There are few historians who would deny the significance of the period immediately after Tilsit in the history of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was at this point that the emperor was drawn to intervene in the affairs of the Iberian Peninsula, and thereby to spark off a chain of events that are traditionally held to have had a major role, if not the major role, in the downfall of the French imperium. Why, then, did Napoleon reach out across the Pyrenees? The reasons which led him to intervene in Spain and Portugal are not entirely clear. Many authors have assumed it was always the intention of the emperor to move south, while others have suggested that the idea first entered his mind at the time of the battle of Jena. It is possible to mount a case for both positions. The former has at its heart the undeniable fact that by 1807 Charles IV had become the last representative of the Bourbon family to retain his dominions intact. As such, he was a constant reminder to the parvenu Bonapartes of their want of legitimacy and, still worse, a potential encouragement to royalist subversion. Beyond that, it might also be argued that, as product of and heir to the French Revolution, Napoleon could not but be committed to smashing the symbols of the system that it had overthrown. At least this was the opinion of Talleyrand: ‘Napoleon, seated on one of the thrones of the house of Bourbon, considered the princes who occupied the other two as his natural enemies, whom it was his interest to overthrow.’1 Another confidant of the emperor to hold this view was the commander of the Imperial Guard, Marshal Bessières. As he told one of his aides-de-camp, ‘So long as Napoleon remains in power, no European throne can be filled by a Bourbon.’2 Yet another variant on the theme came from the Conde de Toreno, a veteran of the cortes of Cádiz who wrote the standard Spanish history of the contest. According to him, the key was historical precedent and example: the French ‘had never forgotten the foreign policy of Louis XIV, and, in particular, his attempts to harness the Spanish nation to the wagon of his fortune’.3 There is some sense in this: if the policy of Napoleon remained faithful to that of Louis XIV in the Low Countries and Germany, as it did, why should this not have been the case for the Iberian Peninsula, and all the more so as Charlemagne - a figure who was a far greater influence on Napoleon than the ‘sun king’ - had also looked beyond the Pyrenees? To all this there can be added the fact that in the France of 1807, the notion of an attack on Spain was certain to enjoy wide popularity. Spain, it was said, was not just a natural zone of French influence, but a fruit ripe for the picking.
This can be described as the structuralist argument. But what of the alternative position, which might in turn be deemed the functionalist view? There is the equally undeniable fact that in the autumn of Spain had come very close to betraying her alliance with France. To explain this something must be said about Spain’s experiences in the period 1796-1807 . For the whole of this time, Madrid had been in alliance with Paris and, by the same token, usually at war with Britain. From this, however, she had gained nothing: not only had her diplomatic interests been repeatedly flouted, but her entire position as a world power had been thrown into jeopardy. The loss of much of her fleet at Trafalgar left her with few means of physically remaining in touch with her far-flung dominions, let alone keeping them under her control. Indeed, to keep any share of the colonial trade at all from 1796 onwards Madrid had been forced to abandon the traditional policy that had kept all trade with the Americas in Spanish hulls and to authorize the involvement of neutral vessels. At home the impact of the war against Britain had been catastrophic. Thanks to the widespread issue of paper money in the form of credits to the national debt, the inflation that had already held the country in its grip had been greatly intensified. In many parts of the country economic activity was at a standstill: whether we are talking of industries that depended on external markets, such as the brandy and cotton production that took place in Catalonia, or industries such as ship-building and rope-making that were kept going by the sinews of empire, the activities of the Royal Navy ensured that demand for their products was at best uncertain. With revenue from the colonies in free fall, the state could neither afford to engage in the sort of programmes of public works that had regularly given employment to thousands of labourers, nor even to pay its soldiers and officials. Desperate to raise more money, the regime launched a sustained attack on the lands of the Church that had by 1808 seen the expropriation and sale of one sixth of its territory and the destruction of much of the machinery of charity that had traditionally sustained the populace in times of want.
On top of all this came an extraordinary succession of catastrophes and natural disasters. Unseasonal weather led to a series of harvest failures that reduced large parts of the country to famine conditions. As we have seen, yellow fever killed thousands of people in Andalucía and the Levante, while a massive outbreak of malaria ravaged New Castile. On 30 April 1802 a newly completed dam designed to create a reservoir in the upper reaches of the river Segura burst and let loose a tidal wave that killed as many as 10,000 people in Lorca and Murcia; and on 13 January 1804 Granada, Málaga and Cartagena were hit by an earthquake so severe that it brought down roof tiles and set chandeliers trembling as far away as Madrid. Just to complete this tale of woe Segovia suffered a plague of locusts. For something of the atmosphere that prevailed in the salons of the capital, we can do no better than turn to the diary of Lady Holland, who together with her husband, the future British Foreign Secretary, travelled extensively in Spain in the brief period between 1802 and 1804 when that country was not at war with Britain:
Great failures [occur] throughout the Peninsula in corn crops, especially about Seville and in Portugal. Yesterday there were only 4,000 fanegas of wheat in Madrid, and, but for a fortunate supply this morning, a ferment would have taken place in the town. Bread is exorbitantly dear; many bakers’ shops have been assaulted. Within these ten days the streets are infested by robbers, who . . . insult and even strip those they fall upon. In consequence of this, numerous patrols on horseback go about the streets soon after the Angelus . . . We have not been without alarm at the possibility of the yellow fever reaching Madrid: it was brought to Málaga by a French vessel from Sainte Domingue and from thence was spread to Antequera . . . The number of deaths at Málaga amount to sixty a day . . . A cordon of troops [has been] placed around the district . . . A considerable alarm [has] prevailed in consequence of the report of a violent contagious fever having broken out in the prisons . . . The fever was brought . . . by some criminals newly apprehended . . . Some fear the prisoners . . . came from La Mancha, where 48,000 persons are sick of putrid disorders in consequence of the scarcity of provisions and want of fuel. Luzuriaga affirms that the famine is so dreadful and universal that the population of Spain will be materially diminished. At Burgos the people die like flies, [and] the villages are deserted as the miserable peasants crowd into the towns to obtain relief from the rich and pious.4
As if all this was not enough to encourage popular discontent with the regime, trouble was brewing for its éminence grise, Manuel de Godoy, in a variety of other ways. Not the least of these stemmed from the military policy he had followed in the wake of the war of 1793-5 . In 1795 Spain had made peace with France and in 1796 she had joined with her in an alliance against Britain. Godoy knew that this arrangement could only ever be temporary: so arrogant and aggressive was the government of the Directory that sooner or later Spain would be compelled to go to war once more. And, France was in his eyes no ally: ‘In so far as France is concerned,’ he told Queen Maria Luisa, ‘the only thing that can be counted on is that the French will never be friends of anything other than their own interests.’5 At best, the treaty of San Ildefonso was a device that might buy Spain a little time while at the same time staving off the depredations of the British. From as early as 1796, then, the favourite was preparing for war. Special reports were commissioned on the fortifications that guarded the Pyrenean frontier, while a committee of senior generals was set the task of proposing a programme of military reform. This last measure proved abortive, the determination of a variety of vested interests to resist any change ensuring that no progress was made. But Godoy pressed ahead anyway and instituted a number of measures of his own. Not the least of these, particularly in terms of its impact on the course of events in , was the decision to cut the size of the enormous royal guard by half, but even more important was the favourite’s determined efforts to extend the army’s limited conscription to the whole of the country, large parts of which had hitherto been free of the burdens which it imposed. In every province in which moves were made in this direction, there was furious resistance, and in Valencia and Vizcaya the result was outbreaks of open revolt. As Lady Holland wrote:
About a fortnight ago the peasants in a district near Bilbao assembled tumultuously, went to the señoria (or house where the magistrates meet) and demanded the decree which had been passed for enrolling men to serve between the ages of fifteen and fifty. When they obtained it, they read it aloud and to show their contempt for it, tore the paper, trampling it with their feet. They seized the corregidor, and compelled him to give up to muskets which had been deposited since the French War in the señoria. They insisted on the decree being annulled, which could not be done, but the corregidor promised that a general meeting should be convened to take it into consideration. By the last accounts it appears that the decree has been rescinded, and the corregidor, who is agallego and abhorred by the Vizcayans, nearly murdered.6
However, popular resistance was not just fuelled by the issue of military reform. Very much a man of the Enlightenment, Godoy was much exercised by the issue of bull-fighting. Convinced that this sport was at one and the same time economically wasteful, a humiliating mark of Spain’s backwardness and a threat to public order (on account of the simple fact that it caused the populace to assemble in huge crowds), the favourite took the unprecedented and never-to-be-repeated step of banning the corrida. Nor was this the only measure that grated upon a populace wedded to what the court and its advisers saw as ‘superstition’. There was, for example, the epic battle waged by the regime to force through its insistence that on public health grounds dead bodies should no longer be interred in churches, but rather in municipal cemeteries established in open country beyond the limits of each town and village, and the attempt made to prohibit the wearing of the cloaks traditionally worn by men in many parts of Spain because they made it too easy for malefactors to hide weapons and mask their features from detection. With young men of any aspiration aping French fashions and mannerisms and even peppering their speech with snatches of French, the result for the rest of the population was a genuine fear that an attempt was afoot to strip Spain of her soul.
Popular distrust of the regime was fuelled by court politics. One problem that Godoy was never able to escape was that of his origins. A scion of the provincial nobility who had first come to the court in as a trooper in the royal bodyguard, he had owed his meteoric rise - by the end of 1793, he was not only chief minister but also a Captain General (field marshal) and a grandee of the first rank - entirely to royal patronage. Seeing so lowly a figure reach so exalted a position was hardly likely to please titled aristocrats whose pedigree went back for hundreds of years and who were already much upset by the grant of titles to a large number of bureaucrats of quite modest origins. Godoy therefore became identified with the Bourbon monarchy’s hostility to the privileges of the nobility, and this in turn meant that it was not long before a clique of aristocrats was conspiring to bring down the favourite or, at the very least, frustrate his plans. With this group, meanwhile, there lined up the more traditionalist elements of the clergy, and between the two of them there emerged a devastating campaign of black propaganda. Nobles such as the Duque del Infantado and the Conde de Montijo sent servants out into the streets and taverns to spread stories of Godoy’s lasciviousness and venality, while conservative churchmen blamed the ills that were afflicting Spain on the judgement of Heaven. There was, perhaps, little that the favourite could do about this, but he certainly did himself no favours. The constant claim that he was the lover of the Spanish queen - a staple of the stories spread by his opponents - is almost certainly untrue, but he did take endless bribes, exploit his position to secure a constant supply of sexual favours, and enjoy a lifestyle that was opulent in the extreme. As such, he repelled the one party in the state - the outright supporters of Enlightenment - that might have been expected to back him unreservedly. Setting aside his assumption of the role of grand voluptuary, this group soon found that his ability to advance their aims and offer them protection was extremely limited. The crucial moment here came in 1801 when Charles IV, a timid monarch who lacked the courage and energy necessary to stay loyal to the enlightened absolutism of his predecessor, Charles III, dismissed the highly reformist ministry headed by Mariano Luis de Urquijo. As Godoy was himself temporarily out of favour at the time, this was not his fault, but the assault on progressive thinking continued even after he was brought back a few months later. The result, of course, was that the favourite was stripped of all credibility. ‘Not only is he without a party or an adherent,’ wrote Lady Holland, ‘but he has no friend on whom he can rely.’7
Provided that he had been guaranteed the support of the king and queen, Godoy’s isolation might not have mattered so much. But, as events repeatedly showed, even at the best of times this could very easily be withdrawn. In 1798 French suspicions of Godoy’s reformism had led to such pressure on the king and queen that he had in effect been removed from the position of chief minister. Far worse, Charles IV was now an elderly man subject to bouts of serious illness: on several occasions, indeed, he had seemed on the point of death. And not only was this the case, but the heir to the throne, Prince Ferdinand, hated the favourite for the manner in which he had, in his eyes at least, usurped the affections of his parents. Around the prince there gathered a coterie of conspirators who all in one way or another felt that they had been particularly slighted or ill used by Godoy, amongst the most important being the prince’s erstwhile tutor, Canon Juan de Escoíquiz, and the senior guards officers, the Duque del Infantado and the Conde de Montijo. Nor did it help that the king’s first wife, Maria Antonia of Naples, was a ferocious critic of the French alliance and when she died after only a short period of marriage, it was therefore easy for Escoíquiz and his allies to convince the prince - a surly and suspicious individual - that she had been murdered. Even more absurdly he was persuaded that Godoy intended to seize the throne when his father died, and this in turn gave fresh material to the conspirators, who could now spread it abroad that Ferdinand, who they naturally painted in the most glowing terms, was to be deprived of his birthright. By the same token, of course, Spain was to be deprived of her salvation: already Ferdinand was being portrayed as el rey deseado, the handsome young prince who would put all to rights by chasing out the hated Godoy and his cronies.
