Peninsular War


Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
What you're describing was the main strategic line of Spain through the 18th century

During the Golden Century, Spain achieved both, naval and land military superiority over its enemies in Europe, a feat any other European power could do. However, Spain lost both to its enemies: land superiority to France, sea rule to England.

Bourbon Spain had one thing clear: choose fighting on the seas, or over land fields, but not both. And so the Spanish navy of the 18th century grew to a third and then second position, second always in performance. Sea routes were kept open, Spanish privatering devastated its enemies in the successive wars and troops were transported in large quantities through long distances. The expedition to Sacramento of 1776-1777 involved the displacement of 9,000 soldiers in 99 ships, 10,000 kms away. Not even the UK could achieve this.

This could be done because of one reason: peace and alliance with France. The Spanish army was kept at a moderate size, and fully focused to its Atlantic and Mediterran fronts. Guard of the Pyrenees existed of course, but that was a safe area for almost a century.

The French Revolution changed everything: huge amounts of money were diverted from the Navy to the Army, which was increased to confront the new menace to the north, while neglecting and reducing the navy capabilities. This dramatic change put Spain on a very difficult position.

The solution was clear for Godoy: turn back to the geoestrategical situation of 1770, even if an alliance with Revolutionary France was needed. So he tried to replicate what worked well before.

Financial and military aid given to Napoleon, in order to support his land campaigns in Europe, made this option imperfect. The fault is again on Napoleon: had him guaranteed Spain its continental safety, the Spanish could focuse on the sea warfare, which was what the Spanish needed in order to mantain their empire, whatever the colour of the French government

Very interesting post I agree with you, Mr Frank. I agree only Spain was able to achieve Naval and land military superioirty. Britain and Netherlands were naval.. France, Prussia, Germany, Austria, Russia etc were land powers... only USA achieved the same military and naval superiority.
You are right.. Bourbons prefered to choose or naval or land.. Habsburg fought in naval and land. Of course, the French Revolution changed everything... and the Spanish revolution in 1808 gave the fatal blow.

Napoleon was guilty, of course... but because he knew nothing about Spain. About Godoy, I agree again. He was not so bad as people think... but he was a non very honest man. By other side, the "subsideo" to France was unfair, amoral and devastating for the Spanish accounts and had its influence in the army.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
Another theory hold Napoleon didn´t want the War in Peninsula it is based on who commanded the forces and the number and quality of the French Army in Peninsula.
Napoleon gave the High Command to Murat, a really courage and brave man but a man to whom courage, pride and impetuosity were imposed on good judgment and reflection. The Emperor knew very well his faults (As soon as he is given an independent command ... he abandons himself and behaves himself like a fool without discernment. Paul Ganière Barry O'Meara . Napoléon dans l´exil. Tome II. Page 77). So, we can think in a reasonable way that Napoleon would never have given him the Command of his forces in Spain if his plan was to fight in a war. We can therefore infer that the objective of those forces was not to fight, but to intimidate and for that mission, the arrogant and vain Murat, Napoleon's brother-in-law and one of the highest dignitaries of the Empire, was very appropriate.
However, in order to prevent any misfortune, Napoleon had apppointed him a magnificent chief of Staff, Augustin Daniel Belliard , a veteran fought in Italy, Egypt, Germany, Prussia and Poland.

As for the French expeditionary forces in Peninsula consisted in May 1808 by:

5 Corps and 1 Detachment = 12 Infantry Divisions and 5 Cavalry Divisions = 116.979 men.

Between those 117.000 men: 23.000 French veterans, 16.000 foreign veterans and 78.000 French young recruits..poorly equipped, trained and instructed. Without any prior military experience. As it is said by Oman... Countries are not conquered by young recruits! (Volumen I, page 107).
In reality, as it is evidenced by the composition and command of his army, as the correspondence of those days, prove that Napoleon never thought to conquer Spain but to change the dynasty of the Spanish throne. His army was not designed to fight, but to support, with its mere presence, the political (not military) operation that he had proposed.

