Search results: "peninsular war"

November 23, 1808: The Battle of Tutera/Tudela

On November 23, 1808, during the Peninsular War (1807-1814), Napoleonic forces made up of French and Polish troops under the command of Marshal Jean Lannes defeated their Spanish adversaries under General Francisco Javier Castaños (born in Madrid, but Basque in origin on both sides of his family) at the Battle of Tutera/Tudela in Navarre.

"Battle of Tudela" (1827) by January Suchodolski, depicting Napoleon receiving the captured banners from Wincenty Krasiński. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“Battle of Tudela” (1827) by January Suchodolski, depicting Napoleon receiving the captured banners from Wincenty Krasiński. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

An early encounter in Napoleon’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsular, following on from the Battle of Pancorbo (also on Basque terrain), this was an important point in the swift march of the Imperial French army toward Madrid, which was captured before the end of the year.

Interestingly, the Battle of Tutera/Tudela is one of the many historic French battles whose name is inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

October 31, 1808: Battle of Pancorbo

On October 31, 1808, the Battle of Pancorbo (or Zornotza, and also sometimes referred to as the Battle of Durango) in Bizkaia marked one of the early military engagements in the Peninsular War after France had turned on its former ally, Spain, that same year in an attempt by Napoleon to take control of the whole Iberian Peninsula.

By late October of 1808, the French were advancing toward Bilbao. At the Battle of Pancorbo, in the vicinity of what is today Zornotza/Amorebieta in Bizkaia, French forces under the command of Marshal François Joseph Lefebvre defeated the Army of Galicia, led by Lieutenant General Joaquín Blake y Joyes. While the French claimed victory, their triumph was incomplete because Lefebvre failed to carry out Napoleon’s order to encircle and destroy Blake’s army–a key component in the left flank of the Spanish forces defending a front that stretched from the Cantabrian Sea to the Mediterranean.

Although Bilbao fell to Lefebvre’s forces on November 2, because Blake’s forces were not destroyed, he was able to effect a retreat and successfully re-engage the French, west of the city, at the Battle of Balmaseda (Bizkaia) on November 5. That said, ultimately the military superiority of the French, now under the direct control of Napoleon proved decisive, and by the end of the year they had captured Madrid.

 

September 8, 1749: Birth of Dominique-Joseph Garat, early advocate of Basque political unity

On September 8, 1749, Dominique-Joseph Garat was born in Baiona, Lapurdi. An important political figure in the Northern Basque Country, he drew up plans, which he presented to Napoleon, to unite all the Basque provinces in one political unit–New Phoenicia–that would have remained an autonomous part of the French Empire. Napoleon, however, rejected the idea.

Garat painted by Johann Friedrich Dryander (1794). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Garat painted by Johann Friedrich Dryander (1794). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After studying law in Bordeaux, in 1777 Garat moved to Paris where he worked as a journalist (covering the American Revolution) and teacher. In 1789, he was elected representative of the Third Estate for Lapurdi and in 1792 he was appointed the minister of justice in Revolutionary France, charged with communicating to King Louis XVI his death sentence. Garat resigned after this decision and was arrested twice by the Jacobin authorities. However, following the Jacobin fall from power, from 1794 to 1795 he led the commission charged with implementing the new educational system and in 1798 was named French ambassador to Naples. That same year, he was elected president of the Council of Elders (the upper house of the French Directory) and later became a senator in Napoleonic France.

Garat, c.1814-1816. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Garat, c.1814-1816. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As a senior statesman, Garat subsequently used his political influence to present a plan to Napoleon to create what he termed New Phoenicia, incorporating all the Basque provinces north and south of the Pyrenees. This would, in Garat’s scheme, be an autonomous political unit within the French Empire, and serve as a buffer state between the French Republic and the Kingdom  of Spain. He lobbied to implement his plan on several occasions between 1803 and 1811, but ultimately to no avail. In part, wider events–including the course of the Peninsular War of 1807-1814 (covered in a previous post here)–hindered the feasibility of the scheme.  After opposing Napoleon during the events associated with the arrival of Louis XVIII on the French throne and Napoleon’s subsequent (although brief) return to power in 1814–15, he retired from his post in the senate. He abandoned politics altogether and settled once more in Iparralde, where, in Basusarri, on December 9, 1833, he died.

Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga discusses the importance of Garat at length in his The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006.  According to Ahedo (p. 53):

Garat is a key figure in the political history of Iparralde for his role after the abolition of the Basque institutions with the triumph of the French Revolution. Furthermore, he is also important for the plans he drew up to unite the Basque provinces of both Iparralde and Hegoalde in one political unity: New Phoenicia, a confederation that would have formed a part of the Napoleonic French empire.

 

June 21, 1813: Battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz

On June 21, 1813, combined Iberian and British forces led by the Duke of Wellington defeated the French army under Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan at the Battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz, a turning point in the Peninsular War (1807-1814). Coming in the aftermath of Napoleon’s disastrous Russian campaign of 1812, it could be argued that this battle served to underscore the beginning of the end of Napoleonic dominance of Europe.

Monument to the battle in the Virgen Blanca Square, Vitoria-Gasteiz. Photo by Basotxerri. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Following the Battle of Salamanca in July 1812, French forces had been forced to retreat northward. In May 1813, Wellington’s coalition forces moved quickly from northern Portugal toward the French border to cut off their escape route, and the French were forced to retreat to Burgos. And on June 21, the two sides engaged in the battle, about two miles outside the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz in the valley of the River Zadorra.

Battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz (1813). Map by Gregory Fremont-Barnes. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The French forces occupied the south side of the river, encircled by the coalition forces to the west and north. Wellington divided his attack into four columns, striking at the French from the south. west, and north, while the final assault was aimed at the French rearguard. Perhaps the key moment came when the column led by General Thomas Graham appeared from the north along the road to Bilbao, around noon. Seeing this, the French realized they were encircled and began to retreat toward Vitoria-Gasteiz. At the same time, their escape route toward the north-east (Pamplona-Iruñea and Baiona) was also cut off by troops commanded by the Bizkaian Colonel Francisco Tomás Anchia, aka Francisco Longa. Finally, the combined coalition forces managed to cross the Zadorra and push the French back further still. The morale of the latter collapsed, and tens of thousands fled the battle along the only escape route possible, toward the east and Agurain (Salvatierra).There were approximately 5,000 deaths on each side.

Model recreation of the battle in the Araba Armory Museum. Photo by Zarateman. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

By the end of the year, Wellington’s forces had captured both Donostia-San Sebastián, Pamplona-Iruñea, and were encamped in France. The Battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz had proved to be a turning point in the war.

Interestingly, the battle was the inspiration for Beethoven’s Opus 91, titled “Wellington’s Victory, or, the Battle of Vitoria” (Wellingtons Sieg oder die Schlacht bei Vittoria) or just the “Battle Symphony” or “Wellington’s Victory,” which portrays the battle as musical drama.

 

March 10, 1784: Birth of Basque Enlightenment Figure Maria del Pilar Acedo Sarria

Maria del Pilar de Acedo y Sarria, Countess of Echauz, Countess of Vado, Marchioness of Montehermoso (1784-1869). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On March 10, 1784, Maria del Pilar Acedo y Sarria was born in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, to José María Manuel Acedo y Atodo, Count of Echauz and Luisa de Sarria y Villafañe, Countess of Vado. Her father was a member of the renowned Royal Basque Society of Friends of the Country, an important eighteenth-century Enlightenment institution that fostered scientific, cultural, and economic learning with the aim of contributing to the improvement of Basque society. Raised in an Enlightened aristocratic environment, she spent most of her early years being educated in Vitoria-Gasteiz. In 1800 she married a nobleman, Ortuño María de Aguirre y del Corral, Marquis of Montehermoso, the head of the Provincial Council of Araba and also a member of the Royal Basque Society. They settled in a family palace in Vitoria-Gasteiz and would go on to have one daughter, Maria Amalia, in 1801. Domestic life, as befitted an aristocratic family so connected to the Royal Basque Society, was one of education, learning, debate, and numerous social gatherings. Maria del Pilar Acedo was fluent in several languages, wrote poetry, and played the guitar as well as being an enthusiastic participant in these gatherings with similarly Enlightened company.

