Prelude to Corunna: The trouble with Cintra

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The Palace of Queluz, where the Convention of Cintra was signed in 1808. Source: Quinok/Wikimedia Commons

What happened at Cintra? The soldiers and civilians in my novel The Spanish Patriot don’t even wish to speak of it, and rightly so, especially in mixed (nationality) company.

Cintra (Sintra) is a town in Portugal 18 miles (29 km) from Lisbon; in August 1808 the British negotiated a treaty, called the Convention of Cintra, with the French that was signed in the town’s Palace of Queluz.

Sir Arthur Wellesley had arrived in Portugal and taken command of a combined Anglo-Portuguese forces. Quickly they defeated the French army under Jean-Andoch Junot at first Roliça and then Vimeiro. Wellesley next sought to take the Torres Vedras high ground, and cut off the French means of retreat.

Instead, his command was immediately superseded by two new arrivals: first Sir Harry Burrard and the next day Sir Hew Dalrymple. Both were older, long out of the trenches, and rather than push French general Jean-Andoch Junot to surrender, they preferred to quickly negotiate a cessation of hostilities. Dalrymple treated with François Kellerman on terms for the Convention, and then sent it and a report home to Britain, making it seem like the conditions were Wellesley’s fault. In fact, Sir Arthur had only signed the preliminary armistice under orders and did not sign the Convention.

Why not? What was the problem? The terms. Instead of being treated like the defeated army it was, forced to give up its spoils of war and high-tail it home on its own, under the terms of the Convention, the French were walking away nearly free and clear. They were allowed to keep all their plunder—stolen from Portuguese palaces, churches, and its people– and sail home with their baggage, horses, and much artillery. Transported on British Royal Navy ships! With not even a transport fee.

This infuriated the Portuguese; what ally would negotiate terms so little in their favor? The French were not only not forced to return what they had stolen, but a clause in the Convention protected them from later charges of theft and pillage. Some could argue that that item, number 5 in the Convention, legalized plunder. [see full text of the Convention]

When the Spanish heard of it, they too started to wonder: What manner of allies were these British? Would they stand by as Napoleon’s marauding armies stripped Spain bare?

When England heard the terms, the goodwill gained by the two quick field successes quickly turned to a call for generals’ blood. Where a week before the Morning Post ran the headline “Most Glorious News from Portugal, Complete Defeat of General Junot and Proposals for the Surrender of His Army,” now the editorial writer for the London Times hoped that “A curse, a deep curse” might “wring the heart and wither the hand that were base enough to devise and execute this cruel injury on their country’s peace and honour.”

Wellesely, Dalrymple, and Burrard were quickly recalled to England to face an official military inquiry [see minutes from the inquiry]. All were officially cleared of wrongdoing, though Dalrymple and Burrard were pushed quietly into retirement. Wellesley returned to active service, and eventually to Portugal, but not in time for the events in my novel. Instead, Sir John Moore, a favorite with the soldiers he trained but not with the military brass back home, was given command of the Anglo-Portuguese forces. It was Moore, now in Lisbon, who had to decide what to do about the reports that Napoleon had entered Spain. He decided to march north in support of the Spanish forces, while another contingent of British would land at Corunna and march east to join with them.

No surprise, then, that when this second force arrives at the harbor of Corunna, in the remote province of Galicia, relations are strained. Mere months ago, the British and Spanish had been at war; who could trust an ally so quickly? Most of the people in the provinces wanted nothing from the English but money and guns; instead here there is an army on the shore. Soon they hear of Cintra, and suspect the English would turn over all of Spain’s gold just as easily. Worse, the best thing about the British army, its so-successful General Wellesley, is gone. How will this Moore manage these gangs of lobster-backed non-believers?

This is where The Spanish Patriot starts.

More on Cintra:
Wikipedia
Military Wiki
Documents pertaining to the Convention of Cintra
Military Inquiry in to the Convention of Cintra
book: In These Times, Jenny Uglow, source for the Times newspaper quote

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  1. Pingback: The Spanish Patriot: setting the stage

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