Independence, Peninsular War or simply War of 1808?

If you have read my posts, really…. you have noticed that of all the travel the section I like the most is the one dealing with history. I am an amateur history lover!!! It is a heavy subject and complicated and the reason not written a whole post on it ,until now. This is best in my black and white series, no pictures.

The Independence war of Spain, or the Peninsular War of all, or simply call the War of 1808. I like the latest. After all, it was fought in the Iberian Peninsula most of it, but it included parts of Southern France and with the heavy casting of the British. Therefore, War of 1808 is best me think.

Not many have given lots of thought or at least not written about huh! But it is a very important war, that determine the liberalism in Europe from the absolutism, clear the way for imposing invaders/dictators, and gave the light of freedom to many Nations, the Americas included. A bloody war indeed, but don’t they are all? Who is counting bodies! any count is a sad count. As with wars, dictators, etc there is no gold silver and bronze, is either good or bad, and to me they are all bad.

It is a touchy feeling for me because I am Spanish-French as well (citizen that is) and very much close to the Portuguese community from which I learned their language and my oldest son godfather is from there. And of course, the British know it well too one of my girlfriends for years in the University was from Leicester lol!! and a few pints buddies. So will try to be neutral ok ::)

The Spanish War of Independence was a conflict developed between 1808 and 1814 in the context of the Napoleonic Wars, which confronted the Allied powers of Spain, the United Kingdom and Portugal against the first French Empire, whose pretension was that of install in the Spanish throne the brother of Napoleon, Joseph Bonaparte, after the abdications of Bayonne.

It confuses with what the Anglo-Saxon historiography calls Peninsular War, begun in 1807 when declaring France and Spain the war with Portugal, traditional allied of the United Kingdom. It also had an important component of civil war at the national level between francized and patriots. Since the bicentennial of the War of independence, some historians have questioned the name of “War of independence ” because it is not a conflict of independence character, depending on the character that has been given to these Conflagrations In particular gains strength the denomination War of 1808 or the more complete Peninsula War (Iberian peninsula).

Initial invasion of Portugal with France and Spain: The Spanish division of Solano, leaving Badajoz, took meantime Elvas and Campo Maior, going to establish its headquarters in Setúbal, occupying also Alcácer do Sal, in the Algarve, Tavira and Lagos. The Division of General Francisco Taranco y Llano, with about 6000 men, entered by Valencia and was to ensure the taking of the city of Porto, where was already the general Juan Carrafa with 4000 men, coming from Tomar and Coimbra. On 9 May 1808, the Prince Regent of Portugal, in Brazil, declared null all the Treaties of Portugal with France, declaring war on the French and friendship with his former ally, Great Britain. In Porto, on 6 June, there will be a period of popular revolts against the French occupation, as a result of which the populations of Chaves, Miranda Do Corvo , Torre de Moncorvo, Ruivães , Vila Real, amongst others responded immediately to the call. The news of the Spanish people’s uprising prompted General Solano to withdraw with his troops to Spain. General Quesnel, a Frenchman who replaced General Taranco   upon his death, is arrested by the Spanish troops of Gen Balestra who, meanwhile, was also ordered to return to Spain. The economic and institutional crisis in mainland Portugal worsened with the permanence of the Portuguese court in Brazil, which strengthened the liberal ideas in the country, leading to the Porto Revolution of 1820 and forcing the return of the king to Europe in 1821.

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 demoralized Portuguese army was reorganized and refitted under the command of Gen. William Beresford, 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.

According to the Treaty of Fontainebleau of October 27, 1807, Prime Minister Manuel Godoy foresaw, in the face of a new Spanish-French invasion of Portugal, the logistical support necessary to the transit of the imperial troops, which stipulates the joint military invasion, the cession to the Crown of the new kingdoms of Lusitania and Algarves, as well as the distribution of the colonies, all in favor of Spain in exchange for this transit. Under the command of General Junot, the French troops entered Spain on October 18, 1807 , crossing its territory at full march in winter, and reached the border with Portugal on November 20. However, Napoleon’s plans went beyond, and his troops were taking positions in important cities and strongholds in order to overthrow the dynasty of the Bourbons in Spain ,and supplant it by its own dynasty, convinced of having the popular support. This reach the point that they already control several Spanish towns, such as Burgos, Salamanca, Pamplona, San Sebastián, Barcelona and Figueras. The total number of French soldiers stationed in Spain amounted to about 65 000, which controlled not only the communications with Portugal, but also with Madrid and the French border. In March 1808, fearing the worst, the Royal family withdrew to the Royal Palace of Aranjuez to, if necessary, continue on the way to the south, to Sevilla and embark for America, as had already done Joao VI of Portugal (Brazil).

