The Peninsular Wars


Napoleon on horseFrustrated by Portugal’s defiance of his Continental Blockade against trade with Great Britan, Napoleon ordered General Jerot to march French troops over the Pyrenees.

On November 30, French troops entered the Portuguese capital of Lisbon and closed the country’s ports to English ships. Spain, alarmed at France’s aggression, began to question their alliance with Napoleon.

By 1808, Napoleon had installed his brother Joseph as the king of Spain and sent 118,000 soldiers across into Spain to insure his rule. Determined to bend the Spanish people to his will, he had decided to make Spain a part of his empire. He imagined they would be welcomed.

“With my banner bearing the words ‘Liberty and Emancipation from Superstition,'” he said, “I shall be regarded as the liberator of Spain.”

Napoleon could never imagine that some people loved their countries as much as he loved his own. It was a failing, compounded by arrogance and pride, that would bring about his downfall.

On May 2, the Spanish people rose up against the French army in Madrid. By nightfall, 150 French soldiers were dead. The French retaliated, killing thousands of Spaniards. It was the start of a brutal, no-holds-barred war, marked by savagery on both sides. The French tortured and mutilated their prisoners; the Spanish did the same.

Thousands died, but there was no decisive victory. Napoleon would keep his armies in Spain for five years, unable to break the will of the Spanish people.

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