Invasion of Portugal

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© Bob Denton 2014

Invasion of Portugal, 1807

The Continental System constraints were hurting Spain and It was perfectly understandable that both its King, Charles IV, and his prime minister, Manuel de Godoy, became extremely unpopular.

In 1807 Godoy was a signatory to the Treaty of Fontainebleau with France. This agreed to a partitioning of Portugal and it permitted Napoleon to move an army across Spain in order to invade Portugal; but of course Portugal was the long-term ally of Britain.

Under the Fontainebleau agreement Napoleon began to move forces in to Spain with Godoy’s acquiescence. The excuse for this action was to allow France to enforce Portugal to join the Continental Blockade. Preparing for the Portuguese invasion some 65,000 troops moved in and occupied many major cities Barcelona, Burgos, Figueras, Pamplona, Salamanca and San Sebastián.

However this sabre-rattling had telegraphed the planned attack of Portugal. The plans suffered a setback when a British fleet entered Lisbon and landed a force of 7,000 troops. Their orders were either to assist in the escape of the royal family, or if they showed any signs of giving in to France’s demands then the force was ordered to take and hold the city.

The French forces arrived at the gates of Lisbon led by Marshal Jean-Andoche Junot, an experienced veteran of Napoleon’s Italian battles, his Egyptian campaign and of Austerlitz. But his force arrived looking rather ragamuffin, many were inexperienced, their clothes were rags, few had shoes, they were hungry. Worse they had no cavalry or artillery and the Portuguese were thus inspired that their chances to repel the French was high.

Queen Maria I of the United Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarves was notionally the sovereign, but her eldest surviving son John (João) had effectively ruled the country from 1799 as Prince Regent. She had always been melancholic but this had more recently slipped towards madness.

The British urged John to leave, he was accompanied by the rest of the House of Braganza and most of the Portuguese court. They were protected by the Portuguese navy and escorted out of Lisbon by the British to establish themselves in their largest and richest colony, Brazil. (In 1815, as part of the Congress of Vienna, Brazil would become a kingdom and Maria I was proclaimed as the Queen of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves.)

As he left, the king placed posters around Lisbon, advising his people that they should not try to fight against the French; they should surrender to avoid any bloodshed or hardship. Late in 1807 and two days after the court’s departure Lisbon was peaceably handed over to the French without any resistance. Napoleon appointed Junot to be the Duke of Abrantes and the governor of Portugal.

Forward to Peninsular War – Back to Continental System
Back to 1789 and all that!
© Bob Denton 2014