The dissemination of the news of the brutal repression,and the abdications of Bayonne on 5 and 9 May, 1808. One of the reasons why the Peninsular Wars attained so much infamy is that the depravities committed by all sides were graphically portrayed by one of the greatest artistic geniuses ever, Francisco Goya, who in 1808 had already held the position of official Spanish court-painter for three decades. His numerous etchings (the series known as “The Disasters of War”), drawings, and paintings not only depicted the horrors of this holocaust, but also constituted an unforgettable indictment of all warfare. Among the many scenes pictorially documented by Goya were skeletal children and women desperately begging for food, firing-squad shootings, bare-breasted and terrified women encountering impending rape, impalement of a man on a tree, and disembowelment by sword.   Napoleon forced the transfer of the Spanish crown to his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, as Joseph I  (José) in the abdications of Bayonne. Which extended throughout the Spanish geography the call, initiated in Móstoles (near Madrid), for action, the uprising against the French , coming for the most part from the popular classes and of the notable locals to confront the imperial troops, they decided the war by the way of the popular pressure in spite of the opposite attitude of the Board of government designated by king Fernando VII. Already in April there were riots in cities like León and Burgos, although, after the Madrid uprising, on May 2, 1808, the actions against the French was propagated throughout Spain. The war developed in several phases in which both sides took the initiative successively, and was highlighted by the emergence of the guerrilla phenomenon that, along with the regular Allied armies directed by the Duke of Wellington, caused the progressive wear to the Bonapartist forces.

The first successes of the Spanish forces in the spring and the summer of 1808, with the Battle of el Bruc, the resistance of Zaragoza and Valencia and, in particular, the victory of Bailen, meanwhile the situation in the Basque Country was tensing. Bilbao, the only provincial capital that had not been occupied by the invaders was relieved on the night of August 5 to 6 and proclaimed as King of Spain, Fernando VII. They provoked the evacuation of Portugal and the French withdrawal to the north of the Ebro, followed in the autumn of 1808 by the entrance of the Grande Armée, headed by Napoleon himself, in command of an army of 250 000 men culminated the maximum French deployment until mid-1812. After the entrance of the emperor in Madrid, after the Battle of Espinosa de los Monteros and the Battle of Somosierra (November 30, 1808) and the tremendous defeats of Uclés (January 13, 1809), the second of the sieges of Zaragoza (21 December 1808 to February 21, 1809) and Ocaña (November 1809), the Central Junta in charge of the government of the unoccupied Spain leaves the plateau for refuge, first in Sevilla, and then in Cadiz, which resists a long and brutal siege.

From there, the Central Junta assists defenselessly the capitulation of Andalusia. Napoleon was preparing to start in pursuit of the British expeditionary force of Moore, when it had to leave to France with urgency because the Austrian Empire had declared  war (January 6, 1809). He left the mission to finish the war in the northwest in the hands of Marshal Soult, who occupied Galicia after the Battle of Elviña and then turned south to attack Portugal from the north, leaving the group of Marshal Ney in his rear with the mission to collaborate in the occupation of Asturias. However, the popular resistance, supported by the weapons supplies by the British fleet, made it impossible to pacify Galicia, which had to be evacuated after the defeat of Ney in the Battle of Puentesampayo (June 1809). The popular uprising, directed by Captain Cachamuíña in Vigo, assumed that this was the first town reconquered to the French in Europe (March 28, 1809). Galicia and Valencia remained free of French troops, although Valencia ended up capitulated In January 1812. To this should be added the formal annexation, by decree of January 26, 1812, of Catalonia to the French Empire, with its division in four departments (Ter, Segre, Montserrat and Bocas del Ebro) and the incorporation of the Aragonese municipalities of Fraga and Mequinenza, while the Aran Valley was assigned to the Department of the Haute-Garonne in France.

