The Political History of England - Vol XI - From Addington's Administration to the close of William - IV.'s Reign (1801-1837)
by George Brodrick
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse



The administration of Perceval, covering the period from October, 1809, to May, 1812, coincided with a lull in the continental war save in the Peninsula, though it saw no pause in the progress of French annexation. Nor was it marked by many events of historical interest in domestic affairs. When parliament was opened on January 23, 1810, it was natural that attention should chiefly be devoted to the Walcheren expedition, which the opposition illogically and unscrupulously contrived to use to disparage the operations of Sir Arthur Wellesley, now Viscount Wellington, in Spain. Grenville, who argued with some reason that 40,000 British troops could have been employed to far better purpose in North Germany, would have been on stronger ground if he had complained that for want of them the British army had been unable to occupy Madrid. Castlereagh, indeed, had confessed to Wellesley that he could not spare the necessary reinforcements, after the reserves had been exhausted in Walcheren; but it is by no means certain that Wellesley could have collected provisions enough to feed a much larger force, or specie enough to pay for them. Liverpool was driven in reply to Grenville to magnify the value of the capture of Flushing, as the necessary basis of the naval armaments which Napoleon had intended to launch against England from the Scheldt. The government was also defended by the young Robert Peel, lately elected to parliament. As the calamity was irreparable, a committee of the whole house spent most of its time on a constitutional question, regarding a private memorandum placed before the king by Chatham in his own defence. So irregular a proceeding was properly condemned, and Chatham resigned the mastership of the ordnance, but the policy of the Walcheren expedition was approved by a vote of the house of commons. Mulgrave received the office Chatham had vacated, and was himself succeeded by Yorke at the admiralty.

Parliament was next occupied by a question of privilege, in which Sir Francis Burdett, member for Westminster, then a favourite of the democracy, played a part resembling that of John Wilkes a generation earlier. Burdett had been for fourteen years a member of parliament, and had been conspicuous from the first for the vehemence of his opposition to the government, and more especially to its supposed infringements of the liberty of the subject. He had more recently taken an active part on behalf of Wardle's attack on the Duke of York and had supported the charges of ministerial corruption in the previous session. On the present occasion one John Gale Jones, president of a debating club, had published in a notice of debate the terms of a resolution which his club had passed, condemning in extravagant language the exclusion of strangers from the house of commons. This was treated as a breach of privilege, and Jones was sent to Newgate by order of the house itself. Burdett, in a violent letter to Cobbett's Register, challenged the right of the house to imprison Jones by its own authority, and, after a fierce debate lasting two nights, was adjudged by the house, on April 5, to have been guilty of a still more scandalous libel. Accordingly, the speaker issued a warrant for his committal to the Tower. Burdett declared his resolution to resist arrest, the populace mustered in his defence, the riot act was read, and he was conveyed to prison by a strong military escort, on whose return more serious riots broke out, and were not quelled without bloodshed. On his release at the end of the session a repetition of these scenes was prevented by the simple expedient of bringing him home by water. During his imprisonment he wrote an offensive letter to the speaker, and his colleague, Lord Cochrane, presented a violently worded petition from his Westminster constituents. In the following year he sued the speaker and the sergeant-at-arms in the court of king's bench, which decided against him on the ground that a power of commitment was necessary for the maintenance of the dignity of the house of commons, and its decision was confirmed, on appeal, by the court of exchequer chamber and the house of lords.


The most important subject of internal policy discussed in the session of 1810 was the state of the currency. Since 1797 cash payments had been suspended, the issue of banknotes had been nearly doubled, and the price of commodities had risen enormously. Whether these results had in their turn promoted the expansion of foreign commerce and internal industry was vigorously disputed by two rival schools of economists. The one thing certain was the increasing scarcity of specie, and the serious loss incurred in its provision for the service of the army in the Peninsula. Francis Horner, then rising to eminence, obtained the appointment of what became known as the "bullion committee" to inquire into the anomalous conditions thus created, and took a leading part in the preparation of its celebrated report, published on September 20. The committee arrived at the conclusion that the high price of gold was mainly due to excess in the paper-currency, and not, as alleged, to a drain of gold for the continental war. They attributed that excess to "the want of a sufficient check and control in the issues of paper from the Bank of England, and originally to the suspension of cash-payments, which removed the natural and true control". While allowing that paper could not be rendered suddenly convertible into specie without dislocating the entire business of the country, they recommended that an early provision should be made by parliament for terminating the suspension of cash-payments at the end of two years. These conclusions were combated by Castlereagh and Vansittart, who afterwards, in 1811, succeeded in carrying several counter-resolutions, of which the general effect was to explain the admitted rise in the price of gold, for the most part by the exclusion of British trade from the continent, and the consequent export of the precious metals in lieu of British manufactures. The last resolution, while it recognised the wisdom of restoring cash-payments as soon as it could safely be done, affirmed it to be "highly inexpedient and dangerous to fix a definite period for the removal of the restriction on cash-payments prior to the conclusion of a definitive treaty of peace". These counsels prevailed, and the restriction was not actually removed until Peel's act was passed in July, 1819.

