1807 Jan 1
, Spain

Spain had been allied with France against the United Kingdom since the Second Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1796. After the defeat of the combined Spanish and French fleets by the British at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, cracks began to appear in the alliance, with Spain preparing to invade France from the south after the outbreak of the War of the Fourth Coalition.

In 1806, Spain readied for an invasion in case of a Prussian victory, but Napoleon's rout of the Prussian army at the Battle of Jena-Auerstaedt caused Spain to back down. However, Spain continued to resent the loss of its fleet at Trafalgar and the fact that it was forced to join the Continental System. Nevertheless, the two allies agreed to partition Portugal, a long-standing British trading partner and ally, which refused to join the Continental System.

Napoleon was fully aware of the disastrous state of Spain's economy and administration, and its political fragility. He came to believe that it had little value as an ally in the current circumstances. He insisted on positioning French troops in Spain to prepare for a French invasion of Portugal, but once this was done, he continued to move additional French troops into Spain without any sign of an advance into Portugal.

The presence of French troops on Spanish soil was extremely unpopular in Spain, resulting in the Tumult of Aranjuez by supporters of Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the throne. Charles IV of Spain abdicated in March 1808 and his prime minister, Manuel de Godoy was also ousted. Ferdinand was declared the legitimate monarch, and returned to Madrid expecting to take up his duties as king. Napoleon Bonaparte summoned Ferdinand to Bayonne, France, and Ferdinand went, fully expecting Bonaparte to approve his position as monarch. Napoleon had also summoned Charles IV, who arrived separately. Napoleon pressed Ferdinand to abdicate in favor of his father, who had abdicated under duress. Charles IV then abdicated in favor of Napoleon, since he did not want his despised son to be heir to the throne. Napoleon placed his brother Joseph on the throne. The formal abdications were designed to preserve the legitimacy of the new sitting monarch.

The Portuguese royal family escapes to Brazil.

Invasion of Portugal

1807 Nov 19 - Nov 26
, Lisbon

Concerned that Britain might intervene in Portugal, an old and important ally, 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). On 19 November 1807, Junot set out for Lisbon and occupied it on 30 November.

The Prince Regent John escaped, loading his family, courtiers, state papers and treasure aboard the fleet, protected by the British, and fled to Brazil. 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. The flight had been so chaotic that 14 carts loaded with treasure were left behind on the docks.

As one of Junot's first acts, the property of those who had fled to Brazil was sequestered and a 100-million-franc indemnity imposed. The army formed into a Portuguese Legion, and went to northern Germany to perform garrison duty. Junot did his best to calm the situation by trying to keep his troops under control. While the Portuguese authorities were generally subservient toward their French occupiers, the ordinary Portuguese were angry, 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.

Second of May 1808: Pedro Velarde takes his last stand.

Dos de Mayo Uprising

1808 May 1
, Madrid

On 2 May a crowd began to gather in front of the Royal Palace in Madrid. Those gathered entered the palace grounds in an attempt to prevent the removal of Francisco de Paula. Marshal Murat sent a battalion of grenadiers from the Imperial Guard to the palace along with artillery detachments. The latter opened fire on the assembled crowd, and the rebellion began to spread to other parts of the city.

What followed was street fighting in different areas of Madrid as the poorly armed population confronted the French troops. Murat had quickly moved the majority of his troops into the city and there was heavy fighting around the Puerta del Sol and the Puerta de Toledo. Marshal Murat imposed martial law in the city and assumed full control of the administration. Little by little the French regained control of the city, and many hundreds of people died in the fighting. The painting by the Spanish artist Goya, The Charge of the Mamelukes, portrays the street fighting that took place. The Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard fighting residents of Madrid in the Puerta del Sol, wearing turbans and using curved scimitars, provoked memories of the Muslim Spain.

There were Spanish troops stationed in the city, but they remained confined to barracks. The only Spanish troops to disobey orders were from the artillery units at the barracks of Monteleón, who joined the uprising. Two officers of these troops, Luis Daoíz de Torres and Pedro Velarde y Santillán are still commemorated as heroes of the rebellion. Both died during the French assault of the barracks, as the rebels were reduced by vastly superior numbers.

Charles IV of Spain | ©Goya

Abdications of Bayonne

1808 May 7
, Bayonne

In 1808 Napoleon, under the false pretense of resolving the conflict, invited both Charles IV and Ferdinand VII to Bayonne, France. Both were afraid of the French ruler's power and thought it appropriate to accept the invitation. However, once in Bayonne, Napoleon forced them both to renounce the throne and grant it to himself. The Emperor then named his brother Joseph Bonaparte king of Spain. This episode is known as the Abdications of Bayonne, or Abdicaciones de Bayona in Spanish