The Sixteenth-Century Montehermoso Palace, Vitoria-Gasteiz. Today, the Montehermoso Cultural Center. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1807, Vitoria-Gasteiz was occupied by French troops as part of the Peninsular War (1807-1814), Napoleon’s campaign to conquer the Iberian Peninsula. And in 1808, Napoleon named his older brother, Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain. On a trip to Madrid that year, Acedo met the elder Bonaparte and he in turn visited Vitoria-Gasteiz, where he stayed at her palace.  The two became lovers and she accompanied him when he returned to Madrid, where she “officially” became his mistress. At the same time, her husband was also welcomed in the king’s trusted circle. But his rule was not a happy one. He was unpopular and had no influence in the ongoing Peninsular War. He ultimately abdicated and returned to France after the French defeat at the Battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz in 1813. He was accompanied once more, by Acedo, whose husband had died (while accompanying King Joseph on a trip to France) in 1811. However, shortly after arriving in France, their relationship ended.

Having inherited lands, wealth, and titles from both her parents, Acedo was free to live indepedently in France. She lived temporarily in several places there, including Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz) in Lapurdi. In 1816, she remarried a French noble military officer Jacques Amádée de Carabène, and they settled in Carresse Castle in Bearn, where she lived off the income from her estates in Spain and spent the rest of her life carrying out charitable works. She lived a long and full life and died there in 1869.

August 31, 1813: Burning of Donostia-San Sebastián

“The Storming of San Sebastian” by Denis Dighton (c) The National Trust for Scotland, Leith Hall Garden & Estate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

August 31 is a key date in the history of Donostia-San Sebastián. It marks the day on which, during the Peninsular War (1807-1814), victorious British and Portuguese troops that had been involved in laying siege to the (French-controlled) city that summer ran amok, razing Donostia-San Sebastián to the ground.

Donostia stood as the last major outpost of French control and the prize target for the combined allied powers of Britain, Spain, and Portugal in their attempts to crush Napoleonic French influence in the Iberian Peninsula. It was, however, well fortified and the siege of the city by the advancing troops under British command had lasted all summer.

When, finally, the allied troops did break through the main lines of defence on August 31, they ran amok, looting and pillaging from the innocent inhabitants of the city, which had been occupied by French forces for the previous five years. Most of the city was razed to the ground as a result, kept burning for several days thereafter, and had to be built again, practically from scratch.

The awful events of are remembered annually in Donostia with a nighttime torchlight procession taking place along August 31 street on this date.

Basques get ready for San Sebastian Day

Tomorrow, January 20, is a key date on the calendar for some Basques at least: San Sebastian Day, celebrated above all in Donostia-San Sebastián and Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa. The central event in this exuberant, 24-hour party is the danborrada, a loud and proud drum festival in which everyone who can takes part. The festival kicks off at exactly midnight on January 20 and goes on for the next 24 hours, nonstop.

In Donostia, at midnight the mayor hoists the flag of the city in Constitution Square, a central hub of the city’s old quarter that is jam-packed for the celebrations. Meanwhile, participants dressed up as cooks or in old fashioned military uniforms beat out a nonstop rhythmic (and almost deafening) sound as the city well and truly lets its hair down. With carnival season just around the corner, there is more than just a hint of he carnivalesque in all this. The origins of this unique celebration are said to date back to the military occupation of the city by Napoleon’s troops toward the end of the Peninsular War (1807-1814), when some women, whose daily chores included fetching and carrying water from public fountains, began to mock the French soldiers’ drumming by banging on their water pails. Thereafter, in the 1830s local residents began mocking the daily changing of the guard by soldiers stationed in the city. Probably in connection with the carnival season, a traditional time to mock authority, some locals began a raucous custom–like those women a generation before–of using buckets and hardware to mimic the solemnity of these daily military parades.

With time, various clubs and associations–mot famously, gastronomic societies such as the famous Gaztelube (hence the dressing up as cooks)–began to get involved in the celebrations, and this is the tradition that lasts to this day, with members of these associations taking the event very seriously indeed, practicing their drumming until the big day arrives. And even kids get involved, with school groups performing their own danborrada during the daytime on January 20. A traditional repertoire of musical compositions accompany all this drumming, most famously “The March of San Sebastian” (1861), with music by Raimundo Sarriegui (1838-1913) and lyrics by Serafin Baroja (1840-1912)

Modern Basque version 

Bagera!
gu (e)re bai
gu beti pozez, beti alai!

Sebastian bat bada zeruan
Donosti(a) bat bakarra munduan
hura da santua ta hau da herria
horra zer den gure Donostia!

Irutxuloko, Gaztelupeko
Joxemaritar zahar eta gazte
Joxemaritar zahar eta gazte
kalerik kale danborra joaz
umore ona zabaltzen hor dihoaz
Joxemari!

