Book Review:
Fuentes de Onoro: Wellington’s Liberation of Portugal

By Rene Chartrand
Artwork by
Patrice Courcelle


The third French invasion of Portugal was a poor strategic effort from an ageing Marshal Massena, whose once formidable military skills seemed to have deserted him.

Advancing full of confidence, Massena’s army was given a horrible and bloody shock at Bussaco by the British under the Duke of Wellington.

Shaken by that battle, in which they lost more than 4500 men, the French continued on towards Lisbon with a view to forcing the British to withdraw from Portugal.

Then they struck the Lines of Torres Vedras, strong defence works built upon mountains that rise up north of Lisbon.

To the French they were a total surprise and forced them to face a choice – retreat or starve in a land denuded of forage.

Massena chose to stay, although he was eventually forced away by the lack of supplies, and in a last-minute bid to save his command – he had been sacked by Napoleon Bonaparte – chose a small village called Fuentes de Onoro to try to prove he was not finished as a great commander.

The resulting battle was a test for the British as Massena showed his true abilities and made things hot for Wellington.

In Fuentes de Onoro: Wellington’s Liberation of Portugal, author Rene Chartrand explains the lead-up and development of the important battle in a truly excellent way.

Chartrand outlines the problems within the French army with disunity and low morale and the shock the leadership had when it stumbled on to the Lines of Torres Vedras.

He also details the lines and gives credit to the Portuguese engineers who seem to have been slightly overlooked by other historians.

With his army starving Massena had several choices – including a fairly sensible one of moving over the passable northern parts of the Tagus River and occupying the eastern bank of the waterway thereby threatening British access to Lisbon.

It didn’t happen though and Massena retreated towards Spain, sacked Marshal Ney - who was furious with his senior colleague’s strategic decisions – and then turned to take Wellington on at Fuentes de Onoro.

Chartrand’s description of that clash is terrific and by the time you’ve finished the book you’ll have an excellent grasp of the battle.

There are a huge number of photographs showing key areas and buildings of the battle, along with contemporary images and 3D maps of the field itself.

Artist Patrice Courcelle has two major works in the book – a detailed look at Allied gun emplacements and a superb image of French dragoons riding down some hapless British infantry at Fuentes de Onoro.

Fuentes de Onoro: Wellington’s Liberation of Portugal is a must-have for those wanting a better understanding of the Peninsular War.

- Richard Moore


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