The Peninsular War

1807 to 1814

Peninsular War Battles Location Map
Tour Suggestions for Portugal
Tour Suggestions for Spain
Deaths in British Army Hospitals during the Peninsular War

By Richard Moore

The Peninsular War was probably the worst mistake Napoleon Bonaparte made during his lengthy reign over France - the attempted subjugation of Portugal in a bid to tighten his trade blockade of Britain.

To get at Portugal, Bonaparte had to trick his ally Spain into allowing a French army under General Jean-Andoche Junot to move through its territory.

On 1 December 1807, the French captured Lisbon - the Portuguese capital - but just missed the royal family who fled to Brazil the day before Junot arrived.

Just three months later, Marshal Joachim Murat took a huge army into Spain on the pretext of restoring order - the king, Charles IV, was quarreling with his son, Ferdinand - and soon had the entire family taken to France for protection.

Next, Bonaparte made the major error of having his brother Joseph chosen as the new king by the large party of French-loving reformists, a move that sent the peasantry and church into a rebellious frenzy.

Within two months there were open uprisings against Joseph and the conflict descended into one of the most brutal periods of warfare seen.

The Spanish artist Goya sketched a series of ink images, Disasters of War, that show the inhuman levels reached during the campaign.

Despite its poorly led regular army, the war began well for Spain with the French being forced into a lengthy siege of Saragossa and an army, under the luckless General Pierre Dupont, being made to surrender at Bailen.

The reverses in Spain cut Junot off from any support he might have anticipated, but he felt strong enough to defeat a British army that landed in Portugal on 1 August 1808.



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