Iberian Peninsula

Napoleonic Wars in the Iberian Peninsula: France Marches to Lisbon


An Ultimatum is Delivered

On July 19, 1807, Napoleon instructed his Foreign Minister, Tallyrand, to send instructions to Portugal. Portugal must close all of her ports to British shipping and arrest all British citizens in the country. They were further required to confiscate all British goods and property, and declare war, and must do this no later than September 2nd of 1807.

Portuguese response was to agree to close ports and declare war, but balk at the arrests and confiscation. Portugal had historic ties to Britain, and much trade with them, especially wine, and losing the trade relations was not in her interests, but then neither was a war. They tried to take two courses, secretly informing Britain that much of it would be for forms sake and asking them for aid.

At nearly the same time as he sent the ultimatum from France, Napoleon began to assemble invasion forces at Bayonne to invade Portugal. Napoleon ended up extending his deadline until October, but this had more to do with his readiness to invade than any expectations of capitulation. Napoleon was determined to own Portugal and her fleet after losing the Danish fleet to the British.

Invasion is Begun

On October 18th 1807, the first troops crossed the Spanish border to begin the overthrow of the Bragança Monarchy in Portugal. The 25,000 troops were led by the aggressive General Jean Andoche Junot, a close associate to Napoleon who had spent some time as Ambassador to Lisbon.

Nearly a month later, November 13th, an additional 25,000 in Bayonne were ordered into Northern Spain and others were gathered at Bourdeaux and Saint-Piedu-Port and Perpignan, adding 50,000 more French troops to the tally in Spain before the end of 1807.

Junot was ordered to speed up his march despite the heavy rains which had slowed his march through Spain, and crossed the border into Portugal by November 19th. Marching over 20 miles a day, losing men to sickness or exhaustion, he reached Lisbon with the first 1,500 troops on November 30th.

He failed in his first task however. On November 29th, at the instigation of the British, 12 fleet ships, 24 merchant ships, the entire royal family, the entire treasury and the national archives, much of the art, and many of the bureaucratic officials and wealthy citizens left port. Also in flight was the British merchant community with its trading stock; all to rendezvous with a British naval squadron for escort to safety in Brazil.

French Occupation

It was some three weeks before Junot had even 10,000 troops at his disposal. This did not stop him from making the country his own. He confiscated all property left by the departing families, and much Church plate. He imposed indemnities, and sent off the remaining Portuguese Army to garrison duties in Germany. With the help of some Spanish troops he occupied towns, Oporto, Setúbal, Faro, Almeida, and Elvas.

Junot set up an administration, using the French community in Lisbon, and many Portuguese. The Church urged submission, and he began adding Portuguese adherents to his military and police. There was unrest and chaos in the economy, and of course "swarms of robbers and vagabonds". Resistance was put down quickly and violently by the French.

Junot was rewarded for his efforts by Napoleon, and made Duke of Abrantes. He was not to have it his way for long. Britain was about to make a further reply to the request made by the Portuguese court.




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