1808 Jun 5
, Almuradiel

During the Peninsular War, especially during the first weeks of June 1808, Napoleon's troops had great difficulty in maintaining fluid communications between Madrid and Andalusia, mainly due to the activity of guerrilleros in the Sierra Morena. The first attack around Despeñaperros took place on 5 June 1808, when two squadrons of French dragoons were attacked at the northern entrance to the pass and forced to retreat to the nearby town of Almuradiel. On 19 June General Vedel was ordered to head south from Toledo with a division of 6,000 men, 700 horses and 12 guns to force a passage over the Sierra Morena, hold the mountains from the guerrillas and link up with Dupont, pacifying Castile-La Mancha along the way. Vedel was joined during the march by small detachments under Generals Roize and Ligier-Belair. On 26 June 1808 Vedel's column defeated Lieutenant-Colonel Valdecaños' detachment of Spanish regulars and guerrillas with six guns blocking the mountain pass of Puerta del Rey and the following day met up with Dupont at La Carolina, reestablishing military communications with Madrid after a month of disruption. Finally, General Gobert's division set out from Madrid on 2 July to reinforce Dupont. However, only one brigade of his division ultimately reached Dupont, the rest being needed to hold the road north against the guerrillas.

Suchodolski Assault on Saragossa | ©January Suchodolski

First siege of Zaragoza

1808 Jun 15
, Zaragoza

The first siege of Zaragoza (also called Saragossa) was a bloody struggle in the Peninsular War (1807–1814). A French army under General Lefebvre-Desnouettes and subsequently commanded by General Jean-Antoine Verdier besieged, repeatedly stormed, and was repulsed from the Spanish city of Zaragoza in the summer of 1808.

General Dupont surrenders his army to the Spanish, an event that broke the myth of Napoleonic invincibility.

Battle of Bailén

1808 Jul 16 - Jul 12
, Bailén

Between 16 and 19 July, Spanish forces converged on the French positions stretched out along villages on the Guadalquivir and attacked at several points, forcing the confused French defenders to shift their divisions this way and that. With Castaños pinning Dupont downstream at Andújar, Reding successfully forced the river at Mengibar and seized Bailén, interposing himself between the two wings of the French army. Caught between Castaños and Reding, Dupont attempted in vain to break through the Spanish line at Bailén in three bloody and desperate charges, suffering 2,000 casualties, including himself wounded. With his men short of supplies and without water in sweltering heat, Dupont entered into talks with the Spanish.

Vedel finally arrived, but too late. In the talks, Dupont had agreed to surrender not only his own but Vedel's force as well even though the latter's troops were outside the Spanish encirclement with a good chance of escape; a total of 17,000 men were captured, making Bailén the worst defeat suffered by the French in the entire Peninsular War. The men were to be repatriated to France, but the Spanish did not honor the surrender terms and transferred them to the island of Cabrera, where most died of starvation.

When news of the catastrophe reached Joseph Bonaparte's court in Madrid, the result was a general retreat to the Ebro, abandoning much of Spain to the insurgents. France's enemies throughout Europe cheered at this first major defeat inflicted to the hitherto unbeatable French Imperial army. "Spain was overjoyed, Britain exultant, France dismayed, and Napoleon outraged. It was the greatest defeat the Napoleonic empire had ever suffered, and, what is more, one inflicted by an opponent for whom the emperor had affected nothing but scorn."—tales of Spanish heroism inspired Austria and showed the force of nationwide resistance to Napoleon, setting in motion the rise of the Fifth Coalition against France.

Arrival of British troops

Arrival of British troops

1808 Aug 1
, Lisbon

Britain's involvement in the Peninsular War was the start of a prolonged campaign in Europe to increase British military power on land and liberate the Iberian peninsula from the French. In August 1808, 15,000 British troops—including the King's German Legion—landed in Portugal under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Wellesley, who drove back Henri François Delaborde's 4,000-strong detachment at Roliça on 17 August and smashed Junot's main force of 14,000 men at Vimeiro. Wellesley was replaced at first by Sir Harry Burrard and then Sir Hew Dalrymple. Dalrymple granted Junot an unmolested evacuation from Portugal by the Royal Navy in the controversial Convention of Cintra 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 13 October. Logistical and administrative problems prevented any immediate British offensive.

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 from Denmark. In August 1808, the British Baltic fleet helped transport the Spanish division, except three regiments that failed to escape, back to Spain by way of Gothenburg in Sweden. The division arrived in Santander in October 1808.

Battle of Vimeiro

Battle of Vimeiro

1808 Aug 21
, Vimeiro

In the Battle of Vimeiro on 21 August 1808, the British under General Arthur Wellesley (who later became the Duke of Wellington) defeated the French under Major-General Jean-Andoche Junot near the village of Vimeiro, near Lisbon, Portugal during the Peninsular War. This battle put an end to the first French invasion of Portugal.

Four days after the Battle of Roliça, Wellesley's army was attacked by a French army under General Junot near the village of Vimeiro. The battle began as a battle of manoeuvre, with French troops attempting to outflank the British left, but Wellesley was able to redeploy his army to face the assault. Meanwhile, Junot sent in two central columns but these were forced back by sustained volleys from troops in line. Soon afterwards, the flanking attack was beaten off and Junot retreated towards Torres Vedras, having lost 2,000 men and 13 cannon, compared to 700 Anglo-Portuguese losses. No pursuit was attempted because Wellesley was superseded by Sir Harry Burrard and then Sir Hew Dalrymple (one having arrived during the battle, the second soon after).

