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The Napoleonic Wars (3): The Peninsular War 1807–1814

The Napoleonic Wars (3): The Peninsular War 1807–1814

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The Napoleonic Wars (3): The Peninsular War 1807–1814

5/5 (1 valutazione)
160 pagine
2 ore
Jun 6, 2014


Napoleon's occupation of the Iberian peninsula embroiled him in a protracted and costly war against British, Spanish and Portuguese forces ultimately led by one of history's greatest commanders -- the Duke of Wellington. Yet it also introduced a new dimension to warfare, for Napoleon's 'Spanish ulcer' became a bitter seven-year struggle against peoples inflamed by nationalism. Thus, while Wellington achieved successive victories in open battle, a parallel guerrilla war exacted a heavy toll of its own on the invaders. No mere sideshow to the other campaigns of the period, the Peninsular War made a significant contribution to Napoleon's eventual downfall.
Jun 6, 2014

Informazioni sull'autore

Gregory Fremont-Barnes holds a doctorate in Modern History from the University of Oxford and serves as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of War Studies at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. A prolific author, his books include Waterloo 1815: The British Army's Day of Destiny and many others on military and naval subjects covering the 18th to the 21st centuries. Holding a particular interest in insurgency and counterinsurgency, his wider work for the UK Ministry of Defence on these subjects regularly takes him to Africa, the Middle East and South America. As an academic advisor, Dr Fremont-Barnes has accompanied many groups of British Army officers and senior NCOs in their visits to numerous battlefields of the Peninsular War, the Waterloo campaign, Normandy and the Falklands.

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The Napoleonic Wars (3) - Gregory Fremont-Barnes


Background to war

Perennial foes: Britain, France and Spain

The centuries that preceded the Peninsular War were marked by regular periods of confrontation between Britain, France, and Spain in a series of constantly shifting alliances and loyalties. Anglo-French hostility, however, was consistent. These powers were known as ‘hereditary’ enemies by contemporaries with good reason. The table below summarizes the conflicts waged in the century before the Peninsular War between Europe’s three oldest unified nations.

Up to 1792, these conflicts were, of course, those of kings, and followed the pattern of eighteenth-century warfare: sovereigns sought limited objectives and entertained no desire to overthrow their adversaries’ ruling (and indeed usually ancient) dynasty. The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 altered this pattern forever and international relations underwent some radical changes as a result.

In the realm of power politics the eighteenth century was a period of nearly continuous rivalry between France and Britain, fueled by colonial and commercial rivalry, and heightened by the basic tenet of British foreign policy that the Continent remain free from a single hegemonic power. In short, Britain would not tolerate an imbalance of power that furnished an overwhelming advantage to any of the other Great Powers – France, Austria, Russia, and Prussia. As France had consistently sought to upset this balance, most particularly since the accession of Louis XIV, Anglo-French hostility was a natural and frequent product of Bourbon French ambitions.

Many British contemporaries held that the changing nature of international relations brought about by the French Revolution would eliminate the grounds of suspicion between these traditional rivals. Yet on the contrary, they became fiercer opponents than ever, more strongly opposed by the introduction of radically different political ideologies, now fused with the same old colonial and commercial disputes and, above all, with the French revolutionaries’ desire for territorial expansion. All this was a much more potent mix than had been the traditional ingredients of Anglo-French enmity. The occupation of the Low Countries during the French Revolutionary Wars posed, for instance, an insuperable barrier to good relations between the two countries. In short, Britain considered any power with a strong navy which controlled the Low Countries to be a threat to her very existence.

After nearly a decade of conflict between 1793 and 1802, Britain and France concluded a very tenuous peace at Amiens, but Napoleon’s continued incursions into Switzerland, Holland, Germany, and Italy, and Britain’s refusal to evacuate Malta as protection against French expansion in the Mediterranean meant that the renewal of hostilities in May 1803 was inevitable. This opening phase of the Napoleonic Wars, confined until the summer of 1805 to Britain and France, was by the nature of their respective armed forces largely restricted to naval activity. The Peninsular War changed this dramatically by offering Britain the opportunity to confront France on the soil of a friendly power, easily accessible by sea.

Yet relations between Spain and Britain had, historically, been far from amicable. In 1790 Britain and Spain nearly went to war over the Nootka Sound crisis, a territorial dispute concerning the coast of present-day British Columbia. France and Spain had an alliance, but the National Assembly refused to honor a treaty signed prior to the Revolution. The feeble position of Louis XVI, still king but with restricted powers, attracted the sympathy of the Spanish ruling house which was Bourbon, like that of Louis. Yet the Revolution meant that the French and Spanish sovereigns could no longer rely on the ‘Family Compact’ established between them. Increasing humiliations perpetrated against Louis, and the steady stream of French emigrés crossing the Pyrenees, inevitably turned Spain against the revolutionaries. Spain offered sanctuary to the French royal family but the revolutionaries twice refused to allow this before finally declaring war on Spain on 7 March 1793.

Spain enjoyed initial success in the campaign that followed. One army defended the western Pyrenees against all French incursions, while another invaded Roussillon and western Provence. However, Spanish conduct at the siege of Toulon at the close of the year was disgraceful, and in 1794 Spain’s two best commanders died. Later that year the French counterattacked with superior strength, taking the border fortresses and penetrating nearly to the line of the River Ebro. Military reverses and economic dislocation led Spain formally to withdraw from the war by concluding the Treaty of Basle on 22 July 1795. She ceded Santo Domingo (the present-day Dominican Republic) to France in exchange for French withdrawal from Spanish territory.

In the following year, 1796, the Treaty of San Ildefonso allied Spain to France, against Britain. As this required Spain to furnish 25 ships to the war effort, the stage was set for a period of worldwide naval confrontation between Spain and Britain which lasted from 1796 until the Peace of Amiens in 1802.

Spanish ties with France were strengthened when on 7 October 1800 the two countries signed the Convention of San Ildefonso, which was later confirmed by the Treaty of Aranjuez on 21 March 1801. British interests were further damaged when, by the Treaty of Badajoz with France, Spain agreed to wage war against Britain’s long-standing ally, Portugal. The so-called ‘War of the Oranges’ was short (May and June 1801) but by the peace signed on 6 June Spain annexed the small frontier district of Olivenza and Portugal was forced to close its ports to British ships and to pay France a reparation of 20 million

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  • (5/5)
    For some time now –especially after reading the Sharpe series- I’ve been looking for a succinct but thorough history covering the Peninsula War. I then came across Osprey’s “Essential Histories: The Peninsula War” by Gregory Fremont-Barnes in the one dollar or less bin at the local Half-Price books and snapped it up, I am very happy I did so. Mr. Fremont-Barnes reviews the Peninsula campaign and its multifaceted effects with a clear voice and avoids a number of the blasé pitfalls of other historians I’ve read. What I especially enjoyed were the clear maps and battle plans, that this edition also included some delving into art history, with a small treatise on Goya, added a three-dimensional panache I wasn’t expecting. I picked up the two Essential Histories that were available but I will be checking the shelves for the other editions on my next visit.