Gaurtandik gerora penak zokora
Festara! Dantzara!
Donostiarrei oihu egitera gatoz
pozaldiz!
Inauteriak datoz!

English translation

Here we are!
us too
we’re always happy, always cheerful!

There’s a Sebastian in the sky
one unique San Sebastián in the world
that’s the saint and this is the town
That’s what our San Sebastián is!

From Irutxulo, from Gaztelupe
The Joxemaritarras old and young
The Joxemaritarras old and young
from street to street playing the drum
there they go spreading good cheer
Joxemari!

From now on away with any hardships
Let’s party! Dance!
Shouting out to all the people of Donostia
Joyful!
The carnival is coming!

And don’t forget, the great town of Azpeitia also celebrates San Sebastian Day in its own unique way…

April 14, 1808: Napoleon visits Basque Country

On April 14, 1808, the emperor of the French, Napoleon I or Napoleon Bonaparte, came to the Basque Country for the first time during his reign, taking up residence in Baiona, Lapurdi. The context of the visit was the outbreak of the Peninsular War in 1807, a conflict for control of the Iberian Peninsula.

In taking up a position so close to the unfolding events, Napoleon was attempting to provoke the abdication of Spain’s newly crowned King Ferdinand VII. Philippe Veyrin, in his classic study The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditions (pp. 242-43):

The emperor arrived on April 14, took a dislike to the Hôtel de la Division, and went off to Marracq where he set up in the little château built a century earlier for Maria Anna of Neubourg. By a strange quirk, it was against this background (since ruined by a fire) that the historic scenes of the spoliation of the Bourbons of Spain took place. Napoleon lingered on in Baiona until July 20; he visited part of the country, taking a particular interest in the port of Baiona, La Barre, and the maritime arsenals that had once been so flourishing and whose activities he attempted to rekindle. Soon, more troops than had ever been seen in this part of the world were marching across our region. Baiona was filled with a feverish hubbub of activity.

640px-Vernet-port-Bayonne

Seconde vue du port de Bayonne, prise de l’allée des Boufflers (1755) by Claude Joseph Vernet. View of the Port of Baiona in the mid-eighteenth century. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1808, Spain was in turmoil, beset by violent civil strife that had, in March, resulted in the abdication of King Charles IV in favor of his son Ferdinand VII. Indeed, by this time, Napoleon had already ordered the invasion of the peninsula to take advantage of Spain’s domestic woes. As Cameron Watson notes, in Modern Basque History (p. 74):

As the invasion took place, the French emperor sought the abdication of the Spanish monarch, in favor of a handpicked French candidate for the post: his brother, Joseph Bonaparte. During the summer of 1808, Napoleon called an assembly in Baiona (Bayonne), to which he invited several influential figures within the Spanish kingdom, including Basque representatives. His plan was to gain support for the creation of a new noble class supportive of the royal candidacy of his brother. At the meeting, the separate delegations of Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Nafarroa coordinated their efforts in an attempt to convince the French that the centralizing tendencies of their state had little chance of success in a political culture long used to specific rights and liberties. Amazingly, considering the nature of the French empire, not to mention events just a few years previously in Iparralde, Napoleon agreed to their demands. The new Spanish constitution of 1808 thus guaranteed the foruak of Hegoalde while at the same time installing Joseph Bonaparte as king.

The Peninsular War, which dragged on to 1814, marks a moment in European history when the Basque Country assumed center stage. French occupation of the provinces making up Hegoalde in the Spanish Kingdom moved Basque Senator Dominique-Joseph Garat in Iparralde to implore Napoleon, on several occasions, to create a Basque federation (in effect, a united Basque Country), a protectorate that would serve as a buffer state between France and the Iberian Peninsula. Garat even proposed naming it La Nouvelle Phénicie (The New Phoenicia)!

Battle_of_the_Pyrenees_1813_Map

Battle of the Pyrenees, 1813. Created by Djmaschek. this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

But these efforts were to no avail. A rearguard action on the part of Spain and Portugal, together with their ally Britain, saw allied forces sweep back up through the Basque Country, on both sides of the border. At the key battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz, Araba, in June 1813, a combined allied army led by General Wellington broke the French army, and that same summer witnessed key battles in Navarre, including those at Maya-Amaiur and Roncesvalles-Orreaga (July 25) as well as Sorauren (July 28 and 30). Wellington’s forces finally took Donostia-San Sebastián (September) and Iruñea-Pamplona (October) from the French, and eventually swept into Iparralde that same fall, with fighting taking place there right through the Winter and into the Spring of 1814. In April that same year, beset by multiple wars on many fronts, Napoleon abdicated effectively heralding the end of the Peninsular War.