After the French defeat, Dalrymple gave the French more generous terms than they could have hoped for. Under the terms of the Convention of Sintra, the defeated army was transported back to France by the British navy, complete with its loot, guns and equipment. The Convention of Sintra caused an outcry in Britain. An official enquiry exonerated all three men but both the military establishment and public opinion blamed Dalrymple and Burrard. Both men were given administrative posts and neither had a field command again. Wellesley, who had bitterly opposed the agreement, was returned to active command in Spain and Portugal.

La bataille de Somosierra | ©Louis-François Lejeune

Napoleon's invasion of Spain

1808 Nov 1
, Madrid

After the surrender of a French army corps at Bailén and the loss of Portugal, Napoleon was convinced of the peril he faced in Spain. With his Armée d'Espagne of 278,670 men drawn up on the Ebro, facing 80,000 raw, disorganized Spanish troops, Napoleon and his marshals carried out a massive double envelopment of the Spanish lines in November 1808. Napoleon struck with overwhelming strength and the Spanish defense evaporated at Burgos, Tudela, Espinosa and Somosierra. Madrid surrendered itself on 1 December. Joseph Bonaparte was restored to his throne. The Junta was forced to abandon Madrid in November 1808, and resided in the Alcázar of Seville from 16 December 1808 until 23 January 1810. In Catalonia, Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr's 17,000-strong VII Corps besieged and captured Roses from an Anglo-Spanish garrison, destroyed part of Juan Miguel de Vives y Feliu's Spanish army at Cardedeu near Barcelona on 16 December and routed the Spaniards under Conde de Caldagues and Theodor von Reding at Molins de Rei.

Battle of Burgos

Battle of Burgos

1808 Nov 10
, Burgos

The Battle of Burgos, also known as Battle of Gamonal, was fought on November 10, 1808, during the Peninsular War in the village of Gamonal, near Burgos, Spain. A powerful French army under Marshal Bessières overwhelmed and destroyed the outnumbered Spanish troops under General Belveder, opening central Spain to invasion.

Battle of Tudela | ©January Suchodolski

Battle of Tudela

1808 Nov 23
, Tudela

The Battle of Tudela (23 November 1808) saw an Imperial French army led by Marshal Jean Lannes attack a Spanish army under General Castaños. The battle resulted in the complete victory of the Imperial forces over their adversaries. The combat occurred near Tudela in Navarre, Spain during the Peninsular War, part of a wider conflict known as the Napoleonic Wars.

Somosierra, by January Suchodolski, 1860

On to Madrid: Battle of Somosierra

1808 Nov 30
, Somosierra

The Battle of Somosierra took place on 30 November 1808, during the Peninsular War, when a combined Franco-Spanish-Polish force under the direct command of Napoleon Bonaparte forced a passage through Spanish guerrillas stationed at the Sierra de Guadarrama, which shielded Madrid from direct French attack. At the Somosierra mountain pass, 60 miles (97 km) north of Madrid, a heavily outnumbered Spanish detachment of conscripts and artillery under Benito de San Juan aimed to block Napoleon's advance on the Spanish capital. Napoleon overwhelmed the Spanish positions in a combined arms attack, sending the Polish Chevau-légers of the Imperial Guard at the Spanish guns while French infantry advanced up the slopes. The victory removed the last obstacle barring the road to Madrid, which fell several days later.

Napoleon Accepts the Surrender of Madrid | ©Antoine-Jean Gros

Napoleon enters Madrid

1808 Dec 4
, Madrid

Madrid surrendered itself on 1 December. Joseph Bonaparte was restored to his throne. The Junta was forced to abandon Madrid in November 1808, and resided in the Alcázar of Seville from 16 December 1808 until 23 January 1810.

The surrender of Zaragoza, by Maurice Orange.

Fall of Zaragoza

1808 Dec 19 - 1809 Feb 18
, Zaragoza

The second siege of Zaragoza was the French capture of the Spanish city of Zaragoza (also known as Saragossa) during the Peninsular War. It was particularly noted for its brutality. The city was heavily outnumbered against the French. However, the desperate resistance put up by the Army of Reserve and its civilian allies had been heroic: a great part of the city lay in ruins, the garrison had suffered 24,000 deaths being augmented by 30,000 civilians dead.

First Madrid offensive

First Madrid offensive

1809 Jan 13
, Uclés

The Junta took over direction of the Spanish war effort and established war taxes, organized an Army of La Mancha, signed a treaty of alliance with Britain on 14 January 1809 and issued a royal decree on 22 May to convene at Cortes. An attempt by the Spanish Army of the center to recapture Madrid ended with the complete destruction of the Spanish forces at Uclés on 13 January by Victor's I Corps. The French lost 200 men while their Spanish opponents lost 6,887. King Joseph made a triumphant entry into Madrid after the battle.