All this lent a certain urgency to Godoy’s diplomacy. First, he made a series of attempts to escape the alliance with France, which was self-evidently not only undermining him but failing to deliver the only positive goals that had ever been hoped for from it. As will be recalled, the favourite had struggled frantically to avoid being sucked back into open war with Britain after 1803, by, for example, attempting to form a league of neutrals that could band together to resist any attempt at coercion. Then, once the fighting had been resumed, he had done all that he could to keep Spain from having to engage in real fighting. In the period before Trafalgar, Spain’s admirals were for months hampered by a complete want of support from Madrid. Streams of orders had been issued for the arming and provisioning of Spain’s navy, but these had been accompanied by little in the way of money and, after a series of measures that appear as little less than sabotage, on 14 October the Spanish commander at Cádiz, Federico Gravina, was in effect informed that there was none left. ‘Our expenses,’ wrote the favourite, ‘have for some time been exorbitant . . . Such is our state, and the result is that we must not only avoid any outlay that can be avoided, but make such payments as are absolutely indispensable with all the delay that can be managed.’8 Already unhappy, Godoy was shaken still further by the fact that in May 1805 a United States deputation headed by James Monroe not only demanded that Spain pay compensation for all the American ships she had taken in the period of her alliance with France, but also hinted at a determination to seize Florida, which was at this point still a Spanish possession. Though doubt and indecision had stayed Godoy’s hand in 1805 in the face of Russian attempts to get Spain to join the Third Coalition, the overwhelming catastrophe of Trafalgar made him move swiftly in the direction of a separate peace with Britain and, ultimately, an outright attack on France.
This prospect, it has to be said, was very much to Godoy’s taste. Given command of the Spanish forces sent to invade Portugal in 1801, he had been entranced by visions of military glory and come to fancy himself a great general. Surrounded now by little more than a crowd of flatterers, Godoy acquired an overly favourable view of his attempts to reform the army. As far back as the War of the Oranges, in fact, he had written in the following vein to Maria Luisa:
To the devil with files of papers when I am on the point of making the enemy listen to reason at the cannon’s mouth. Never shall I be able to live without soldiers in future; the sight of them thrills me and I was born never to leave them. I cannot express to Your Majesty the pleasure that swells my heart . . . Let me never hear talk of political intrigues again, and be sent with my soldiers to the ends of the earth! I want never to leave the colours. May Your Majesty deign to let me serve her with the sword for no shorter time than I have served her with the pen!9
The only problem, of course, was that Spain could not hope to take on France alone. In these circumstances, Napoleon’s unexpected war with Prussia therefore seemed an ideal opportunity: the Prussian army, after all, had for many years been the model for Spain’s own troops, and it was generally expected that it would prevail over the French. The result was one of the least well-timed calls to arms in the history of armed conflict. Issued on 5 October, the peroration of this document read: ‘Come forward . . . beloved countrymen; come forward and swear your oaths beneath the banners of the most beneficent of sovereigns; come forward, and, should the God of victories give us the happy and lasting peace for which we pray, I shall cover you with the mantle of gratitude.’10
Spain and France, then, were at the very brink of war, but just a week later Napoleon smashed the Prussians at Jena and Auerstädt. To say that this news came as a shock to Godoy is a considerable understatement, but he reacted with some aplomb: all he had been trying to do, he announced, had been to galvanize the populace into greater support for the war against England. With this explanation, Napoleon claimed to be satisfied, but he knew very well what Godoy had been planning. Spain’s efficacy as an ally of France also remained a severe problem. The difficulties that had been encountered in putting together a viable battle fleet; the absence of any activity in the ship-building yards (construction for the Spanish navy had effectively ceased in 1796); the failure to make any impression on the Royal Navy; the want of funds to pay the monthly tribute that had prior to the end of 1804 kept Madrid out of the war; and the hunger and lack of pay that stalked the army - all conspired to create the impression that Spain was ruled by a regime that could not give Napoleon the support he required. And yet for centuries Spain had been overflowing with bullion and could still lay claim to the greatest empire in the world. This was not something Napoleon was likely to tolerate, while Godoy’s discomfiture was further increased by Britain’s remaining deaf to his attempts to secure a separate peace. Indeed, from this point on, the views of structuralists and functionalists coincide. Whether or not the emperor had always intended to bring down the Spanish Bourbons, there now began a programme whose every action was designed to erode Spain’s independence and freedom of action, and ultimately to lay her open to the sort of manoeuvre that was to bring down the Bourbon monarchy in 1808.
For this view, there is some circumstantial evidence. Nothing, for example, could be more suggestive than the fact that at the end of Napoleon suddenly demanded amongst other things - most notably 1806 Spain’s accession to the Continental Blockade - that Madrid provide him with a corps of 14,000 infantry and cavalry for service in northern Europe. Some 6,000 of these men, it is true, came from the Spanish forces sent to garrison the Kingdom of Etruria for its Spanish princess, but even so, the corps concerned amounted to roughly one tenth of the number of soldiers Spain had under arms. There is no reason to believe that the men sent were deliberately selected as the country’s best troops, but the blow was made worse by the need to mount the five cavalry regiments involved, which was only made possible by many of the army’s other riders giving up their own horses. And then, of course, there is Napoleon’s decision to intervene in Portugal in September 1807, discussed in more detail below, which allowed him to send large numbers of troops across the Pyrenees. Certainly both Fouché and Talleyrand claimed later that the emperor explained the move to them in terms of the overthrow of the Bourbons. Indeed, Talleyrand implied that it was this revelation that led to his resignation from the post of Foreign Minister in August 1807, Napoleon having shown beyond all possible doubt that he had no intention of respecting Talleyrand’s post-Austerlitz policy.
Yet none of this is proof of anything. Napoleon and Talleyrand certainly fell out in the aftermath of Tilsit - an observer who was present at Napoleon’s headquarters in Poland talks of ‘a vague rumour floating about Warsaw that there had been a violent altercation between [Talleyrand] and the emperor’11 - but whether the subject was the need for peace is another matter. Apart from anything else, the Franco-Russian accord had been arranged behind the Foreign Minister’s back at a moment when Napoleon had given him cause to believe that he would accept the Austrian mediation to which Talleyrand so aspired. And whether there was really any plot to overthrow the Spanish Bourbons will always be unclear. Passing through Dresden in the aftermath of Tilsit, Napoleon observed, ‘They do me too much honour if they believe that everything that I have done was premeditated. I have seen myself forced into actions I should never have dreamed of. It is a general human weakness to assume definite plans everywhere . . . whereas more often chance and necessity were, in fact, the main factors. I can conceive nothing more inept than commendation for prudent calculations which were never made.’12 This, of course, does not prove anything either, but a careful consideration of the history of French intervention in Spain and Portugal suggests that there was in fact no fixed scheme in the emperor’s mind; indeed, that in the short term it grew out of nothing more than frustration at the situation that emerged in the wake of the treaty of Tilsit. This being the case, it is worth taking a moment to look at the state of Europe in more detail. In brief, this was somewhat curious. On the one hand, Napoleon stood supreme on land. By common consent, the army he led at this point was the very best and most effective that France ever fielded in the whole period from 1792 till 1815. The European powers had one by one been humbled and forced either to beg for mercy or to curry friendship. By means of the Continental Blockade, the emperor could hope at the very least to inflict substantial damage on Britain and even to force her to make peace. And yet on the other, London remained absolutely unbowed. Not only had the ineffectual ‘Ministry of all the Talents’ been replaced by the Portland administration, but by June 1807 the latter was showing signs of putting up a real fight. In an important but unsung step, the Cabinet raised the rates payable to the owners of vessels hired as military transports, and in this fashion raised the tonnage available to the government in this area from 115,000 tons to 168,000 in a mere four months. The regular army was swelled by the recruitment of 25,000 volunteers from the militia, whose ranks were then made up by the authorization of fresh ballots. The first division of what was intended to be an army of 34,000 men was dispatched to the Swedish enclave of Stralsund; and Prussia and Sweden were all promised substantial financial support. On 27 June the new Foreign Secretary, George Canning, and the Prussian ambassador to London signed an agreement which promised the latter’s government £1 million in payments spread over a period of one year if it would in exchange put every man that it could into the field against the French; equally, Sweden got a promise of £ 50,000 per annum. Already in receipt of a British subsidy that had been agreed in1805 , Russia got considerable quantities of arms as an extra as well as an ambassador who was a popular figure in the Russian capital and had much experience there. And finally, a new envoy was also dispatched to Vienna with a clear promise that a declaration of war would lead to substantial British support.
If any further proof of the Portland administration’s commitment to the struggle is needed, it may be found in the Danish affair of July- September 1807. It was learned in London that a large French army was massing on the borders of Holstein with a view to marching on Copenhagen and forcing the Danes either to join Napoleon or to surrender their fleet. Whichever turned out to be the case, the end result was the same in that French seapower would be swelled by the addition of twenty or more warships. Also likely to suffer were Britain’s communications with the Baltic and with them her chief source of naval supplies. This being something that London could hardly view with equanimity, it was therefore immediately resolved that a British fleet should sail to Denmark. With them went 18,000 men while orders were sent to the 12,000 men that had already gone to Stralsund to join them immediately. On 30 July the first British ships anchored off Copenhagen, and a British envoy went ashore with promises of an alliance if the Danes would only surrender their ships to Britain’s protection. An alliance, however, was meaningless, and the Danes knew it: even 30,000 British troops were hardly likely to be able to save Denmark from invasion and conquest, while just a day after the British had arrived a message had been received from Napoleon that left the Danish government in no doubt that they must join him or face war. With the frontier only a few days’ march away, the future Frederick VI - he was at this point only Prince Regent - decided to try to make a fight of it until such time as the French sent help, and therefore defied the British.
