Arthur Wellesley 1st Duke of Wellington guarded Portugal and campaigned against the French in Spain alongside the reformed Portuguese army. Allied to the British, the demoralised Portuguese army was reorganised and refitted under the command of Genera William Carr Beresford, who had been appointed commander-in-chief of the Portuguese forces by the exiled Portuguese royal family, and fought as part of a combined Anglo-Portuguese army under Wellesley. In 1812, as Napoleon embarked upon his disastrous invasion of Russia, a combined allied army under Wellesley pushed into Spain and took Madrid. Marsha Jean-de-Dieu Soult led the exhausted and demoralized French forces in a fighting withdrawal across the Pyrenees and into France during the winter of 1813-1814.
War and revolution against Napoleon’s occupation led to the Spanish Constitution of 1812, later a cornerstone of European liberalism. The burden of war destroyed the social and economic fabric of Portugal and Spain, and ushered in an era of social turbulence, political instability and economic stagnation. Devastating civil wars between liberal and absolutist factions led by officers trained in the Peninsular War persisted in Iberia until 1850. The cumulative crises and disruptions of invasion, revolution, and restoration led to the independence of most of Spain’s American colonies and the independence of Brazil from Portugal.
Subdued by its defeat in the Pyrenees War, Spain allied with France. In 1806 while in Berlin, Napoleon Bonaparte declared the Continental System, a blockade forbidding British imports into continental Europe. Neutral Portugal tried in vain to avoid Napoleon’s ultimatum—since 1373 it had had a treaty of alliance with England, which became an alliance with the United Kingdom. After the Treaty of Tiltsit in 1807, which cemented French dominance over central and eastern Europe, Napoleon decided to capture the Iberian ports. The decision went against Napoleon’s own advice from earlier in his career; he had once remarked that the conquest of Spain would be “too hard a nut to crack”. On 27th October 1807, Spain’s prime minister Manuel de Godoy signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau with France, agreeing that after Spain and France had defeated Portugal, it would be split into three kingdoms; the new Kingdom of Northern Lusitania, the Algarve (expanded to include Alentejo), and a rump Kingdom of Portugal. In November 1807, after the refusal of the Prince Regent, John VI of Portugal, to join the Continental System, Napoleon sent an army into Spain under General Jean-Andoche Junot with the task of invading Portugal.
Godoy initially requested Portugal’s alliance against the invading French armies, but later secretly agreed with France that in return for Spain’s cooperation, it would receive Portugal’s territories. Spain’s main ambition was the seizure of the Portuguese fleet, and sent two divisions to help French troops occupy Portugal. Junot initiated the Invasion of Portugal on 19 November 1807. The Portuguese army was positioned to defend the ports and the coast against a French attack, and Lisbon was captured with no military opposition on 1 December. On 29th November, the escape of Maria I of Portugal and Prince Regent John, together with the administration and the Court—around 10,000 people and 9,000 sailors aboard 23 Portuguese warships and 31 merchant ships—was a setback for Napoleon which enabled the Prince Regent to continue to rule over his overseas possessions, including Brazil. The Portuguese royal family would remain in Rio de Janeiro for the next 13 years.
In 1807, Spain was experiencing political corruption; Charles IV was considered to be incompetent to run the country. Napoleon, now Emperor of the French, decided to take advantage of the dissensions in the Spanish court. Feigning sympathy with their situation, he listened to Charles and his son Ferdinand, inviting them to Paris. Ferdinand responded favorably to Napoleon’s advice and asked for the hand of a Bonaparte princess. Napoleon played the part of an ally and coaxed the two Spaniards into believing he had friendly and peaceful intentions. In the absence of Charles and Ferdinand, Napoleon took the opportunity to invade Spain.
All over Spain, townsfolk and peasants, who had been forced to bury family members in new municipal cemeteries, stole their bodies back at night and tried to restore them to the protection of the old resting-places. In Madrid, the growing Francophilia of the court was met by the majos—shopkeepers, artisans, taverners and labourers who dressed in traditional style and took pleasure in picking fights with petimetres (fops). Under the pretext of reinforcing the Franco-Spanish army occupying Portugal, French imperial troops entered Spain, where they were greeted with enthusiasm by the populace despite growing diplomatic unease. In February 1808, Napoleon turned on his ally and ordered French commanders to seize key Spanish fortresses. Barcelona was taken on 29th February 1808 when a French column disguised as a convoy of wounded soldiers persuaded the authorities to open the city’s gates. Many commanders were not particularly concerned about the fate of the ruling regime, nor were they in any position to fight.
The Spanish Royal Army of 100,000 men found itself paralysed; it was under-equipped; for instance its 26 cavalry regiments of 15,000 men possessed only 9,000 horses. It was frequently leaderless, confused by the turmoil in Madrid, and was scattered from Portugal to the Balearic Islands. 15,000 of its finest troops— Pedro Caro, 3rd Marquis of la Romana`s Division of the North—had been lent to Napoleon in 1807 and remained stationed in Denmark under French command. Only the peripheries contained armies of any strength; Joaquins Blake`s Army of Galicia, and that of Andalusia, under Francisco Javier Castanos. The French were thus able to seize much of northeastern Spain by coups de main and any hope of turning back the invasion ended.
In March 1808, riots ans a popular revolt at the winter palace in Aranjuez forced King Charles IV to abdicate in favour of his son Ferdinand VII on March 19th. The rebellion seemed popular; inspired from outside the military, it was in effect a coup d`etat by the Royal Guard. Challenged by this call to arms, Godoy and his royal patrons found they had few defenders. The officer corps was disgruntled by the failure of the favourite’s reforms to make any difference to its situation and his orders to resist the French were already being disobeyed. Much of the upper nobility and the Catholic Church were hostile. Reformist circles had lost faith in Godoy’s political credentials and the common people were in open revolt. Spain’s political leaders had lost faith in Godoy, and Ferdinand was hailed as a saviour when he entered Madrid on 24 March. Alcalá Galiano wrote, “The cheers were loud, repeated and delivered with … eyes full of tears of pleasure, kerchiefs were waved … from balconies with hands trembling with pleasure … and not for a moment did the passion… or the thunderous noise of the joyful crowd diminish.”
Ever since the Mutiny of Aranjuez, Spain had been astir. Attacks on godoyistas were frequent while the failure of the French to recognise Ferdinand caused much discontent and gave rise to the suspicion that they intended to bring back Godoy. By the beginning of May 1808, rumours were spreading that the Junta de Gobierno—the council of regency left behind by Ferdinand—was being pressurised into sending the last members of the royal family to Bayonne. On 2nd May, the citizens of Madrid rebelled against the French occupation, killing 150 French soldiers before the uprising was put down by Joachim Murat’s elite Imperial Guard and Mamluk cavalry, which crashed into the city and trampled the rioters. The next day, as immortalized by Francisco Goya in his painting The Third of May 1808, the French army shot hundreds of Madrid’s citizens in retaliation. Similar reprisals occurred in other cities and continued for days, strengthening the resistance. Bloody, spontaneous fighting known as guerrilla (literally “little war”) erupted in much of Spain. Locally organised rebel groups were unaware of the resistance being prepared elsewhere in Spain. According to Esdaile, the partisans were as committed to driving the ancien regime out of Spain as they were to fighting foreign armies; the Patriots had no scruples about killing officials sceptical of their revolutionary program.
When Ferdinand departed for Bayonne he had left a structure of government headed by the Junta de Gobierno. Presided over by Ferdinand’s uncle, the infante Don Antonio, it comprised the ministers appointed by Ferdinand to head the ministries of Foreign Affairs, War, Finance, Navy, and Grace and Justice; which since the reign of Carlos III had constituted the heart of the Spanish administration. Coexistent with the departments were the Councils of Castile, the Indies, War, the Admiralty, the Treasury, the Military Orders, and the Inquisition. Spain was divided into 32 provinces—each headed by a Treasury official known as an intendente, and 14 military regions—each headed by a viceroy, captain general or commandant general. New heads were found for all the ministries; the Duque de Infantado, an old enemy of Godoy, was appointed president of the Council of Castile and Gregorio garcia de la Cuesta was made Captain General of Old Castile. Despite a few officials having been driven from their posts by popular fury, the overall system was unchanged.
Although the Spanish government, including the Council of Castile, had accepted Napoleon’s decision to grant the Spanish crown to his brother Joseph, the Spanish population rejected Napoleon’s plans and expressed their opposition through the local municipal and provincial governments. Following traditional Spanish political theories, which held that the monarchy was a contract between the monarch and the people, local governments responded to the crisis by transforming themselves into ad hoc governmental juntas.
The first wave of uprisings that took place without any knowledge of revolt elsewhere were in Cartagena and Valencia on 23rd May, Zaragoza and Murcia on 24th May, and the province of Asturias, which cast out its French governor on 25th May, and “declared war on Napoleon at the height of his greatness.” Within weeks, all the Spanish provinces followed suit.
In Cartagena, red cockades—the traditional badge of the Bourbon monarchy—were handed out to the people, and the garrison supported the rising, whereupon the captain general and the military governor were arrested. A provincial junta was established under a prominent admiral. In Zaragoza, where Jose Palafox, a brigadier of the elite Royal Guards, had been hiding outside the city, the conspirators’ agents steered the crowds into calling for him to lead them. The captain general was imprisoned and Palafox was installed as de facto governor of Zaragoza and captain general of Aragon. He wasted no time in declaring war on Napoleon and, with his elder brother, commanded a series of attacks against the French, and which led to the First Siege of Zaragoza (15th June—14th August 1808). Most major towns now had emergency administrations—two exceptions were Cádiz, where the town council held sway, and Zaragoza, which was in the sole charge of Palafox—but the resultant juntas refused the bourgeois revolution of Marxist legend.