By the end of 1812, the Grande Armée of Napoléon 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 Cadiz. The withdrawal of troops bound for the Russian campaign was exploited by the Allies to resume the initiative from their victory in the Arapiles (22 July 1812) forcing Joseph Bonaparte to flee temporarily from Madrid. And, counteracting the French offensive, advancing along 1813 to the Pyrenees, defeating the French in the Battles of Vitoria (June 21) and San Marcial (August 31). Meanwhile, Russia’s campaign absorbed the bulk of French resources. Therefore, during 1813 the French Army was withdrawing and losing territory. The French abandoned almost all their towns, and after the Battle of Vitoria on June 21, 1813, they were expelled from Spain. The Treaty of Valençay of December 11 ,1813 restored to king Fernando VII and left Spain free of the foreign presence, but did not prevent the invasion of the French territory. In October of 1813 the Allies crossed the Pyrenees. The war continued in the south of France. There were fighting in the Nivelle River, Bayonne, Orthez, Toulouse and again in Bayonne between the Allied army formed by English, Portuguese and Spanish against French. Being the Battle of Toulouse (April 10, 1814) the last confrontation of the war. Finally, Napoleon asked for peace. So paradoxically, the war ended in the same locality where it originated: Bayonne.

Allied troops had entered until Bordeaux, and possibly, if they had not been stopped, they had entered in Paris before the Austrians, Prussians and Russians. King Fernando VII was finally able to return to Spain on March 22nd, 1814. It must be pointed out that Catalonia formally continued to belong to the French Empire until 28 May 1814, with the orderly withdrawal of all its troops under the command of General Pierre Joseph Habert. At that time, even Napoleon had already abdicated (Treaty of Fontainebleau, April 14, 1814). The signing of the Treaty of Valençay, by which king Fernando VII was reconstituted on the throne,as the absolute monarch, was the beginning of a time of disappointment for all those who, like the deputies gathered in the courts of Cadiz, had believed that the fight against the   French was the beginning of the Spanish Revolution and also the beginning of the Latin American War of independence. It was a long and destructive war, most estimations of wartime dead in Spain place the number at over one million, which constituted more than 10% of the total population. In Portugal, the losses were recorded at 5-10%. The episode remains as the bloodiest event in Spain’s modern history, doubling in relative terms the Spanish Civil War.

In all, Spain deprived of its naval power and excluded from the great subjects dealt with in the Congress of Vienna, where it drew the subsequent geopolitical panorama of Europe. On the other side of the Atlantic, the American colonies would gain independence after the Spanish-American Wars of Independence , Spanish colonies (most except Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines) as well as Portuguese Brazil had achieved independence by 1822. At the internal political level, the conflict hatched the Spanish national identity and opened the doors to constitutionalism, concretized in the first Constitutions of the country, the Statute of Bayonne and the creation of Cadiz. However, it also initiated an era of civil wars between the supporters of absolutism and those of liberalism, called Carlist Wars, which would extend to the entire 19C and that would mark the becoming of the Nation. War and revolution against Napoleon’s occupation led to the Spanish Constitution of 1812, later a cornerstone of European liberalism. What made the Peninsular Wars so extraordinary and influential, however, is that never before had a guerrilla insurgency fought on such a large scale with such devastating effectiveness while contributing in major ways to the defeat of the most proficient armies the world had ever seen that were commanded nominally by the greatest military genius in history. Yet in less than six years after the Iberian insurrections of May, 1808 he was traveling toward exile on the tiny island of Elba. The Iberian “ulcer” had contributed mightily toward bleeding his empire of all life. Another adverse outcome of the wars for both Spain and Portugal was the deepening rift, chasm, or division in their societies between those favoring the regressive forces of absolute monarchy, aristocracy, and clergy and those favoring the progressive forces of constitutionalism, bourgeoisie, and secularism. Sound familiar!

A huge event indeed in my opinion, that allows for independence movements all over the participating countries in this war and for my beloved Spain, lucky to have Russia and Austria and Prussia battling Napoleon on the Central European front otherwise history will be another story. And this is not the last time it will play out as WWI and WWII would tell us. Hope you enjoy the historical reading compiles from British, French ,Portuguese,and Spanish sources.

Some webpages I like to complement the above are

Ministerio de Educacion, Cultura y Deportes:

Britannica in English:

Further reading in English, Peninsula War (another name for the Independence war of Spain into into consideration Portugal) :

La Guerre d’Espagne as known in Napoléon’s France:

Hope you enjoy the reading, and it may I am sure help understand these countries today a bit more. I am sure you will know Spain independant drive of today from it.

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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4 Comments to “Independence, Peninsular War or simply War of 1808?”

  1. I will continue to call it the Peninsula War!


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