Given this answer, there was nothing for it but to open hostilities. Invading Zealand, the British blockaded Copenhagen and on 29 August routed a relief column at Kioge, an action notable chiefly for being Sir Arthur Wellesley’s first taste of action since his return from India. But time was pressing, and the defenders of the Danish capital showed no signs of cracking. Determined to secure the Danish fleet, the British therefore resolved to bombard them into surrender. There followed a grim affair that showed Britain at her most ruthless. Copenhagen was largely built of wood and the combination of red-hot shot and the use of the newly invented Congreve rocket soon turned the city into an inferno. Firing began on the evening of 2 September, and five days later the exhausted Danes surrendered. At least 2,000 civilians were dead, but the British had secured their immediate objective: for the loss of a mere 250 men, the entire Danish fleet had been neutralized - fifteen battleships and a number of smaller vessels were got away to England, while several other ships were torched in their docks. Also taken was a considerable quantity of naval stores. This, of course, meant the end of Danish naval power: in theory, the ships concerned were supposed to be returned to Copenhagen with the coming of peace, but few survived the war and the money and resources that might have formed the basis for the construction of a new fleet were lacking. As for the Baltic, it was now brought firmly under British control in naval terms: after this second Danishtour de forceon the part of the Royal Navy, there was no appetite to take it on in the messrooms of its Russian counterpart, and no way that Napoleon could mount a direct challenge to its ships himself.
But Copenhagen also came at a terrible price. In the first place, the ruthless treatment of the Danes did not sit very comfortably alongside some of the loftier flights of British rhetoric and, in fairness, prompted much disquiet at home, while at the same time handing Napoleon a wonderful propaganda weapon. ‘We shall,’ as General Paget wrote, ‘henceforth be dubbed the nation of Saracens instead of the nation of shopkeepers.’13 Given that in the end Britain could only hope to defeat Napoleon through the formation of a powerful continental coalition, this was most unfortunate, and all the more so as unfavourable contrasts could always be drawn between the alacrity with which Britain had suddenly found plenty of men and ships to intervene in Denmark and the way in which she had dragged her feet on other occasions. And, finally, even in the short term the expedition had not achieved all its goals. The Danish fleet was safe, certainly, but Copenhagen had also been Canning’s response to the Franco-Russian accord that had been agreed at Tilsit. We should remember that at this point it was not known for certain in London whether this was a simple peace settlement or an alliance. In the first place, then, we see a veiled threat: what could be done at Copenhagen could also be done - the Russians might infer - at St Petersburg. But it was accepted that Alexander might simply have been coerced into surrender by Napoleon. By establishing a base in Zealand - as the British troops did not sail away with the Danish navy - Canning therefore hoped to persuade the tsar to rejoin the fight and even send troops to Denmark himself. But in all this, Canning had badly misjudged the situation. Alexander had always seen himself as the champion of the smaller states of central Europe, and in any case had no desire to risk another Friedland. Meanwhile, he had also just acquired a new foreign minister in the person of Count Nicolai Rumiantsev, who was the son of one of the greatest heroes of Catherine the Great’s wars against the Turks and as such convinced that Russia should not be fighting Napoleon but rather marching on Constantinople. Bitterly anti-British, indeed, he had been a fierce opponent of the Third Coalition. In short, all Canning had achieved had been to drive Russia even deeper into Napoleon’s arms.
The impression of belligerence generated by the Portland administration was reinforced by the fruitless efforts of the continental powers to get Britain to make peace. Head of the queue was the diplomatic activity engaged in by Russia in the late summer and early autumn of 1807. At Tilsit Alexander I had agreed to go to war against Britain if the latter did not make peace by November, but in the first instance all he was called upon to do was to offer Russian mediation. In this goal he genuinely hoped he might be successful, while the fact that Russia would in effect not be called upon actively to take up arms until, say, May 1808, on account of the long northern winter and the icing-over of the Baltic, was also reassuring. The delay would, after all, give more time for the Continental Blockade to take effect and allow Alexander to share in victory without necessarily having to fire a shot. As early as the beginning of August, then, the new Russian ambassador to London, Maximilian Alopeus, presented the British government with the offer of Russia’s good offices. Although this had in fact been settled at Tilsit - essentially Britain could have Hanover in exchange for surrendering all her conquests in the wider world - the form a settlement might take was not revealed, and Canning therefore responded that Britain would not open peace talks until she had heard the terms on offer - terms, moreover, that she expected to favour Britain. When a supplementary message arrived to the effect that Alexander had only done a deal with Napoleon in order to check any further French progress in Poland and the Baltic, the answer returned was scarcely less conciliatory: this time Canning demanded not only the conditions of the proposed Russian mediation, but a detailed explanation both of the treaty of Tilsit and the general trend of Russian policy.
In a situation in which Russia could make no progress, it was unlikely that anything more could be expected from Austria or Prussia. Both powers had a strong interest in peace - the Prussians, especially, were deeply aware of the likely impact of the Continental Blockade - while both had good reason to curry favour with Napoleon. Terrified at their isolation, the Austrians were currently trying to secure an alliance with France. The governments of both Francis and Frederick William therefore instructed their ambassadors in London to raise the possibility of a general peace. In this they acted in very different fashions. Fearing that they were about to be attacked themselves and seeing no other means of propitiating Napoleon, the Austrians adopted a hectoring tone, whereas the Prussians, who saw a general negotiation as the only means of getting a better deal than the one they had got at Tilsit, were flattering and conciliatory. Yet neither approach had any effect. The Prussians were told that there was no hope of peace negotiations being opened for the foreseeable future, and the Austrians, who had, like the Russians, offered themselves as mediators, that nothing could be agreed until it was learned on what basis the peace should be negotiated. As Napoleon would not consent to do any specifics, Vienna was no more successful than St Petersburg. The process took some time - the Austrian ambassador in London, Count Starhemberg, was much more pro-British than his government and in consequence was desperately anxious to avoid a breakdown in relations - but by early January 1808 the end had come and Starhemberg requested his passports.
The British stood firm, which is hardly surprising. Though they were very different from one another and, in the end, bitter rivals, the chief figures in the Portland administration, Canning and the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, Lord Castlereagh, were absolutely committed both to the struggle against Napoleon, and to a Eurocentric strategy based on the aid of strong continental allies. There were differences between them in terms of approach and personality: whereas Canning was fiery, emotional, enthusiastic and a brilliant orator, Castlereagh was a poor public speaker and in general much more cautious. But in their perception of the war they were as one. Importantly, the issue was not the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy; indeed, it did not matter that much whether France was a republic, a monarchy or an empire. This is not to say that ideological considerations did not matter: Canning and Castlereagh were opponents of political reform at home, and acted throughout under the assumption that Napoleon was a ‘crowned Jacobin’. But in their eyes the danger lay not in French ideas, but in French bayonets. What mattered was that France should respect international law. As no treaty, frontier or regime was safe under Napoleon, Britain must fight France to the end, or at least until such a time as a peace settlement could be imposed on her that would strip even the emperor of his ability to disturb the peace. Mixed in with this, of course, were views that mirrored traditional British interests - to both Canning and Castlereagh, it was axiomatic that Belgium and Holland should be kept out of French hands and, by the same token, that Britain should rule the waves. More than that, the coming of the Continental Blockade had in their eyes elevated the war into something new: one of national survival. Yet there was, too, a genuine sense of a wider commitment to the Continent as a whole that imbued the conduct of the war with a strong sense of mission that was reinforced by a sincere horror of the suffering that was being inflicted on the peoples of Europe.
Canning and Castlereagh - and beyond them their colleagues and political allies - were determined to fight Napoleon. In practical terms, however, the odds were very much stacked against them. In the first place, their only allies were Sweden and Sicily, neither of whom possessed the capacity to conduct the large-scale military campaigns that Britain needed from coalition partners. On the contrary, both needed defending. Yet troops were exactly what the British were short of. Although the number of men they had under arms had soared, far too many of them were serving in forces that could not be required to serve abroad. Still worse, neither Britain nor her colonies could be entirely stripped of regular troops. Strive though the British did to employ local auxiliaries and foreign manpower, the result was that they did not have sufficient men to do very much themselves. Nor was raising a respectable field army the only problem: setting aside the dangers of storm and shipwreck, transporting even the most modest expeditionary force required large numbers of specialized ships, while simply getting the forces on and off ship was a most complex undertaking. These difficulties were doubly unfortunate for they forced Britain back on methods of war - above all, blockade and colonial aggrandizement - that both antagonized potential partners on the Continent and confirmed suspicions that the British were avoiding the sort of commitment they themselves required of their allies. Nor were the methods of warfare on which they relied particularly cost-effective. Colonial offensives were notoriously wasteful in terms of lives, while blockading Europe’s coasts inflicted immense wear and tear on the Royal Navy. Some amelioration in the demands on Britain’s resources was at hand as by July 1807 the South American and Egyptian imbroglios were coming to an end. But even so the sinews of war were clearly at a premium. On coming into office in March 1807 the Portland administration had found that it had at best 20,000 troops available for service overseas, and that even this meagre force could not all be used at the same time for want of transports, this being a situation that was only to improve very slowly.
The political foundations of the British war effort were no more solid. The Portland administration may have been more committed to the struggle than its predecessor, but it was also very vulnerable. Amongst Whigs like Richard Sheridan, Lord Grey and Lord Holland, it was felt even now that Napoleon personified the cause of progress. In the course of the 1790s, a number of Whigs - most famously Edmund Burke, but also the current Prime Minister, Lord Portland - had become supporters of the war, but this gain had been offset by the defection of a number of disillusioned Tories to the peace party. Meanwhile, if the failure of the talks of had 1806 temporarily silenced most of those who opposed the war, the Portland administration was also hampered by other factors, not least the personality of George Canning. While there was no doubting his talents, his energy or his hatred of Napoleon, the Foreign Secretary was a man of questionable judgement whose determination to defeat the French blinded him to political realities, and made him impatient with more circumspect colleagues. Highly mercurial in temperament, he was also very vain and deeply ambitious, and it was only too predictable that sooner or later this would produce serious tension in the Cabinet. To make matters worse, being aged and unwell, Lord Portland was unable to provide much in the way of leadership or keep the dynamic Canning in line. At risk of internal strife, the Cabinet also had to run the risk of losing the support of the throne. In ordinary circumstances, this would not have been an issue. King George III both loathed Napoleon and shared his ministers’ antipathy to the Catholic emancipation that was the foremost domestic issue of the day. But the king was prone to bouts of porphyria that periodically left him completely incapacitated and threatened to have him replaced with the pro-Whig Prince of Wales, there being no guarantee that the latter would not oust Portland the moment he assumed the regency.
However, Britain’s stability cannot just be measured in terms of Westminster. Just as important was the Continental Blockade. Almost a year into its existence this measure was still being tightened up. The response of the British had been to introduce a series of ‘orders-in-council’ whose general trend was to declare all ships originating from the ports of France and her allies and satellites to be legal prize, and to impose severe limitations on the movement of neutral vessels: they might put to sea, but only with the proviso that they visited a British port and paid a heavy duty on their cargoes. To Napoleon this was unacceptable, and in the course of a visit that he paid to the Kingdom of Italy in November and December 1807 he issued two fresh decrees - the so-called Decrees of Milan - that declared that any vessel that complied with Britain’s regulations was liable both to confiscation on its return to port and to capture on the high seas by French privateers. This put the Portland administration under greater pressure than ever. Over the course of time and through changing circumstances, Britain circumvented the Blockade by developing new markets and undercover links with the Continent, but in 1807 it was by no means clear that things would work out so well. To make matters worse, the United States, not only the chief neutral state but also a commercial operator of great importance, was so exercised by the situation that on 22 December 1807 President Jefferson passed into law a total embargo on all trade with Britain and France alike. Hit by both a squeeze on exports and a general increase in the price of raw materials, many British industries were soon in the grip of a severe slump, the situation being worsened still further by the actions of French commerce raiders and a poor harvest. The handloom weavers of Lancashire, in consequence, mounted an impressive campaign to petition parliament for a minimum wage and many northern merchants and manufacturers began to organize petitions for peace. Hand in hand with the demands of such men, meanwhile, went others for political change: in the general elections of 1807, for example, Westminster, then the most representative seat in the country, returned the popular demagogues, Sir Francis Burdett and Lord Cochrane, on a platform of electoral reform. Nor could such displays be disconnected from opposition to the war: Burdett was a leading light in the peace movement, while the massive strike that falling wages and ever increasing lay-offs eventually produced among the handloom weavers of Lancashire in May 1808 was accompanied by loud demands for an end to hostilities. For the time being there was no repetition of the rumours of a secret insurrectionary movement of the sort that had been heard in 1802 at the time of the so-called ‘black lump’ conspiracy in Yorkshire, but for all that the country was far from wholly united behind the war effort. Between 1803 and 1805 there had been a genuine danger of invasion, and this had encouraged a strong degree of ‘Church and King’ loyalism. But by 1807 things were very different, and there were many observers who could not understand why Britain should fight on for, as they saw it, the interests of Austria, Russia and Prussia.