The last domestic event in the inglorious annals of 1810 was the final lapse of the king into mental derangement in the month of November. For more than six years his sight had been failing, but he had suffered no return of insanity since 1804. Now he lost both his sight and his reason. This event, impending for some time, was precipitated by the illness and death of the Princess Amelia, his favourite daughter, and was perhaps aggravated by the Walcheren expedition and the disgrace of the Duke of York. Parliament met on November 1, and was adjourned more than once before a committee was appointed to examine the royal physicians. Acting on their report, the ministers proposed and carried resolutions declaring the king's incapacity, and the right and duty of the two houses to provide for the emergency. It was also determined to define by act of parliament the powers to be exercised in the king's name and behalf. This implied a limitation of the regent's authority, and was resented by the Prince of Wales and his friends. Perceval, however, was able to rely on the precedent of 1788, to which Grenville, for one, had been a party, and, after considerable opposition, the prince was made regent under several temporary restrictions. With certain exceptions, he was precluded from granting any peerage or office tenable for life; the royal property was vested in trustees for the king's benefit, and the personal care of the king was entrusted to the queen, with the advice of a council. In this form, the regency bill was passed on February 4, 1811, after a protest from the other sons of George III. and violent attacks upon Eldon by Grenville and Grey. On the 5th, the regent took the oaths before the privy council, but, in accepting the restrictions, he delicately expressed regret that he should not have been trusted to impose upon himself proper limitations for the exercise of royal patronage. The interregnum thus established was to be provisional only, and was to cease on February 1, 1812, but the queen and her private council, with the concurrence of the privy council, were empowered to annul it at any time, by announcing the king's recovery, when he could resume his powers by proclamation.

[Pageheading: THE REGENCY BILL.]

The hopes of the opposition had been greatly excited by the prospect of a regency, and it was generally expected that a change of ministry would be its immediate consequence. Private communications had, in fact, passed between the prince and the whig lords, Grenville and Grey, but they were rendered nugatory by the dictatorial tone assumed by those lords and by the unwillingness of the prince to dispense with the advice of Moira and Sheridan. The two whig lords had by the prince's desire prepared a reply to the address from the houses of parliament, preparatory to the regency bill. Grenville had voted in favour of the restriction on the creation of peers, and it is therefore not surprising that the reply which he and Grey drafted appeared to the prince too weak in its protest against the limitations. He therefore adopted in its stead another reply which Sheridan had composed for him. The two lords thereupon addressed to the prince a remonstrance, which practically claimed for themselves the right of responsible ministers to be the sole advisers of their prince. This remonstrance provoked the ridicule of Sheridan, and certainly did not please the prince, who since the fall of the Grenville ministry had refused to be regarded as a "party man". The regent, accordingly, gave Perceval to understand that he intended to retain his present ministers, but solely on the ground that he was unwilling to do anything which might retard his father's recovery, or distress him when he should come to himself. This reason was probably genuine. The king appeared to be recovering; he had had several interviews with Perceval and Eldon, and had made inquiries as to the prince's intentions. Soon, however, the malady took a turn for the worse, and the physicians came to the conclusion that it was permanent.[41]

Before February, 1812, when the restrictions expired, and a permanent regency bill was passed, the prince drifted further away from his former advisers, and had been pacified by the loyal attitude of Perceval and Eldon. Further overtures were conveyed to the whig lords through a letter from the prince regent to the Duke of York, in which he declared that he had "no predilections to indulge or resentments to gratify," but only a concern for the public good, towards which he desired the co-operation of some of his old whig friends, indicating Grenville and Grey. They declined in a letter to the Duke of York, alleging differences on grounds of policy too deep to admit of a coalition. Eldon, on his part, expressed a similar conviction, but the regent never fully forgave what he regarded as their desertion. Wellesley, who was strongly opposed to Perceval's policy of maintaining the catholic disabilities, resigned the secretaryship of foreign affairs, protesting against the feeble support given to his brother in the Peninsula, and was succeeded by Castlereagh. In April Sidmouth became president of the council in place of Camden, who remained in the cabinet without office; and in the next month, on May 11, Perceval was assassinated in the lobby of the house of commons by a man named Bellingham, who had an imaginary grievance against the government.

A very general and sincere tribute of respect was paid by the house to Perceval's memory, for, though his statesmanship was of the second order, he was far more than a tory partisan; he was an excellent debater, and a thoroughly honest politician, and his private character was above all reproach or suspicion. The cabinet was bewildered by his death, and a fresh attempt was made to strengthen it by the simple inclusion of Canning as well as Wellesley. Wellesley stipulated that the catholic question should be left open, and that the war should be prosecuted with the entire resources of the country, while Canning declined co-operation on the ground of the catholic question alone. No agreement being found possible, the house of commons stepped in and addressed the regent, begging him to form a strong and efficient administration, commanding the confidence of all classes. He replied by sending for Wellesley, offering him the premiership and entrusting him with the formation of a comprehensive ministry; but Wellesley soon found that Liverpool and his adherents would not serve under him at all, while Grenville and Grey, who secretly condemned the Peninsular war, would only serve on conditions which he could not grant. Once more, the regent treated directly with these haughty whigs, now including Moira, to whom he committed the task of forming an administration. Grenville and Grey raised difficulties about the appointments in the royal household, which they wished to include in the political changes, and the negotiation was broken off. The regent at last fell back on Liverpool, a capable and conciliatory minister, who adopted Perceval's colleagues, and a spell of tory administration set in which remained unbroken for no less than fifteen years. Had more tact been shown on all sides, had the whigs been less peremptory in their demands, and had the trivial household question never arisen, the course of the war, if not of European history, might, whether for good or evil, have been profoundly modified.

