Peninsular War

Peninsular War
Part of the Napoleonic Wars
El dos de mayo de 1808 en Madrid rdit.jpg
The Second of May 1808: The Charge of the Mamelukes by Francisco Goya, 1814
Date2 May 1808 (sometimes 27 October 1807[a]) – 17 April 1814[b]
(5 years, 11 months, 2 weeks and 1 day)
Iberian Peninsula and southern France

First French Empire French Empire

Commanders and leaders
November 1808:
Spain 205,000[1]
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 31,000[1]
Kingdom of Portugal 35,000[2]
April 1813:
May 1808:
November 1808:
February 1809:
January 1810:
July 1811:
June 1812:
October 1812:
April 1813:
Casualties and losses

Spain 215,000–375,000 military and civilian dead[6]
Spain 25,000 guerrillas killed[7]
December 1810 – May 1814:
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 35,630 dead[8]

  • 24,053 died of disease[8]
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 32,429 wounded[8]

180,000–240,000 dead[7]

  • 91,000 killed[7]
237,000 wounded[7]
1,000,000+ military and civilian dead[7]

The Peninsular War[c] (1807–1814) was a military conflict between Napoleon's empire and Bourbon Spain (with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland allied with the Kingdom of Portugal), for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war began when the French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in 1807, and escalated in 1808 when France turned on Spain, previously its ally. 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 Mayo Uprising on 2 May 1808 and ended on 17 April 1814. The French occupation destroyed the Spanish administration, which fragmented into quarrelling provincial juntas. The episode remains as the bloodiest event in Spain's modern history, doubling in relative terms the Spanish Civil War.[9]

A reconstituted national government, the Cortes of Cádiz—in effect a government-in-exile—fortified itself in Cádiz in 1810, 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 provide whatever supplies they could get to the Spanish, while the Spanish armies and guerrillas tied down vast numbers of Napoleon's troops. These combined regular and irregular allied forces, by restricting French control of territory, prevented Napoleon's marshals from subduing the rebellious Spanish provinces, and the war continued through years of stalemate.[10]

The British Army, under then Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the 1st Duke of Wellington, guarded Portugal and campaigned against the French in Spain alongside the reformed Portuguese army. The demoralised Portuguese army was reorganised and refitted under the command of Gen. William Beresford,[11] who had been appointed commander-in-chief of the Portuguese forces by the exiled Portuguese royal family, and fought as part of the combined Anglo-Portuguese Army under Wellesley.

In 1812, when Napoleon set out with a massive army on what proved to be a disastrous French invasion of Russia, a combined allied army under Wellesley pushed into Spain, defeating the French at Salamanca and taking Madrid. In the following year Wellington scored a decisive victory over King Joseph Bonaparte's army in the Battle of Vitoria. Pursued by the armies of Britain, Spain and Portugal, Marshal Jean-de-Dieu Soult, no longer able to get sufficient support from a depleted France, led the exhausted and demoralized French forces in a fighting withdrawal across the Pyrenees during the winter of 1813–1814.

The years of fighting in Spain were a heavy burden on France's Grande Armée. 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 fighting an intense guerrilla war of raids and ambushes. The Spanish armies were repeatedly beaten and driven to the peripheries, but they would regroup and relentlessly hound the French. This drain on French resources led Napoleon, who had unwittingly provoked a total war, to call the conflict the "Spanish Ulcer".[12][13]

War and revolution against Napoleon's occupation led to the Spanish Constitution of 1812, later a cornerstone of European liberalism.[14] 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.


Portuguese negotiations

Print shows men in early 19th century military uniforms. The grenadier and sapper at the left belonging to the Princesa Line Infantry wear blue coats with fur hats. The officer and enlisted man at the right from the Catalonia Light Infantry wear green hussar-style jackets.
Princesa Line Infantry Regiment (left) and Catalonia Light Infantry Regiment (right)

The Treaties of Tilsit, negotiated during a meeting in July 1807 between Emperors Alexander I of Russia and Napoleon, concluded the War of the Fourth Coalition. With Prussia shattered, and the Russian Empire allied with the First French Empire, Napoleon expressed irritation that Portugal was open to trade with the United Kingdom.[15] Pretexts were plentiful; Portugal was Britain's oldest ally in Europe, Britain was finding new opportunities for trade with Portugal's colony in Brazil, the Royal Navy used Lisbon's port in its operations against France, and he wanted to deny the British the use of the Portuguese fleet. Furthermore, Prince John of Braganza, regent for his insane mother Queen Maria I, had declined to join the emperor's Continental System against British trade.[16]