For victory to come, then, Napoleon probably had only to wait. Waiting, though, was not in his nature and he remained obsessed by the constant need to secure fresh triumphs and thereby, as he put it, ensure that he continued to be feared. Worth citing, too, is the fact that the departure of Talleyrand had removed at least a possible restraining influence. Talleyrand may not have been quite the force for good that he always claimed, but his successor as Foreign Secretary, Champagny, was not nearly so independent a figure. At all events, no sooner were the discussions at Tilsit over than Napoleon was looking around for a new target. The obvious choice was Portugal, and all the more so as an attack on that state had been aborted by the campaign of Jena and Auerstädt. Pretexts for an attack were plentiful: Portugal was not part of the Continental Blockade, had been defaulting on the indemnity she had been paying France since the ‘War of the Oranges’ of 1801, and had frequently allowed British warships to revictual from her shores. And there was much to gain: Portugal possessed wealthy colonies and a fleet that, if no great size, was not to be despised, while Lisbon was a vital base that offered major advantages to whichever side could incorporate it into their war effort. And finally she ought to present few problems. Her army was minimal and her ruler, the Prince Regent John, notoriously dull-witted, while the agreement of the Russians to evacuate the Ionian islands and in effect join the French meant that it might even be possible to attack Lisbon from the sea, as the Russian commander in the Adriatic, Admiral Senyavin, would have to pass that way as he brought his forces home to St Petersburg.
Behind all this the issue of genuine strategic requirements is discernible. Should any defender of Napoleon wish to do so, it is possible to argue that what mattered in the end was always the war against Britain. Thus, successive British Cabinets had refused to give in, and so the emperor needed all the ships and all the coasts that he could obtain. To quote a letter written by Napoleon to Charles IV to justify the attack on Portugal, ‘We can only obtain peace by isolating England from the Continent and closing the latter’s ports to her commerce. I count on Your Majesty’s energy in securing this objective: if tranquillity is to be restored in the world, England must be forced to make peace.’14 Nor should it be forgotten that Britain had attacked Copenhagen because Napoleon was on the brink of sending troops to seize the Danish fleet himself. Moving away from the issue of grand strategy, there is also the argument that what mattered above all was Napoleon’s loyalty to his own family - that what he really wanted was to seize the throne of Portugal for some sibling. Yet somehow these arguments remain unconvincing. The Portuguese fleet may have been substantial, but it was by no means big enough to make much of a difference, while most of its ships-of-the-line were mere ‘Fourth Rates’ and therefore incapable of standing up to the much bigger and well-armed vessels favoured by the Royal Navy. With Portugal taking only 4 per cent of British exports, forcing her to join the Continental Blockade was hardly a matter of the greatest importance. And, finally, by 1807 Napoleon’s family was well provided for, not that there is any evidence that they were a consideration in respect of Portugal. Joseph was King of Naples; Louis, King of Holland; Jerome, King of Westphalia; Murat and Caroline, Duke and Duchess of Berg; Elise, Duchess of Lucca and Princess of Piombino; and Eugène de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy.
There remains the issue of the control of Lisbon itself, but, important though this port was, the game hardly seems worth the candle. In consequence, the honest observer is forced back on the atmosphere that reigned in the Tuileries at this point. The return of Napoleon to Paris on 27 July 1807 was marked by the celebration of a ‘Te Deum’ in Notre Dame, immense demonstrations of loyalty and much pomp and ceremony, and the same sort of scenes were repeated a little over a month later when Napoleon’s brother, Jerome, was married to the daughter of the newfound King of Württemberg. As one of the guests remembered:
The ceremony took place in the Diana gallery at the Tuileries . . . All the magnificence of the most sumptuous court were deployed on this occasion. The quantity of pearls, diamonds and precious stones of all sorts which added their brilliance to the costumes of the women was truly prodigious, and the effect was all the more striking when one recalled the miseries of the end of the previous century: a few brief years had sufficed to bring back the most excessive behaviour.15
Still more impressive, and at the same time more militaristic, were the celebrations that accompanied the return of those few troops - primarily the Imperial Guard - who were brought back to France from Poland. Among them was the Chasseur officer, Jean-Baptiste Barrès:
The city of Paris had erected . . . a triumphal arch of the largest size. This arch had only a single arcade, but twenty men could pass through it marching abreast. At the spring of the vault . . . one saw great figures of Renown offering wreaths of laurel . . . From the morning onwards the arch was surrounded by an immense crowd . . . At noon, all the corps having arrived, the eagles were united at the head of the column and . . . 10,000 men in parade uniform moved forward to march past under the triumphal arch to the sound of the drums and the bands of the corps, numerous salvos of artillery, and the acclamations of the immense mass of people who had assembled on the spot. From the barrier to the palace of the Tuileries the same acclamations accompanied us . . . All the roofs and windows . . . were packed with sightseers. Poems in which we were compared to the 10,000 Immortals and warlike songs were sung and distributed as we went by . . . In short, the enthusiasm was absolute, and the festival worthy of the great days of Greece and Rome.16
Given Napoleon’s character, such scenes could not but spur him onward, and all the more so as the Napoleon of this period was very far from being the romantic hero of Brumaire and the Consulate. Amongst those who have left us a personal description was the young nobleman, the Duc de Broglie:
I had a glimpse of the emperor as he went by on his road to Bayonne. He stopped for breakfast, like any ordinary traveller, at the inn . . . He was no longer that young First Consul, slim, unconcerned, with his slightly olive complexion and his stern scowl, whom I had met for the first time striding through the Tuileries . . . Even outwardly everything had altered, He had grown very burly in waist and shoulders, his little legs were thick and fleshy, his complexion sallow, his forehead quite bald, and his features strongly put one in mind of a Roman emperor as we see them on their coins. I will not say, like the servant at the inn, that in all he did he seemed to have the crown on his head and the sceptre in his hand, but, standing there like other lookers-on, crowding round to watch him go in and out, it struck me that everything in him had the air of an emperor, but of an emperor of the worst period.17
Whatever the reason, Lisbon’s fate was already settled. On 19 July 1807 the emperor sent orders to Talleyrand to instruct Portugal to close her ports to Britain’s shipping, arrest all British subjects, confiscate all British merchandise, and declare war. Within a few days, meanwhile, word had also gone out to concentrate a large force at Bayonne preparatory to a march on Lisbon. Such a march, of course, could only be made across Spain, but this presented few difficulties. Having, as we shall see, for years been trying to get Napoleon to intervene in Portugal, the Spanish royal favourite, Manuel de Godoy, was delighted with the news. Unsettled by rumours that Ferdinand IV of Naples was to be persuaded to surrender Sicily to Joseph Bonaparte in exchange for the Balearic islands, he may also have seen cooperation as a means of propitiating Napoleon. Occupation forces were therefore soon being mobilized in Galicia, León and Extremadura, the Spanish ambassador in Lisbon also being ordered at all times to second his French counterpart. As for the unfortunate Prince Regent of Portugal, the choice facing him was made very clear. In the words of Napoleon himself:
I conceive the peace that reigns on the Continent, in respect of which I have received with great pleasure the congratulations of Your Royal Highness, as but a step towards the peace that should reign on the sea. All the measures that I have taken have been directed at this goal, and they have been adopted by every power that, like Portugal, has a direct interest in making England respect its independence and its rights. No half-measure can have the same success or demonstrate the same attachment to the common cause.18
Threatened by France and Spain alike, Portugal now found herself in a terrible situation. Often wrongly stigmatized as a decayed despotism in which obscurantism vied with inefficiency, Portugal had under the leadership of the Marquês de Pombal, the chief minister of José I (1750-77), in fact become the very model of enlightened absolutism. Key reforms included the complete reorganization of the government of empire and metropolis, a great reduction in the power of the Church and nobility, the establishment of a modern army, and the creation of a modern system of education. The arts and sciences had been encouraged, and everything possible done to stimulate economic development. Pombal had long since vanished from the scene - indeed, he had ended his life in disgrace - but his influence had survived and allowed textiles and the wine trade to thrive. Nor had the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars been much of a setback. There had been war with France from 1793 to 1797 and a brief Spanish invasion in 1801, but hostilities had been nominal and trade buoyant, while the definitive treaty of peace had cost Portugal no more than the cession of a small part of the Alentejo and the payment of indemnities to Madrid and Paris. Napoleon’s sudden ultimatum spelled disaster, however. As the eighteenth century had progressed, the Brazilian gold, sugar and tobacco that had hitherto been the bedrock of Portugal’s well-being had begun either to run out or fall in value. Some relief was obtained by the discovery of diamonds and an increase in the cultivation of cotton, but even so the emphasis had increasingly begun to shift to the metropolis’s own products and manufactures. As Britain took a large part of the wine that was Portugal’s chief export, joining the Continental Blockade was unthinkable, and yet fighting France and Spain was not much of an option either. Some attempt had been made to reorganize the army since the peace of 1801, but no more than 20,000 men were under arms out of a theoretical total of some 48,000. In the circumstances, then, the only hope was to play for time in the belief that Britain would send troops or ships to defend their old ally (something that was not so improbable: British expeditionary forces had repeatedly been sent to Portugal in the eighteenth century, while in 1806 even the lacklustre Talents had dispatched a squadron to Lisbon the moment that invasion threatened). Thus, while Napoleon was told that Portugal was prepared to declare war on Britain and close her ports to her ships, the chief minister, Antonio de Araujo, appealed to the Portland administration for help and in general made it very clear that he was still loyal. ‘The French [are] insisting on all British subjects being turned out of the country and their property [being] confiscated,’ wrote one British resident. ‘The Prince Regent’s reply to this is that he will sooner risk the loss of his kingdom than act so treacherous a part against such a friend and ally as England has ever been to Portugal.’19