The deteriorating strategic situation forced France to increase its military commitments; in February 1808, Napoleon had boasted that 12,000 men could conquer Spain; by 1st June, over 65,000 troops were rushing into the country to control the crisis. The main French army of 80,000 held a narrow strip of central Spain from Pamplona and San Sebastian in the north to Madrid and Toledo in the south. The French in Madrid sheltered behind an additional 30,000 troops under Marshalon Adrien Jeannot de Moncey. Jean -Andoche Junot`s corps were stranded in Portugal, cut off by 300 miles (480 km) of hostile territory, but within days of the outbreak of revolt, French columns in Old Castile, New Castile, Aragon and Catalonia were searching for the insurgent forces.
Spain in Revolt
Napoleon had expected popular risings, but believed that the Spanish army would either remain neutral or put itself under his command. From Murat’s optimistic reports, Napoleon believed the uprisings would die down and Spain would become peaceful if his brother retained the throne while French flying columns seized and pacified Spain’s cities. He also had no respect for the “insolent” Spanish militias which opposed him. The first Army of Spain out-numbered and had inferior troops. To this end, Pierre-Antoine,comte Dupont de I`Etangled 24,430 men south toward Seville and Cadiz; Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessieres moved into Aragonand Old Castilewith 25,000 men, aiming to capture Santanderand Zaragoza. Moncey marched toward Valenciawith 29,350 men and Guillaume Philibert Duhesme marshalled 12,710 troops in Catalonia and moved against Girona.
However, at the two successive Battles of the Bruch, in the mountains some 50 kilometres (31 mi) outside Barcelona,Schwarz`s 4,000 troops, marching from the city towards Zaragoza, were forced back following the heavy casualties inflicted on them by local Catalanmilitia, the Miquelets (also known as somatenes). Duhesmes Franco-Italian division of almost 6,000 troops failed to storm the city at the Gerona, and leaving Chabran’s brigade to hold Mataro, was forced to return to Barcelona. In Aragon, Charles, comte Lefebvre-Desnouetttes—the commander of the 6,000-strong French force bearing down on Zaragoza,—decided to rush the city. French calls for an honourable capitulation met with the reply, “War to the knife.” Resorting to urban warfare, Palafox defied the French for three months. Moncey’s push toward the coast ended in defeat outside the walls of Valencia, where 1,000 French recruits died trying to storm the city. Managing to defeat Spanish counterattacks, Moncey began a long, harried retreat.
In the north, the French found a measure of success. When Bessières’s march on Santander was checked by partisan attacks in July, the French turned back and encountered Blake and Cuesta with their combined army. In the Battle of Medina del Rio Seco, the Spanish generals, at Cuesta’s insistence, hurried toward the vulnerable French supply lines at Valladolid. The two armies deployed on 14th July, but Cuesta had left a gap between his troops and Blake’s which the French used to their advantage and with Cuesta defeated, Old Castile returned to French control. Blake escaped, but the Spaniards lost at least 1,000 dead or wounded, twelve hundred prisoners and thirteen guns. French losses had been minimal—perhaps 400 men.
Bessières’s victory salvaged the French army’s strategic position in northern Spain. The road to Madrid lay open to Joseph, and the defeats at Gerona, Valencia, and Zaragoza were forgotten. All that remained was to reinforce Dupont and allow him to force his way south through Andalusia. With the Spanish threat scattered, Joseph entered Madrid on 20th July; and on 25th July he was crowned King of Spain. A delighted Napoleon said, “If Marshal Bessiéres has been able to beat the Army of Galicia with few casualties and small effort, less than 8,000 troops being engaged, there can be no doubt that with 20,000 men General Dupont will be able to overthrow everybody he meets.” However, on 10th June, every French ship of the line anchored at Cádiz was seized in the capture of the Rosily Squadron. Much alarmed, Dupont was disturbed enough to curtail his march at Cordoba, and then on 16th June to fall back to Andujar. Dupont, cowed by the mass hostility of the Andalusians, broke off his offensive and was defeated at the Battle of Bailen and surrendered his entire Army Corpsto Castanos.
The catastrophe was total. With the loss of 24,000 troops, Napoleon’s military machine in Spain collapsed. Stunned by the defeat, on 1st August Joseph—who had no more than 23,000 troops in Madrid and believed that thousands of vengeful Spaniards were about to attack him—evacuated the capital for Old Castile, whilst ordering Verdier to abandon the siege of Zaragoza and Bessieres to retire from Leon; the entire French army sheltered behind the Ebro. By this time, Gerona had resisted a second siege. Europe welcomed this first check to the hitherto unbeatable Imperial armies—a Bonaparte had been chased from his throne; tales of Spanish heroism inspired Austria and showed the force of national resistance. Bailén set in motion the rise of the Fifth Coalition against Napoleon. According to Chandler, “This was an historic occasion; news of it spread like wildfire throughout Spain and then all Europe. It was the first time since 1801 that a sizable French force had laid down its arms, and the legend of French invincibility underwent a severe shaking. Everywhere anti-French elements drew fresh inspiration from the tidings. The Pope published an open denunciation of Napoleon; Prussian patriots were heartened; and, most of all, the Austrian war party began to secure the support of the Emperor Francis for a renewed challenge to the French Empire.”
The beginning of the United Kingdom’s involvement in the Peninsular War marked a considerable shift of fortune in its struggle against Napoleon. From it would stem the UK’s engagement in a prolonged campaign in Europe, after which the country could no longer be accused, in Sheridan’s words, of doing no more than ‘filching sugar islands’. To the UK, which wanted to become a military power as well as a naval one, it seemed that the Spanish people had rejected Napoleon and all his works and the UK found itself on the side of freedom.Despite opposition, the UK and Napoleon’s opponents had acquired a new moral legitimacy.
Five days after having declared war on Napoleon, the Junta Generalof Asturias sent a delegation to London to request help, as did others from Galiciaand Seville. While they did not specifically ask for troops, the dispatch of a British armywas soon under consideration by the Portland administration. Three British Army officers, led by a lieutenant colonel, reached Gijonon 27th June 1808 to assess the state of affairs from a military viewpoint. Following the Spanish victory at Bailén, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, Viscount Castlereaghsent a second delegation, this time led by General Sir James Leith, who arrived in Gijón on 30 August 1808 with a view to seeing how the north of Spain could best be reinforced to prevent Napoleon sending in more troops through Irun, and isolating him in Madrid or Burgos. Leith would later join Bairds’s forces in November 1808.
There were fewer constraints than normal. The authorisation of embodied members of the militia to volunteer for service in the line offered a steady supply of fresh men; the need to provide against French invasion had been much reduced. Brent Spencer`s division had been assembled at Cork, and brigades that had been about to raid the invasion port of Boulogne were available for immediate action.
In August 1808, the British army—including the King`s German Legion—landed in Portugal under the command of Lieutenant- General Sir Arthur Wellesley, who drove back Henri Francois Delaborde`s forces at the Battle of Rolicaon 17th August, as the Portuguese Observation Army of Bernardim Freire de Andrade shadowed Louis Henri Loison`s division. On 21 August, Wellesley—who had turned to the mouth of the Maceira river to protect landing reinforcements—was attacked at Vimeiro Hillby Jean-Andoche Junot. The Battle of Vimeiro was the first occasion on which Napoleonic offensive tactics combining skirmishers, columns and supporting artillery fire failed against the British infantry line and Wellesley’s defensive skills. Considered too junior an officer to command the reinforced expedition to Portugal, Wellesley was replaced first by Sir Harry Burrard and then Sir Hew Dalrymple. Dalrymple granted Junot favourable armistice terms which allowed for his unmolested evacuation from Portugal by the Royal Navyin the controversial Convention of Sintra in August. In early October 1808, following the scandal in Britain over the Convention of Sintra and the recall of the generals Dalrymple, Burrard, and Wellesley, Sir John Moore took command of the 30,000 man British force in Portugal. In addition, Sir David Baird, in command of an expedition of reinforcements out of Falmouth consisting of 150 transports carrying between 12,000 and 13,000 men, convoyed by HMS Louie, HMS Amelia and HMS Champion, entered Corunna Harbour on the 13th October.
Meanwhile, the British had made a substantial contribution to the Spanish cause by helping to evacuate some 9,000 men of La Romana`s Division of the North. The division, stationed in Denmark, had been sent to northern Europe in 1807 to assist the Grande Armée while Spain and France were still allies. However, on learning that Napoleon had placed his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne, La Romana and his officers, who included Joseph O`Donnell, secretly negotiated for the British Baltic fleet to help transport the Spanish division back to Spain. In August 1808, after seizing Danish ports and ships to make their way to a rendezvous with Admiral Richard Goodwin Keats` British squadron on Langeland island, all but three regiments which had been unable to escape, were transferred to Gothenburg, Sweden, before setting sail for Santander, where they arrived in October 1808.
Napoleons Invasion of Spain
Because of the crippling social and political tensions caused by the rebellion, the Spanish social fabric decayed, the patriots were divided on every question and their war effort suffered. With the fall of the monarchy, constitutional power devolved to local juntas, which interfered with the army and the business of war, undermined the tentative central government forming in Madrid, and proved almost as dangerous to each other as to the French. According to Chandler, “the particular interests of the provincial delegates made the pretense of centralised government a travesty.” The British army in Portugal, itself immobilized by logistical problems and mired in administrative disputes, did not move. Months of inaction passed at the front, the revolution having “crippled Patriot Spain at the very moment when decisive action could have changed the whole course of the war.” The French, all but masters of Spain in June, stood with their backs to the Pyrenees clutching at Navarre and Catalonia. By October 1808, French strength in Spain—including garrisons—was about 75,000 soldiers. They were facing 86,000 Spanish troops with 35,000 British troops en route.
