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Peninsular War,1808–14, fought by France against Great Britain, Portugal, Spanish regulars, and Spanish guerrillas in the Iberian Peninsula.
Origin and Occupation
The conflict was precipitated when Portugal refused to comply with Napoleon's Continental SystemContinental System,
scheme of action adopted by Napoleon I in his economic warfare with England from 1806 to 1812. Economic warfare had been carried on before 1806, but the system itself was initiated by the Berlin Decree, which claimed that the British blockade of purely
..... Click the link for more information. . By a secret convention reached at Fontainebleau (Oct., 1807) Spain agreed to support France against Portugal. A French army under Andoche JunotJunot, Andoche
, 1771–1813, French general. Having served under Napoleon Bonaparte in Italy and Egypt, he became ambassador to Portugal (1804–5) and commanded the French invasion of that country in 1807, thus opening the Peninsular War.
..... Click the link for more information. occupied (Nov., 1807) Portugal, and King John VIJohn VI,
1769–1826, king of Portugal (1816–26), son of Maria I and Peter III. When his mother became insane, John assumed the reins of government (1792), although he did not formally become regent until 1799.
..... Click the link for more information. and his family fled to Brazil without resisting. Napoleon then began a series of maneuvers to secure Spain for France. On the pretext that they were reinforcements for Junot, large numbers of French troops entered Spain and seized Pamplona and Barcelona (Feb., 1808). On Mar. 23 French marshal Joachim MuratMurat, Joachim
, 1767–1815, marshal of France, king of Naples (1808–15). He left his theological studies to enter the army and fought in Egypt under Napoleon, whom he helped (1799) in the coup of 18 Brumaire.
..... Click the link for more information. entered Madrid.
Meanwhile, a palace revolution (Mar. 19) had deposed King Charles IVCharles IV,
1748–1819, king of Spain (1788–1808), second son of Charles III, whom he succeeded in place of his imbecile older brother. Unlike his father, Charles IV was an ineffective ruler and in 1792 virtually surrendered the government to Godoy, his chief minister
..... Click the link for more information. and his favorite, GodoyGodoy, Manuel de
, 1767–1851, Spanish statesman. An army officer, he won the favor of Queen María Luisa and rose rapidly at the court of Charles IV. The king made him chief minister in 1792, and except for a brief eclipse from power (1798–1801), Godoy ruled
..... Click the link for more information. , and had placed Ferdinand VIIFerdinand VII,
1784–1833, king of Spain (1808–33), son of Charles IV and María Luisa. Excluded from a role in the government, he became the center of intrigues against the chief minister Godoy and attempted to win the support of Napoleon I.
..... Click the link for more information. on the throne. However, Charles and Ferdinand were called to Bayonne by Napoleon, and coerced to abdicate (May 5–6) in favor of Napoleon's brother Joseph BonaparteBonaparte
, Ital. Buonaparte , family name of Napoleon I, emperor of the French. Parentage
Napoleon's father, Carlo Buonaparte, 1746–85, a petty Corsican nobleman, was a lawyer in Ajaccio.
..... Click the link for more information. . A bloody uprising in Madrid (May 2)—immortalized in Francisco de GoyaGoya y Lucientes, Francisco José de
, 1746–1828, Spanish painter and graphic artist. Goya is generally conceded to be the greatest painter of his era. Early Life and Work
After studying in Zaragoza and Madrid and then in Rome, Goya returned c.
..... Click the link for more information. 's paintings—was put down by Murat and on June 15 Joseph was proclaimed king of Spain.
The War Continues
The Spanish rose in revolt throughout the country. When the insurrectionists captured (July 23) a French force dispatched to seize Seville, King Joseph evacuated Madrid (Aug. 1) and withdrew beyond the Ebro. Another French force was repelled by José de PalafoxPalafox, José de
, 1776?–1847, Spanish general in the Peninsular War, celebrated for his heroic defense of Zaragoza. Elected captain general of Aragón in 1808, he held Zaragoza against the French with an improvised garrison of citizens and peasants.