Napoleon was unready for war: the troops had to be scraped together from depots all over France and their Spanish counterparts faced enormous logistical difficulties. Lisbon was therefore told it need only detain British subjects on a provisional basis and sequester rather than confiscate their goods, the original deadline of 2 September also being extended for a further month. Yet this meant nothing. Indeed, in the wake of Copenhagen the emperor was more inclined to severity than ever. ‘About this time’, wrote Fouché, ‘was known the success of the attack upon Copenhagen by the English, which was the first blow given to the secret stipulations of Tilsit, in virtue of which the navy of Denmark was to be placed at the disposal of France. Since the catastrophe of Paul I, I never saw Napoleon abandon himself to more violent transports. What most struck him in this vigorous enterprise was the promptness of the resolution of the English ministry.’20 Typical of these ‘transports’ was the outburst witnessed by Metternich at Fontainebleau on 16 October: ‘I will no longer tolerate an English ambassador in Europe; I will declare war against any power who receives one at his court after two months from this time. I have 300,000 Russians at my disposal and with that powerful ally I can do everything. The English declare they will no longer respect neutrals on the sea; I will no longer recognize them on the land.’21
In Portugal, meanwhile, it had been decided that heroics had better be set aside in favour of other methods. Although news had now been received that no aid would be forthcoming from the British, reports from Paris suggested that Napoleon’s entourage could be bribed into dissuading him from taking action. Napoleon was once again told that the government would not give way, but as a mark of good faith, the batteries that protected Lisbon from the sea were placed in a state of defence and 6,000 troops thrown into the coastal fortress of Peniche. Meanwhile, large amounts of gold and jewels were placed at the disposal of certain confidential agents in Paris. Whether a more positive answer would have made any difference is unclear, but Napoleon now had all the pretext he needed while his 25,000-strong intervention force - the so-called First Corps of Observation of the Gironde - was ready for action. No sooner had he received the Portuguese answer, then, than Napoleon ordered its commander, General Junot, to cross the Spanish frontier and make all haste for the Portuguese capital: ‘You will tell . . . Junot,’ the emperor told his Minister of War, General Clarke, ‘that my ambassador has left Lisbon, and that there is therefore not a moment to lose if the English are to be forestalled.’22
While this had been going on, the Spanish government had been making little trouble. Aside from anything else, on 29 August French troops had suddenly invaded the so-called Kingdom of Etruria. Originally the Duchy of Tuscany, Etruria had been ceded to the Bourbons in 1801 in the person of Charles IV’s eldest daughter and her Italian consort. However, Etruria having become a centre of smuggling and espionage, Napoleon had resolved on its annexation. With Spain’s only hope of compensation lying in Portugal, cooperation with the emperor therefore became all the more important. Nevertheless, deeply mistrustful of Godoy, the emperor decided to bind the Spaniards to his plans even more closely. On 25 September he made contact with Godoy’s personal representative in Paris, Eugenio Izquierdo, and agreed the treaty of Fontainebleau. Under its terms, Portugal was split into three with the north handed over to the King and Queen of Etruria, the centre kept under military occupation until the end of the war and then disposed of according to circumstance, and the south given to Godoy. In the meantime Napoleon agreed to guarantee the existing domains of the Spanish Bourbons and to allow Charles IV to style himself ‘Emperor of the Two Americas’. Also settled was the question of how Portugal would actually be occupied, the basic plan being that 28,000 French and 13,000 Spanish troops would march on Lisbon from León, while another 16,000 Spaniards moved across the frontier from Galicia and Extremadura. A further 40,000 French soldiers would be assembled at Bayonne to ward off British raids, although it was agreed that these troops would not enter Spain without the prior agreement of Madrid. And with all this Godoy and his advisers professed themselves to be well satisfied. According to the erstwhile chairman of the Committee of Public Safety, Bertrand de Barère, who had become a close friend of Izquierdo:
At the time of the journey to Fontainebleau, M. Izquierdo . . . called on me and said, ‘I have just concluded the Spanish affair, and I hold a treaty signed by the emperor, but the most remarkable circumstance in connection with the matter was the meeting which preceded the signature. I was present with the imperial court at the court theatre. General Duroc sent for me during the performance and ushered me into a cabinet where he left me alone, requesting me on behalf of his master, to read the draft of a treaty which lay on the table and to insert in it, without leaving the Cabinet and without communicating with anyone, any alterations, additions or modifications which I might consider suitable, and at the same time to state my reasons for such changes. I did not refuse the proposal, and during the play I was engaged in writing on the margin of the treaty my corrections and variations. At the end of the performance General Duroc returned, took possession of my notes, and said that he would immediately submit them to the emperor. At midnight I was conducted into his presence, and after a few unimportant remarks the treaty was drafted afresh. This was soon accomplished and the treaty was then signed. We thereby avoid war and cement our union with France. If you peruse the treaty, you will see whether I have really promoted the interests of Spain.’23
With this analysis Barère begged to differ: according to his own account he saw clearly that Fontainebleau at the very least jeopardized Spain’s freedom of action - but the die had long since been cast. Last-minute efforts at negotiation by the Portuguese had been quashed by threats that, unless they surrendered forthwith, the house of Bragança would be deposed, and on 18 October the first French forces started crossing the frontier. By the time that Fontainebleau was formally ratified on 29 October 1807, French troops were already deep inside Spain. At their head marched the notoriously fiery and ambitious General Jean Andoche Junot, a close associate of Napoleon, who had first met him at the siege of Toulon in 1793 and had since distinguished himself in Italy, Egypt and Palestine, as well as serving as French ambassador to Lisbon. Nicknamed ‘The Tempest’, Junot had his sights set on glory. He had never had an independent field command, had missed the dramatic campaigns of 1805-7, and had been denied the marshal’s baton that had fallen to so many of his colleagues. Apart from a few battalions composed of Swiss mercenaries or the scrapings of the old Hanoverian and Piedmontese armies, the 25,000 men that he commanded were all veteran units of the French line. Another European capital, then, seemed doomed to occupation at the hands of the French.
Nor was Lisbon alone in this, for in Italy the tempo of events had continued to speed up and thereby to reinforce the impression of a Napoleon in a state of perpetual motion, not to mention a Napoleon who could not resist the opportunity to engage in ostentatious displays of armed force. With the Kingdom of Etruria now once again in French hands, Italy’s last independent ruler was Pope Pius VII. Relations between emperor and pontiff had been deteriorating ever since the latter’s return from Napoleon’s coronation. Pius and his Secretary of State, Cardinal Consalvi, were outraged by the regalist measures which the emperor had imposed on the Church in France and his Italian dependencies. And likewise they could not accept his insinuations that the pope was a vassal of Napoleon. With the rift further deepened by the occupation of the Adriatic city of Ancona for strategic reasons by French troops in the autumn of 1805, Pius therefore defied the French ruler. A new catechism introduced in France to reinforce loyalty to Napoleon was not approved, for example, while doubts were cast upon the sudden discovery of a ‘St Napoleon’, whose feast day coincided not just with Napoleon’s birthday but the feast of the Assumption. Equally, obtaining a decree of nullity to get rid of Jerome Bonaparte’s American wife met with such difficulties that Napoleon was left with no option but to give up on Rome and bully the French hierarchy into exceeding their powers and doing as he wanted. As for Ancona, Napoleon was sharply informed that he could either surrender the city forthwith or face a breach in diplomatic relations. The emperor, however, did not back down and Pius was put under more and more pressure to accede to the Continental Blockade and turn the Papal States into a French ally. But this he would not do. The papacy, he argued, was neutral and, indeed, had no option but to remain so. At the same time, he would not hand to Napoleon or anyone else the role of the Church’s temporal protector, and this meant in turn that he must ipso factocontinue as the ruler of a sovereign state. As a conciliatory measure, he did accede to French pressure to divest himself of the services of Cardinal Consalvi, who resigned in June 1806, but that was all. Indeed, by the summer of that year the French ruler was facing excommunication. This was no empty threat, and Napoleon knew it: as a human being he had no belief in redemption, nor still less care for his immortal soul, but to have incurred such a penalty would have inevitably been to undermine the sanction that he had received at his successive coronations as emperor of France and king of Italy. For a little while, then, the emperor held off - it helped in this respect that Pius made a number of minor concessions that suggested he could be swung over to Napoleon’s view - but in November 1807 time ran out for the papacy: French troops occupied the Adriatic provinces of the Papal States and four months later a large garrison installed itself in the fortress of Sant’ Angelo in the centre of Rome itself. The Pope was still on his throne, but he was now staring Napoleonic power full in the face.
Back in the Peninsula tension was increasing by the day. With the signature of the treaty of Fontainebleau, it appeared that salvation was at hand for Godoy, but in fact the appearance of the French armies coincided with a dramatic deterioration in his situation. In addition to blackening the favourite’s reputation and ensuring that the machinery of power could be immediately taken over by them should Charles IV die, the fernandino conspirators had early in 1807 decided to guarantee the succession of their figurehead by marrying Ferdinand into the Bonaparte family (the fact that the only possible candidates were very junior did not deter them). Secret negotiations were therefore opened with the French ambassador, in the process of which Ferdinand was persuaded to write a letter openly begging for Napoleon’s protection. However, tipped off about the plot, in a dramatic confrontation at the royal palace of El Escorial on 27 October, Charles and Maria Luisa confined the prince to his quarters and ordered an investigation into his affairs. Ferdinand’s papers revealed little more than that he hated Godoy, wanted him imprisoned, and had been in some sort of contact with Napoleon. Rather more suggestive, perhaps, were a series of orders appointing supporters of Ferdinand to key positions in the state, but it is apparent that there was no suggestion that Charles IV should be overthrown - all that Ferdinand wanted to do being to ensure that Godoy did not block his accession to the throne in the event of the king’s death. None the less the king and queen decided that the prince had been plotting their downfall. Bullied into admitting that this had been his aim, Ferdinand was eventually pardoned, but those he named as his collaborators - Escoíquiz, Infantado, Montijo and various others - were arrested and, despite the collapse of an attempt at a show trial, sent into internal exile.
