The Peninsular War
Just when continental blockade was going on, one part of the European coastline over which Napoleon had no control was that of the kingdom of Portugal. Great Britain had a long standing treaty of commerce with Portugal, which was therefore a clear challenge to Napoleon Continental System. When Portugal refused to apply the Berlin Decrees, French and Spanish army invaded the country in 1808 and the royal family fled to Brazil. Napoleon also decided to gain complete control of Spain.
The king of Spain, Charles IV and his Queen were both extremely unpopular and were openly opposed by their son Ferdinand who was as popular as his parents were unpopular. Napoleon persuaded them all to attend a conference at Bayonne where he bullied the king and queen into abdicating and imprisoned Ferdinand and his brothers. Napoleon followed up his unscrupulous trick by creating his own brother Joseph king of Spain why Marshal Murat took the place of Joseph as king of Naples.
Despite Napoleon’s offer of better government to the Spaniards, the national opposition to him was intense. He was hated as a foreigner, a trickster, and above all, as a prosecutor of the Pope, whom he had imprisoned. He bravely miscalculated the whole business, as he himself later confessed. He even thought that he could conquer spain with only three thousand men, but in fact over three hundred thousand were permanently tied down there. A national guerrilla movement developed which harassed his supply lines, and this movement had the direct assistance of the priesthood. Then in 1808 a totally new phase of war began, for Britain intervened in the Peninsula.
Britain’s intervention was greatly encouraged by sudden significant events of the year 1808. At Baylen a French force of twenty thousand men was forced to surrender to the Spanish guerrillas. Such a surrender had not occurred in the whole fifteen years which French forces had been in the field. King Joseph left Madrid in a hurry and withdrew towards the French frontier. These events were followed by the landing of Arthur Wellesley (late Duke of Wellington) near Lisbon, the Portuguese capital with an English army which defeated general Junot who, by the convention of Cintra, August, 1808, evacuated Portugal.
These defeats stirred Napoleon to take command himself of the French forces and Spain. With an army of 200000 man, he swept everything before him and entered Madrid at the end of 1808. An English force under Sir John Moore attacked Napoleon’s lines of communication from the North in order to prevent him from moving towards Portugal.
This diversion drew aside a large part of Napoleon’s forces. Eventually this English army retreated towards Coronna where moore himself was killed, but the embarkation of the English force was successful. The aim of the diversion had been achieved. It enabled Wellesley to complete his own preparations in Portugal unmolested. These preparations took the form of a deep defensive system known as the Lines of Torres Vedras constructed in and around Lisbon.
Ahead of the defensive works the country was laid waste for 13 miles. The French forces found it impossible to penetrate the fortifications in a countryside which gave them no supplies whatever. From behind the system, the English forces, carried to Lisbon by the fleet, emerged for their campaigns in Spain and Portugal during the next six years.
Austria had taken advantage of Napoleon preoccupation with Spain to re-enter the world, April, 1809. Her armies had been reorganized and the new national militia created. The Austrian Militia was designed to arouse a nationalist feeling in the country and to give all classes share in a defense of the fatherland. It was a patriotic and popular addition to the standing army. Yet the Austrian entry into the war was impetuous.
Russia was still Napoleon’s ally, and English forces were not yet a decisive factor in the land war. The movement was not well chosen. Nevertheless, the Austrian forces fought well and with a new understanding of Napoleon’s tactics, the old element of surprise was no longer as effective as it had been, and, under the fresh leadership of the Archduke Charles, brother of the emperor, the Austrian came near to defeating the French and forced Napoleon to call for many more troops during the campaign.
But this spirit of resistance was of no avail. The Austrians were decisively defeated at the Battle of Walgram, 1809. By the treaty of Vienna which followed, Austria lost the last part of her share of Poland to Russia and provinces on the Adriatic to France. She was also compelled to enter the continental system. Napoleon attempted to make sure a feature Austrian friendship and the raising of his prestige in Europe by asking a marriage the hand of the Archduchess Marie Louise, daughter of the emperor.
Napoleon had already secured a dissolution of his marriage with Josephine by a decree of the French senate supported by the church. She had borne him no heir and he wish to perpetuate the line of Bonaparte. The emperor of Austria agreed to the proposed alliance.
The year 1810 had seen what appeared to be a repetition of the old pattern and the defeat of all his opponent by Napoleon with the exception of Great Britain. Yet it was not the same situation as that of 1806 or 1800. We have noted the development of a new spirit of nationalism in spain and in Austria.
Moreover, England had succeeded in establishing a permanent military base in Portugal which could be supplied through a command of the sea. Then again, the continental system was arousing intense opposition to Napoleon from the merchant class of Europe for everywhere French agents were busy confiscating illegal imports from Britain and punishing the offenders. In addition to this, Napoleon was drawing an increasing amount of his revenue from the taxation of the states under his control, a burden which fell heavily on the bourgeoisie of those states.