His great mistake was not having foreseen a mass uprising of the Spanish people. As it is pointed out by general Foy, Napoleon had not calculated the size of the undertaking he had gone into. The Forces crossed through Pyrenees had neither the consistency nor the vigor necessary to carry out one of the most difficult missions that an European army can undertake: the military conquest of Spain. (General Foy, Histoire des guerres de la Péninsule sous Napoléon . Tome III, pages 88 - 91). If Napoleon would have foreseen the war.. he would have send la Grandé Armée was in Poland and Prussia and not that army.

So I think Napoleon never wanted the war although with his behavior, he provoked it.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
About the Spanish Army in May in 1808 consisted by:

Royal Guard Troops: 3 Guard Corps Co and 1 Alabarderos (Halberdiers) Co. Spanish Guard Regiment (Inmemorial del Rey) and one Valonian Guard Regiment (3 Bons each regiment).

Total: 2 regiments and 4 Companies

Infantry: (3 Bons each Regiment)

33 Line infantry Regiments
3 Irish Line Infantry Regiments (Ultonian, Hibernian and Irlanda).
1 Italian Line Infantry Regiment (Napoles).
6 Swiss Line Infantry Regiments (2 Bons each Regiment): Wimpffen, Reading 1st, Reading 2nd, Betschart, Traxler and Preux).

12 Light infantry Bons (6 Co. each Bon)

Total: 43 regiments and 12 Battalions.


12 Line cavalry Regiments
8 Dragoons Regiments
2 Hunters Regiments
2 Hussards Regiments

5 squadrons each regiment.


One HQ
4 Regiments (each one with 10 Companies = 40 companies = 6 horsed artillery Companies and 34 on foot).
17 Fixed Artillery Co.
5 Workers Co.


1 HQ
1 officers and NCO Staff
1 combat engineers regiment (Regimiento de zapadores – minadores).


43 Provincial militia regiments (one Bon each regiment)
114 urban Militia companies.
41 skillfull invalid companies
85 fixed invalid companies.

Total: 138. 241 men. Between these forces we have to deduce the troops that were in Denmark and Portugal. In Spain: 113. 822 men.

About material, the army had 6.020 guns, 949 mortars, 745 howitzers, 152 swivel guns, 344.389 rifles, carbines and shotguns, 40.375 pistols, 1.470. 902 artillery projectiles, 74.800.983 bullets for fusils and carbines; 51.535 artillery loaded sacks and 6.761, 464 shotgun cartridge.


Official document:

Estado general de la artillería, armamento de infantería y caballería, municiones de todas clases y demás material de guerra que existía en los diferentes almacenes de la Península e islas adyacentes en el primer semestre del año 1808, formado en presencia de los datos facilitados por la Dirección de Artillería.

(General condition of the artillery, armament of infantry and cavalry, ammunition of all kinds and other war material that existed in the different depots of the Peninsula and adjacent islands in the first half of the year 1808, formed in the presence of the data provided by the Artillery Directorate.
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Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
It is based on rolls on May 1808. But we must remember one division is in Denmark and two groups in Portugal. So, force in Spain is 113.822 (between them, 7.222 chiefs and officers).


Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
Well, I go...

About the quality of the Spanish Army. Judgments differ widely as we read British, French or Spanish historians based on their respective sources. Brtitish based on Memories and official records written by their soldiers fought in Peninsular War, opinions are extremely unfavorable, if not honestly contemptuous. A typical example of British opinion is found in the book written by Charles Oman when judging the Spanish army of that time: “The undrilled and half-clothed soldiery, the unhorsed squadrons, the empty arsenals, the idle and ignorant subalterns.. were all, in the end, the result of Godoy´s long domination". (Charles Oman. Peninsular War. Vol. 1, page 98).

However, the same Oman wrote that his opinion does not intend to reflect the quality of the Spanish army of 1808 but that which was found later, in the middle of 1809 ... after a year of war:

It chanced that our countrymen did not get a fair opportunity of observing their allies under favourable conditions: of the old regular army that fought at Baylen or Zornoza, they never got a glimpse.”