Interestingly, then, the Basque Country–both Iparralde and Hegoalde–was a key stage on which Napoleon came to demonstrate both the zenith and nadir of his own personal power and influence.

From the Backlist: The Amazing Tale of the Basque Lieutenant Nun

Catalina_de_Erauso

Catalina de Erauso (1592-1650). Portrait attributed to Juan van der Hamen, via Wikimedia Commons

“Buckle up your seat belt, Dear Reader, since you are in for a wild ride!” The words of William A. Douglass, which introduce Eva Mendieta’s In Search of Catalina de Erauso: The National and Sexual Identity of the Lieutenant Nun, set the scene perfectly for this lively account of one of Basque history’s most marginal and controversial characters. This is the tale of Catalina de Erauso, the young woman destined to be a nun who ran away from a convent in her home town of Donostia-San Sebastián at the age of fifteen and, initially passing herself off as one “Francisco Loyola,” ultimately transformed herself into “Antonio” Erauso, soldier, adventurer, and ne’er-do-well, traversing early seventeenth-century Spanish America, getting into swordfights, fleeing the hangman’s noose on more than one occasion, and taking an active role in several military campaigns. Once her secret was out, Erauso would personally (and successfully) seek a special dispensation from the Pope to continue to live as a man and, subsequently, return to her swashbuckling lifestyle in the Americas.

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While this story has been recounted before, the originality of Mendieta’s study is its focus on the specifically Basque dimension of Erauso’s identity as well as its contextualized study of gender transgression within both the Old and New World of the seventeenth century.

As regards the former, in a chapter provocatively subtitled “The Basques against Everyone and Everyone against the Basques,” we are treated to a rare glimpse of Erauso’s participation in the clashes between Basques and the so-called Vicuñas (a group made up of Peninsular Spaniards, principally from Castile, Extremadura, and Andalusia together with their Creole allies) in seventeenth-century Potosí. Some of the events associated with these clashes are described in Eraso’s own words:

It wasn’t long after [my return to Potosí] that the Alonso Ibáñez uprising occurred. The sheriff at that time was Rafael Ortiz, a knight of Santiago, and he raised more than a hundred men, myself included, to go up against the rebels. We went out to meet them one night in Santo Domingo street, and the sheriff shouted “Who goes there?” at the top of his lungs. The rebels backed up without saying a word, and again he shouted, “Who goes there?”
“Liberty!” some of them shouted back.
Then the sheriff bellowed out “Long live the king!” with many of the men echoing his words, and he charged toward them, with the rest of us behind, stabbing and shooting. At that same instant, the rebels prepared to defend themselves, but we backed them into an alley and then came at them from behind around the other end, lashing away at them until they were forced to surrender.
Some had escaped but we arrested thirty-six, among them Ibáñez. We found seven of their men dead, and two of our own, with a pile of wounded on both sides. Some of those arrested were tortured and confessed that an uprising had been planned for that night. Three companies of Basques and men from up in the mountains were raised to defend the city, and after fifteen days, all of the rebels had been hanged, and the city was quiet again.

Regarding the latter, Mendieta concludes the study with a detailed inquiry into the nature of sex and gender in seventeenth-century European society, the ideologies that underpinned these notions and the roles that they forced on people.  “Was Erauso a man or a woman?” she asks. The answer, for Mendieta, is that “she was a woman only physically. Hers is a case in which sex and gender are totally divorced; that is, in her we find an individual who was biologically a woman, but psychologically a man. Erauso’s transvestism is total and definitive; far from being a disguise, a man’s attire becomes her own skin.” Moreover it was in the Americas, concludes the author, that Erauso found less rigid codes of social conduct and more possibilities, more freedom, to live the footloose adventurous life she craved.

This utterly compelling story is told with both clarity and humanity and challenges readers to critically think about gender roles in society and history. It will appeal to anyone with an interest in Basque or Latin American  history as well as women’s history and, more broadly, gender studies.

Enjoy the ride!

:)