History of War

SOMOSIERRA

“WHAT WAS LEFT OF THE SHATTERED SPANISH FORCES RETREATED SOUTH TOWARDS MADRID WITH NAPOLEON HIMSELF IN VIGOROUS PURSUIT AT THE HEAD OF A 45,000-STRONG VANGUARD”

SOMOSIERRA PASS, SEGOVIA, SPAIN 30 NOVEMBER 1808

In June 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte installed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne as a way of securing French control of the Iberian Peninsula. It turned out to have the opposite effect. The Spanish people disliked their feckless Bourbon monarchs, but they absolutely hated the meddlesome French. Within weeks, violent revolts sprang up across the country, and the overextended French forces found themselves isolated in hostile territory. In August, having resided in Madrid for only ten days, Joseph was forced to abandon his riotous capital and flee to the French border. To make matters worse, during this time the British Expeditionary Force under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley landed in Portugal, beginning the six-year-long Peninsular War.

When Napoleon learned of what had transpired in Spain, he was irate and berated his generals for their incompetence. “I realise I must go there myself to get the machine working again,” he announced, and on 4 November 1808 he crossed the Pyrenees with an army of 130,000 men, mostly veterans of previous campaigns. His arrival in Spain immediately tipped the scales back in favour of the French. On 10 November he won a crushing victory at the Battle of Gamonel, and

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