French Artillerymen 1809

Battle of Corunna

1809 Jan 16
, Coruña

The Battle of Corunna (or A Coruña, La Corunna, La Coruña or La Corogne), in Spain known as Battle of Elviña, took place on 16 January 1809, when a French corps under Marshal of the Empire Jean de Dieu Soult attacked a British army under Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore. The battle took place amidst the Peninsular War, which was a part of the wider Napoleonic Wars. It was a result of a French campaign, led by Napoleon, which had defeated the Spanish armies and caused the British army to withdraw to the coast following an unsuccessful attempt by Moore to attack Soult's corps and divert the French army.

Doggedly pursued by the French under Soult, the British made a retreat across northern Spain while their rearguard fought off repeated French attacks. Both armies suffered extremely from the harsh winter conditions. Much of the British army, excluding the elite Light Brigade under Robert Craufurd, suffered from a loss of order and discipline during the retreat. When the British eventually reached the port of Corunna on the northern coast of Galicia in Spain, a few days ahead of the French, they found their transport ships had not arrived. The fleet arrived after a couple of days and the British were in the midst of embarking when the French forces launched an attack. They forced the British to fight another battle before being able to depart for England.

In the resulting action, the British held off French attacks until nightfall, when both armies disengaged. British forces resumed their embarkation overnight; the last transports left in the morning under French cannon fire. But the port cities of Corunna and Ferrol, as well as northern Spain, were captured and occupied by the French. During the battle, Sir John Moore, the British commander, was mortally wounded, dying after learning that his men had successfully repelled the French attacks.

Battle of Ciudad Real | ©Keith Rocco

Battle of Ciudad Real

1809 Mar 24
, Ciudad Real

French 4th Corps (with attached Polish division under general Valance) had to cross the bridge over the Guadiana River which was defended by the Spanish corps of Count Urbina Cartaojal. Polish lancers of the Legion of the Vistula under colonel Jan Konopka charged through the bridge taking it by surprise, then outflanked Spanish infantry and attacked it from behind as the main French and Polish forces crossed the bridge, and attacked the Spanish front lines. The battle was over when undisciplined Spanish soldiers dispersed, and began to retreat in the direction of Santa Cruz. 

Battle of Medellín

Battle of Medellín

1809 Mar 28
, Medellín

Victor began his southern drive with the objective of destroying the Army of Estremadura, commanded by General Cuesta, who was retreating in face of the French advance. On the 27th of March, Cuesta was reinforced with 7,000 troops and decided to meet the French in battle rather than continue to withdraw.

It had been a disastrous day for Cuesta, who nearly lost his life in the battle. Some estimations put the number of Spanish killed at 8,000 men, counting both battle and after battle killings, and about 2,000 captured, while the French only suffered about 1,000 casualties. However, during the next days the French undertakers buried 16,002 Spanish soldiers in mass graves. On top of that, the Spanish lost 20 of their 30 guns. It was Cuesta's second major defeat at the hand of the French after Medina del Rio Seco in 1808. The battle saw a successful start to the French conquest of Southern Spain.

Marshal Jean-de-Dieu Soult at the First Battle of Porto | ©Joseph Beaume

Second Portuguese campaign: First Battle of Porto

1809 Mar 29
, Porto

After Corunna, Soult turned his attention to the invasion of Portugal. Discounting garrisons and the sick, Soult's II Corps had 20,000 men for the operation. He stormed the Spanish naval base at Ferrol on 26 January 1809, capturing eight ships of the line, three frigates, several thousand prisoners and 20,000 Brown Bess muskets, which were used to re-equip the French infantry. In March 1809, Soult invaded Portugal through the northern corridor, with Francisco da Silveira's 12,000 Portuguese troops unraveling amid riot and disorder, and within two days of crossing the border Soult had taken the fortress of Chaves. Swinging west, 16,000 of Soult's professional troops attacked and killed 4,000 of 25,000 unprepared and undisciplined Portuguese at Braga at the cost of 200 Frenchmen. In the First Battle of Porto on 29 March, the Portuguese defenders panicked and lost between 6,000 and 20,000 men dead, wounded or captured and immense quantities of supplies. Suffering fewer than 500 casualties Soult had secured Portugal's second city with its valuable dockyards and arsenals intact. Soult halted at Porto to refit his army before advancing on Lisbon.

Battle of the Douro

Wellingtom takes command: Second Battle of Porto

1809 May 12
, Portugal

Wellesley returned to Portugal in April 1809 to command the British army, reinforced with Portuguese regiments trained by General Beresford. After taking command of the British troops in Portugal on 22 April, Wellesley immediately advanced on Porto and made a surprise crossing of the Douro River, approaching Porto where its defences were weak. Soult's late attempts to muster a defence were in vain. The French quickly abandoned the city in a disorderly retreat.

Soult soon found his retreat route to the east blocked and was forced to destroy his guns and burn his baggage train. Wellesley pursued the French army, but Soult's army escaped annihilation by fleeing through the mountains. The other northern cities were recaptured by General Silveira. The battle ended the second French invasion of Portugal.