No attack was forthcoming. The Supreme Central Junta grew out of the political confusion that followed the abdication of the House of Bourbon, leading to more confusion since there was no central government and most juntas did not recognise the presumptuous claim to represent the monarchy. The Junta of Seville claimed authority over the overseas empire because of the province’s historical role as the exclusive entrepot of the empire. Realizing that unity was needed to coordinate efforts against the French and to deal with British aid, several Supreme Juntas— Murcia, Valencia, Seville, and Castile and Leon—called for the formation of a central junta. After negotiations between the juntas and the discredited Council of Castile—which supported Joseph I—a ” Supreme Cenral and Governmental Junta of Spain and the Indies” met in Aranjuez on 25 September 1808, with the Conde de Floridablanca as its president. Serving as surrogate for the absent king and royal government, it called on representatives from the Iberian provinces and the overseas possessions to meet in an “Extraordinary and General Cortes of the Spanish Nation”; so called because it would be the single legislative body for the whole empire and the body which would write a constitution for it. As agreed to in the negotiations, the Supreme Central Junta was composed of two representatives chosen by the juntas of the capitals of the peninsular kingdoms of the Spanish Monarchy. Early on, the Junta rejected the idea of establishing a regency, which would have meant the concentration of executive power in a small number of persons, and assumed that role itself claiming the style of “Majesty”.
After the surrender of a French army corps at Bailen and the loss of Portugal, Napoleon was convinced of the peril he faced in Spain. Disturbed by news of Sintra, he said, “I see that everybody has lost their head since the infamous capitulation of Bailén. I realise that I must go there myself to get the machine working again.” While the allies advanced slowly, conscription and arms from the far reaches of the French Empire brought 100,000 veterans of the Grande Armee into Spain, led in person by Napoleon and his marshals. With his Armée d’Espagne of 278,670 men drawn up on the Ebro, facing 80,000 raw, disorganized Spanish troops, the Emperor announced to the Spanish deputies, “I am here with the soldiers who conquered at Austerlitz, at Jena, at Eylau. Who can withstand them? Not your wretched Spanish troops who do not know how to fight. I shall conquer Spain in two months and acquire the rights of a conqueror.” Napoleon led the French on a brilliant offensive involving a massive double envelopment of the Spanish lines. The attack began in November 1808 and has been described as “an avalanche of fire and steel”.
In the west, a Spanish wing escaped when Lefebvre failed to encircle the Army of Galicia after a premature and indecisive attack at the Battle of Pancorbo; Blake withdrew his artillery to safety and the bloodied Spanish infantry followed. Lefebvre and Marshal Claude Victor-Perrin offered a careless chase that ended in humiliation at the Battle of Valmaseda, where their scattered troops were handled by La Romana’s repatriated Spanish veterans and escaped to safety. The campaign in the south, where Napoleon’s main army overran the unprotected Spanish centre in a devastating attack near Burgos, ended quickly. The Spanish militias—untrained and unable to form Infantry squares—scattered in the face of massed French cavalry, while the Spanish Royal Guard and Walloon Guards stood their ground in vain and were overcome by Antoine Charles Louis Lasalle and his sabreurs. Marshal Jean Lannes with a powerful force smashed through the Spanish right wing at the Battle of Tudela on 23rd November, routing Castaños and prompting a new inscription on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Blake’s isolated army reversed direction on 17th November and dug in at the Battle of Espinosa. His lines repelled French attacks over a day and night of vicious fighting, before giving up the next day. Blake again out marched Marshal Nicolas Jean-de-Soult and escaped with a rump army to Santander, but the Spanish front had been fragmented and the Imperial armies raced forward over undefended provinces. Napoleon sent 45,000 men south into the Sierra de Guadarrama, which shielded Madrid.
The mountains slowed Napoleon: at the Battle of Somosierra on 30th November 1808 his Polish and Guard cavalry squadrons charged up a narrow gorge through raking fire to overrun Benito de San Juan`s artillery. San Juan’s militias gave way before the relentless French infantry, while the Spanish royal artillerymen held their positions and fought to the last. French patrols reached Madrid on 1 December and entered the city in triumph on 4th December. Joseph Bonaparte was restored to his throne. San Juan retreated west to Talavera, where his mutinous conscripts shot him before dispersing. The Junta was forced to abandon Madrid in November 1808, and resided in the Alcazar of Seville from 16th December 1808 until 23rd January 1810; hence the appellation of “Junta of Seville”—not to be confused with the earlier provincial junta.
In Catonia, Napoleon’s faltering army was reinforced in October 1808, ordering Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr with 17,000 men to the relief of Duhesme in Barcelona. The presence of the Royal Navy along the coasts of France and Spain slowed the French entry into eastern and southern Spain and drained their military resources in the area. Frigates commanded the strategic Gulf of Roses north of Barcelona close to the French border, and were involved in the Siege of Roses. Lord Thomas Cochrane held a cliff-top fortress against the French for a month, destroying it when the main citadel capitulated to a superior French force. The successful Siege of Roses opened the path south for Saint-Cyr, who bypassed Gerona and fell upon and destroyed part of Juan Miguel de Vives y Feliu`s Spanish army at the Battle of Cardadeu near Barcelona on 16 December. Five days later, Saint-Cyr defeated the Spaniards under Conde de Caldagues and Theodor von Reding, capturing 1,200 men at the Battle of Molins de Rey.
Moore`s Failed Campaign
By November 1808, the British army led by Moore was advancing into Spain with orders to assist the Spanish armies’ fight against Napoleon’s forces. Moore received desperate appeals from the British ambassador John Hookham Frere and the Junta Central to help the Patriot cause. However, Moore’s forces were dispersed and his capacity to act remained limited. While the main army under Moore had advanced to Salamanca, by 28th November none of Baird’s troops had passed Astorga to the north, while Sir John Hope was still 70 miles (110 km) to the east with all Moore’s cavalry and artillery. The main army was joined by Hope’s detachment on 3rd December, when Moore received news that the Spanish forces had suffered several defeats. He considered that to avoid disaster he must give up and retreat back to Portugal. Letters from both Moore and Berthier on 10 December 1808 indicate that both sides were aware that the allies were defeated and that the British were prepared to retreat. Moore wrote, “I had no time to lose to secure my retreat”, while Berthier was quoted as writing, “…everything inclines us to think that they (the British) are in full retreat…”.Before retreating, Moore received intelligence of Soult’s 16,000-man corps’ scattered and isolated position at Carroin and that the French were unaware of the British army’s position. On 15th December, he began to advance on the French near Madrid hoping to defeat Soult and divert Napoleon’s forces. On 20th December, Moore joined forces with Baird, who was advancing from Corunna, and his strength grew to 23,500 infantry, 2,400 cavalry and 60 guns and he opened his attack with a successful raid by Lieutenant-Genera Paget`s cavalry on the French picquets at sahagun on 21st December. Moore failed to follow-up against a surprised Soult, halting for two days and allowing Soult to concentrate his corps. As soon as the orders for the advance had been dispatched, dramatic news arrived from the south that masses of French troops were debouching from the Sierra de Guardarrama into the plains of Old Castile. Napoleon had discovered the British army’s presence and was heading north to wipe it out. Fresh orders were sent out and the British forces turned around, heading for the coast. Moore’s intelligence regarding the enemy’s positions and intentions, was mainly due to the guerrillas’ capture of large numbers of French couriers.
Even if the weather had been favourable, Moore was so far north that a French force coming from Madrid would not have been able to cut him off. Napoleon’s only chance was to catch his opponent unawares, but Moore was aware of this danger and retreated westwards as soon as he heard that Napoleon was advancing. Moore had requested that his sea transports should be sent from Lisbon to meet him at La Coruna. Vigorous action from Soult might have slowed Moore down enough to allow Napoleon’s forces to get behind him, but Soult waited for reinforcements from Burgos and was slowed down by torrential rain. Although La Romana tried to cover Moore’s retreat, he was defeated by Soult at the Battle of Mansilla. Moore’s retreat was marked by a breakdown of discipline in many regiments and punctuated by stubborn rearguard actions, with Paget capturing Lefebvre-Desnouettes at Benavente, with Napoleon watching from a distance. Another minor victory was the brief respite gained at the Battle of Cacabelos, a minor battle at which the cavalry brigadier general Auguste-Marie-Francois Colbert was killed at long range.
The British troops escaped to the sea after fending off a strong French attack at the Battle of Corunna, at which Moore was killed. Some 26,000 troops reached Britain, with 7,000 men lost over the course of the expedition. With Moore dead, over a fifth of his army missing and several thousand more sick or wounded, the British intervention had ended in humiliation and disaster. The retreat looked like a rout; although the army had saved all its guns it had lost much of its baggage and had been forced to destroy almost all the horses that had reached La Coruna. Hundreds more men were lost in winter storms in the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel. Immense quantities of material, including 4,000 barrels of powder blown up on 13th January, had been lost and the French had occupied the most populated region in Spain, including the important towns of Lugo and La Coruna. Worse than the physical losses suffered by the Allies, immense damage had been done to Anglo-Spanish relations. Misled by journalists who had claimed that Moore’s army was actually much larger than it was and had represented Sahagun as a victory, the Spanish were shocked by the British retreat. This was worsened by the angry accounts of the Marques de la Romana and other observers, who accused Moore of betrayal and bad faith.
Meanwhile, Zaragoza, already scarred from Lefebvre`s bombardments that summer, was under a second siege that had commenced on 20 December. Despite Lannes and Moncey having committed two army corps of 45,000 men and considerable material, the Spanish citizen-soldiers were able to hold out for two months. Palafox’s second defence brought the city enduring national and international fame. Gates wrote that the siege “was a demonstration the French army was never to forget and … it was to inspire Spaniards to maintain replica struggles that have few parallels in the history of war.” The Spaniards fought with determination, endured disease and starvation, entrenching themselves in convents and burning their own homes. The garrison of 44,000 left 8,000 survivors—1,500 of them ill— but the Grande Armée did not advance beyond the Ebro`s shore. On 20th February 1809, the French left behind burnt-out ruins filled with 64,000 corpses, of which 10,000 were French. After just over two months in Spain, Napoleon returned to France, giving back the command to his marshals.