[Pageheading: SOCIAL REFORMS.]

During the later period of Perceval's administration, from 1811 to 1812, the strife of politics had been mainly concentrated on the regency question, the chance of ministerial changes, and the fortunes of the war in Spain. But it must not be supposed that social questions were neglected, even in the darkest days of the war, however meagre the legislative fruits may appear. Session after session, Romilly pressed forward reforms of the criminal law, the institution of penitential houses in the nature of reformatories, and the abolition of state lotteries. Others laboured, and with greater success, to remedy the delays and reduce the arrears in the court of chancery. Constant efforts were made to expose defalcations in the revenue, to curtail exorbitant salaries, and to put down electioneering corruption. In 1809 Erskine introduced a bill for the prevention of cruelty to animals. In 1810 there were earnest, if somewhat futile, debates on spiritual destitution, the non-residence and poverty of the clergy, and the scarcity of places of worship. Moreover, early in 1811, a premonitory symptom of the repeal movement caused some anxiety in Ireland. It took the form of a scheme for a representative assembly to sit in Dublin, and manage the affairs of the Roman catholic population, under colour of framing petitions to parliament, and seeking redress of grievances. It was, of course, to consist of Roman catholics only, and to include Roman catholic bishops. The Irish government wisely suppressed the scheme, and Perceval justified their action, on the ground that a representative assembly in Dublin, with such aims in view, bordered upon an illicit legislature.

Except for the war in the Spanish peninsula, and the war between Russia and the Porte on the Danube, the year 1810 was marked by undisturbed peace throughout the continent of Europe. France continued to make annexations, but they were at the expense of her allies, not of her enemies. Her supremacy was signalised in a striking way by the marriage of her parvenu emperor, whose divorce the pope still refused to recognise, with Maria Louisa, daughter of the Emperor of Austria. Though thirteen out of twenty-six cardinals present in Paris declined to attend it, this marriage was a masterstroke of Talleyrand's diplomacy; it secured the benevolent neutrality of Austria for the next three years, and weakened the counsels of the allies during the negotiations of 1814-15. But it went far to estrange the Tsar of Russia, who, though he had courteously declined Napoleon's overtures for the hand of his own sister, was greatly offended on discovering that another matrimonial alliance had been contracted by his would-be brother-in-law before his reply could be received.

It was only within the limits of the French empire that Napoleon's authority had been sufficient to enforce the rigorous exclusion of British goods. His allies, including Sweden, which closed her ports to British products in January, 1810, and declared war on Great Britain in the following November, had adopted the continental system; but administrative weakness, and the obvious interest that every people had in its infraction, rendered its operation partial. Napoleon, determined to enforce the system in spite of every obstacle, met this difficulty by placing in immediate subjection to the French crown the territories where British goods were imported. The first ally to suffer was his own brother, Louis, King of Holland. His refusal to enforce Napoleon's orders against the admission of British goods was followed at once by a forced cession of part of Holland to France and the establishment of French control at the custom houses, and shortly afterwards by the despatch of French troops into Holland and its annexation to France on July 9, 1810. In December the French dominion over the North Sea coast was extended by the annexation of a corner of Germany, including the coast as far as the Danish frontier, and the town of Luebeck on the Baltic. As a result of this annexation, the duchy of Oldenburg, held by a branch of the Russian imperial family, ceased to exist. The act was a conspicuous breach of the treaty of Tilsit, which Napoleon considered himself at liberty to disregard, as Russia had shown by her conduct during the campaign of 1809 that she was no longer more than a nominal ally of France. At last, on January 12, 1811, Russia asserted her independence in fiscal matters by an order which declared her ports open to all vessels sailing under a neutral flag, and imposed a duty on many French products. Still the course of French annexation crept onwards, and quietly absorbed the republic of Vallais in Switzerland, which had been a great centre of smuggling.


Meanwhile, the restrictions and prohibitions which formed the continental system were made more and more severe. By the Trianon tariff of August, 1810, heavy duties were levied on colonial products, and by the Fontainebleau decree of October 18 all goods of British origin were to be seized and publicly burned. In November a special tribunal was created to try offenders against the continental system. Nevertheless, the fiscal and foreign policy of France at this date alike show how far the continental system had failed in its object, and to what extreme lengths it had become necessary to push it in order to give it a chance of success. The strain of the system on English commerce was immense, but the burden fell far more heavily on the continental nations. Colonial produce rose to enormous prices in France, Germany, and Italy, especially after the introduction of the Trianon tariff, and a subject or ally of the French emperor had to pay ten times as much for his morning cup of coffee as his enemy in London. The German opposition to Napoleon had failed in 1809 mainly through the political apathy of the German nation. Napoleon's fiscal measures were the surest way of bringing that apathy to an end, and converting it into hostility.