Liberation of Galicia

Liberation of Galicia

1809 Jun 7
, Ponte Sampaio

On 27 March, Spanish forces defeated the French at Vigo, recaptured most of the cities in the province of Pontevedra and forced the French to retreat to Santiago de Compostela. On 7 June, the French army of Marshal Michel Ney was defeated at Puente Sanpayo in Pontevedra by Spanish forces under the command of Colonel Pablo Morillo, and Ney and his forces retreated to Lugo on 9 June while being harassed by Spanish guerrillas. Ney's troops joined up with those of Soult and these forces withdrew for the last time from Galicia in July 1809.

The 3rd Foot Guards at the battle of Talavera

Talavera campaign

1809 Jul 27 - Jul 25
, Talavera

With Portugal secured, Wellesley advanced into Spain to unite with Cuesta's forces. Victor's I Corps retreated before them from Talavera. Cuesta's pursuing forces fell back after Victor's reinforced army, now commanded by Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, drove upon them. Two British divisions advanced to help the Spanish. 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 Anglo-Allied force, which lost 7,500 men for French losses of 7,400. Wellesley withdrew from Talavera on 4 August to avoid being cut off by Soult's converging army, which defeated a Spanish blocking force in an assault crossing at the River Tagus near Puente del Arzobispo. Lack of supplies and the threat of French reinforcement in the spring led Wellington to retreat into Portugal. A Spanish attempt to capture Madrid after Talavera failed at Almonacid, where Sébastiani's IV Corps inflicted 5,500 casualties on the Spanish, forcing them to retreat at the cost of 2,400 French losses.

Second Madrid offensive

Second Madrid offensive

1809 Oct 1
, Spain

The Spanish Supreme Central and Governing Junta of the Kingdom was forced by popular pressure to set up the Cortes of Cádiz in the summer of 1809. The Junta came up with what it hoped would be a war-winning strategy, a two-pronged offensive to recapture Madrid, involving over 100,000 troops in three armies under the Duke del Parque, Juan Carlos de Aréizaga and the Duke of Alburquerque. Del Parque defeated Jean Gabriel Marchand's VI Corps at the Battle of Tamames on 18 October 1809 and occupied Salamanca on 25 October. Marchand was replaced by François Étienne de Kellermann, who brought up reinforcements in the form of his own men as well as General of Brigade Nicolas Godinot's force. Kellermann marched on Del Parque's position at Salamanca, who promptly abandoned it and retreated south. In the meantime, the guerrillas in the Province of León increased their activity. Kellermann left VI Corps holding Salamanca and returned to León to stamp out the uprising.

Aréizaga's army was destroyed by Soult at the Battle of Ocaña on 19 November. The Spanish lost 19,000 men compared to French losses of 2,000. Albuquerque soon abandoned his efforts near Talavera. Del Parque moved on Salamanca again, hustling one of the VI Corps brigades out of Alba de Tormes and occupying Salamanca on 20 November. Hoping to get between Kellermann and Madrid, Del Parque advanced towards Medina del Campo. Kellermann counterattacked and was repulsed at the Battle of Carpio on 23 November. The next day, Del Parque received news of the Ocaña disaster and fled south, intending to shelter in the mountains of central Spain. On the afternoon of 28 November, Kellermann attacked Del Parque at Alba de Tormes and routed him after inflicting losses of 3,000 men. Del Parque's army fled into the mountains, its strength greatly reduced through combat and non-combat causes by mid-January.

French invasion of Andalusia

French invasion of Andalusia

1810 Jan 19
, Andalusia

The French invaded Andalusia on 19 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, Aréizaga's men fled eastwards and southwards, leaving town after town to fall into the hands of the enemy. The result was revolution. On 23 January the Junta Central decided to flee to the safety of Cádiz. It then 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 Cortes of Cádiz, which established a permanent government under the Constitution of 1812.

Siege of Cádiz

Siege of Cádiz

1810 Feb 5 - 1812 Aug 24
, Cádiz

Cadiz was heavily fortified, while the harbour was full of British and Spanish warships. Alburquerque's army and the Voluntarios Distinguidos had been reinforced by 3,000 soldiers who had fled Seville, 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. Victor's French troops camped at the shoreline and tried to bombard the city into surrender. Thanks to British naval supremacy, a naval blockade of the city was impossible. The French bombardment was ineffectual and the confidence of the gaditanos grew and persuaded them that they were heroes. 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.

During the siege, which lasted two and a half years, the Cortes of Cádiz – which served as a parliamentary Regency after Ferdinand VII was deposed – drew up a new constitution to reduce the strength of the monarchy, which was eventually revoked by Fernando VII when he returned.

British and Portuguese infantry deployed in line on the ridge at Bussaco

Third Portuguese campaign

1810 Apr 26
, Buçaco

Convinced by intelligence that a new French assault on Portugal was imminent, Wellington 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 mutually supporting 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 main defences were finished just in time 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. Wellington exploited the facts that the French could conquer Portugal only by conquering Lisbon, and that they could in practice reach Lisbon only from the north. 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.

