Spain : Popular War, 1808-1813

A.) The Pre-History of the War

French troops were stationed in Spain in connection with the Franco-Spanish War on Portugal, which Britain had entered on the Portuguese side in 1808. A rumour-sparked, anti-French riot (Aranjuez) had caused Spanish King Carlos IV. to abdicate; his son and successor Ferdinand VII. was pressured by Napoleon to abdicate (April 21st), to make room for Napoleon's brother Joseph.
The Spanish reaction to this charade was total rejection of the new regime; by the time, Joseph reached Madrid (July 1808), Spain was in armed rebellion (the French army controlling Madrid and the major roads), and Britain had chosen to side with the Spanish insurgents.

B.) The War

Sevilla emerged as the center of a provisional government; the Catholic clergy agitated against the French which were labelled atheist; numerous Spaniards volunteered, and entire regiments of the Spanish regular army rallied to their cause. Spain was at war with France; but there was no clear front. French forces laid siege to Zaragoza and Gerona, sacked Cordoba, suffered defeats at Valencia and Bailen. A Spanish force from Andalusia marched on Madrid, where Joseph had established himself on July 25th.
Then Napoleon himself entered the scene, with an army of 300,000. He quickly defeated the Spanish; the provisional government had to withdraw to Cadiz, where, protected by the British navy, it was out of Napoleon's reach. The Spanish continued to resist, developing what, ever since, is known as guerilla warfare.
While Napoleon left Spain and withdrew part of his force (the war with Austria 1809), the appearance of a British army 50,000 men under the command of Wellington in 1810 tied up the French occupation force and provided the Spanish guerilleros with the freedom to strike. The French invasion of Russia 1812 meant that French resources were directed there and only a small part of them was available to the French occupation force in Spain. Wellington defeated the French at Salamanca 1812. When France annexed Catalonia in 1812, it virtually recognized that ot long had lost control over Spain. After the destruction of the Grande Armee in Russia, Napoleon withdrew forces from Spain. Madrid was liberated in May 1813. Wellington defeated the French at Vitoria (June 21st 1813).

C.) The Legacy

The Peninsular War has introduced the term Guerilla - little war - into our vocabulary. The irregular guerilla fighters were not protected by the law of war; if taken prisoner, they faced execution. The war thus was more brutal than other contemporary campaigns; its long duration cost a heavy toll in human lives.
The War against the French discredited political liberalism, which, by the Catholic church, was associated with the French. Years of war in Spain, after years of a Franco-Spanish alliance had meant decades of neglect of the colonies in Latin America. By the time the war was over in Spain, the War of Independence had begun in Venezuela and Argentina.

The Peninsular War, br Andrew Jackson
Peninsular War, from Napoleon Guide, from Wikipedia; from ACED
Peninsular War 1808-1814, from Napoleon Series, many subfiles; from Land Forces of Britain, the Empire and Commonwealth, links
Tableau recapitulatif des armees en Espagne de 1807 a 1814, from L'Aigle Conquerant
Chronologie : Consulat et Empire, 1799-1815, from France Diplomatie
The Peninsular War and the Constitution of 1812, from SiSpain
Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, article from Catholic Encyclopedia
Biography of Joseph Bonaparte, from Histofig
Battle of Busaco, Sept. 27th 1810, from Dictionary of Battles
Napoleonic Medals : the Spanish Campaign, by Fortiter
DOCUMENTS Documentos, from O Exercito Portugues em finais do Antigo Regime
Map of Spain during the Peninsular Campaign, from Gardiner's Atlas of English History, 1892, shows provinces
Napoleonic Wars, Wars on the Iberian Peninsula, June-Aug. 1808, Oct. 1808-Jan. 1809, 1808, Strategic Overview, from US Military Academy, Dept. of History, Map Dept.
Retreat to Corunna. An Account by Dr. Adam Neale (Jan. 1809), from
Letters from the Peninsula, The Freer Family Correspondence 1807-1814, ed. by Norman Scarfe, posted by Freer Genealogy Home Page

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on June 18th 2003, last revised on November 19th 2004

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