For Godoy all this was a catastrophe. The general (and wholly incorrect) view of the plot was that the whole affair had been an audacious attempt to eliminate Ferdinand, and the banishment of Escoíquiz et al. a monstrous abuse of justice. Perversely, therefore, Ferdinand’s prestige had been boosted still further. As one pamphlet put it:
Neither a mad and unnatural mother such as Maria Luisa, nor a cowardly and talentless adventurer such as Godoy could possibly call into question the estimation which the people felt for Ferdinand. On the contrary, his first appearance in public following his release from detention was a real triumph: all the inhabitants of the towns and villages round about descended on El Escorial and massed to greet him: while many cheered him from a distance, others pressed in close to salute him in person, kiss his hands or his clothes, and assure him that they had never believed the accusation.24
Even more disastrously, the affair convinced Napoleon of either the need for, or the possibility of, intervention over the Spanish throne. The emperor knew that Godoy could not be trusted and was dissatisfied with Spain’s performance as an ally, but had hitherto expressed no intention of taking any hand in her affairs. Yet the idea that she might be transformed into another family monarchy can hardly have been alien to his mind: there had been talk of such a move since at least 1804; meanwhile, anxious for a throne, the dashing Murat was actively promoting the idea. Whatever the truth of the matter, things now started to happen. Charged by Charles IV with complicity in Ferdinand’s plotting, the emperor announced that the prince was under his protection and forbade any mention of France in connection with Ferdinand and his accomplices, and on 13 November ordered the 25,000 men he had been holding in reserve at Bayonne - the Second Corps of Observation of the Gironde - to cross the frontier into northern Spain. Meanwhile, fresh troops - the Corps of Observation of the Ocean Coasts and Division of Observation of the Western Pyrenees - were concentrated at Bordeaux and Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port under Marshals Moncey and Bessières, and magazines established at Bayonne and Perpignan, strenuous attempts also being made to acquire as much intelligence as possible about Spain’s armed forces, fortresses, roads and political situation. And, for the first time, there appeared a hint of menace in the correspondence of Napoleon with Charles IV:
It is in the interests of the peoples both of Your Majesty and of myself that we should wage war against Portugal with vigour . . . An expedition to Portugal failed some years ago because, at the very moment that I believed that this great gateway was going to be closed to the English, Your Majesty judged it time to make peace. I have too much confidence in his loyalty and political principles to believe that the same thing would happen today. Whilst they are no doubt painful for the sensitive heart of a father, a few arguments in the palace should have no influence on the march of affairs.25
El Escorial, then, led directly to French intervention, but whether Napoleon intended to overthrow the Bourbons is another matter. However, the Spanish state had not done much to rehabilitate itself in his eyes: as usual, mobilization had gone very slowly, while news was soon reaching the emperor that Junot’s forces, which by now were massing on the Portuguese frontier, were going hungry. That this was not the fault of the Spaniards, but rather of a sudden change in Junot’s orders, is neither here nor there. As for the march of the Spanish troops into Portugal, it was hardly an auspicious affair. According to Thiébault, ‘General Caraffa’s Spanish division lost 1,700 or 1,800 men from hunger or fatigue, drowning in torrents or falling down precipices.’26 This may be an exaggeration, but even so it is clear that there was considerable confusion. As a Spanish infantry officer remembered, ‘It seemed impossible that that short and easy march could have been directed by soldiers. Units got lost, the soldiers dispersed, and in a word the disorder and confusion reached such a point that I can affirm that I have never seen its equal in the wake of the most complete defeats.’27 Once again it was a poor advertisement for Spain as an ally, and one that Napoleon was unlikely to forget, particularly as Spain was now acquiring greater prominence in his strategic plans. With the emperor currently pressing for the conquest of Sicily, Spanish naval support would be very valuable, and yet the Spanish navy was in a pitiable condition. Reduced to perhaps fifteen serviceable men-of-war, even these were in need of many repairs, while crew, spares and supplies were all extremely scanty. Only with the greatest difficulty were six ships from Cartagena got to sea with the aim of joining the French squadron at Toulon. With all this, of course, Napoleon was much displeased, especially as nothing would dissuade him from the belief that, thanks to her empire in America, Spain was awash with money. If this potential was not realized, the reason was simple: the Spaniards were corrupt, the Spaniards were inefficient, the Spaniards were incompetent. What was needed, therefore, was the strong hand of France. Yet despite all this there is still no evidence that Napoleon was planning a change of dynasty prior to the end of 1807. In January 1808, indeed, the emperor was still thinking of a marriage alliance: meeting his estranged brother Lucien in Mantua, he sought very hard to persuade him to send his daughter, Charlotte - the only Bonaparte girl available - to Paris as a bride for Ferdinand. And in a conversation that he had in Venice with Joseph Bonaparte, he specifically claimed: ‘I have enough hard labour lined up for me: trouble in Spain will only help the English . . . and waste the resources that I get from that country.’28
If Napoleon was undecided, he was certainly keeping his options open, while his preparations were accelerated still further by the news that 7,000 British troops had arrived at Gibraltar from Sicily. Commanded by General Pierre Dupont, the 25,000 -strong Second Corps of Observation of the Gironde was therefore moved from Vitoria to Valladolid, where it was well placed to march on Madrid, the Corps of Observation of the Ocean Coasts and Division of Observation of the Western Pyrenees being sent to replace it in Navarre and the Basque provinces, and yet another new formation - the Division of Observation of the Eastern Pyrenees - mobilized at Perpignan. Not counting the forces of Junot, over 50,000 French troops were now in Spain, and still others massing on the frontiers. Small wonder, then, that Godoy was starting to feel distinctly alarmed, not least as Izquierdo was now reporting rumours that the emperor was about to carry out some great stroke in Spain. Yet, beyond engaging in conciliatory gestures such as awarding Napoleon the Order of the Golden Fleece, there was nothing he could do.
Before looking at the events that followed, however, we must first return to Portugal, where by early November John and Araujo had agreed to implement all Napoleon’s demands immediately, and were asking only for a guarantee of the Bragança dynasty. Their efforts were to no avail. Concerned that the British might send an army to Lisbon, Napoleon ordered Junot to hasten his march. However, the road he was directed to take was the worst possible alternative. What followed was a terrible ordeal - by the time that Junot reached Lisbon on 30 November he had no more than 1,500 men still with the colours. Already, though, the strong hand of France had failed in Portugal. John may have attempted to propitiate Paris, but he had also been careful to keep open his links with the British, who had promised to help the royal family escape to Brazil. Preparations for flight were therefore soon underway, and on 29 November a convoy of eight men-of-war, four frigates and twenty-four merchantmen put to sea and headed for the Atlantic, where it was met by the British naval squadron that had been sent to blockade the Tagus some weeks before. With them went not just the whole of the royal family, but the entire contents of the treasury and the national archives, many works of art, and large numbers of the nobility, the bureaucracy, and the wealthier inhabitants of Lisbon, attended by perhaps half the coin in circulation in the country. Also safely aboard ship was the British merchant community and much of its trading stock. Like Copenhagen, it was another demonstration of the versatility brought by British control of the sea (and another red rag to the Napoleonic bull). And, of course, there were many direct benefits to Britain: in exchange for the loss of the minuscule market represented by Portugal, she obtained access to the whole of Brazil.
The events that ensued in Portugal followed a familiar pattern: most of her army was marched off to France to serve in the grande armée, and the country subjected to the beginnings of a typical programme of Napoleonic reform. As for Spain, Napoleon remained set on her regeneration, but was by no means decided as to how to proceed. At this point he was still free to depose Charles IV and replace him with Ferdinand, whom he knew to be not only extremely compliant, but also much loved by the people. Why, then, did he fail to embark upon so obvious a course? The answer is simple. Spain appeared to be in a state of utter disintegration; her army was ill prepared for war; and he was being told by the various agents he had sent across the Pyrenees that there was a general disposition to accept any solution he cared to impose. The Spanish Bourbons could not be trusted, and there was no reason to believe that a regime headed by Ferdinand VII would be any more efficient than one headed by Charles IV. Lucien, it transpired, was unwilling to permit the match between Charlotte and Ferdinand. And finally, with ever larger numbers of troops in Spain, there simply seemed no reason why he should not take drastic action - which would reinforce his prestige, ensure that Spain was transformed and create another throne for his family. Who, after all, could frustrate such a course? The Spanish army was decrepit, and popular revolt in his experience at best a minor threat to be accepted and crushed. Warned by Fouché that Spain might not be an easy target, he therefore exploded: ‘What are you talking about? Every reflecting person in Spain despises the government; the Prince of the Peace . . . is a scoundrel who will himself open the gates of Spain for me. As to the rabble . . . a few cannon shots will quickly disperse them.’29 To the very end Napoleon kept his options open. ‘Murat assured me in 1814,’ reminisced Lord Holland, ‘that he had no instructions . . . Not a syllable had been communicated to him of the object of his expedition.’30 Indeed, even at the famous conference that was soon to be held at Bayonne, there was a possibility of another outcome. According to Escoíquiz, who had come to Bayonne with Ferdinand and was the first person in the rival Spanish delegations to be told of Napoleon’s plans, the emperor told him ‘that he was not entirely resolved on the execution of his project’.31 That said, however, the end of the Bourbon dynasty was now looming: in late March Napoleon wrote to his brother, Louis, who was then King of Holland, and offered him the throne. ‘The King of Spain has abdicated . . . Since that moment the people have called out to me with loud voices. Being certain that I will not be able to achieve a solid peace with England without giving a great impulse to the Continent, I have resolved to place a French prince on the throne . . . The climate of Holland does not suit you, while Holland will never emerge from the ruin in which she finds herself . . . Given all of this, I thought of you . . . You will be the ruler of a generous nation which possesses 11,000 000, inhabitants and has important colonies. With economy and activity, Spain could have 60,000 men under arms along with fifty men o’war in her ports.’32
The mention of a battle fleet fifty vessels strong brings us to the issue of strategy. This was obviously of considerable importance in the decision to install a Bonaparte king in Spain, but not just because of the war against Britain. A regenerated Spain would obviously be of great assistance in the struggle against Britain, but in the winter of 1807-8 a more pressing issue had arisen. At this point we come to the question of Franco-Russian relations and, more particularly, the Ottoman Empire, whose pro-French foreign policy had been unaffected by the palace coup that had replaced the reformist Selim III with his younger and more malleable cousin, Mustafa IV. For the Porte, Tilsit had come as a blow as heavy as it was unexpected. Great things had been hoped for from a French victory over Russia - the French ambassador Sebastiani, indeed, had promised the restoration of the Crimea, the recognition of full Turkish sovereignty in the Danubian provinces and a guarantee of all the empire’s territories - and all these now evaporated. Still worse, now that France and Russia were allies, the Ottomans were in danger of a joint attack.
Yet as the months went by the threat failed to materialize. Having secured Alexander’s acquiescence at Tilsit by giving him to understand that substantial territorial gains were on offer in the Balkans, Napoleon started to backtrack. An attack on the Ottoman Empire might well lead to the conquest of the Balkans, but the sultan would be so weakened by such a blow that it was impossible to see how he could then keep control of the rest of the empire. But without good relations with Constantinople, how could Napoleon hope to seal off the coasts of Anatolia, Syria, Palestine and Arabia from British trade? And how, too, could the British be stopped from moving in and seizing whatever territories they might be interested in? As 1807 moved to its close, however, Alexander became more and more irritated. No difficulty was found, for example, in getting French troops to Cattaro and those of the Ionian islands that had been held by Russia. Still worse, Napoleon was now demanding Silesia as compensation for Russia keeping Moldavia and Wallachia, despite his promise at Tilsit to evacuate the region. With Alexander desperate to achieve a foreign policy success that would counterbalance the disastrous effects of his accession to the Continental Blockade (see below), the result was renewed Russian pressure in the Balkans. As we have seen, Alexander refused to ratify the armistice with Turkey, while at the same time ordering his troops in Moldavia, Wallachia and the island of Tenedos (where the Russians had established a major naval base) to stay put, and in effect trying to entice Napoleon into an attack on the Ottomans with promises of Albania and Greece. Partitioning the Ottoman Empire was still not to Napoleon’s taste, but at this point he seems to have decided that partition was inevitable, and that his goal should be to turn it to his advantage. In so far as this was concerned, there were two obvious objectives, the first being to embroil Austria with Russia and the second to challenge Russian foot-dragging in respect of opening hostilities against Britain. In consequence, the emperor brought in the Austrians and secretly offered them a broad swathe of territory stretching right across the Balkans from Bosnia to Bulgaria (a move that would also have the happy effect of limiting Russia’s territorial gains to Moldavia and Wallachia and allowing Napoleon to claim Silesia as compensation), while at the same time proposing to Alexander that 50,000 French, Austrian and Russian troops should advance on Constantinople from their respective bases in Dalmatia, Croatia and the Danubian provinces with a view to partitioning the Ottoman Empire and then marching on India. Whether this last idea was intended as a serious suggestion is a moot point - what Napoleon was really thinking of was almost certainly a scenario that would see him regain Egypt with the aid of Russian naval power - but in the end this mattered very little: Russia would be at war with Britain, and Alexander left not only with almost nothing, but also very much dancing to Napoleon’s tune.