Second Invasion of Portugal
After the Battle of Corunna and the British evacuation of Spain, Soult turned his attention to the invasion of Portugal. In the grand strategy Napoleon drafted in late 1808, he envisaged a three-pronged offensive into Portugal, consisting of Soult’s corps from the north, Lapisse`s 9,000 men from the east and Claude Victor`s forces from the south. With peace restored to the northern half of the peninsula, Andalucia and the Levante would be invaded and the conflict ended. Napoleon thought there was no reason why the war should continue past the summer, and such was the disarray in the Patriot camp in Spain and Portugal that it is hard to question his confidence altogether. The Junta took over direction of the Spanish war effort and established war taxes, organized an Army of La Mancha, and signed a treaty of alliance with the UK on 14th January 1809. The Junta agreed that the overseas kingdoms would send one representative. As it became apparent that the war would last longer than thought, the Junta again took up the issue of convening a Cortes in April 1809, issuing a royal decree to the effect on 22nd May. A committee presided over by Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos organised the legal and logistical efforts to carry this out.
Officially, Soult had 40,000 men at his disposal, but after the rigorous campaign in Galicia thousands of his troops were sick and he could muster 20,000 men. He experienced difficulties in equipping all of these, and a chronic shortage of horses and transport vehicles compounded his problems, but Soult persevered. He captured the Spanish naval base at Ferrol on 26th January 1809, capturing eight ships of the lines, three frigates and several thousand prisoners. Of more immediate value were enormous equipment stockpiles, including 20,000 Brown Bess muskets, which enabled Soult to repair his army’s material deficiencies and to proceed with the projected invasion of Portugal.
In March 1809, Soult initiated the second invasion of Portugal through the northern corridor. Soult’s forces faced 12,000 men represented by the line regiments, militia and ordenanca of the province of Tras-os-Montes. Commanded by Francisco da Silveira, these forces quickly retreated amid riot and disorder, and within two days of crossing the border Soult had taken the fortress of Chaves. Swinging west, the French were confronted by 25,000 unprepared and undisciplined Portuguese. While waiting for Soult’s army to arrive, the Portuguese militia lynched their own commander, Bernardim Freire de Andrade, who wanted to retreat. On 20th March, 16,000 of Soult’s professional troops of the II Corps advanced and killed 4,000 Portuguese troops in the Battle of Braga. A similar mismatch occurred when the French reached Porto. In the First Battle of Poto on 29 March, the Portuguese defenders panicked and thousands drowned trying to flee across the Douro River. It was a French victory; with fewer than 500 casualties Soult had secured Portugal’s second city with its valuable dockyards and arsenals intact. The Portuguese sustained appalling losses, losing 200 guns and between 6,000 and 20,000 men dead, wounded or captured. The French booty included immense stocks of food and munitions, and 30 shiploads of wine. Soult occupied northern Portugal but halted at Porto to refit his army before advancing on Lisbon.
By May 1809, the French armies were victorious almost everywhere in Spain. Victor advanced on Badajoz, defeating Cuesta at Medellin. The whole Spanish army fled south across the plain in disorder and the French cavalry pursued them, inflicting appalling casualties. Lasalle claimed that the ‘disgusting Spaniards’ lost 14,000 men at Medellín. By the time a thunderstorm ended to the carnage, at least 8,000 Spanish were dead and another 2,000 taken prisoner. Victor’s soldiers carried off nine standards and twenty guns. Estimates of the French losses range between 300 and 2,000 men.
On 27th March, Spanish forces defeated the French at Vigo, and the French troops at Marin and Pontevedra were forced to retreat to Santiago de Compostela for fear of being outflanked. The Spanish force that besieged Vigo was based around a division of new troops called the Division del Mino. Hall wrote:
” On reaching the camp … we found the patriot army exercising by divisions … When we approached a general halt was ordered, and those who had muskets presented them as well they might, while those who had none went through the motions well with their pikes or staves formed out of scythes and reaping hooks … Under our auspices the peasantry continued to flock in from the adjacent country … we could supply a twentieth part of these patriots with arms … And that small fraction not being supplied with officers, or disciplined, or organised in any way, it was like children playing at soldiers.`
Spanish forces took the initiative and most of the cities in the province of Pontevedra were recaptured. In February 1809, Reding led a reconstituted army against the French right wing and, after vigorous marching and counter-marching, took a stand at the Battle of Valls and was ridden down and wounded by French cavalry.
Fall of Junta Central
Wellesley returned to Portugal in April 1809 to command the Anglo-Portuguese forces. He strengthened the British army with Portuguese regiments trained by General Beresford and helped them adapt to the British campaign style. These new forces turned Soult out of Portugal at the Battle of Grijo (10th–11th May) and the Second Battle of Porto (12th May), and the other northern cities were recaptured by General Silveira. With Portugal in revolt, Soult seemed doomed, but he escaped without his heavy equipment by marching through the mountains to Orense. On 7th June, the French army of Marshal Michel Ney was defeated at the Battle of Puente Sanpayo by Spanish forces under the command of Colone Pablo Morillo, and Ney and his forces retreated to Lugo on 9th June while being harassed by Spanish guerrillas. In Lugo, Ney’s troops joined up with those of Soult and these forces withdrew from Galicia in July 1809. This marked the final evacuation of Galicia by the French army and the creation of a new front.
With Portugal secured, Wellesley advanced into Spain to unite with General Cuesta`s forces. The combined allied force prepared for an assault on Victor’s I Corps at Talavera on 23rd July. Cuesta was reluctant to agree, but was persuaded to advance on the following day. This delay gave the French time to withdraw. Cuesta sent his army after Victor, and was faced by the entire French army in New Castile, Victor having been reinforced by the Toledo and Madrid garrisons. The Spanish retreated, while two British divisions advanced to cover their retreat.
On 27 July at the Battle of Talavera, the French advanced in three columns and were repulsed several times, but at a heavy cost to the British force. Wellesley, ignoring Cuesta’s urgings to proceed to a general attack, decided on a gradual retreat, leaving Talavera on 4 August. Wellesley was concerned about the imminent arrival of Soult with his army and was afraid of being cut off from his base in Portugal. He sent the Light Brigade to hold the bridge over the Tagus River at Almaraz and, on 8 August, Soult’s army faced the Spanish army at Puente del Arzobispo. With communications and supply from Lisbon secured, Wellesley considered rejoining Cuesta, but considerable friction had developed between the British and the Spanish; after Talevera, the Spanish had abandoned the British wounded to the French. Also, actions taken by the Spanish forces resulted in Wellesley’s strategic position being compromised. The Spanish had promised to provide supplies for the British if they advanced into Spain, but this was not done. The ensuing lack of supplies and the threat of French reinforcement in the spring led to the British decision to retreat into Portugal. By making this choice Wellesley was supported by the government perception about Talavera. About himself, London was all gratitude, and rewarded him with the peerage of Viscount Wellington. But considerations pointed to a careful course of action. The peace party accused the general of being outgeneraled, while insinuations were being made that Talavera was fought for no objective beyond getting an aristocratic title. A string of embarrassments appeared about the excess of patronage where the principal exponents were the Duke of York and Lord Castlereagh. There was also much dissatisfaction with Wellington, as he was now known: considered an authoritarian, he also made himself more distrusted by writing about the conduct of the Cabinet and what he perceived as not enough support from them.
By the summer of 1809, the Spanish Supreme Central and Governing Junta of the Kingdom was coming under harsh criticism over its handling of the war. The Spanish people demanded that the ancient Cortes be summoned and the Junta agreed. But it was difficult to restore the old assembly and bring it into session. The Cadiz Cortes would be set up, but until then the Junta exercised power. Anxious to justify its continued existence, the Junta came up with what it hoped would be a war-winning strategy. Undeterred by Wellesley’s refusal to contribute British soldiers, the Junta planned to launch a two-pronged offensive to recapture Madrid. They replaced Pedro Caro with Diego de Canas y Portocarrero, Duke del Parque as commander of the troops in Galicia and Asturias. Del Parque soon massed 30,000 troops at Ciudad Rodrigo with more on the way. South of Madrid, Juan Carlos de Areizaga assembled over 50,000 well-equipped men in the Army of La Mancha. The main efforts of Del Parque and Aréizaga would be aided by a third force that operated near Talavera de la Reina under José Miguel de la Cueva y de la Cerda, Duke of Albuquerque. The 10,000-man Talavera force was designed to hold French units in place while the main armies attacked Madrid.
In the autumn of 1809, Del Parque’s Army of the Left numbered 52,192 men in one cavalry and six infantry divisions. Martin de la Carrera’s Vanguard Division had 7,413 soldiers, Francisco Xavier Losada’s 1st Division had 8,336, Conde de Belveder’s 2nd Division had 6,759, Francisco Ballesteros`s 3rd Division had 9,991, Nicolás de Mahy’s 4th Division had 7,100, and Conde de Castrofuerte’s 5th Division had 6,157. All infantry divisions included 14 battalions except the 3rd with 15 and the 5th with seven. The Prince of Anglona’s Cavalry Division included 1,682 horsemen in six regiments. Ciudad Rodrigo was provided with a garrison of 3,817 troops and there was an unattached 937-man battalion.