A very different opinion had the foreign observers who saw the La Romana´s Division in Northern Germany and in Denmark. The King of Bavaria thought it was an Elite Divison.. but it was only an average Division in 1807 Spanish Army choosed only because it was the nearest division to the French border. Maximilian, king of Bavaria said in Wilheim the Spanish Division was admirable and bavarian primer minister, baron von Montgelas said.. seeing theses soldiers I understand the great feats did by Charles V´s soldiers. And I think theses soldiers are able to repeat them. And Bernardotte said whilst reviewing Algarve´s regiment: with this regiment I would go to hell to throw the Devil out.

We can think that these compliments were nothing more than flattery and reason of state ... but they were well proven in the Stralsund siege where general Brune wrote citing in the order of the day Villaviciosa regiment for its gallantry and courage.

(Source: Manual del soldado español en Alemania. München. 1807. Gimbernat y Grassot, Carlos de, Walch, Johann, Hübschmann, Franz Seraph and Alois Senefelder).

The magnificent behavior of the Spanish troops in combat has been confirmed by French historians. Marquis La Romana´s Division was employed as shock troop in Stransuld and had a well deserved fame. . (Les espagnols du Marquis de La Romana. Colonel Godchot. Paris. 1924, pages 139 to 142).

The bavarian and French testimonies are again confirmed by Danish witness in their memories:

Christine Daugaard: Biskop Daugaard (Kobenhavn, 1896)
Christine Daugaard: Schierne: Spanierne i Danmark (Kobenhavn, 1835)
Kornerup: Roskilde (Kobenhavn, 1892)
The testimony of the Danish commandant P. Boppe: Les espagnols á la Grande-Armée written by Berger-Levrault (Paris-Nancy, 1899, pages 45-49).
O. Koch. Hans Christian Andersen y España. (Informaciones danesas. Número 2. 1952. Pages 30-33. Here reference: (Hans Christian Andersen was a 3.yo child.. but he remembered his contacts with the Spanish Force in Danemark).

Not there is any kind of doubt about troops were well uniformed.. as it is proved by German and Danish drawers (Geissler, Seele, Volz, Webber, Suhr Brothers, Ornstrup)...that watched Marquis de la Romana´s troops in those far countries.

About discipline... we have the testimonies written by the Russian Ambassador in Copenhague, Lysakwetiz to the Russian Foreign Office minister, Nikolay Rumiantsev.. about the excellent discipline of the Spanish Troops in Denmark... Source Les espagnols du Marquis de La Romana. Colonel Godchot. Paris. 1924, page 160).

Hans Christian Andersen (Mit Livs Eventyr, 1855) wrote his experiences with Spanish soldiers.

The French Soldiers are mentioned as reckless and peremptory, but the Spanish dittos as kind ones, they both hated the other strongly but the poor Spaniards were empathetic people. A Spanish Soldier held me one day, he pressed a silver locket against my lips; he carried it around his neck. My mother became very angry as this was a Catholic thing to do, she later told me but I rather liked the reminiscence of the strange man, who danced around with me, kissed me and wept; he had children of his own in Spain.

It is true that the Spanish army suffered from serious deficiencies in terms of the recruitment of troops, the instruction of officers, the provision of livestock for cavalry and the dragging of artillery pieces, the uniformity of tactical rules , to the aptitude of the generals etc. But those scourges were common to all armies of the time with the sole exception, perhaps, of the Grandée Armée.

With regard to recruitment, the Spanish army relied on the system of volunteering but as this (with its usual corruption) did not give the desired results had to resort, to supply the deficit of recruits, the " Impressment" (malefactor people) and the "drafts" (1 out 5 young people). This last system was very unpopular in Spain because it fell exclusively on rural population of the Crown of Castile, because the urban population and that of the other kingdoms were exempt.