It is in this context, then, that the decision to overthrow the Bourbons must be seen. With a major war brewing in the eastern Mediterranean, Spain had suddenly become not just more important as a naval partner, but also a vital strategic base: if Napoleon was to seize the North African littoral, for example, it was Spain’s ports that were best placed to launch such a campaign. That the Ottoman Empire had become the centre of the emperor’s attention is further suggested by events in Italy. At the beginning of 1808 elaborate preparations were in train for an invasion of Sicily, but these were now suddenly cancelled in favour of a naval expedition to reinforce the garrison that had held out in Corfu throughout the years of hostility with Russia. If the Ottoman Empire was to be partitioned, Corfu was an obvious forward base from which to make a dash at Egypt and forestall any moves that Britain might make; important though it was, Sicily could wait. Then in March came the decision to strengthen the empire’s grip on central Italy by annexing Tuscany - the erstwhile Kingdom of Etruria - Parma, Lucca, Guastalla, Piacenza and Piombino to France (as ruler of Lucca and Piombino, Elise Bonaparte was compensated with what amounted to the vice-royalty of the four new departments made up from the new annexations), the aim being to give the emperor complete control of the roads leading to the vital ports of Taranto and Brindisi. As to what all this was for, from 12 April a series of orders directed Napoleon’s Minister of Marine, Admiral Decrès, to concentrate the Toulon fleet at Taranto with the aim of transporting 30,000 men to a destination that was first Tunis or Algiers and later Egypt.
To be still more explicit, the city that mattered most in the deliberations of the powers in 1808 was not Madrid but Constantinople. No sooner had Napoleon’s letter of 2 February arrived in St Petersburg than a vigorous debate began as to exactly how the Ottoman Empire in Europe was to be partitioned. With Alexander, Rumiantsev and the French ambassador Caulaincourt as the main protagonists in the drama, a series of secret meetings saw France and Russia battle it out in a determined effort to secure victory for their different solutions. To complicate matters, Russia was already engaged in a campaign that it could at least argue was being waged on Napoleon’s behalf. This affair was the Russo-Swedish War of 1808-9 . Given that it reveals the difficulties the Portland administration was labouring under in the wake of Tilsit, this conflict is worth some consideration. At Tilsit Russia had agreed to put pressure on Sweden to join the Continental Blockade. But Sweden was also an old enemy whose territories in Finland had long been an object of Russian desire, and whose fleet, being specially designed for the shallow waters of the Baltic, was a serious threat to the Russian coast. It was soon clear, then, that a Russian attack was coming. In these straits Sweden had the full support of Britain: Canning was eager to keep her in the war and to do so was prepared to bribe her with the promise of both the captured Dutch colony of Surinam and the prospect of annexing Norway (a particular goal of Gustav IV). To obtain this latter goal it was suggested the Swedish army should occupy Zealand and with it Copenhagen, the intention being that the island could then be swapped for Norway come the peace settlement. And on offer, too, were 10,000 of the British troops who had been sent against the Danes. All this Gustav IV would have been glad to accept, but all chances of a deal were wrecked by elements in the regime who distrusted Britain in the wake of Copenhagen and the loss of Swedish Pomerania, and wanted to revive Sweden’s traditional alliance with France. Yet, hating Napoleon as he did, Gustav would not take the concomitant step of joining the Franco-Russian entente, the consequence being that his country soon found herself under attack: on 22 February 1808 a Russian army invaded Finland, while the end of the month saw Denmark declare war as well.
To return to the question of the Ottoman Empire, there was no particular reason for Alexander and Rumiantsev to make an issue of the conflict in their discussions with Caulaincourt: in the first instance, in fact, the Russians swept all before them. But the mere fact that they were currently fighting the Swedes strengthened their hand with Napoleon, and Caulaincourt therefore found that the bargaining was very fierce. The Russians demanded the Danubian provinces, Bulgaria, European Turkey and Constantinople, whereas the French wanted to restrict them to the first two alone, and to claim the whole of Albania, Greece and the islands of the eastern Mediterranean for themselves. About the only matter on which there was general agreement was that Austria should get little more than Bosnia (given the stiffening attitude in St Petersburg, Caulaincourt seems to have given up the earlier plan to give Vienna Bulgaria). There was, then, a complete impasse, the central issue being who should control Constantinople and the Dardanelles. To secure this area Alexander was on paper prepared to offer France almost anything. One plan had France getting not just Albania, the Aegean islands, Crete, Cyprus and most of Greece, but also Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt. But, taking his cue from the instructions he had received from Paris, Caulaincourt would not budge on the Dardanelles, although he was prepared in the end to surrender Constantinople. And so finally all that could be agreed was that the two emperors should hold another Tilsit-style conference in the hope of coming to a mutually acceptable solution.
If Alexander stood firm over Constantinople, it was in part because he was under pressure from England. At the last minute, when diplomatic relations between Britain and Russia were on the point of formally being broken off, the Russian ambassador in London, Alopeus, was suddenly told by Canning that Britain would enter peace talks with Napoleon without prior conditions. In acting thus, Canning was almost certainly convinced that the emperor would not accept the offer, generous though it was. Although Napoleon could not have prevented Britain from hanging on to her colonial conquests, there would have been nothing to stop him from retaining the Low Countries and Hanover, not to mention all France’s acquisitions in Italy. In effect, then, Canning was warning Alexander that Britain would disengage from Europe, withdraw into her maritime empire and leave Russia to enjoy her friendship with France and see how well she liked the experience. As Alexander was now rather less charmed by Napoleon than he had been at Tilsit, the effect on St Petersburg of Canning’s proposal was dramatic: at worst, Russia might actually find herself facing Napoleon alone, and as a result securing the Dardanelles assumed more importance in Russian eyes than ever.
It was a key moment - possibly the key moment. Agreement with St Petersburg offered the only real hope of defeating Britain, so why did Napoleon not give Alexander what he wanted? On one level, the answer was primarily economic and strategic. With Russia in control of the Dardanelles, the tsar would be able to challenge France’s commercial presence in the Orient; restrict or even cut off the supply of Egyptian cotton; build up an unassailable naval and military presence in the Levant; and completely block the overland route to India (not that this was of any real value: the French mission that had been dispatched to Persia had been sending back a stream of reports that suggested that it would at best have been a road paved with bones). But it was not just that. Also important was the issue of psychology. To give the tsar the principal objective sought by all of his predecessors was simply a concession too far for Napoleon, while there was much pleasure simply in denying Alexander the object of his desire. In the event, the whole issue came to naught, for 2,000 miles to the west events were unfolding which shattered the eastern mirage once and for all, but pride and vainglory had none the less clearly triumphed over the dictates of strategy.
There was, then, a strong hint of nemesis in the air. What, though, was happening in the Iberian Peninsula? Backed up by sufficient reinforcements to make them fully fledged army corps, between 9 and 12 February the Divisions of the Eastern and Western Pyrenees crossed the border into Navarre and Catalonia, occupied Pamplona and Barcelona, and seized control of the citadels that dominated the two cities. Thoroughly alarmed, the Spanish government had for some time been pressing for an explanation of France’s conduct, while simultaneously requesting the implementation of the promised partition of Portugal and the nomination of a Bonaparte bride for Ferdinand. To all these communications the emperor had replied with a mixture of disdain and obfuscation, while at the same time continuing to proclaim his friendly intentions. Faced by increasing evidence of French duplicity, Godoy responded by ordering the Spanish troops in Portugal to return to Spain (most got away apart from those in Lisbon of whom the majority were disarmed and interned). Then came another shock. In a long memorandum dated 24 February, Napoleon denounced the anarchy in the royal household, accused Spain of bad faith and announced that he no longer considered himself bound by Fontainebleau. Spain was now promised the whole of Portugal, true, but in exchange she would have to surrender all the territory between the river Ebro and the Pyrenees and sign a permanent and unlimited alliance with France. In acting thus, Napoleon hoped both to justify his conduct hitherto and to provoke the Spaniards into a resistance that would provide the pretext he needed to overthrow the monarchy. If this was his intention, then he was certainly successful: Charles IV agreed with Godoy and his other advisers that he should flee to America by way of Seville. The court had already moved to the palace of Aranjuez on the river Tagus south of Madrid, so it was well placed for such a move, while to gain time, Godoy ordered the royal guard to move there from its barracks in the capital, and directed a variety of troops to hold the line of the Tagus. Garrisons stationed in the French zone of occupation were ordered to put up no resistance and a conciliatory response was made to Napoleon’s demands, but nothing could disguise the fact that war was imminent. As a miserable Godoy lamented, ‘I am in such a state . . . that I should like to put on . . . a sack and go and hide in a corner.’33
The French, meanwhile, were on the move again. On 20 February, Joachim Murat had been appointed to the command of the 60,000 French troops who were now in Spain, and on 2 March he was ordered to establish his headquarters in Vitoria, where he soon received the support of a 6,000 -strong detachment of the Imperial Guard. On
6 March the French occupied the fortress of San Sebastián, with Murat receiving instructions the next day to launch the forces of Dupont and Moncey southwards towards Madrid, whose occupation, the emperor’s lieutenant was told, was to be followed by the dispatch of Godoy and the Spanish royal family to a meeting with Napoleon at either Burgos or Bayonne. Meanwhile, though half-hearted efforts were still made to convince the Spaniards that all was well - the march on Madrid was explained by talk of securing Cádiz against the British, besieging Gibraltar, or even sending troops to Africa - the French were increasingly reckoning on armed conflict. As Napoleon wrote to Murat, ‘I hope with all my heart that there will be no war, and am only taking so many precautions because it is my habit to leave nothing to chance. But if there is a war, your position will be a very good one.’34
The trap, then, was about to shut, but events were now disrupted by fresh developments. For Ferdinand and his supporters, the so-called fernandinos, war with France was unthinkable. First of all, they remained convinced that the emperor intended to place Ferdinand on the throne or, at least, get rid of Godoy, and second, they believed - quite rightly - that war would lead to defeat and the overthrow of the entire dynasty. Terrified of what might occur, Ferdinand summoned his henchman, Montijo, and ordered him to organize a rising that could present the emperor with a fait accompli in the form of a new monarch who would be only too eager to throw himself on Napoleon’s mercy and do his will in every particular. In stirring up revolt, there was little difficulty. Across the Peninsula there was a widespread conviction that the French were out to do no more than rescue Ferdinand from the clutches of Godoy. ‘Our troops’, wrote Lejeune, ‘had been welcomed in Spain . . . and the loyal populace, who . . . received us as if we were their brothers, impatiently awaited the day when the emperor . . . would remove the hated minister.’35 Acting from ignorance as much as intent, the French had done nothing to dampen such hopes: ‘The French . . . knew not what was the work which they were destined to perform, but, hearing nothing from their hosts but curses upon the authors of the misfortunes of the country, they associated themselves with the public indignation, and . . . repeated that the army was come into Spain only to execute justice upon a villain.’36 At this point, too, Napoleon had assumed none of the demon-like qualities he would soon acquire in the eyes of most Spaniards. Among the educated classes, he was widely admired - the emperor himself later remarked that the regime was ‘never afraid of him’ and ‘looked on him as a defender of royalism’.37 Influenced by vague ideas that the emperor had saved the Church from the revolutionaries, the crowd were content to follow the lead of the elites. As a French officer, Foy, wrote, ‘It was obvious that the reign of Napoleon had entirely effaced the antipathy of Catholic Spain to [the] new France.’38 Yet beneath the surface trouble was brewing. ‘The soldiers’, wrote a young seminarian named Robert Brindle whom the arrival of the French had caught at the English seminary in Valladolid, ‘were quartered in private houses and brought distress and misery into every family. Their right to anything which they chose to covet few had the hardihood to call in question. If complaint were made, it must be proffered to a French officer, and insult or an additional grievance were the result.’39