As a prelude to invasion, Ney took the Spanish fortified town of Ciudad Rodrigo after a siege lasting from 26 April to 9 July 1810. The French re-invaded Portugal with an army of around 65,000, led by Marshal Masséna, and forced Wellington back through Almeida to Busaco. At the Battle of the Côa the French drove back Robert Crauford's Light Division after which 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 Buçaco on 27 September. Suffering heavy casualties, the French failed to dislodge the Anglo-Portuguese army. Masséna outmaneuvered Wellington after the battle, who steadily fell back to the prepared positions in the Lines. Wellington 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 14 October in which the strength of the Lines became apparent, the French dug themselves in rather than launch a full-scale assault and Masséna's men began to suffer from the acute shortages in the region. In late October, after holding his starving army before Lisbon for a month, Masséna fell back to a position between Santarém and Rio Maior.

A view of Tortosa

French conquest of Aragon

1810 Dec 19 - 1811 Jan 2
, Tortosa

After a two-week siege, the French Army of Aragon under its commander, General Suchet, captured the town of Tortosa from the Spanish in Catalonia on 2 January 1811. 

Soult captures Badajoz and Olivenza

Soult captures Badajoz and Olivenza

1811 Jan 26 - Mar 8
, Badajoz

From January through March 1811, Soult with 20,000 men besieged and captured the fortress towns of Badajoz and Olivenza in Extremadura, capturing 16,000 prisoners, before returning to Andalusia with most of his army. Soult was relieved at the operation's speedy conclusion, for intelligence received on 8 March told him that Francisco Ballesteros' Spanish army was menacing Seville, that Victor had been defeated at Barrosa and Masséna had retreated from Portugal. Soult redeployed his forces to deal with these threats.

Battle of Chiclana, 5 March 1811 | ©Louis-François Lejeune

Attempted lifting of the siege of Cadiz

1811 Mar 5
, Playa de la Barrosa

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 12,000 infantry and 800 cavalry under the overall command of Spanish General Manuel La Peña, with the British contingent being led by Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Graham. Marching towards Cádiz on 28 February, this force defeated two French divisions under Victor at Barrosa. The Allies failed to exploit their success and Victor soon renewed the blockade.

Blockade of Almeida | ©James Beadle

Blockade of Almeida

1811 Apr 14 - May 10
, Almeida

In April, Wellington besieged Almeida. Masséna advanced to its relief, attacking Wellington at Fuentes de Oñoro (3–5 May). Both sides claimed victory but the British maintained the blockade and the French retired without being attacked. After this battle, the Almeida garrison escaped through the British lines in a night march. Masséna was forced to withdraw, having lost a total of 25,000 men in Portugal, and was replaced by Auguste Marmont. Wellington joined Beresford and renewed the siege of Badajoz. Marmont joined Soult with strong reinforcements and Wellington retired.

French take Tarragona

French take Tarragona

1811 May 5
, Tarragona

On 5 May, Suchet besieged the vital city of Tarragona, which functioned as a port, a fortress, and a resource base that sustained the Spanish field forces in Catalonia. Suchet was given a third of the Army of Catalonia and the city fell to a surprise attack on 29 June. Suchet's troops massacred 2,000 civilians. Napoleon rewarded Suchet with a Marshal's baton.

The Buffs (3rd Regiment) defend their colours, painted by William Barnes Wollen. The engagement saw the 3rd (East Kent) Regiment of Foot (The Buffs) deployed with Lieutenant-Colonel John Colborne's 1st Brigade. They sustained heavy casualties after being surrounded by Polish and French lancers.

Battle of Albuera

1811 May 16
, La Albuera

In March 1811, with supplies exhausted, Masséna retreated from Portugal to Salamanca. Wellington went over to the offensive later that month. An Anglo-Portuguese army led by the British general William Beresford and a Spanish army led by the Spanish generals Joaquín Blake and Francisco Castaños, 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. At the Battle of Albuera, Soult outmaneuvered Beresford but could not win the battle. He retired his army to Seville.

Joaquín Blake y Joyes

Siege of Valencia

1811 Dec 26 - 1812 Jan 9
, Valencia

In September, Suchet launched an invasion of the province of Valencia. He besieged the castle of Sagunto and defeated Blake's relief attempt. The Spanish defenders capitulated on 25 October. Suchet trapped Blake's entire army of 28,044 men in the city of Valencia on 26 December and forced it to surrender on 9 January 1812 after a brief siege. Blake lost 20,281 men dead or captured. Suchet advanced south, capturing the port town of Dénia. The redeployment of a substantial part of his troops for the invasion of Russia ground Suchet's operations to a halt. The victorious Marshal had established a secure base in Aragon and was ennobled by Napoleon as the Duke of Albufera, after a lagoon south of Valencia.

British infantry attempt to scale the walls of Badajoz, the site of one of several bloody sieges conducted during the Peninsular War.