The events of December, 1810, and January, 1811, constituted a distinct breach between France and Russia, which could only end in war, unless one party or the other should withdraw from its position. A few months sufficed to show that no such withdrawal would take place; but neither power was prepared for war, and seventeen months elapsed after the breach before hostilities began. The intervening period was spent in negotiation and preparation. Much depended on the alliances that the rival powers might be able to contract. Although Napoleon had bound himself not to restore Poland, he had by the creation and subsequent enlargement of the duchy of Warsaw given it a semblance of national unity, and had inspired the Poles with the hope of a more complete independence. The Polish troops were among the most devoted in the French army, and the position of their country rendered the support of the Poles a matter of great importance in any war with Russia. It occurred to the Tsar Alexander that he might win their support for himself by a restoration of Poland, under the suzerainty of Russia. He promised Czartoryski the restoration of the eight provinces under a guarantee of autonomy, and undertook to obtain the cession of Galicia. On February 13, 1811, he made a secret offer to Austria of a part of Moldavia in exchange for Galicia. Nothing came of this, but the massing of Russian troops on the Polish frontier in March was met by the hurried advance of French troops through Germany, and war seemed imminent until Russia postponed the struggle by withdrawing her troops.

Meanwhile, other European powers looked forward to selling their alliance on the best possible terms. Sweden and Prussia both approached the stronger power first. Bernadotte, on behalf of Sweden, was prepared for a French alliance if France would favour the Swedish acquisition of Norway. Napoleon, on February 25, not only refused these terms, but ordered Sweden to enforce the continental system under pain of a French occupation of Swedish Pomerania. This threat Sweden ventured to ignore. Prussia, lying directly between the two future belligerents, was in a more dangerous position. Neutrality was impossible, because her neutrality would not be respected. She first offered her alliance to Napoleon in return for a reduction of the payments due to France and a removal of the limit imposed on her army. Napoleon did not reply to this offer at once. Meanwhile the movement of French troops already mentioned and the increase of the French garrisons on the Oder, though primarily intended for the defence of Poland, caused great alarm in Prussia and resulted in preparations to resist a French attack. In July Napoleon finally refused to discuss the Prussian terms. Ever since his marriage he had been inclined more and more to an Austrian alliance. On March 26 of this year Otto, his ambassador at Vienna, had received information that France would support Austria if she would protest against the occupation of Belgrade by the Serbs. Napoleon even assured Otto that he was prepared to undertake any engagement that Austria desired. Rest was, however, essential to Austria. The military disasters of 1809 had been followed by national bankruptcy, and with the government paper at a discount of 90 per cent. she dared not incur further liabilities.

Russia had an advantage over France in that she was able to free herself from her entanglement in Turkey, while Napoleon could not make peace either with Great Britain or with the Bourbon party in Spain. An armistice with the Porte was concluded on October 15. By that time all pretence of friendly intentions had been abandoned by France and Russia. Prussia, hoping still to save herself from an unconditional alliance with France, now turned to Russia, and Scharnhorst was despatched to seek a Russian alliance. Meanwhile Napoleon sent word to the Prussian court that, if her military preparations were not suspended, he would order Davout to march on Berlin, and at the same time disclosed his offer of an unconditional alliance against Russia. Prussia, hoping for Russian aid still, put aside the French demands, but the Tsar Alexander expressed a decided preference for a defensive campaign against France, and refused any assistance unless the French should commit an unprovoked aggression on Koenigsberg. Scharnhorst seems to have seen the wisdom of this policy. He now turned to Austria, but there again a definite alliance was refused. Russia was equally unable to move Austria to join her, so that Russia and Prussia were each isolated in their opposition to Napoleon.

In the months of August and September of this year a British force, commanded by Auchmuty, effected the conquest of Java, the wealthiest of the East Indian islands. The island had been a Dutch colony, and like other Dutch colonies had passed into the hands of France. Sumatra fell into English hands along with Java, so that the supremacy of Great Britain in the East Indies was fully established.


The new ministry which entered on office in June, 1812, differed largely in composition from that which had preceded it. Ryder and Yorke retired at the death of Perceval, Harrowby returned to office, and places in the cabinet were found for Sidmouth's adherents, Buckinghamshire, Vansittart, and Bragge-Bathurst. Sidmouth himself succeeded Ryder as home secretary, while Harrowby succeeded Sidmouth as president of the council. Earl Bathurst took Liverpool's place as secretary for war and the colonies. Vansittart succeeded Perceval at the exchequer and Bragge-Bathurst in the duchy of Lancaster. Robert Dundas, now Viscount Melville, followed Yorke at the admiralty, and Buckinghamshire took Melville's place at the board of control, which became once more a cabinet office. Eldon, Castlereagh, Westmorland, and Mulgrave retained their former offices, while Camden remained in the cabinet without office. In September Mulgrave was created an earl, and Camden a marquis. The internal history of England during the first two years of Liverpool's premiership has been entirely dwarfed by the interest of external events. For this period comprised not only the Russian expedition—the greatest military tragedy in modern history—the marvellous resurrection of Germany, with the campaigns which culminated in the stupendous battle of Leipzig, and the invasion of France which ended in the abdication of Napoleon at Fontainebleau, but also the brilliant conclusion of the Peninsular war, and the earlier stages of the war between Great Britain and the United States.

