ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Napoleonic Wars: French Invasion of Portugal 1807

Updated on June 26, 2012

The Eagle Marches On

The French army had subdued Central Europe at Austerlitz, now they were to march south and attempt to subdue the Iberian Peninsula.
The French army had subdued Central Europe at Austerlitz, now they were to march south and attempt to subdue the Iberian Peninsula. | Source

The Theatre of War

A map of the Iberian Peninsula.
A map of the Iberian Peninsula. | Source

Portugal's Ruler

Prince John of Portugal who ruled as regent in his insane mother's stead. He would later become John or Joao IV.
Prince John of Portugal who ruled as regent in his insane mother's stead. He would later become John or Joao IV. | Source

Introduction

The year is 1807, and Napoleon Bonaparte is the master of Europe. Two years earlier at Austerlitz he successfully subdued the major Central European powers with a stunning, tactically astute victory. The only enemy that still proved to be a thorn in his side was an ancient enemy that dwelt on the other side of the English Channel or ‘La Manche’ as it’s known in France.

There was though, one small corner of Europe that remained free of Napoleonic control- the Iberian Peninsula. The official reason stated for the French decision to attack Portugal was their blunt refusal to betray their oldest ally by refusing to endorse a blockade on all British trade. But in reality, Napoleon had always envisaged sending his armies into Spain; therefore an attack on Portugal at some point was inevitable.

Portugal at this time was ruled by Queen Marie I of the House of Braganza, although true power lay with the Regent, Prince John. He ruled on behalf of the Queen, his mother who was as insane as her English counterpart George III. For Prince John, the main objective was to try to preserve Portuguese neutrality. But on the 12th August 1807, that neutrality was put under considerable strain when both Napoleon and Charles IV of Spain demanded that Portugal declare war on the British. Furthermore, they demanded that he join his fleets to the already considerable Franco-Spanish fleet, arrest all British subjects currently residing in the country and seize all British goods in the country. Despite the official reasoning behind the war, being Portugal's refusal to comply with Napoleon, in reality John was willing to break off diplomatic relations with Britain and block all trade with them. Ordinarily this would have been enough to satisfy Napoleon, but at the same time that he issued his demands, a huge French army assembled on the Spanish border, ready to pour into the country once the word was given.

The Man Leading the Attack

General Jean Andoche Junot, the leader of the French force invading Portugal in 1807.
General Jean Andoche Junot, the leader of the French force invading Portugal in 1807. | Source

French Advance

The first to have the honour of striking into the Iberian Peninsula was a 25,000 strong force under the command of General Junot. On the 18th October, Junot and his men crossed into Spain heading to Portugal via Salamanca and then Almeida and Coimbra. He reached Salamanca a month later after a relatively leisurely march across Northern Spain. Along the way, his engineers made careful notes of every significant military outpost. A smaller detachment of Junot’s force was left behind at Bayonne in Southern France, ready to cross into Spain when required.

The rather leisurely start to the invasion was no accident, as it was what Napoleon had always intended, but that leisurely timetable threatened to be disrupted by a sudden crisis at the Spanish court. On the 27th October, the Spanish King Charles IV arrested his son and heir Ferdinand, accusing him of treason. But within a week, the matter died down with the King issuing his son a pardon. Despite the matter being settled relatively quickly, the experience had a left a rather bitter taste in Napoleon’s mouth, and it was now that he decided the time was right to depose the Bourbon dynasty that ruled Spain. So he sent word to Junot to speed up the invasion, which the General duly received on the 12th of November. Napoleon’s orders also directed Junot to alter the route of his invasion, instead of taking the road that passed by the fortress of Almeida, he was to move south, across the mountains of Estremadura and pile into Portugal along the line of the River Tagus.

This particular route took the French through a rather barren and sparsely populated area of Spain, and also along treacherous mountain roads, where just the slightest slip meant certain death for man or beast. The route did take its toll on Junot’s army, whereby they lost half their horses and all but six of their guns, and this was without meeting any opposition. At the small town of Alcantara on the Tagus, he found some Spanish troops and quickly proceeded to seize their supplies and munitions, before continuing westwards towards Portugal.

Flee From the Fray

A picture depicting the Portuguese Royal Family preparing to flee from Lisbon to Brazil.
A picture depicting the Portuguese Royal Family preparing to flee from Lisbon to Brazil. | Source

The Absent Defenders

Portuguese Infantryman from the Napoleonic era. Unfortunately none were present to stem the French Invasion of Portugal.
Portuguese Infantryman from the Napoleonic era. Unfortunately none were present to stem the French Invasion of Portugal. | Source

More on the Peninsular War- the Conflict that Followed the Invasion of Portugal

Entry into Portugal and Victory

On the 23rd November, a mere eleven days after departing from Salamanca, Junot and his army were in Portugal, and had stopped for a brief rest at the town of Abrantes to allow the vanguard of his army to catch up. Three days later, the final stragglers finally reached the town. It has to be said that if the Portuguese had decided to put up any sort of resistance, then the ragged French army would have been in serious trouble, strung out along treacherous mountainous roads and isolated from any sort of support. Amazingly though, no Portuguese attack came, indeed there were none in sight whatsoever.