Allied campaign in Spain

1812 Mar 16
, Badajoz

Wellington renewed the allied advance into Spain in early 1812, besieging and capturing the border fortress town of Ciudad Rodrigo by assault on 19 January and opening up the northern invasion corridor from Portugal into Spain. This also allowed Wellington to proceed to move to capture the southern fortress town of Badajoz, which would prove to be one of the bloodiest siege assaults of the Napoleonic Wars. The town was stormed on 6 April, after a constant artillery barrage had breached the curtain wall in three places. Tenaciously defended, the final assault and the earlier skirmishes left the allies with some 4,800 casualties. These losses appalled Wellington who said of his troops in a letter, "I greatly hope that I shall never again be the instrument of putting them to such a test as that to which they were put last night." The victorious troops massacred 200–300 Spanish civilians.

Wellington at Salamanca | ©William Heath

Battle of Salamanca

1812 Jul 22
, Arapiles

The allied army subsequently took Salamanca on 17 June, just as Marshal Marmont approached. The two forces met on 22 July, after weeks of maneuver, when Wellington soundly defeated the French at the Battle of Salamanca, during which Marmont was wounded. The battle established Wellington as an offensive general and it was said that he "defeated an army of 40,000 men in 40 minutes." The Battle of Salamanca was a damaging defeat for the French in Spain, and while they regrouped, Anglo-Portuguese forces moved on Madrid, which surrendered on 14 August. 20,000 muskets, 180 cannon and two French Imperial Eagles were captured.

Stalemate | ©Patrice Courcelle


1812 Aug 11
, Valencia

After the allied victory at Salamanca on 22 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 24 August; 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 them 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. 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. Wellington besieged Burgos between 19 September and 21 October, but failed to capture it. Together, Joseph and the three marshals planned to recapture Madrid and drive Wellington from central Spain. The French counteroffensive caused Wellington 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.

King Joseph abandons Madrid

King Joseph abandons Madrid

1813 Jan 1
, Madrid

By the end of 1812, the large army that had invaded the Russian Empire, the Grande Armée, 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. In total, 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 León—the remaining 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 had abandoned hopes of victory.

French prestige suffered another blow when on 17 March el rey intruso (the Intruder King, a nickname many Spanish had for King Joseph) left Madrid in the company of another vast caravan of refugees.

Battle of Vittoria | ©George Jones

Anglo-Allied offensive

1813 Jun 21
, Vitoria

In 1813, Wellington 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. Wellington shortened his communications by shifting his base of operations to the northern Spanish coast, and the Anglo-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 21 June, Joseph's 65,000-man army were defeated decisively by Wellington's army of 57,000 British, 16,000 Portuguese and 8,000 Spanish. Wellington split his army into four attacking "columns" and attacked the French defensive position from south, west and north while the last column cut down across the French rear. The French were forced back from their prepared positions, and despite attempts to regroup and hold were driven into a rout. This led to the abandonment of all of the French artillery as well as King Joseph's extensive baggage train and personal belongings. The latter led to many Anglo-Allied soldiers abandoning the pursuit of the fleeing troops, to instead loot the wagons. This delay, along with the French managing to hold the east road out of Vitoria towards Salvatierra, allowed the French to partially recover. The Allies chased the retreating French, reaching the Pyrenees in early July, and began operations against San Sebastian and Pamplona. On 11 July, Soult was given command of all French troops in Spain and in consequence Wellington decided to halt his army to regroup at the Pyrenees.

French counter-offensive

French counter-offensive

1813 Jul 25 - Aug 2
, Pyrenees

Marshal Soult began a counter-offensive (the Battle of the Pyrenees) and defeated the Allies at the Battle of Maya and the Battle of Roncesvalles (25 July). 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, lost momentum, and was repulsed by the Allies at the Battle of Sorauren (28 and 30 July) Soult ordered General of Division Jean-Baptiste Drouet, Comte d'Erlon commanding one corps of 21,000 men to attack and secure the Maya Pass. General of Division Honoré Reille was ordered by Soult to attack and seize the Roncesvalles Pass with his corps and the corps of General of Division Bertrand Clausel of 40,000 men. Reille's right wing suffered further losses at Yanzi (1 August); and the Echallar and Ivantelly (2 August) during its retreat into France. Total losses during this counter-offensive being about 7,000 for the Allies and 10,000 for the French.

The Spanish counterattack at San Marcial | ©Augustine Ferrer Dalmau

Battle of San Marcial

1813 Aug 31
, Irun

The Battle of San Marcial was a final battle fought on Spanish soil during the Peninsular War on 31 August 1813, as the rest of the war would be fought on French soil. The Spanish Army of Galicia, led by Manuel Freire, turned back Marshal Nicolas Soult's last major offensive against the army of Britain's Marquess of Wellington.