The nation was contented to leave the guidance of home and foreign policy at that critical time to the existing ministers, all honest, experienced, and high-minded statesmen, but none gifted with any signal ability, and inferior both in cleverness and in eloquence to the leaders of the opposition. Napoleon was not far wrong in regarding the British aristocracy, which they represented, as his most inveterate and powerful enemy; but he was grievously deceived in imagining that this aristocracy, in withstanding his colossal ambition, had not the British nation at its back. The electoral body, indeed, to which they owed their parliamentary majority, was but a fraction of the population, and the public opinion which supported them may seem but the voice of a privileged class in these days of household suffrage. But there is little reason to doubt that, if household suffrage had then prevailed, their foreign policy would have received a democratic sanction; nor is it at all certain that some features of their home policy, now generally condemned, were not justified, in the main, by the exigencies of their time.


The "condition of England," as it was then loosely termed, was the first subject which claimed the attention of Liverpool's government. While Perceval was congratulating parliament on the elasticity of the revenue, a widespread depression of industry was producing formidable disturbances in the midland counties. This depression was the consequence partly of the continental system, crippling the export of British goods to European countries; partly of the revival, in February, 1811, of the American non-intercourse act, closing the vast market of the United States; and partly of the improvements in machinery, especially those in spinning and weaving machines introduced by the inventions of Cartwright and Arkwright. Unhappily, this last cause, being the only one visible to artisans, was regarded by them as the sole cause of their distress. During the autumn and winter of 1811 "Luddite" riots broke out among the stocking-weavers of Nottingham. Their name was derived from a half-witted man who had destroyed two stocking frames many years before. Frame-breaking on a grand scale became the object of an organised conspiracy, which extended its operations from Nottinghamshire into Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lancashire, and Yorkshire. At first frame-breaking was carried on by large bodies of operatives in broad daylight, and when these open proceedings were put down by military force, they were succeeded by nightly outrages, sometimes attended by murder. Early in 1812 a bill was passed making frame-breaking a capital offence.

In spite of this riots grew into local insurrections, and a message from the prince regent on June 27 recommended further action to parliament. It was natural, in that generation to connect all disorderly movements with revolutionary designs, and this belief underlies an alarmist report from a secret committee of the house of lords on the prevailing tumults. Accordingly, Sidmouth obtained new powers for magistrates to search for arms, to disperse tumultuous assemblies, and to exercise jurisdiction beyond their own districts. In November many Luddites were convicted, and sixteen were executed by sentence of a special commission sitting at York. These stern measures were effectual for a time, and popular discontent in the manufacturing districts ceased to assume so acute a form until after the war was ended.

The sufferings of the poor in the rural districts, though generally endured in silence, were at least equally severe with those of the artisan class, and it is difficult to say whether a good or bad harvest pressed more heavily on agricultural labourers. When the price of wheat rose to 130s. per quarter or upwards, as it did in 1812 and other years of scarcity, the farmers were able to pay comparatively high wages. When the price fell to 75s., as it did in years of plenty like 1813, wages were reduced to starvation-point, but supplemented out of the poor-rates, under the miserable system of indiscriminate out-door relief graduated according to the size of families. In either case, the entire income of a labourer was far below the modern standard, and the prosperity of trade meant to him an increase in the cost of all necessaries except bread. As for their employers, the golden age of farming, which is often identified with the age of the great war, had really ceased long before. Not only did the high price of a farmer's purchases go far to neutralise the high price of his sales, but the excessive fluctuations in all prices, due to the opening and closing of markets according to the fortunes of war, made prudent speculation almost impossible. The frequently recurring depressions were rendered all the more disastrous, because in times of high prices "the margin of cultivation" was unduly extended.

[Pageheading: CORN LAWS.]

With a view to diminish the violence of these fluctuations, a select committee on the corn-trade was appointed by the house of commons in 1813, and reported in favour of a sliding-scale. When the price of wheat should fall below 90s. per quarter, its exportation was to be permitted; but its importation was to be forbidden, until the price should reach 103s., when it might, indeed, be imported, but under "a very considerable duty". It was assumed, in fact, that the normal price of wheat was above 100s. per quarter, and the price above which importation should be permitted was nearly twice as high as that fixed in 1801, when, moreover, it was to be admitted above 50s. at a duty of 2s. 6d., and above 54s. at a duty of sixpence. It is remarkable that in the debates of 1814 upon the report of this committee, William Huskisson, as well as Sir Henry Parnell, supported its main conclusions, upon the ground that agriculture must be upheld at all costs, and the home-market preferred to foreign markets. Canning and others ably advocated the cause of the consumers, alleging that duties on corn injured them far more than they could benefit landowners or farmers. Finally, a bill embodying a modified sliding-scale was introduced by the government, and, though lost by a narrow majority in 1814, became law in 1815. Under this act the importation of foreign corn was prohibited, so long as the price of wheat did not rise above 80s. Above that price it might be imported free. Corn from British North America might, however, be imported free so long as the price of wheat exceeded 67s.