Instead, all Junot found at Abrantes was a Portuguese diplomat called Barreto who approached the French with offers of submission and tribute. This buoyed French morale and encouraged Junot to take a calculated risk. He gathered together the elite of his army and formed them into four brigades that totalled around 1500 men in total. His goal was to make a quick dash for the capital Lisbon. On the 30th November, the risk paid off, as the French marched into Lisbon totally unopposed. Over the next few days, the remainder of his army filled the capital, although it did take much longer for his cavalry and his artillery to catch up.

Junot’s victory though was rather hollow as really it was all down to the Portuguese simply not bothering to put up any resistance. The reason why no resistance was put up was that Prince John refused to believe that Napoleon would have the gall to invade his country. By the time the reality hit home, it was far too late to offer any effective resistance. The presence of a British fleet off the coast near Lisbon only served to confuse matters, and for several days Prince John was deadlocked in thought on whether to side with Napoleon or flee the country entirely.

The commander of the British fleet, one Sir Sydney Smith was concerned about the fate of the Portuguese fleet, consisting of fifteen ships. He worked to convince the hesitant Prince to flee to Brazil, where he knew he’d be safe. John’s decision was effectively made for him when received a copy of the Paris Moniteur which was Napoleon’s official deposition of the Portuguese monarchy; and so, on the 29th November, just a day before Junot’s army swelled into Lisbon, Prince John and the rest of the Royal Family slipped quietly out of Lisbon and out of Portugal towards Brazil.

Alongside the French in their Portuguese invasion were two Spanish armies, but they moved at a much slower pace than the French, and only arrived in Lisbon after it had already fallen into French hands. The Southern Spanish army entered Portugal at the beginning of December, while Oporto in the north was occupied on the 13th December. Throughout this time the Franco-Spanish army met very little resistance.

On the same day that Oporto fell into French hands, a serious riot erupted in Lisbon, but this was quickly put down by the French. At this point, General Junot disbanded his invading army, sending the majority of his relatively inexperienced men to the Baltic region. It seemed a rather strange occupation, for the French at this time lacked any real leaders or direction. But what it had done was sown the seeds of discontent in both Portugal and Spain...

More to follow...

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • shalini sharan profile image

      shalini sharan 4 years ago from Delhi

      this is a very informative hUb

      i am student of History and studied about Napoleon especially his relations with America and the Embargo Act and stuff

      you hub makes me connect to it!voted up and shared!

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 4 years ago from UK

      Very interesting, as always - looking forward to the next instalment. I am wondering if it will involve the Battle of Bussaco? - we visited the national park at Bussaco a few years ago - beautiful area.

      Voted up etc.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Shalini, I love the Napoleonic era, its one of my favourite eras in history. You're really lucky to be studying that. Glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Judi- nice to hear off you again. Hmmm...I remember reading Cornwell's account of bussaco in Sharpe. You're really lucky to have visited such a place. I'd dearly love visit the battles covered in the Sharpe books including the ones in India. Oh! There's an idea for a Hub, I might write about those. Thanks again Judi.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 4 years ago from UK

      Funny you should mention India - period's a bit later than you are talking about, but I'm reading up on the Mutiny at the moment - not for a hub, just because...

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Sounds cool, I know a little about the Mutiny, but not as much as I do about the early 19th Century. Might look into it myself...

    • shalini sharan profile image

      shalini sharan 4 years ago from Delhi

      which mutiny are you talking about, is it the Sepoy Mutiny, i read about it in my course, it is really interesting

    • ata1515 profile image

      ata1515 4 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      The Peninsular War is one of the most interesting facets of the Napoleonic War. You have an interesting hub about the lead-up to the Peninsular War, but it needs a little polishing to get rid of several missing words in some places. Voted up and shared!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      great report. you would have loved "the game club" where we, with board games" reenacted these battles

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Sounds cool Mhatter- I used to like playing Risk when I was a kid.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Yep, that's it the Sepoy Mutiny, looking forward to conducting more research on it.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you ata, I know I'm really going to enjoy covering the Peninsular War, will be writing more hubs on it soon. Thank you for the visit and the vote.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Ata, I was just wondering about those missing words you mentioned in your comment. I've re-read the hub a few times and can't seem to find anything out of place. Perhaps you've noticed something I've overlooked. Could you tell me the mistakes that you noticed please?

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 4 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Do you get the impression that Bonaparte was a bit like a very exaggerated version of a schoolboy bully? He may think he is riding high at the moment in Portugal, but Wellington is on his way.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Yes, you do get the impression that he is a bully or maybe he was bullied at school and waging war against Europe was his way of exacting revenge. Thanks Christopher.

    • shalini sharan profile image

      shalini sharan 4 years ago from Delhi

      hey Kenny if you need any help with the topic, histiriography or Indian perspective feel free, i have covered the topic, can mail you and suggest some reads :)

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Shalini, appreciate that.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Thanks again for a concise and clear description of a piece of history I am not familiar with. Up and interesting. From Iberia to the Baltic region-- what a difference!

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      No problem Harald, yes that was a sign of Napoleon's character, he never really considered distances or questions of how he would transport men. He just simply lusted after conquest.

    • profile image

      poo 4 months ago

      chq qgqyew so hey im illumnatttt

    Click to Rate This Article