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History & Culture of Portugal - Part 13

HISTORY & CULTURE OF PORTUGAL - PART 13Part 13. Peninsula War (1807-1814) – Time-line. The Peninsular War was a military conflict fought by Bourbon Spain and Portugal, assisted by the UK, against the invading and occupying forces of the First French Empire for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars.

Napoleon expressed irritation that Portugal was open to trade with the UK. Pretexts were plentiful; Portugal was Britain's oldest ally in Europe, Britain was finding new opportunities for trade with Portugal's colony in Brazil, the Royal Navy used Lisbon's port in its operations against France, and Napoleon wanted to deny the British the use of the Portuguese fleet. Furthermore, Prince John of Braganza, regent for his insane mother Queen Maria I, had declined to join the emperor's Continental System against British trade.

A secret Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed between France and Spain, and proposed to carve up Portugal into three entities. Porto and the northern part was to become the Kingdom of Northern Lusitania, under Charles II, Duke of Parma. The southern portion, as the Principality of the Algarves, would fall to Godoy, Spain's First Secretary of State. The rest of Portugal, centered on Lisbon, was to be administered by the French.

The war began when the French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in late 1807, occupying Lisbon in November. The Prince Regent John escaped to Brazil, with his family, courtiers, state papers and treasure aboard the fleet. He was joined by many nobles, merchants and others on 15 warships and more than 20 transports. The flight had been so chaotic that 14 carts loaded with treasure were left behind on the docks.

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, later the 1st Duke of Wellington, who drove back the French 4,000-strong detachment at Roliça and smashed Junot's main force of 14,000 men at Vimeiro. The British Army guarded Portugal and campaigned against the French in Spain alongside the reformed Portuguese army. The demoralised Portuguese army was reorganised and refitted under the command of Gen. William Beresford, who had been appointed commander-in-chief of the Portuguese forces by the exiled Portuguese royal family, and fought as part of the combined Anglo-Portuguese Army under Wellesley.

The war escalated in 1808 after Napoleonic France took over Spain, previously its ally, and installed Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne. In March 1809, Marshal Soult invaded Portugal through the northern corridor 1809, and in the First Battle of Porto on 29 March, the Portuguese defenders panicked and lost 6- 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, then halted to refit his army before advancing on Lisbon. Wellesley returned to Portugal in April 1809 to command the British army, reinforced with Portuguese regiments trained by General Beresford. These new forces turned Soult out of Portugal at the Battle of Grijó (10–11 May) and the Second Battle of Porto (12 May), and the other northern cities were recaptured by General Silveira. Soult escaped without his heavy equipment by marching through the mountains to Orense.

Convinced by intelligence that a new French assault on Portugal was imminent, Wellington created a powerful defensive position near Lisbon. 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 artillerypositions—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 main defences were finished by Autumn 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. in the Battle of Buçaco on 27 September, the French suffered heavy casualties, and failed to dislodge the Anglo-Portuguese army. Masséna outmaneuvered Wellington after the battle, who steadily fell back to the prepared positions in the Lines. In late October, after holding his starving army before Lisbon for a month, Masséna fell back.

In March 1811, with supplies exhausted, Masséna retreated from Portugal to Salamanca. Wellington went over to the offensive later that month. In April, Wellington besieged Almeida. Masséna was forced to withdraw, having lost a total of 25,000 men in Portugal.

In 1812, when Napoleon set out with a massive army on what proved to be a disastrous French invasion of Russia, a combined allied army under Wellesley pushed into Spain, with a damaging defeat of the French at Salamanca July1812 and taking Madrid in August after being abandoned by Joseph. In 1813 Wellington scored a decisive victory over King Joseph Bonaparte's army in the Battle of Vitoria in the Basque region, with an army of 57,000 British, 16,000 Portuguese and 8,000 Spanish against the 65,000 army of Joseph. With the loss of the Grand Armee in Russia, Napoleon slowly pulled back from the Iberian Peninsula, pursued by Wellington.

The war on the peninsula lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814 and the Treaty of Paris, and is regarded as one of the first wars of national liberation, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare. The Portuguese Court's transfer to Rio de Janeiro initiated Brazil's state-building that produced its independence in 1822.

Peninsula War (1807-1814) – Time-line.

Post-Peninsula War (1815-) – Time-line

Post war timeline

 Read other parts of this series HERE.


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