The parliamentary debates of 1812 chiefly turned on Spanish affairs, the revocation of the orders in council, the subsequent rupture with the United States which had anticipated this great concession, and the wearisome cabinet intrigues which preceded the accession of Liverpool as prime minister. It is noteworthy that so conservative a house of commons should actually have pledged itself to consider the question of catholic emancipation in the next session, and should have passed an act relieving nonconformists from various disabilities. The next session of this parliament, however, never came, for an unexpected dissolution took place on September 29. This dissolution was attributed, with some reason, to a wish on the part of the government to profit by an abundant harvest, and to the restoration of comparative quiet both in England and in Ireland. A new parliament assembled at the end of November. The prince regent's speech in opening it, though it noticed the suppression of the Luddite disturbances, was inevitably devoted to the great events in Spain and Russia, the conclusion of a treaty with Russia, and the American declaration of war. After the Christmas recess, Castlereagh presented an argumentative message from the prince fully discussing the points at issue between Great Britain and the United States, upon which Canning, though out of office, delivered a vigorous speech in defence of the British position. Eldon, in the house of lords, went further, boldly justifying the right of search, and denying the American contention that original allegiance could be cancelled by naturalisation without the consent of the mother-country. The Princess of Wales, who had long been separated from the prince, was the cause of more parliamentary time being wasted by a complaint which she addressed to the speaker against the proceedings of the privy council. That body had approved restrictions which her husband had thought fit to place on her intercourse with her daughter, the Princess Charlotte. Parliament, however, took no action in the matter.

Perhaps the most important measure enacted in the session of 1813 was the so-called East India company's act. By this act the charter of the company was renewed with a confirmation of its administrative privileges and its monopoly of the China trade, but subject to material reservations: the India trade was thrown open from April 10, 1814, and the charter itself, thus restricted, was made terminable by three years' notice after April 10, 1831. In this year the naval and military armaments of Great Britain, considered as a whole, perhaps reached their maximum strength, and the national expenditure rose to its highest level, including, as it did, subsidies to foreign powers amounting to about L10,500,000. Of the aggregate expenditure, about two-thirds, L74,000,000, were provided by taxation, an enormous sum relatively to the population and wealth of the country at that period. Patiently as this burden was borne on the whole by the people of Great Britain, we cannot wonder that Vansittart, the chancellor of the exchequer, should have sought to lighten it in some degree by encroaching upon the sinking fund, as founded and regulated by Pitt. The debates on this complicated question, in which Huskisson and Tierney stoutly combated Vansittart's proposal, belong rather to financial history. What strikes a modern student of politics as strange is that Vansittart, tory as he was, should have advocated the relief of living and suffering taxpayers, upon the principle, then undefined, of leaving money "to fructify in the pockets of the people"; while the whig economists of the day stickled for the policy of piling up new debts, if need be, rather than break in upon an empirical scheme for the gradual extinction of old debts.


[41] For the whole crisis see Walpole, Life of Perceval, ii., 157-96, and for Sheridan's share in the transactions, Moore, Life of Sheridan, ii., 382-409.



Reference has already been made to the conflict maintained for six years by Great Britain against France for the liberation of Spain and Portugal, which has since been known in history as the Peninsular war. It had its origin in two events which occurred during the autumn of 1807 and the spring of 1808. The first was the secret treaty of Fontainebleau concluded between France and Spain at the end of October, 1807; the second was the outbreak of revolutionary movements at Madrid, followed by the intervention of Napoleon in March, April, and May, 1808. The treaty of Fontainebleau was a sequel of the vast combination against Great Britain completed by the peace of Tilsit, under which the continental system was to be enforced over all Europe. Portugal, the ally of this country and an emporium of British commerce, was to be partitioned into principalities allotted by Napoleon, the house of Braganza was to be exiled, and its transmarine possessions were to be divided between France and Spain, then ruled by the worthless Godoy in the name of King Charles IV. Whether or not the subjugation of the whole peninsula was already designed by Napoleon, his troops, ostensibly despatched for the conquest of Portugal under the provisions of the treaty, had treacherously occupied commanding positions in Spain, when the populace of Madrid rose in revolt, and, thronging the little town of Aranjuez, where the court resided, frightened the king into abdication. His unprincipled son, Ferdinand, was proclaimed in March, 1808, but Murat, who now entered Madrid as commander-in-chief of the French troops in that city, secretly favoured the ex-King Charles. In the end, both he and Ferdinand were enticed into seeking the protection of Napoleon at Bayonne. Instead of mediating or deciding between them, Napoleon soon found means to get rid of both. They were induced or rather compelled to resign their rights, and retire into private life on large pensions; and Napoleon conferred the crown of Spain on his brother Joseph, whose former kingdom of Naples was bestowed on Murat.

In the meantime, sanguinary riots broke out afresh at Madrid, hundreds of French were massacred, and the insurrection, as it was called, though sternly put down by Murat, spread like wildfire into all parts of Spain. A violent explosion of patriotism, resulting in anarchy, followed throughout the whole country. Napoleon was taken by surprise, but the combinations which he matured at Bayonne for the conquest of Spain were as masterly as those by which he had well-nigh subdued the whole continent, except Russia. He established a base of operations in the centre of the country, and organised four campaigns in the north-west, north-east, south-east, and south. Savary, who had succeeded Murat at Madrid, was supposed to act as commander-in-chief, but was really little more than a medium for transmitting orders received from Napoleon at Bayonne. The campaign of Duhesme in Catalonia was facilitated by the treacherous seizure of the citadel of Barcelona in the previous February. It was not long, however, before effective aid was rendered on the coast by the British fleet under Collingwood, and especially by Lord Cochrane in the Imperieuse frigate; the undisciplined bands of Catalonian volunteers were reinforced by regular troops from Majorca and Minorca; the fortress of Gerona made an obstinate resistance; the siege of it was twice raised, and Barcelona, almost isolated, was now held with difficulty.


