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City of Salamanca
History of Salamanca

Battles

The War of Independence in Salamanca

Texts by: Miguel Martín Más

Historical context
In 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte, following the defeat of the Austrians, Russians and Prussians, and finding himself at the very height of his power, decided that the time had come to dispatch with one of his lifelong enemies, Great Britain. But, how ever great Napoleon’s resolve, the invasion of the British Isles had become an impossible task given the loss of the French fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar just two years earlier. This time, therefore, he would have to wage a different type of war: a trade embargo with the British. Portugal, faithful ally to Britain, refused to follow the orders of the French Emperor. Seeing himself thwarted, Bonaparte attempted to get rid of the obstacle and in true Bonaparte style, he proceeded to declare war on the Portuguese. Spain, in those times allied with France, gave passage to the imperial army and joined his campaign to conquer the neighbouring country.

Salamanca

[Salamanca]

Some months later, with Portugal already under his control, Napoleon decided that it should be the Bourbon dynasty that would reign over Spain. Having forced Carlos IV and his successor Fernando to forfeit their right to the throne, Napoleon gave the crown of Spain and of the Indies to his brother José. This underhand manoeuvre by the Frenchman led to the tragic events of May 2nd, 1808 (Dos de mayo) and sparked the conflict that became known as the Peninsular War – by this time, an expeditionary force had already landed in Portugal to support the Spanish and Portuguese revolt against Napoleon. Thus for almost six years, the province of Salamanca suffered the constant incursion of French troops hell-bent on a new invasion of Portugal. But there was also an army of British and Portuguese forces that tried to break through into Spain through an area known as Ciudad Rodrigo to join up with the rest of the Spanish armies that continued to be loyal to the Bourbons. The aim of the alliance was to push the French back to the other side of the Pyrenees, something that they did not succeed in doing until the latter part of 1813.

Entrance of Lord Wellington in Salamanca

[Entrance of Lord Wellington in Salamanca]

On July 22nd 1812, the outskirts of the city, a town called Arapiles was the setting for one of the most decisive battles of the war: the Battle of Salamanca. In the following years, the towns of Tamames, Alba de Tormes, Ciudad Rodrigo and Fuentes de Oñoro were also scourged by the bloody napoleonic wars.

The Battle of the Arapiles, 1812

[The Battle of the Arapiles, 1812]