With Ney on leave, Jean Gabriel Marcand assumed command of the VI Corps, based at Salamanca. The corps had been forced out of Galicia earlier in 1809 and had been involved in the operations in the aftermath of the Battle of Talavera in July. After hard campaigning and a lack of reinforcements, VI Corps was in a poor condition to fight and Marchand’s talents were not equal to those of Ney. Del Parque advanced from Ciudad Rodrigo in late September with the divisions of La Carrera, Losada, Belveder, and Anglona. Marchand, overconfident and scornful of his Spanish adversaries, advanced on the village of Tamames, 56 kilometres (35 mi) southwest of Salamanca. In the Battle of Tamames on 18th October 1809, the French suffered an embarrassing defeat. The French lost 1,400 killed and wounded out of 14,000 soldiers and 14 guns. Spanish casualties were 700 out of 21,500 men and 18 cannons. After the battle, Del Parque was joined by Ballesteros’ division, giving him 30,000 troops. As the Spanish advanced, Marchand abandoned Salamanca and Del Parque’s men occupied the city on 25th October.
Marchand retreated north to Toro on the Duero River, where he was joined by Francois Etienne de Kellermann with 1,500 infantry in three battalions and a 3,000-trooper dragoon division. Kellermann took command of the French force and marched upstream, crossing to the south bank at Tordesillas. Reinforced by General of Brigade Nicolas Godinot`s force, Kellermann challenged Del Parque by marching on Salamanca. The Spaniard abandoned Salamanca and retreating to the south. In the meantime, the guerrillas in Province of Leon became very active. Kellermann left the VI Corps holding Salamanca and returned to León to stamp out the uprising.
Albuquerque pinned down the French troops near Talavera as planned, but when he found that Aréizaga’s army had been defeated at the Battle of Ocana on 19th November, he withdrew out of reach of the French. Del Parque heard of the march of Godinot’s and General of Brigade Pierre-Louis Binet de Marcognet`s brigades toward Madrid. He had been instructed to join Albuquerque, he instead moved on Salamanca again, hustling one of the VI Corps brigades out of Alba de Tormes. Del Parque occupied Salamanca on 20th November. The French general withdrew behind the Duero and again rendezvoused with Kellermann. Hoping to get between Kellermann and Madrid, Del Parque advanced towards Medina del Campo. On 23rd November at that town, Marcognet’s brigade returned from Segovia while General of Brigade Mathieu Delabassée’s brigade arrived from Tordesillas. At this moment, Del Parque’s columns came into view and there was a skirmish at El Carpio. The French horsemen drove back the Spanish cavalry but were repulsed by Ballesteros’ steady foot soldiers fighting in squares, prompting Marcognet and Delabassée to retreat. On 24th November, Kellermann massed 16,000 French troops on the Duero near Valdestillas. Outnumbered, the French prepared to defend themselves. But on this day the Army of the Left received news of the Ocaña disaster. Understanding that the French could spare plenty of soldiers to track down his army, Del Parque fled south, intending to shelter in the mountains of central Spain. On 25th November, Del Parque left so that Kellermann did not begin his pursuit until the next day. For two days, the French could not catch up with their adversaries but on the afternoon of 28th November, their light cavalry found the Army of the Left camped at Alba de tormes.
By the end of November 1809, Patriot Spain was in poor shape. In Catalonia, Gerona was in its last moments, Spain’s two largest armies had been defeated and the British army was preparing to leave the Guadiana. Disgusted by what he regarded as the Junta’s stupidity, Wellington was convinced that a French march on Lisbon was imminent. Intelligence reports of large masses of fresh enemy troops crossing from France were received. Scattered along the length of the Sierra Morena, the defenders had no way of stopping the French insurgence 19th January 1810. 60,000 French troops—the corps of Victor, Mortier and Sebastiani together with other formations—advanced southwards to assault the Spanish positions. Overwhelmed at every point Areizaga`s men fled eastwards and southwards, leaving town after town to fall into the hands of the enemy. The result was revolution. Abandoning last-minute efforts to turn Seville into another Zaragossa, on 23rd January the Junta Central decided to flee to the safety of Cádiz,dissolved itself on 29 January 1810 and set up a five-person Regency Council of Spain and the Indies, charged with convening the Cortes. Soult cleared all of southern Spain except Cádiz, which he left Victor to blockade. The system of juntas was replaced by a regency and the Cadiz Cortes, which established a permanent government under the Constitution of 1812.
Joseph I`s regime
Joseph contented himself with working within the apparatus extant under the old regime, while placing responsibility for local government in many provinces in the hands of royal commissioners. After much preparation and debate, on 2 July 1809 Spain was divided into 38 new provinces, each headed by an Intendent appointed by King Joseph, and on 17th April 1810 these provinces were converted into French-style prefectures and sub-prefectures. Named after their chief towns rather than after their dominant geographical features, the new territorial divisions, which were almost equal in size, bore little relation to any historic units. The decision to retain the historic names of many old provinces in this fashion was a significant concession.
The Proclamation of the Conde de Montarco on 25th March 1812 described the government in Cadiz as an “infamous and illegitimate government … composed,of the very scum of Spain, dependent on the caprice of an ignorant mob, dominated by British influence, and possessed of no more territory than the prison in which it resides … that has deceived the foolish Spaniards who submit to its tyranny by promising them an illusory liberty”. Under threat of punishment by sequestration of property, escape to the Patriot zone was not a practical possibility except for officials with a secure position in government service, notables with property in the Patriot zone, or career-oriented young men with no family responsibilities. Thus the French obtained a measure of acquiescence among the propertied classes. While refusing to take service with the French, and in instances serving as spies or couriers, they accepted the presence of the occupying forces and on occasion struck up friendships with them. Francisco de Gaya, who remained in Madrid throughout the French occupation, painted Joseph’s picture and documented the war a series of 82 prints called Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War). For many imperial officers, life could be comfortable. The German Heinrich von Brandt—an officer in one of Napoleon’s Polish regiments stationed in Aragón after the fall of Zaragoza—said that the French “were not as hated as has since been alleged”.
Amongst the liberal, republican and radical segments of the Spanish and Portuguese populations there was much support for a potential French invasion, despite Napoleon’s having by 1807 abandoned many liberal and republican ideals. Before the invasion, the term afrancesado (“turned French”) was used to denote those who supported the Enlightenment, secular ideals, and the French Revolution. Napoleon relied on support from these afrancesados both in the conduct of the war and administration of the country. But while Napoleon—through his brother Joseph—fulfilled his promises to remove all feudal and clerical privileges, most Spanish liberals soon came to oppose the occupation because of the violence and brutality it brought. Marxians wrote that there are a positive identification on the part of the people with the Napoleonic revolution, but this is probably impossible to substantiate by the reasons for collaboration being practical rather than ideological.
Emergence of guerrilla
The Peninsular War is regarded as one of the first people’s war, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare. It is from this conflict that the English language borrowed the word. The Spanish War of Independence was one of the most successful partisan wars in history. This guerrilla warfare was costly for both sides; the guerrillas troubled the French troops, but they frightened their own countrymen with forced conscription and looting. Many of the partisans were either fleeing the law or trying to get rich. Later in the war the authorities tried to make the guerrillas reliable, and many of them formed regular army units such as Espoz y Mina`s “Cazadores de Navarra”.
The idea of turning the guerrillas into an armed force had both positive and negative effects. Uniforms and strict military discipline stopped men from deserting; the more disciplined the unit, the easier it was for French troops to catch them when they sprang an ambush. Some partisan leaders joined up with the military authorities to avoid criminal charges, to retain their status as officers in the Spanish army, or to receive weaponry, clothes, and food. The guerrilla style of fighting was the Spanish military’s single most effective tactic. Most organized attempts by regular Spanish forces to take on the French ended in defeat. Once a battle was lost and the soldiers reverted to their guerrilla roles, they tied down large numbers of French troops over a wide area with a much lower expenditure of men, energy, and supplies. According to Glover, “[i]t was these obscure triumphs—a platoon shot down in an ambush, a courier and his message captured as he galloped across the plain—which made possible the orthodox victories of Wellington and his Anglo-Portuguese army and the liberation of Portugal and Spain”. Mass resistance by the people of Spain prefigured the total wars of the 20th century and inspired parallel struggles by the Russians and Prussians. Tsar Alexander, when threatened with war, told the French ambassador, “If the Emperor Napoleon decides to make war, it is possible, probable, that we shall be defeated … But … the Spaniards have been defeated; and they are not beaten, nor have they surrendered.”
In Spain and Portugal, the populace were inured to hardship, were suspicious of foreigners and were versed in ways of life—such as banditry and smuggling—that were characterised by violence and involved constant skirmishes with the security forces. The conviction of General Bigarre became the foundation of the phenomenon of the “customs guards and smugglers who covered the whole of the country under the Prince of the Peace”, Captain Blaze saying that, as the Spaniards were “accustomed to extol the exploits of the robbers and smugglers”, the chieftains “have been in readiness to become chiefs of the guerrillas”. In the same way, it has been claimed that enlightened absolutism made less progress in Spain and Portugal than elsewhere, with the result that the reforms of the new régime grated on them far more than would have been the case. Tantamount to suggesting that resistance was the product of backwardness—or as the French would have put it, of savagery, ignorance and want of civilisation—this latter argument could be supplemented by arguing that Spain was Catholic and therefore given over ipso facto to obscurantism, superstition and counter-revolution. Common French complaints as they grappled with occupying such an independent and spirited Spanish citizenry was that Spain was at least a century behind the rest of Europe in knowledge and the progress of social habits. Spain’s insularity and the severity of its religious institutions had prevented the Spaniards from taking part in the disputes and controversies which had agitated and enlightened Europe.
Hatred of the French and devotion to God, King and Fatherland were not the only the reason to join the Partisans. The French imposed restrictions on movement and on many traditional aspects of street life, so opportunities to find alternative sources of income were limited—industry was at a standstill and many señores were unable to pay their existing retainers and domestic servants, and could not take on new staff. Hunger and despair reigned on all sides. Because the military record was so dismal, many Spanish politicians and publicists took exaggerated comfort from the activities of the guerrillas and elevated them to the status of national heroes, while the issue was exploited by factions determined to argue that the struggle against Napoleon was a people’s war.