Marshal Moncey vainly besieged Valencia, while Generals Lefebvre-Desnoettes and Verdier were equally unsuccessful before Zaragoza. In the plains of Leon, Marshal Bessieres gained a decisive victory over a superior force of Spaniards under Cuesta and Blake, at Medina de Rio Seco, on July 14. Having thus secured the province of Leon, and the great route from Bayonne to Madrid, he was advancing on Galicia when his progress was arrested by disaster in another quarter. General Dupont, commanding the southern army, found himself nearly surrounded at Baylen, and solicited an armistice, followed by a convention, under which, "above eighteen thousand French soldiers laid down their arms before a raw army incapable of resisting half that number, if the latter had been led by an able man".[42] The convention, signed on July 20, stipulated for the transport of the French troops to France, but its stipulations were shamefully violated; some were massacred, others were sent to sicken in the hulks at Cadiz, and comparatively few lived to rejoin their colours. Meanwhile a so-called "assembly of notables," summoned to Bayonne, consisting of ninety-one persons, all nominees of Napoleon, assumed to act for the whole nation, had accepted the nomination of Joseph Bonaparte as king, and proceeded to adopt a constitution. On July 20, the very day of the capitulation of Baylen, Joseph entered Madrid, and on the 24th was proclaimed King of Spain and the Indies. But the military prestige of the grand army received a fatal blow in the catastrophe, of which the immediate effect was the retirement of Joseph behind the Ebro, and the ultimate effects were felt in the later history of the war.

At this moment almost the whole of Portugal was in possession of the French. In November, 1807, under peremptory orders from Napoleon, Junot with a French army and an auxiliary force of Spaniards, but without money or transport, had marched with extraordinary rapidity across the mountains to Alcantara in the valley of the Tagus. He thence pressed forward to Lisbon, hoping to anticipate the embarkation of the royal family for Brazil, which, however, took place just before his arrival and almost under his eyes. With his army terribly reduced by the hardships and privations of his forced march, he overawed Lisbon and issued a proclamation that "the house of Braganza had ceased to reign". A fortnight later a Spanish division occupied Oporto, and meanwhile another Spanish division established itself in the south-east of Portugal, but, as the French stragglers came in and reinforcements approached, Junot felt himself strong enough to cast off all disguise; he suppressed the council of regency, took the government into his own hands, and levied a heavy war contribution. During the early months of 1808 he was employed in reorganising his own forces, and the resources of Lisbon, where an auxiliary Russian fleet of nine ships was lying practically blockaded. In a military sense, he was successful, but the rapacity of the French, the contagion of the Spanish uprising, the memory of the old alliance with England, and the proximity of English fleets, stirred the blood of the Portuguese nation into ill-concealed hostility. The Spanish commander at Oporto withdrew his troops to Galicia, and the inhabitants declared for independence. Their example was followed in other parts of Portugal. Junot acted with vigour, disarmed the Spanish contingent at Lisbon, and sent columns to quell disturbances on the Spanish frontiers, but he soon realised the necessity of concentration. He therefore resolved to abandon most of the Portuguese fortresses, limiting his efforts to holding Lisbon, and keeping open his line of communication with Spain.

[Pageheading: VIMEIRO AND CINTRA.]

Such was the state of affairs in the Peninsula when Sir Arthur Wellesley landed his army of some 12,000 men on August 13, 1808. He had been specially designated for the command of a British army in Portugal by Castlereagh, then secretary for war and the colonies, who fully appreciated his singular capacity for so difficult a service. Sir John Moore, who had just returned from the Baltic, having found it hopeless to co-operate with Gustavus IV. of Sweden, was sent out soon afterwards to Portugal with a corps of some 10,000 men. Both these eminent soldiers were directed to place themselves under the orders not only of Sir Hew Dalrymple, the governor of Gibraltar, as commander-in-chief, but of Sir Harry Burrard, when he should arrive, as second in command. Wellesley had received general instructions to afford "the Spanish and Portuguese nations every possible aid in throwing off the yoke of France," and was empowered to disembark at the mouth of the Tagus. Having obtained trustworthy information at Coruna and Oporto, he decided rather to begin his campaign from a difficult landing-place south of Oporto at the mouth of the Mondego, and to march thence upon Lisbon. He was opportunely joined by General Spencer from the south of Spain, and chose the coast-road by Torres Vedras. At Rolica he encountered a smaller force under Delaborde, sent in advance by Junot to delay his progress, and routed it after a severe combat. Delaborde, however, retreated with admirable tenacity, and Wellesley, expecting reinforcements from the coast, pushed forward to Vimeiro, without attempting to check the concentration of Junot's army. There was fought, on August 21, the first important battle of the Peninsular war. The British troops, estimated at 16,778 men (besides about 2,000 Portuguese), outnumbered the French considerably, but the French were much stronger in cavalry, and boldly assumed the offensive, confident in the prestige derived from so many victories in Italy and Germany. Wellesley's position was strong, but the attack on it was skilfully designed and pressed home with resolute courage. It was repelled at every point of the field, and the French, retiring in confusion, might have been cut off from Lisbon. But Burrard, who had just landed and witnessed the battle without interfering, now absolutely refused to sanction a vigorous pursuit.

