About Napoleon
Special Features
Classroom Materials
Site Index
Shop PBS


The Man and the MythNapoleon and JoesphinePolitics in Napoleon's TimesNapoleon at War

Campaings and Battles
Napoleon's Tactics
The Soldier's Life
Weapons and Units of the Grand Armée
Interactive Battlefield Simulator

Campaigns and Battles

Napoleon rides alone

First Italian Campaign | The Egyptian Campaign | Second Italian Campaign | The Ulm-Austerlitz Campaign | The Prussian Campaign | The Peninsular War | The Austrian War | The Russian Campaign | From Lützen to Elba | The Waterloo Campaign

The Peninsular War, 1808-1813

Frustrated by Portugal's defiance of his Continental Blockade against trade with Great Britan, Napoleon ordered General Jerot to march French troops over the Pyrenees.

On November 30, French troops entered the Portuguese capital of Lisbon and closed the country's ports to English ships. Spain, alarmed at France's aggression, began to question their alliance with Napoleon.

By 1808, Napoleon had installed his brother Joseph as the king of Spain and sent 118,000 soldiers across into Spain to insure his rule. Determined to bend the Spanish people to his will, he had decided to make Spain a part of his empire. He imagined they would be welcomed.

"With my banner bearing the words 'Liberty and Emancipation from Superstition,'" he said, "I shall be regarded as the liberator of Spain."

GOTTIERI: Spain at that time was far behind all the other countries in Europe. Napoleon considered the Iberian Peninsula another world — with people from the Dark Ages - dominated by clergy, according to Napoleon, who were illiterate, ignorant, and fanatical. He thought that there would be no resistance whatsoever. Napoleon didn’t take the trouble to study the country he was going to invade. He didn’t think the Spanish people had the will to hold on to their independence.

Napoleon could never imagine that some people loved their countries as much as he loved his own. It was a failing, compounded by arrogance and pride, that would bring about his downfall.

On May 2, the Spanish people rose up against the French army in Madrid. By nightfall, 150 French soldiers were dead. The French retaliated, killing thousands of Spaniards. It was the start of a brutal, no-holds-barred war, marked by savagery on both sides. The French tortured and mutilated their prisoners; the Spanish did the same.

KERATRAUNT: It’s a war of atrocities. It’s guerilla war — the word comes from this time. The French army has never fought this kind of war… It’s not at all the glorious war that they fought elsewhere.

ELTING: At this point you begin to see a failure of Napoleon's judgment. He had somehow lost his sense of proportion. He gets into Spain and he won't give up.

Thousands died, but there was no decisive victory. Napoleon would keep his armies in Spain for five years, unable to break the will of the Spanish people.

TULARD: Napoleon no longer accepts advice. Napoleon only believes in himself. He only has confidence in his star. So, he is going to be blinded.

Up Back  Next