Prelude to Corunna: Calling All Patriots

The Spanish Bull Fight or The Corsican Matador in Danger, by James Gillray, first published by Hannah Humphrey 11 July 1808. In the caricature, Napoleon is tossed because he failed to strike the Spanish bull dead with his first stroke; his brother Joseph, recently crowned king, is trampled underfoot. The Spanish uprisings seemed to show Europe (its representatives pictured in the stands) that it was possible for a country to overthrow a tyrant. Photo taken during exhibit Bonaparte and the British at the British Museum, 2015
The Spanish Bull Fight or The Corsican Matador in Danger, by James Gillray, first published by Hannah Humphrey 11 July 1808. In the caricature, Napoleon is tossed because he failed to strike the Spanish bull dead with his first stroke; his brother Joseph, recently crowned king, is trampled underfoot. The Spanish uprisings seemed to show Europe (its representatives pictured in the stands) that it was possible for a country to overthrow a tyrant. Photo taken at exhibit Bonaparte and the British at the British Museum, 2015; click to see bigger.

In 1807 the French made a deal with Spain’s prime minister to invade Portugal and share its territories. In November, a French army led by General Junot, having marched through Spain, took control of Lisbon. (Portugal’s ruling Braganza family and their court fled to Brazil, protected by a British naval squadron.)

But then Napoleon turned on his ally, sending more troops into Spain to garrison key forts, prompt revolts, and violently suppress Spanish protests, including the Madrid uprising on 2 May and 3 May made infamous by the paintings of Francisco Goya.

On 10 May, Napoleon convinced (coerced) the rulers of Spain, “guests” in France at the time, to renounce their crown. He then pronounced his brother Joseph the new king of Spain. Uncoordinated rebellions broke out across Spain, and Spanish revolutionaries sailed to London, to plead for money, arms, and equipment–but not men–to fight the French. In response, the Government promised to consider sending armament but decided to send its available army instead to Portugal, to drive out Junot’s troops. (These included troops originally gathered to travel to Venezuela, to aid in an insurrection against the Spanish!)

This is when my story, The Spanish Patriot, begins. Many British papers, including The Times, quickly came on board, writing strongly in support of the Spanish. While the Spanish delegation was in London, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, playwright, theater owner, and member of the House of Commons, gave an emotional speech in Commons, reported widely and positively in local and regional newspapers.

Sheridan was sure the flame of rebellion would spread, and Britain must now act to help the Spanish. There never was “so great an opportunity and occasion for this country to strike a bold stroke, which might end in the rescue of the world.”

Would it not be known in Spain, and would it not preserve and even rouse the spirit of the people of that country to know, that the unanimous voice of parliament, as well as of the people of Great Britain, was raised in their favour, and their cordial assistance and co-operation ready to be afforded them? …

France would then find, that she had hitherto been contending only against principalities, powers, and authorities, but that she had now to contend against a people. …

The crisis was the most important which could be conceived: the stand made in the Asturias was the most glorious. He hoped that the progress of it would be closely watched, and not a single opportunity lost of adding vigour and energy to the spirit which seemed to exist there.

The symptoms could not be long in showing themselves, their progress must be rapid; probably the very next despatch might be sufficient to enable a decisive opinion to be formed.

If the flame did not burn like wildfire, it was all over.

Find the full version on Google books, pp 543-6.

(Not everyone thought the speech well performed; William Wilberforce thought Sheridan drunk and giving it through a haze, though still it was “a fair speech, for the topics were good.” See link, search on “Spain”)

Next post: Prelude to Corunna, pt. 2 of 2: What was the deal with Cintra?

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