Revolution under siege
Cadiz was built at the end of a sand spit five miles long jutting out from a triangular piece of land known as the Isla de Leon, reached by crossing a narrow causeway-cum-bridge known as the Puente de Suazo that crossed a wide strip of creeks and salt marshes known as the Rio Sancti Petri. The possible site for a siege battery—a peninsula that half-closed the mouth of the harbour protected by the Isla—was held by troops ensconced at its seaward end in the fort of Matagorda. Batteries and redoubts commanded the entire length of the Sancti Petri, the Puente de Suazo had been blown up, the isthmus was studded with defences and Cadiz was protected by massive walls. Every boat for miles around had been scuttled, burnt or taken to the Isla de León, while the harbour was full of British and Spanish warships. The Spaniards had fitted out a large number of gunboats and launches that could patrol the Sancti Petri. Alburquerque’s army and the Voluntarios Distinguidos having been reinforced by 3,000 soldiers who had fled Seville and reached the sea at Ayamonte, and a strong Anglo-Portuguese brigade commanded by General William Stewart. Shaken by their experiences, the Spaniards had abandoned their earlier scruples about a British garrison.
These defences thwarted the French; an effort to persuade the garrison to surrender was rejected. Victor’s French troops camped at the shoreline and tried to bombard the city into surrender. Joseph wrote to Napoleon appealing for naval assistance, but this was never forthcoming; the emperor did not want to risk a second Trafalgar. Large numbers of troops and guns were therefore pushed forward to attack Matagorda and the garrison was evacuated on 22nd April. With Matagorda in their hands, the French could harass the harbour and isthmus and shell Cadiz itself. Large mortars were constructed for this purpose at Seville, and the city was thereafter bombarded. The bombardment was ineffectual and the confidence of the gaditanos grew and persuaded them that they were heroes. Alcalá Galiano wrote, “From December 1810 bombs … fired by the enemy batteries had started to fall inside Cádiz. However, these shots … came very infrequently, and then only a few at a time … in order to carry so far, the projectiles had had to be increased in weight, and were consequently mostly made up of lead without much space for powder. As a result, they caused little damage … and in the end little notice was taken of them other than to make them the subject of humour. In theatre and streets, then, a popular couplet was sung ‘From the bombs fired by the popinjays, the girls of Cádiz make hair curlers.'” With food abundant and falling in price, the bombardment was hopeless despite both hurricane and epidemic—a storm destroyed many ships in the spring of 1810 and the city was ravaged by yellow fever.
Once Cádiz was secured, attention turned to the political situation. It was dominated by three factors: the instructions that had been left by the Junta Suprema Central y Gubernativa del Reinoconcerning the convocation of the Cortes Generales, the installation of a new Consejo de Regencia de España e Indias; and the emergence of Cádiz itself as a player in the political process. On 28th October 1809, the Junta Central announced that after a three-month electoral process beginning on the first day of the new year, the cortes would open on 1st March. On 1st January 1810 instructions had appeared that the suffrage was to be extended to all male householders over 25. Voting was to be public and the electors were to choose parish representatives who would attend district-level assemblies. These would choose deputies to send to the provincial meetings that would be the bodies from which the members of the cortes would emerge. There would be one deputy to every 50,000 inhabitants. The provincial juntas and the towns and cities that had been represented in the cortes of the antiguo régimen would elect one deputy each. Whether the new assembly should have a single chamber or whether the clergy and nobility should have their own organs of representation were unclear. From 1st February 1810—the date when it first met—the implementation of these decrees had been in the hands of the new council of regency selected by the Junta Central. Composed of General Castaños— the former minister and president of the Junta of Seville, Francisco saavedra, Admiral Antonio Escano, Miguel de Lardizabal—an official of the Ministry of State who had represented his native Mexico in the Junta Central, and the Bishop of Orense—who was in Galicia and did not appear in Cádiz until 29th May. This was a conservative body which in theory enjoyed absolute power. The leading reformer Argilelles said, “Its authority was as absolute and arbitrary as that of the governments of the past. There was no remedy against the use of power. The freedoms of speech and of publication … were as chained up as they were before the insurrection.
The Junta agreed that the vice royalties of the overseas territories; New Spain, Peru, New Kingdom of Granada, and Buenos Aires, and the independent captaincies general of the island of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Chile, Province of Venezuela, and Philippines would send one representative. This scheme was criticized in America for providing unequal representation to the overseas territories. Several important and large cities had no direct representation in the Supreme Central Junta. In particular Quito and Charcas, which saw themselves as the capitals of kingdoms and resented being subsumed in the larger “kingdom” of Peru. This unrest led to the establishment of juntas in these cities in 1809, which were quashed by the authorities within the year. (See Luz de America and Bolivian War of Independence.) Throughout early 1809 the governments of the capitals of the vice royalties and captaincies general elected representatives to the Junta, but none arrived in time to serve on it.
The French took the Spanish fortified town of Ciudad Rodrigo after a siege lasting from 26th April to 9th July 1810.
Third invasion of Portugal
Fearing a new French assault on Portugal, Wellesley created a powerful defensive position near Lisbon, to which he could fall back if necessary. To protect the city, he ordered the construction of the Lines of Torres Vedras—three strong lines of forts, blockhouses, redoubts, and ravelins with fortified artillery positions—under the supervision of Sir Richard Fletcher. The various parts of the lines communicated with each other by semaphore, allowing immediate response to any threat. The work began in the autumn of 1809 and the first line was finished one year later. To further hamper the enemy, the areas in front of the lines were subjected to a scorched earth policy: they were denuded of food, forage and shelter. 200,000 inhabitants of neighbouring districts were relocated inside the lines. Though not without its problems, Wellington exploited the facts that the French could conquer Portugal by conquering Lisbon, and that they could in practice reach Lisbon from the north. He exploited Lisbon’s geographical situation and the harshness of the Portuguese countryside. In consequence, despite serious worries about his army, Wellesley was confident. He wrote to Lord Liverpool on 14th November 1809:
From all I have learned of the state of the enemy’s force at present in the Peninsula, I am of opinion that unless the Spanish armies should meet with misfortune, the enemy could not make an attack upon Portugal; and [that] if events in Spain should enable the enemy to make such an attack, the force at present in Portugal is able to defend that country. If in consequence of the peace in Germany the enemy’s army in the Peninsula should be reinforced, it is obvious that the enemy will acquire the means of attacking Portugal… in this case I conceive that till Spain shall have been conquered… the enemy will find it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain possession of Portugal.
Until these changes occurred the Portuguese administration was free to resist British influence, Beresford`s position being rendered tolerable by the firm support of the Minister of War, Miguel de Pereira Forjaz. Wellesley held him to be the ablest man in Portugal.
The French re-invaded Portugal with an army of around 65,000, led by Marshal Massena, and forced Wellesley back through Almeida to Busaco. The first significant clash in Portugal was at the Battle of the Coa, where the French drove back Robert Crauford`s outnumbered Light Division. Masséna moved to attack the held British position on the heights of Bussaco—a 10-mile (16 km)-long ridge—resulting in the Battle of Bucaco on 27th September. Suffering heavy casualties, the French failed to dislodge the Anglo-Portuguese army. Masséna was now cut off from Spain by the militia and the ordenança, tied to one of the worst roads in the peninsula, surrounded by deserted towns and villages, and running short of food. Large cavalry patrols were soon riding out to examine the countryside, and within a matter of hours discovered an unguarded track leading northwards around the Allied line. Trant’s militia had been sent to hold this road, but Wellesley did not believe they could do so. By doing the unexpected, Masséna had wrong-footed Wellington, and frustrated his plan to turn back the invasion before it reached Lisbon. The next day, Masséna turned Wellington’s flank, and the latter thereupon retired, devastating the countryside as he went into a fortified position called the “Lines of Torres Vedras”. By 10th October 1810, the British light division and cavalry patrols remained outside the “Lines”. Wellesley manned the fortifications with “secondary troops”—25,000 Portuguese militia, 8,000 Spaniards and 2,500 British marines and artillerymen—keeping his main field army of British and Portuguese regulars dispersed to meet a French assault on any point of the Lines.
Masséna’s Army of Portugal concentrated around Sobral in preparation to attack. After a fierce skirmish on 14th October in which the strength of the Lines became apparent, the French dug themselves in rather than launch a full-scale assault. Surprised by the French army’s resilience in the desert-like conditions of Portugal, Wellington wrote to Lord Liverpool on 21st December 1810:
it is astonishing that the enemy have been able to remain in this country so long; and it is an extraordinary instance of what a French army can do. It is a fact that they brought no provisions with them, and they have not received a letter since they entered Portugal. With all our money and having in our favour the good inclinations of the country, I assure you that I could not maintain one division in the district in which they have maintained not less than 60,000 men and 20,000 animals for more than two months.
In late October, after holding his starving army before Lisbon for a month, Masséna fell back to a position between Santarem and Rio Major, where Wellesley choose not to attack him. In March, with supplies exhausted, Masséna managed a skillful retreat on Salamanca, with Ney again displaying a savage talent for rear-guard fighting. Following Masséna’s withdrawal, Wellesley moved the 2nd Division under Lieutenant General Hill, along with two Portuguese brigades and an attachment of Dragoons, across the Tagus to protect the plains of Alentejo—both from Masséna and a possible attack from Andalusia by the French Army of the South. The British suffered a setback at about the same time in the Battle of Fuengirola. On 15th October, a much smaller Polish garrison held off British troops under Lord Blayney, who was taken captive and held by the French until 1814.