Events moved rapidly. The Emperor sent orders on 19 July 1807 to his Foreign Minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, to order Portugal to declare war on Britain, close its ports to British ships, detain British subjects on a provisional basis and sequester their goods. After a few days, a large force started concentrating at Bayonne.[17] Meanwhile, the Portuguese government's resolve was stiffening, and shortly afterward Napoleon was once again told that Portugal would not go beyond its original agreements. Napoleon now had all the pretext that he needed, while his force, the First Corps of Observation of the Gironde with Divisional General Jean-Andoche Junot in command, was prepared to march on Lisbon. After he received the Portuguese answer, he ordered Junot's corps to cross the frontier into the Spanish Empire.[18]

While all this was going on, the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau had been signed between France and Spain. The document was drawn up by Napoleon's marshal of the palace Géraud Duroc and Eugenio Izquierdo, an agent for Manuel Godoy.[19] The treaty proposed to carve up Portugal into three entities. Porto and the northern part was to become the Kingdom of Northern Lusitania, under Charles II, Duke of Parma. The southern portion, as the Principality of the Algarves, would fall to Godoy. The rump of the country, centered on Lisbon, was to be administered by the French.[20] According to the Treaty of Fontainebleau, Junot's invasion force was to be supported by 25,500 Spanish troops.[21] On 12 October, Junot's corps began crossing the Bidasoa River into Spain at Irun.[18] Junot was selected because he had served as ambassador to Portugal in 1805. He was known as a good fighter and an active officer, although he never exercised independent command.[19]

Spanish situation

By 1800, the Kingdom of Spain was in a state of social unrest. Townsfolk and peasants all over the country, who had been forced to bury family members in new municipal cemeteries, took back their bodies at night and tried to restore them to their old resting-places. In Madrid, the growing afrancesado (Francophilia) of the court was opposed by the majos: shopkeepers, artisans, taverners and labourers who dressed in traditional style, and took pleasure in picking fights with petimetres, the young class who styled themselves with French fashion and manners.[22]

Spain was an ally of Napoleon's First French Empire; however, defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805 had removed the reason for alliance with France. Godoy—who was a favourite of King Charles IV of Spain—began to seek some form of escape. At the start of the War of the Fourth Coalition, which pitted the Kingdom of Prussia against Napoleon, Godoy issued a proclamation that was obviously aimed at France, even though it did not specify an enemy. After Napoleon's decisive victory at the Battle of Jena–Auerstedt, Godoy quickly withdrew the proclamation. However, it was too late to avert the Emperor's suspicions. Napoleon planned from that moment to deal with his inconstant ally at some future time. In the meantime, the Emperor dragooned Godoy and Charles IV into providing a division of Spanish troops to serve in northern Europe.[23] The Division of the North spent the winter of 1807–1808 in Swedish Pomerania, Mecklenburg and towns of the old Hanseatic League. Spanish troops marched into Denmark in early 1808.[24]

Invasion of Portugal

Painting shows crowds of people dressed in early 1800s clothing getting off horse-drawn carriages near the sea.
The Portuguese royal family escapes to Brazil.

Concerned that Britain might intervene in Portugal or that the Portuguese might resist, Napoleon decided to speed up the invasion timetable, and instructed Junot to move west from Alcántara along the Tagus valley to Portugal, a distance of only 120 miles (193 km).[25] On 19 November 1807, Junot set out for Lisbon and occupied it on 30 November.[26]

The Prince Regent John escaped, loading his family, courtiers, state papers and treasure aboard the fleet. He was joined in flight by many nobles, merchants and others. With 15 warships and more than 20 transports, the fleet of refugees weighed anchor on 29 November and set sail for the colony of Brazil.[27] The flight had been so chaotic that 14 carts loaded with treasure were left behind on the docks.[28]

As one of Junot's first acts, the property of those who had fled to Brazil was sequestrated[29] and a 100-million-franc indemnity imposed.[30] The army formed into a Portuguese Legion, and went to northern Germany to perform garrison duty.[29] Junot did his best to calm the situation by trying to keep his troops under control. While the Portuguese civil authorities were generally subservient toward their occupiers, the common people were angry,[29] and the harsh taxes caused bitter resentment among the population. By January 1808, there were executions of persons who resisted the exactions of the French. The situation was dangerous, but it would need a trigger from outside to transform unrest into revolt.[30]

Other Languages
Bân-lâm-gú: Poàn-tó Chiàn-cheng
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Вайна на Пірэнэйскім паўвостраве
Cymraeg: Rhyfel Iberia
한국어: 반도 전쟁
Bahasa Indonesia: Perang Kemerdekaan Spanyol
Bahasa Melayu: Perang Semenanjung
日本語: 半島戦争
português: Guerra Peninsular
Simple English: Peninsular War
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Španski rat za nezavisnost
українська: Піренейська війна
吴语: 半岛战争
粵語: 半島戰爭
中文: 半岛战争