Spain History - French Invasion - (1808 - 1813)

King Fernando VII returned triumphantly to Madrid in 1808 from Aranjuez little expecting the event that was awaiting his arrival. The previous day General Murat had marched into Madrid with his French army and refused to recognize King Fernando as the new king. Bonaparte Napoleon demanded their royal presence at Bayonne where he was quartered and upon their arrival he was to witness a degrading scene. The Spanish King and Queen together with Godoy hurled accusations and insults at each other whilst pawing for favours from Napoleon. Without much trouble Napoleon convinced King Fernando to hand back the throne to his father Carlos IV, who in turn had to then abdicate in favour of Bonaparte's brother Joseph (José I). This roundabout was all achieved in one day and the three actors left the stage for permanent exile in France. Later in his career Bonaparte when a prisoner on St Helena blamed his downfall from power on his past handling of this one event at Bayonne.

Meanwhile, a sad and horrific event was to take place in the streets of Madrid. The inhabitants of the city believing that the French army was intending to kidnap their Royal Family spontaneously took to the streets in revolt. Responded heroically with knives, shovels, and anything useful, they made a vain attempt to stop the well trained and armed French forces. Obviously they were quickly suppressed and this event is annually celebrated to this day as the Dos de Mayo. The subsequent brutal mass assassination of ordinary citizens by General Murat the next day is well recorded. During this tragic two day horror the forces of the Spanish garrison in the city offered no support to its own people.

King José I announced the beginning of his reign by reading Napoleon's Proclamation which said Spaniards, after a long agony your nation is perishing. I have seen your ills and I shall remedy it. It was too prove wrong for Napoleon's choice of his brother was misplaced and he failed to understand Spanish thinking. Shortly King José was to write My position in history is unique, I have not a single supporter here. This was not exactly correct for there were many younger Spaniards who welcomed the French invaders as fresh air and an alternative to their stifled liberal minded thinking. The choice was difficult for them and many as his supporters were to pay the ultimate price for what later was considered as treason.

The invasion of the French on Spanish soil was met by strong small bands of determined resistance. The Emperor became so concerned that in November of 1808 he himself led a force of a further 135,000 men into the Peninsular. His superior tactical ability soon outsmarted the resistance fighters and within a short time had captured control of nearly all the important towns. The body of the Spanish resistance was withdrawn into the city of Cádiz and surrounded by French forces. However, the small bands still kept active and in an area as large as Andalucía there attacking at any opportunity with little impunity. This continual token resistance encouraged England to send a force of 25,000 troops under General Arthur Wellesley in 1808 to Portugal. Within a short time he had doubled this force with the addition of the Portuguese army, but this was not that many when faced with a French army of more than 250,000 experienced troops. So began the Peninsular War (1808-1812).

As General Wellesley marched north taking Porto and Talavera the French had to put down a insurgent army at Burgos. A second front was opened in the north coast of Spain in 1809 under Sir John Moore who was then forced to retreat by the French to take refuge in the city of Corunna. The following year the French take the town of Ciudad Rodrigo but are held by Wellesley at Torres Vedras in Portugal forcing the French to retreat back towards Spain. In 1811, Wellesley now Lord Wellington, again defeats the French army at Fuentes d'Onoro in Spain. His army was greatly helped by a further force of 30,000 Spanish guerrillas harassing Napoleon’s troops behind their lines. The following year Lord Wellington recaptured Ciudad Rodrigo, then Badajoz, Salamanca and Madrid. A year later the conclusive victory was achieved when he defeated the remaining French army of 70,000 men and the puppet King José and effectively driving the French out of Spain. It had cost France over 180,000 of their experienced soldiers which they would soon to be need of in other parts of Europe. To the rest of Europe the Spanish now had slid down to second level as a European power and when the Congress of Vienna was called in 1814 to decide the fate of Europe the Spanish were deemed not necessary to attend.


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