During 1811, Victor’s force was diminished because of requests for reinforcement from Soult to aid his siege of Badajoz. This brought the French numbers down to between 20,000 and 15,000 and encouraged the defenders of Cádiz to attempt a breakout, in conjunction with the arrival of an Anglo-Spanish relief army of around 16,000 troops under the overall command of Spanish General Manuel La pena, with the British contingent being led by Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Graham. Marching towards Cádiz on February 28th, this force met two French divisions under Victor at Barrosa. Indecisive, the Battle of Barrosa on 5 March was part of an unsuccessful manoeuvre to break the siege of Cádiz, but the cowardice of La Peña made it a fruitless success and Victor soon renewed the blockade. Soult came from the south to threaten Extremadura. He captured the fortress town of Badajoz before returning to Andalusia with most of his army. This timid surrender contrasted with the resistance mounted at Girona and Zaragoza. Badadoz’s garrison numbered 8,000 effectives, had a month’s ammunition and food, and was expecting a relief column under Beresford. The city’s fall crowned a campaign in which, with 20,000 men, Soult had seized two fortress, taken 16,000 prisoners and defeated the Spanish army in Extremadura. Soult was relieved at the operation’s speedy conclusion, for three pieces of disturbing information had reached him on 8th March and his presence was required elsewhere.
Wellesley’s confidence and moral authority had been much boosted by Torres Vedras, the spring of 1811 found him intending to move over to the offensive, for which policy he had received de facto authorisation from London, where talks of major reductions in the size of the army employed in Portugal had been replaced by promises of major reinforcements. Supply difficulties, sickness among the troops and want of siege artillery meant that in the short term no great strokes of strategy could be envisaged, but it was hoped that Almeida, Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz might be all recaptured, opening the way for lightning strikes on Salamanca or Seville. In March 1811 in Cadiz, Henry Wellesley was tricked by serviles eager to engineer British discontent with the Regency into putting forward a plan favoured by both himself and his eldest brother; the elder Wellesley would be given command of the Spanish army and British officers posts in its ranks in exchange for the UK granting the enormous loan which the Spaniards saw as the way out of their penury. This was impractical—gaditano opinion was hostile, while Arthur Wellesley’s enthusiasm failed to win over his Cabinet colleagues. A further suggestion that the provinces bordering on Portugal should be placed under British authority was also rejected. With the French ensconced in Almeida, Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, the problems these measures were designed to combat—a repetition of the troubles of the Talavera campaign—were academic.
An Anglo-Portuguese army led by the British Marshal William beresford and a Spanish army led by the Spanish generals Joaquin Blake and Francisco Castanos, attempted to retake Badajoz by laying siege to the French garrison Soult had left behind. Soult regathered his army and marched to relieve the siege. Beresford lifted the siege and his army intercepted the marching French. Part of Wellington’s army had besieged Badajoz until Soult forced it to retire after the Battle of Albuera. Soult outmaneuvered Beresford but could not win the battle, writing later that he had never seen “so desperate and bloody a conflict” and commenting on the steadfastness of the British troops: “There is no beating these troops … I had turned their right, pierced their centre and everywhere victory was mine—but they did not know how to run!” He retired his army to Seville.
The allies, reinforced by fresh British troops in early 1811, began an offensive. In April, Arthur Wellesley besieged Almeida. Massena advanced to its relief, attacking Wellesley at Fuentes de Onoro (3rd–5th May). The French claimed victory because they won the passage at Poco Velho, cleared the wood, turned the British right flank, obliged the cavalry to retire, and forced Wellesley to relinquish three miles of ground. The British claimed victory because they took the village of Fuentes and their object (covering the blockade of Almeida) was attained. The French retired without being attacked. The innate toughness of Wellesley’s troops and Bessieres`s failure to support Masséna assisted the Allied effort. Bessières led the cavalry of the Imperial Guard and refused to obey Masséna’s orders. After this battle, the Almeida garrison escaped through the British lines in a night march. An infuriated Wellesley wrote, “I have never been so much distressed by any military event as by the escape of a man of them.” Napier wrote, “In the battle of Fuentes Onoro, more errors than skill were observable on both sides, and the train of accidents did not stop there. The prize contended for was to present another example of the uncertainty of war.” Masséna was forced to withdraw, having lost a total of 25,000 men in Portugal, and was replaced by Auguste Marmont. Wellesley joined Beresford and renewed the siege of Badajoz. Marmont joined Soult and Wellesley retired.
The greatest Spanish coup at this time was the work of the Catalans. Aided by three young clerks employed by the garrison, on the night of 9th–10th April the former cleric, Francisco Rovira, let himself into the fortress of Figueras at the head of 2,000 men. Because it commanded the main road from Barcelona to the frontier, the French would not accept its loss and after confused fighting in which Rovira and his men received ineffectual support from troops of the First Army brought up by its latest commander, the Conde de Campoverde, the fortress was blockaded. Thinking that relief was unlikely, Marshal Macdonald, the commander of the French Army of Catalonia, eschewed formal siege operations in favour of starving the defenders into surrender. Defended by irregulars, the fortress held out much longer than expected, but on 17th August, with no food remaining it was forced to capitulate after a desperate attempt at a break-out was foiled. Macdonald wrote,
“The unevenness of the ground caused the head of the columns to waver and made their weapons jingle, and this attracted the attention of our advanced outposts… We awaited their approach, and as soon as they opened the attack we threw hand grenades amongst them… The Spaniards lost a large number of killed, wounded and… prisoners; on our side no one had a scratch. Next day the enemy ran up the white flag… I accorded them the honours of war. The garrison laid down their arms and remained prisoners; out of respect for their bravery the officers retained their swords.”
The fighting had not prevented the French from seizing more ground. The French next attacked the vital city of Tarragona. The Spaniards had been able to maintain a small, regular army in southern and central Catalonia because Tarragona was a port, a fortress, and the last region whose resources remained intact as far as the Patriot cause was concerned. The emperor had deemed that it should be taken. Tasked with this was the Army of Aragon under its commander, General Suchet, who was given a third of the Army of Catalonia to ensure that his operations were not marred by friction with Macdonald. Wellesley soon appeared before Ciudad Rodrigo. In September, Marmont repelled him and re-provisioned the fortress. Sorties continued to be made out of Cádiz from April to August 1811, and British naval gunboats destroyed French positions at St. Mary’s. An attempt by Victor to crush the small Anglo-Spanish garrison at Tarifa over the winter of 1811-1812 was frustrated by torrential rains and an obstinate defence, marking an end to French operations against the city’s outer works. The war now fell into a temporary lull, with the superior French unable to find an advantage and coming under increasing pressure from Spanish guerrillas. The French had over 350,000 soldiers in L’Armée de l’Espagne, but over 200,000 were deployed to protect the French lines of supply, rather than as substantial fighting units.
Allied Campaign in Western Spain
Wellesley renewed the allied advance into Spain in early 1812, besieging and capturing the border fortress towns of Ciudad Rodrigo on 19th January and Badajoz on 6th April after an assault. The allied army took Salamanca on 17th June, as Marshal Marmont approached. The two forces met on 22nd July, when Wellesley soundly defeated the French at the Battle of Salamanca, during which Marmont was wounded.
The emperor wants me to take the offensive … but his Majesty does not realize that the smallest movement in these parts expends quantities of resources and of horses … To make a requisition on the poorest village we have to send a detachment of 200 men and, to be able to live, we have to scatter over distances.
After the allied victory at Salamanca on 22nd July 1812, King Joseph Bonaparte abandoned Madrid on 11 August. Because Suchet had a secure base at Valencia, Joseph and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan retreated there. Soult, realising he would soon be cut off from his supplies, ordered a retreat from Cádiz set for August 24; the French were forced to end the two-and-a-half year long siege. After a long artillery barrage, the French placed together the muzzles of over 600 cannons to render unusable to the Spanish and British. Although the cannons were useless, the Allied forces captured 30 gunboats and a large quantity of stores. The French were forced to abandon Andalusia for fear of being cut off by the allied armies. In August, Wellesley entered Madrid, destroying a famous ceramic factory in the city, and a wool factory and Roman bridge at Alcantara. Marshals Suchet and Soult joined Joseph and Jourdan at Valencia. Spanish armies defeated the French garrisons at Astorga and Guadalajara.
As the French regrouped, the allies advanced towards Burgos. Between September 19 and October 21 Wellesley besieged Burgos but failed to capture it. Together, Joseph and the three marshals planned to recapture Madrid and drive Wellesley from central Spain. The French counteroffensive caused Wellesley to lift the Siege of Burgos and retreat to Portugal in the autumn of 1812, pursued by the French and losing several thousand men.Napier wrote that about 1,000 allied troops were killed, wounded and missing in action, and that Hill lost 400 between the Tagus and the Tormes, and another 100 in the defence of Alba de Tormes. 300 were killed and wounded at the Huebra where many stragglers died in woodland, and 3,520 allied prisoners were taken to Salamanca up to 20 November. Napier estimated that the double retreat cost the allies around 9,000, including the loss in the siege, and said French writers said 10,000 were taken between the Tormes and the Agueda. But Joseph’s dispatches said the whole loss was 12,000, including the garrison of Chinchilla, whereas English authors mostly reduced the British loss to hundreds. As a consequence of the Salamanca campaign, the French were forced to evacuate the provinces of Andalusia and Asturias. For Napoleon, losing in Spain in 1812 or 1813 would have meant little if a decisive victory had occurred in Germany or Russia.
Defeat of King Joseph
By the end of 1812 the Grande Armee that had invaded the Russian Empire had ceased to exist. Unable to resist the oncoming Russians, the French had to evacuate East Prussia and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. With both the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia joining his opponents, Napoleon withdrew more troops from Spain, including some foreign units and three battalions of sailors sent to assist with the Siege of Cádiz. 20,000 men were withdrawn; the numbers were not overwhelming, but the occupying forces were left in a difficult position. In much of the area under French control—the Basque provinces, Navarre, Aragon, Old Castile, La Mancha, the Levante, and parts of Catalonia and Leon—their presence was a few scattered garrisons. Trying to hold a front line in an arc from Bilbao to Valencia, they were still vulnerable to assault, and with hopes of victory abandoned. According to Esdaile, the best policy would have been to have fallen back to the Ebro, but the political situation in 1813 made this impossible; Napoleon wanted to avoid being seen as weak in the face of German princes watching the advancing Russians and wondering whether they should change sides.French prestige suffered another blow when on 17 March el rey intruso left Madrid in the company of another vast caravan of refugees.