At this stage virtually the only troops actually at Aranjuez were the royal guard, whose aristocratic officer corps had never forgiven Godoy either his lowly origins or the fact that in one of the few military reforms he had succeeded in pushing through he had cut the guard’s size by half. Meanwhile, the population of Aranjuez was wholly dependent on the court for its prosperity, and was currently much swelled by the hordes of courtiers and retainers who travelled with the royal family on their migrations from one royal palace to the next. At the same time, many of the villages around Madrid happened to be fiefs of the leading fernandinos and could thus be galvanized into action by economic means. Yet bribery was probably barely needed. For all their discontent, the populace retained a touching faith in the protection supposedly afforded them by the monarch. The news that the king intended to leave them to their fate therefore caused as much fear as the possibility that Godoy might evade his doom caused fury. Disguised as one ‘Uncle Joe’, Montijo had within a very few days succeeded in massing a large crowd around the palace at Aranjuez and whipping the Guard’s hatred of Godoy to fever pitch. Initially it seems that the plan was for the revolt to be sparked off by the departure of the royal family, but, thanks to Charles’s vacillation, this did not happen. In the event, however, no catalyst was needed. As the Secretary of State, Pedro Cevallos, informed the Secretary of the Council of Castile: ‘About one o’clock in the morning [of 18 March] there occurred a clash between some hussars and Guardias de Corps, and this was followed by the assembly of many soldiers and civilians who had taken fright at rumours that the king and queen and royal family were leaving.’40
What followed was a frightening affair. The hussars referred to were members of Godoy’s recently formed personal bodyguard - ‘a troop of brilliantly uniformed soldiers who were regarded by their fellows with envy and hated by the people’41 - and the violence with which they were assaulted set the scene for three days of mayhem. Nor was the trouble confined to Aranjuez. In Madrid, for example:
Hardly had night fallen than a furious crowd invaded the house of Don Diego, the younger brother of the favourite. Having smashed in the doors and discovered that the building was empty, they began to throw all its rich furniture out of the windows . . . until they had made an enormous pile of tables, beds, wardrobes and pianos, to which they set fire . . . When the plebe had finished enjoying this . . . costly bonfire, they . . . headed for the house of the Príncipe de Branciforte, Godoy’s brother-in-law. However, a notice had been put on the door . . . announcing that the property of the favourite and his close relatives had been confiscated . . . This was enough to calm down the rioters, and they spent the rest of the night processing through the streets . . . and drinking at the cost of the taverners . . . [The next day] the whole garrison . . . were called out of their barracks by bands of women bearing pitchers of wine in their hands, and . . . the soldiers, mixing with the people, bore in their firelocks the palm branches which, as a precaution against lightning, are commonly hung at the windows.42
In Toledo a bust of Godoy was hung from a gibbet; in San Lucar de Barrameda a botanical garden he had established was wrecked, and in Zaragoza, radicalized by recent regulations that had extended the academic year by three months, the students of the university forced their lecturers to barricade themselves into the building’s cloister and seized the portrait of the favourite that hung in the main lecture hall. Placed on a makeshift hurdle, it was then dragged through the streets to the city centre. There, wrote one of the leaders, ‘We made a bonfire whose flames leapt higher than the roofs, whereupon, having been well kicked and spat upon, His Excellency . . . was thrown upon the fire.’43
Back in Aranjuez, the king and queen were terrified. With the bulk of the guard in a state of rebellion and the favourite himself hiding in the attic of his palace, whence he had fled as the mob poured through the main door, Charles IV quickly agreed to have Godoy arrested, but, under Montijo’s orchestration, the disturbances continued unabated. Told by one regimental commander that only Ferdinand would enjoy the loyalty of the troops, Charles and Maria Luisa caved in, and on the morning of 19 March they abdicated the crown into the hands of their son. Driven from his hiding place by thirst, Godoy narrowly escaped a lynching, and was placed under close arrest. Sent to rescue him by Murat, a French officer discovered a pitiful figure: ‘Two leagues from the suburbs I came upon Godoy. Although this unhappy man was terribly wounded and covered with blood, the guards who escorted him had been cruel enough to put irons on his hands and feet, and to tie him to a rough open cart where he was exposed to the scorching rays of the sun, and to thousands of flies attracted by his wounds, which were scarcely covered with coarse linen rags. I was indignant at the sight.’44
For all its popular aspect, there is no doubt as to what the so-called motín de Aranjuez represented. Inspired by elements from outside its ranks though it may have been, a section of the army - in this case the royal guard - had sought to impose its views by ‘pronouncing’ against the regime. Challenged by this call to arms, Godoy and his royal patrons found that they had few defenders. The officer corps as a whole was disgruntled and rebellious; much of the upper nobility and the Church was hostile; reformist circles had long since lost all faith in Godoy’s political credentials; and the common people were in a state of open revolt. As for Ferdinand, he was seen as a saviour, the reception that he received when he rode into Madrid on 24 March being captured by Alcalá Galiano:
In truth, in all the different scenes of popular enthusiasm that I have witnessed, nothing . . . has ever equalled those which I now describe. The cheers were loud, repeated and delivered with . . . eyes full of tears of pleasure, kerchiefs were waved . . . from balconies with hands trembling with pleasure . . . and not for a moment did the passion . . . or the thunderous noise of the joyful crowd diminish.45
Popular though the new king was, his security was far from assured. Murat had occupied the city only the day before and, despite increasingly abject attempts to win France’s favour, refused to recognize Ferdinand; still worse, indeed, Charles IV was persuaded to protest against his abdication and appeal to Napoleon for assistance. With the two rivals openly craving his mediation, the emperor was ideally placed to recast the kingdom as he wanted. Charles, Maria Luisa and Ferdinand were all summoned to meet him for a conference at Bayonne while, as a sop to the former king and queen, Godoy was rescued from captivity and whisked to safety in France. With all the protagonists in the drama united in his presence, Napoleon announced that the rival kings were both to renounce the throne and hand it to the emperor. To this demand Charles made no resistance, and on 5 May, after some days of unedifying squabbles, such feeble defiance as Ferdinand was willing to offer was also overcome in exchange for guarantees of Spain’s territorial and religious integrity.
In the eyes of Napoleon, the ‘heaviest part of the work’ had now been done.46 But even as the Bourbons departed to a decorous exile - Charles, Maria Luisa and Godoy to Italy, and Ferdinand to Talleyrand’s chateau at Valençay - the Peninsula was astir. Indeed, more than that, the flames of rebellion were spreading on all sides. Why had the emperor acted as he had? For answer we might begin by turning to Napoleon himself:
The old king and queen . . . had become the object of the hatred and scorn of their subjects. The Prince of Asturias was conspiring against them . . . and had become . . . the hope of the nation. At the same time [Spain] was ready for great changes . . . whilst I myself was very popular there. With matters in this state . . . I resolved to make use of this unique opportunity to rid myself of a branch of the Bourbons, continue the family system of Louis XIV in my own dynasty, and chain Spain to the destinies of France.47
The preoccupation with raison d’état is repeated in other sources. As he told his close ally in the Council of State, Pierre-Louis Roederer, for example:
Spain . . . must be French. It is for France that I have conquered Spain; it is with her blood, her arms, her gold. I am French in all my affections . . . I do not do anything except for . . . love of France. I dethroned the Bourbons for no other reason than that it was in the interest of France to assure my dynasty. I had nothing else in view except French strength and glory . . . I have the rights of conquest: call whoever governs Spain king . . . viceroy or governor general, Spain must be French.48
While there is a kernel of truth in these claims, it would be foolish to take them too far. At bottom opportunism was the key. Napoleon had been motivated neither by an altruistic desire to spread the benefits of freedom and enlightenment, nor by a gigantic strategic combination, nor by an overwhelming clan loyalty that made the creation of family courts the centrepiece of French foreign policy. Strategic, ideological and historical factors were present in his thinking, and the final factor in the decision to overthrow the Spanish Bourbons was almost certainly the changing situation in the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean. Yet would the emperor in the end have acted otherwise in a situation in which nothing seemed to stand between him and a stroke that was more audacious than anything he had yet attempted? To this there can obviously be no certain answer, but what can be said is that the decision to invade Portugal - the bridge that led to intervention in Spain - was the product not of rational consideration but of the emperor’s constant need to demonstrate his prowess, impose his stamp upon affairs, and emphasize his contempt for diplomacy. In the end no strategic pretext was necessary for his assault on the Spanish monarchy. To quote a pamphlet that was published in insurgent Seville in 1808, ‘Napoleon . . . may be compared to the vine, a plant that if it is not pruned, throws out its branches in all directions and ends up by taking over everything. He wants peace, but at the same time wishes to dethrone kings . . . create new monarchies and destroy old republics . . . to undo the very globe, and remake it in accordance with nothing other than his own will.’49
With the emperor already casting around for new schemes of conquest - in May 1808 there emerged a truly visionary plan for an invasion of India by way of the Cape of Good Hope - war was set to continue ad infinitum. However, it did so under new circumstances for Napoleon. The details of the Bayonne affair were such as seriously to tarnish the emperor’s image. For him to have dethroned the Spanish Bourbons was unsettling enough, but for him to have done so by what appeared to be nothing more than one long process of deceit and chicanery was a shattering blow to his reputation. Even men who in other respects remained loyal admirers of the emperor to their graves later professed themselves shocked by what had happened. ‘Thus was consummated’, wrote one of Murat’s aides-de-camp, ‘the most iniquitous spoliation which modern history records . . . The conduct of Napoleon in this scandalous affair was unworthy of a great man. To offer himself as mediator between a father and son in order to draw them into a trap and then plunder them both - this was an odious atrocity.’50 Indeed, even Napoleon was a little shamefaced at what he had done: ‘However it may have been, I disdained ways that were tortuous and banal: I felt myself to be that powerful! I struck from too great a height. I wanted to act both in the fashion of that Providence which remedies the ills of mortals by means that are their equal, however violent, and in a manner unfettered by judgement. At all events I confess that I embarked on the affair in a very bad way: the immorality was too patent, the injustice too cynical, and, because I had fallen, the whole thing became utterly villainous, and presented itself to the world in a state of the most hideous nudity, stripped of all grandeur and all the numerous benefits that had filled my intentions.’51 There was, to be sure, a certain self-pity here: in retrospect Napoleon could see all too well the damage that Bayonne had done him: ‘[England] was lost: the affair of Copenhagen had revolted every spirit and destroyed her reputation on the Continent. As for me, I was basking . . . in advantages that were the very opposite of this situation. And then this unfortunate Spanish affair came along and suddenly turned public opinion against me while at the same time rehabilitating England.’52 But even at the time Napoleon’s tone was defensive. As he wrote to Alexander I:
Disorder in this country had reached a degree difficult to imagine. Compelled to intervene in its affairs, I have been led by the irresistible force of events to a system which guarantees both the happiness of Spain and the tranquillity of my own states. In her new situation Spain will really be less dependent on me than she was before, but I shall derive the advantage that, when she finds herself normally situated, and with nothing to fear on the land, she will use all her resources to rebuild her navy . . . I am well aware that my action in Spain will open a vast ground for discussion. People will . . . allege the whole thing was a premeditated plot. But in fact, if I had thought of nothing but the interests of France, it would have been quite simple to extend my southern frontiers at the expense of Spanish territory, for everyone knows that ties of blood go for little in calculations of policy, and are null and void at the end of twenty years.53
Whether this is blatant cynicism or self-delusion, it was enough to fool Alexander. Nor was the tsar alone: in Vienna and Berlin, too, there were still those who believed that it was possible to live in a state of peace and friendship with Napoleon. But Bayonne was not forgotten, and, fittingly enough, was very soon to present Napoleon with the worst crisis of his career to date.