The Peninsular War

The Peninsular War is a prominent episode in XIX Century Portuguese history. Fought between 1801 and 1814, the conflict was essentially a war of attrition which caused great loss in human life and property.

Despite the name - Peninsular – relating to the Iberian Peninsula of Portugal and Spain, the truth is that it involved Portugal in a European battle which had as its backdrop the Napoleonic Wars.

Napoleon sought victory over every country which would not accept the ideals of the French Revolution. Ruler of Europe in the early XIX century, he declared war on England seeking to isolate the country through a blockade, known as the Continental System. Portugal, through an old alliance, maintained its ports open to the English, and very skilfully played a game of diplomacy with England and France, avoiding conflict with both these countries. Initially, Spain was an ally of France, which, in 1801, led to the first invasion of Portugal by a Spanish Army. The conflict became known as the War of the Oranges.

Although the Portuguese forces were defeated, through political manoeuvring it was possible to delay total war with France. However, the situation worsened after 1801, when the Prince Regent King João decided on a pro English policy, given that England ruled the seas and Portugal depended on its overseas colonies. It was therefore deemed prudent to maintain this old alliance.

Despite considerable effort, Portugal could no longer delay the inevitable and in 1807 was invaded by an army under the command of Junot, then by a second army led by Soult, in 1809, and finally in 1811, with Massena leading the French troops.

Although the Queen and the Prince Regent along with most of the ruling class were exiled in Brazil at the time, the Portuguese Army, aided by the English, managed to achieve several military victories and drove the French from Portugal.

Roliça, Vimeiro, Ponte de Amarante, Buçaco and the Torres Vedras lines became legendary points in a war which brought massive destruction to Portugal, but which also instilled new liberal ideals in the minds of a new generation of Portuguese. In 1815 the last great battle was fought at Waterloo, where Napoleon was finally defeated by Wellington.

 

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