..... Click the link for more information. in his heroic defense of Zaragoza (June–Aug.). In Portugal, where revolt had also broken out, a British expeditionary force under Arthur Wellesley (later duke of WellingtonWellington, Arthur Wellesley, 1st duke of,
1769–1852, British soldier and statesman. Military Achievements
..... Click the link for more information. ) landed in Aug., 1808, and defeated Junot at Vimeiro (Aug. 21). Cut off from Joseph's army, Junot negotiated a convention at Cintra (Aug. 30), surrendering Lisbon in return for repatriation of his troops by British ships.
With Sir John Moore as commander in chief, the British invaded Spain, thus beginning a long series of seesaw campaigns. Napoleon hastened to Spain, stormed Madrid (Dec. 3, 1808), had Marshal Lannes lay siege to Zaragoza, and ordered Marshal Soult to pursue Moore, who had retreated into Galicia. Soult was stalled long enough at A Coruña (Jan. 16, 1809) to permit the British to embark. Zaragoza, which Palafox had held for two months at a huge cost in lives, fell in Feb., 1809. In April, Wellesley arrived in Lisbon to take charge of the British and Portuguese forces there. He drove the French out of Portugal, invaded Spain, and with the help of a Spanish army defeated the French under Joseph at Talavera (July 27–28).
Driven back into Portugal by André MassénaMasséna, André
, 1758–1817, marshal of France, b. Nice. Of humble origin, he entered (1791) the French army and rose rapidly because of his brilliant tactical abilities.
..... Click the link for more information. at Bussaco (Sept., 1810), Wellesley retired behind a strong fortified line centered at Torres Vedras, which Masséna's forces attempted to penetrate (Oct.–Mar., 1811). Lacking supplies, Masséna retreated into Spain (Mar.–Apr., 1811); meanwhile Soult had marched north from Cádiz to join Masséna, but their junction was prevented by Wellesley and William Carr BeresfordBeresford, William Carr Beresford, Viscount,
1768–1854, British general. He served with distinction in Egypt (1801–3) and participated (1806) in the capture of Cape Colony (later Cape Province, South Africa) from the Dutch.
..... Click the link for more information. at Fuentes de Oñoro and at Albuera (May, 1811). Nevertheless, the French controlled all of Spain in 1811, with the exception of the numerous guerrilla bands operating out of the mountains, which continuously sapped French forces. There were atrocities on both sides.
Wellesley's Victories and War's End
Early in 1812 Wellesley attacked once more, and on July 22 he defeated the French under MarmontMarmont, Auguste Frédéric Louis Viesse de
, 1774–1852, marshal of France. He fought with Napoleon in Italy and Egypt and took part in his coup of 18 Brumaire (1799). In 1808 he was made duke of Ragusa and later governor of Illyria.
..... Click the link for more information. at Salamanca. He briefly occupied Madrid (Aug.–Oct., 1812), but retreated to Ciudad Rodrigo when the French, who had time to consolidate their armies, counterattacked from three directions. Placed in command of all the allied forces in the peninsula, Wellesley took the offensive in May, 1813, routed the French under Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jourdan at Vitoria (June 21), and pushed them back into France. In October Wellesley invaded France. He laid siege to Bayonne, heroically defended by Soult, and had reached Toulouse when, on Apr. 12, 1814, news of Napoleon's abdication arrived; the Peninsular War was ended.
Results of the War
The Peninsular War immeasurably raised Britain's military prestige and contributed heavily to Napoleon's downfall. The "guerrilla" warfare carried out by irregular Spanish forces added a new term to the military vocabulary and served as a model for future insurgencies. In Latin America the war served as detonator for the independence revolutions of the Spanish colonies.
There are histories of the Peninsular War by W. F. P. Napier (rev. ed. 1856, repr. 1970), H. R. Clinton (3d ed. 1890), C. W. C. Oman (7 vol., 1902–30), M. Glover (1974).