The following year, Wellesley marched 121,000 troops (53,749 British, 39,608 Spanish, and 27,569 Portuguese) from northern Portugal across the mountains of northern Spain and the Esla River, skirting Jourdan’s army of 68,000 strung out between the Douro and the Tagus. British and Portuguese forces swept northwards in late May and seized Burgos, outflanking the French army and forcing Joseph Bonaparte into the Zadorra valley. At the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June, Joseph’s 65,000-man army were routed by 52,000 British, 28,000 Portuguese, and 25,000 Spaniards.Wellesley failed to pursue and the French recovered. Wellesley shortened his communications by shifting his base of operations to the northern Spanish coast, and began operations against San Sebastian and Pampeluna. Soult was given command of all French troops in Spain and advanced through the western Pyrenees, but was repulsed. The Spanish army of Enrique Jose O`Donnell took Pancorbo on 3rd July, with the French troops capitulating. With 18,000 men, Wellesley captured the French-garrisoned city of San Sebastian under Brigadier-Genera Louis Emmanuel Rey after a siege that lasted from 7th July to 8th September 1813 and incurred heavy British losses. The city in turn was sacked and burnt to the ground by the Anglo-Portuguese.
The war was not over. Although Bonapartist Spain had effectively collapsed, most of France’s troops had escaped and fresh troops were soon gathering beyond the Pyrenees. By themselves, such forces were unlikely to score more than a few local victories, but French troop losses elsewhere in Europe could not be taken for granted. Austria, Russia and Prussia might be beaten, but with the divisions between the allies there was no guarantee that one power would not make a separate peace. By giving Britain more credibility on the continent, Vitoria had helped a little, but the thought of Napoleon descending on the Pyrenees with the grande armée was not regarded with equanimity.
Invasion of France
Welcoming the news that Austria had entered the war and that the Allied armies had avoided a decisive defeat at dresden in August 1813, British headquarters had misgiving about the eastern powers. Wellesley’s brother-in-law Edward Parkenham wrote, “I should think that much must depend upon proceedings in the north: I begin to apprehend … that Boney may avail himself of the jealousy of the Allies to the material injury of the cause.” But the defeat or defection of Austria, Russia and Prussia was not the only danger. It was also uncertain that Wellesley could continue to count on Spanish support.
Moreover, things were going badly for the British Army itself. The summer of 1813 in the Basque provinces and Navarre was a wet one, and with the army drenched by incessant rain, the decision to strip the men of their greatcoats was looking unwise. Sickness was widespread—at one point a third of Wellesley’s British troops were hors de combat—and fears about the army’s discipline and general reliability grew. By 9th July, Wellesley reported that 12,500 men were absent without leave, whilst plundering was rife. Major General Sir Fredrick Robinson wrote, “We paint the conduct of the French in this country in very … harsh colours, but be assured we injure the people much more than they do … Wherever we move devastation marks our steps.” With the army established on the borders of France, desertion had become a problem. The Chasseurs Britanniques—recruited mainly from French deserters—lost 150 men in a single night. Wellesley wrote, “The desertion is terrible, and is unaccountable among the British troops. I am not astonished that the foreigners should go … but, unless they entice away the British soldiers, there is no accounting for their going away in such numbers as they do.”
The Allies chased the retreating French, reaching the Pyrenees in early July. Marshal Soult began a counter-offensive and defeated the Allies at the Battle of Maya and the Battle of Roncesvalles. Pushing on into Spain, by 27 July the Roncesvalles wing of Soult’s army was within ten miles of Pamplona but found its way blocked by a substantial allied force posted on a high ridge in between the villages of Sorauren and Zabaldica. Soult was repulsed by the Allies at the Battle of Sorauren, lost momentum, and was defeated by the Spanish Army of Galicia under Genera Maneul Freire at the Battle of San Marcial on 31st August 1813.
On 7th October, after Wellesley received news of the reopening of hostilities in Germany, the Allies crossed into France and forded the Bidasoa river. On 11th December, Napoleon, beleaguered and desperate, agreed to a separate peace with Spain under the Treaty of Valencay, under which he would release and recognize Ferdinand in exchange for a complete cessation of hostilities. But the Spanish had no intention of trusting Napoleon and the fighting continued. Soult was not finished. On 13th December he switched his troops to the right bank of the Nive and launched them against Sir Rowland Hill’s forces, and a furious battle followed. The Allies were in danger; rain in the Pyrenees had sent floodwater down the Nive and had swept away their pontoon bridges, while the French made considerable progress. According to Bell, “Every point was attacked to weaken our force and keep us separate, their guns keeping up a terrific fire, knocking the dust out of Saint Pierre … ploughing up the side of the hill, thinning our ranks, and playing Old Harry, having no regard for life or limb … ‘Dead or alive,’ said our chief, ‘we must hold our ground.’
Over 11,000 men were killed or injured at the Battle of the Nive. The French losses outnumbered those of the Allies, and on the evening of 10th December, some 1,400 troops from three German battalions deserted in response to a secret message from the Duke of Nassau—one of the many German rulers who had switched sides following the Battle of Leipzig—ordering them to switch to the Allies. In addition, Soult and Suchet lost the rest of their German units—another 3,000 men—as it was felt that they must be disbanded.
In France, after a considerable time of inactivity spent in winter quarters, British, Portuguese and Spanish soldiers continued to fight the enemy, but the history of how the allies besieged Bayonne, liberated Bourdeaux, and fought Soult’s army a Toulouseis one that belongs as much to the tale of the Peninsular War as to that of the great invasion of France that produced Napoleon’s abdication on 6 April 1814. Nor does much interest attach to such military events as took place in the Peninsula, for these boiled down to little more than a series of ineffectual blockades that are remarkable for the evidence they provide of the condition of the Spanish army and the erstwhile guerrillas’ lack of interest in prosecuting the war. The French garrisons that remained had since been besieged by Spanish forces.
The significance of the Peninsular War was of far greater significance in the history of Spain and Portugal than it was in the history of the Napoleonic Wars. On the contrary to the classic tradition, to quote Napoleon himself, ‘It was [the Spanish war] that overthrew me. All my disasters can be traced back to this fatal knot’. By intervening in Spain and Portugal, Napoleon involved himself in a struggle that would have been difficult to win at the best of times: so intense was the national spirit of these two countries, the French armies were confronted by a veritable people’s war. The Grande Armée that campaigned in Russia in 1812 was not inadequate of troops. Rather, what was lacking was the ability to make use of troops, the communications, transport and supply arrangements of the army all proving desperately short for the needs even of the numbers that Napoleon did take with him. Two years later, heartened by French difficulties in Spain, both Russia and Prussia considered going to war against Napoleon; in Prussia leaders of the reform movement such as August von Gneisenauadded to the pressure by painting pictures of people’s war a la español. Once he had been beaten in Germany in 1813, Napoleon’s only hope of survival—other than accepting the compromise peace that at this point was on offer—was to mobilise France for total war in the hope that resistance might be prolonged long enough for the divisions between the Allies to undermine its commitment to their common cause.
King Joseph had been welcomed by Spanish afrancesados (Francophiles), who believed that collaboration with France would bring modernisation and liberty; an example was the abolition of the Spanish Inquisition. Priests and patriots stirred up agitation, which became widespread after the French army’s first examples of repression (such as that in Madrid in 1808) were presented as fact to unite and enrage the people. The remaining afrancesadoswere exiled to France following the departure of French troops.
After the Peninsular War, the pro-independence traditionalists and liberals clashed in the Carlist Wars, as King Ferdinand VII, (“the Desired One”; later “the Traitor King”), revoked all the changes made by the independent Cortesin Cádiz. He restored absolute monarchy, prosecuted and put to death everyone suspected of liberalism, and altered the laws of royal succession in favour of his daughter Isabella II, starting a century of civil wars against the supporters of the former legal heir to the throne. The liberal Cortes had approved the first Spanish Constitutionon 19th March 1812, which King Ferdinand later nullified. In Spanish America, Spanish and Criollo officials formed Juntas that swore allegiance to King Ferdinand. This experience in self-government led the later libertadores (Liberators) to promote the independence of Spain’s American colonies.
The whole country had been pillaged, and society subjected to destabilising change, even anarchy. The Peninsular War gave birth to the violence and popular antagonism that, along with military intervention in politics, were to be nineteenth-century Spain’s most pronounced characteristics. Portugal’s position was more favorable than Spain’s. Revolt had not spread to Brazil, there was no colonial struggle and there had been no attempt at political revolution.
Exposing the limitations of eighteenth-century enlightened absolutism, the war dealt a blow to both the Church and the nobility. The Church had suffered great losses—one third of the clergy may have died in the struggle—and it had also been stripped of much of its property, and desamortizaction, hostility to the tithes and the demands of the French and the Patriots for funds had left it without resources.
The Peninsular War signified Portugal’s traumatic entry into the modern age. The Governors of Portugal nominated by the absent king had scant influence because of the successive French invasions and British occupation. The Portuguese Court’s transfer to Rio de Janeiro initiated Brazil’s state-building that produced its independence in 1822. The Portuguese Navy’s skillful evacuation of more than 15,000 people from the court, administration, and army was a bonus for Brazil and a blessing in disguise for Portugal, as it liberated the energies of the country.
By Julie-Ann Rosser
Sourced from Wikipedia