British take San Sebastian

British take San Sebastian

1813 Sep 9
, San Sebastián

With 18,000 men, Wellington captured the French-garrisoned city of San Sebastián under Brigadier-General Louis Emmanuel Rey after two sieges that lasted from 7 to 25 July (While Wellington departed with sufficient forces to deal with Marshal Soult's counter-offensive, he left General Graham in command of sufficient forces to prevent sorties from the city and any relief getting in); and from 22 to 31 August 1813. The British incurred heavy losses during assaults. The city in turn was sacked and burnt to the ground by the Anglo-Portuguese. Meanwhile, the French garrison retreated into the Citadel, which after a heavy bombardment their governor surrendered on 8 September, with the garrison marching out the next day with full military honours. Upon the day that San Sebastián fell Soult attempted to relieve it, but in the battles of Vera and San Marcial was repulsed by the Spanish Army of Galicia under General Manuel Freire. The Citadel surrendered on 9 September, the losses in the entire siege having been about—Allies 4,000, French 2,000. Wellington next determined to throw his left across the river Bidassoa to strengthen his own position, and secure the port of Fuenterrabia.

The Guards entering France, 7th Oct. 1813 by Robert Batty.

War shifts to French soil

1813 Oct 7
, Hendaye

At daylight on 7 October 1813 Wellington crossed the Bidassoa in seven columns, attacked the entire French position, which stretched in two heavily entrenched lines from north of the Irun–Bayonne road, along mountain spurs to the Great Rhune 2,800 feet (850 m) high. The decisive movement was a passage in strength near Fuenterrabia to the astonishment of the enemy, who in view of the width of the river and the shifting sands, had thought the crossing impossible at that point. The French right was then rolled back, and Soult was unable to reinforce his right in time to retrieve the day. His works fell in succession after hard fighting, and he withdrew towards the river Nivelle. The losses were about—Allies, 800; French, 1,600. The passage of the Bidassoa "was a general's not a soldier's battle".

On 31 October Pamplona surrendered, and Wellington was now anxious to drive Suchet from Catalonia before invading France. The British government, however, in the interests of the continental powers, urged an immediate advance over the northern Pyrenees into south-eastern France. Napoleon had just suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Leipzig on 19 October and was in retreat, so Wellington left the clearance of Catalonia to others.]

The Battle of Nivelle

Invasion of France

1813 Nov 10
, Nivelle

The Battle of Nivelle (10 November 1813) took place in front of the river Nivelle near the end of the Peninsular War (1808–1814). After the Allied siege of San Sebastian, Wellington's 80,000 British, Portuguese and Spanish troops (20,000 of the Spaniards were untried in battle) were in hot pursuit of Marshal Soult who had 60,000 men to place in a 20-mile perimeter. After the Light Division, the main British army was ordered to attack and the 3rd Division split Soult's army in two. By two o'clock, Soult was in retreat and the British in a strong offensive position. Soult had lost another battle on French soil and had lost 4,500 men to Wellington's 5,500.

Abdication of Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain

Abdication of Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain

1813 Dec 11
, France

King Joseph abdicated the Spanish throne and returned to France after the main French forces were defeated by a British-led coalition at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. During the closing campaign of the War of the Sixth Coalition Napoleon left his brother to govern Paris with the title Lieutenant General of the Empire. As a result, he was again in nominal command of the French Army that was defeated at the Battle of Paris.

Panoramic view of the battle with allied troops in the foreground and a fortified Toulouse in the middle distance

Battle of Toulouse

1814 Apr 8
, Toulouse

On 8 April, Wellington crossed the Garonne and the Hers-Mort, and attacked Soult at Toulouse on 10 April. Spanish attacks on Soult's heavily fortified positions were repulsed but Beresford's assault compelled the French to fall back. On 12 April Wellington entered the city, Soult having retreated the previous day. The Allied loss was about 5,000, the French 3,000.

Napoleon's abdication

Abdication of Napoleon

1814 Apr 13
, Fontainebleau

On 13 April 1814 officers arrived with the announcement to both armies of the capture of Paris, the abdication of Napoleon, and the practical conclusion of peace; and on 18 April a convention, which included Suchet's force, was entered into between Wellington and Soult. After Toulouse had fallen, the Allies and French, in a sortie from Bayonne on 14 April, each lost about 1,000 men, so that some 10,000 men fell after peace had virtually been made. The Peace of Paris was formally signed at Paris on 30 May 1814.


1814 Dec 1
, Spain

Key Findings:

  • Ferdinand VII remained King of Spain having been acknowledged on 11 December 1813 by Napoleon in the Treaty of Valençay.
  • The remaining afrancesados were exiled to France.
  • The whole country had been pillaged by Napoleon's troops.
  • The Catholic Church had been ruined by its losses and society subjected to destabilizing change.
  • With Napoleon exiled to the island of Elba, Louis XVIII was restored to the French throne.
  • British troops were partly sent to England, and partly embarked at Bordeaux for America for service in the final months of the American War of 1812.

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 Cortes Generales in Cádiz, the Constitution of 1812 on 4 May 1814. Military officers forced Ferdinand to accept the Cádiz Constitution again in 1820, and was in effect until April 1823, during what is known as the Trienio Liberal.

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. The Portuguese Court's transfer to Rio de Janeiro initiated the independence of Brazil in 1822.

The war against Napoleon remains as the bloodiest event in Spain's modern history.


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