Napoleon Bonaparte declared himself Emperor of the French in 1804, hoping to hammer together a united European empire under his bureaucratic ‘Napoleonic Code’. Britain, however, stood firm for the freedom of all European nations.
SPAIN rose up angrily on 2nd May 1808, after Napoleon occupied Madrid and put his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne.
Nelson had already inflicted a stinging defeat on Joseph off Cape Trafalgar near Cadíz in 1805, but this time Napoleon sent French troops with orders to teach the Spanish an unforgettable lesson.*
Britain’s relations with Portugal were especially cordial, however, and both army and navy were despatched to the Iberian Peninsula to bolster the fight for independence.
At first things went badly: Arthur Wellesley’s victory at Vimiero in Portugal was squandered by the politicians; Sir John Moore invaded Spain, but lost his life at Corunna in 1809.**
However, Wellesley returned to Portugal, and helped by Portuguese units under his command and by Spanish guerillas, advanced victory by victory into Spain until Joseph was routed at Vitoria on 21st June, 1813.
Wellesley crossed the Pyrenees into France, and Napoleon, still smarting from his ignominious retreat from Moscow, was forced to abdicate on April 4th, 1814.
* See The Battle of Trafalgar.
** Arthur Wellesley was subsequently given the title of Duke of Wellington, and was the British commander at The Battle of Waterloo.