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 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
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