The French captain of General Staff and historian, A. Grasset, writes about this matter:

Un pareil système de recrutement, ni plus ni moins mauvais, du reste, que celui des autre puissances européenes à la même époque, ne pouvait assurer à l´armée espagnole un esprit bien profond d´abnégation et de patriotisme. Cepedant, la discipline, l´endurance, la sobrieté et le courage individule étaient si grand chez le peuple que ce mode réelement vicieux de recrutement donnait ici des résultats mins mauvais qu´on pourrait le supposer

(Such a recruitment system no more and no less bad, on the other hand, than that of the other European powers of the same period, could not assure a deep spirit of abnegation and patriotism in the Spanish Army. However, the discipline, the endurance, the sobriety and the individual courage were so great in the Spanish people that this system, really vicious, produce here less bad result than one might suppose.)

Source: Alphonse Grasset. La Guerre d´Espagne, 1807-1813. Volumen I. Page 24).

The officiality of the general arms of the army (Infantry and cavalry) proceeded:

From Sergeants (33% of seats)
From Cadets Corps (67%). The latter were required some proof of nobility.

The instruction of this last group of officers corresponded, within each regiment, to a captain called "maestro de cadetes" (Cadet master) in charge of teaching them the Royal Ordinances.
Mathematics, tactical notions, training, art of fencing or Spanish dexterity etc were learnt in the different Military Academies: Barcelona, Badajoz, Pamplona, Orán (today Algeria), Ceuta, Ávila, Puerto de Santa María, Zamora, Ocaña and Cadis.
In 1805 all these academies were unified into one: the one in Zamora that admitted 60 cadets per year whose professors were officers of the engineering corps. It is easy to understand that the training of the infantry and cavalry officers could not be very solid ... as no were the officers of the other European armies. (Only the French officers had superiority not because teachings but because their great war experiences).



Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
Canary Islands-Spain
The Spanish Army of 1808, though a bit old fashioned, had excellent quality among infantry and artillery units, which proved to be superior to those of the French in the first encounters

However, these units suffered appaling casualties through the war, particularly in 1809 (it is probable no other European army suffered the beating the Spanish endured in that year). Old units filled with new recruits lost cohesion, while the new units fully formed by conscripts were of very poor quality. By 1810, the Army had been almost totally destroyed, and through the next years the quality and performance of Spanish units were terrible (excepting Albuera and Catalonia); all of this culminated in the shameful defeat of Valencia

The army went out of that situation very slowly, and by 1813 some units started to perform well again (Morillo)
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Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
The Spanish Army of 1808, though a bit old fashioned, had excellent quality among infantry and artillery units, which proved to be superior to those of the French in the first encounters

However, these units suffered appaling casualties through the war, particularly in 1809 (it is probable no other European army suffered the beating the Spanish endured in that year). Old units filled with new recruits lost cohesion, while the new units fully formed by conscripts were of very poor quality. By 1810, the Army had been almost totally destroyed, and through the next years the quality and performance of Spanish units were terrible (excepting Albuera and Catalonia); all of this culminated in the shameful defeat of Valencia

The army went out of that situation very slowly, and by 1813 some units started to perform well again (Morillo)

I agree. Spanish Army in 1808-1814 was as British Army in 1914-1918 (saving the difference).. It was not a Spanish Army but several.. it was not the same the 1808 Army or the 1809 Army.. as it is not the same the British Army in1914 (Mons or Ypres).. and the British Army in 1915 (Neuve Capelle) or in 1916 (Somme). -

Spanish Army in 1808 as you well said, had excellent quality... between 1809-1812 was awful.. and from 1812 -1814 was acquiring new capabilities and more quality as it was proved in San Marcial in 1813.


Ad Honorem
May 2016
A bit before 1808 but I recall that the efficiency of the Spanish (and Portuguese) army at the War of Roussillon (1793) in the Pyrenees wasn’t great. Don’t recall the details.


Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
The Spanish were reaosnable troops but generally appallingly led. They wer enot well drilled or trained, so you should not ask too much of them but with good leadership performed pretty well. Thr Spanish generals and officers were in generally bad. The constant losses meant the amry really strggled to gain experince and quality. Ubnlike Wellington's army which was able to do so. Despite a liney of defeat and lareg losses the Spanish amries were repeatedly able to put into the field again and agian, an achievement that is worthy of some repesct,