On the following day he was superseded in turn by Dalrymple. The new commander determined to await the arrival of Moore, whose approach was reported, but who did not disembark his whole force until the 30th. In the meantime, overtures for an armistice were received from Junot, and ultimately resulted in the so-called "convention of Cintra," though it was first drafted at Torres Vedras and was ratified at Lisbon. Under this agreement the French army was to surrender Lisbon intact with other Portuguese fortresses, but was allowed to return to France with its arms and baggage at the expense of the British government. Having dissented from the military decision which had enabled Junot to negotiate, instead of capitulating, Wellesley also dissented from certain terms of the convention. He was, however, party to it as a whole, and afterwards justified its main conditions as securing the evacuation of Portugal at the price of reasonable concessions. This was not the feeling of the British public, which loudly resented the escape of the French army and insisted upon a court of inquiry. The verdict of this court saved the military honour of all three generals, but its members were so divided in opinion on the policy of the convention that no authoritative judgment was pronounced. Napoleon felt no such difficulty in condemning Junot for yielding too much, and the inhabitants of Lisbon were infuriated not only by the loss of their expected vengeance, but also by the shameless plunder of their public and private property by the departing French. Under a separate convention, the Russian fleet, long blockaded in the Tagus, was surrendered to the British admiral, but without its officers or crews.

The capitulation of Baylen paralysed for a time the aggressive movements of France in Spain. Catalonia remained unconquered, even Bessieres retreated, and Joseph, as we have seen, abandoned Madrid. Happily for the French, the Spaniards proved quite incapable of following up their advantages, and though a "supreme junta" was assembled at Aranjuez, it wasted its time in vain wrangling, and did little or nothing for the organisation of national defence. Meanwhile, Napoleon was pouring veteran troops from Germany into the north of Spain, where they repulsed the Spanish levies in several minor engagements. On October 14 he left Erfurt, where he had renewed his alliance with the tsar, and reached Bayonne on November 3. His simple but masterly plan of campaign was already prepared, and was carried out with the utmost promptitude. On November 10-11, one of three Spanish armies was crushed at Espinosa; on the former day another was routed at Gamonal; on the 23rd the third was utterly dispersed at Tudela. Napoleon himself remained for some days at Burgos, awaiting the result of these operations; on December 4, after a feeble resistance, he entered Madrid in triumph, and stayed there seventeen days, which he employed with marvellous activity in maturing fresh designs, both civil and military, for securing his power in Spain.


Already, on October 7, Sir John Moore had taken over the command of the British forces. He probably owed his appointment to George III., who seems on this occasion to have overruled his foreign and war ministers, Canning and Castlereagh. In spite of his unwillingness to offer the appointment to Moore, Castlereagh gave him the most loyal and efficient support during the whole campaign; and this loyalty to Moore was one of the reasons for Canning's desire to remove Castlereagh from the war office, which, as we have seen, led to the famous duel between those two statesmen. It was at first intended that Moore should co-operate with the Spanish armies which were then facing the French on the line of the Ebro. For this purpose he was to have the command of 21,000 troops already in Portugal and of about 12,000 who were being sent by sea to Coruna under Sir David Baird. Burrard was to remain in Portugal with another 10,000. Nothing had been done before Moore was appointed to the command to provide the troops with their necessary equipment or their commander with the necessary local information. The departure of the troops was therefore slow. By October 18 the greater part of the British troops in Portugal were in motion, but the whole army had not left Lisbon till the 29th. The main body travelled by fairly direct routes to Salamanca, where Moore arrived on November 13, but he was induced by information, which proved to be incorrect, to send his cavalry and guns with a column under Hope, by the more circuitous high road through Elvas and Talavera. When this route was adopted it was anticipated that the different divisions of the British army would be able to unite at, or near, Valladolid. But the advance of the French rendered this impossible, and Hope ultimately joined Moore at Salamanca on December 4.

Baird suffered from even more vexatious delays. Though the greater part of his convoy had arrived at Coruna on October 13, the local junta would not permit them to land without express orders from the central junta at Aranjuez. Consequently the disembarkation did not begin till the 26th and was only finished on November 4. Transport and equipment were difficult to obtain, and on November 22 Baird was still only at Astorga. There exaggerated reports of the French advance induced him to halt, but by Moore's orders he continued his march. On the 28th the news of the defeat of Castanos at Tudela reached Moore at Salamanca. Co-operation with a Spanish army now appeared impossible, and even a junction with Baird seemed too hazardous to attempt. Moore therefore, ordered Baird to retire on Coruna and to proceed to Lisbon by sea, and, while waiting himself at Salamanca for Hope, made preparations for a retreat to Portugal. On December 5, the day after his junction with Hope, Moore determined to continue his advance. He had received news of the enthusiastic preparations for the defence of Madrid but did not know of its fall, and he considered that the Spanish enthusiasm justified some risk on the part of the British troops. He accordingly recalled Baird, whose infantry had retired to Villafranca, though his cavalry were still at Astorga. On the 9th came the news of the fall of Madrid, but Moore believed that an attack on the French lines of communication might still prove useful, and on the 11th the advance was renewed. Moore himself left Salamanca on the 13th. On the 12th he learned for the first time from some prisoners the true strength of the French army, 250,000 of all arms, and also discovered that the enemy were in complete ignorance of the position of his own army. Next day an intercepted despatch showed him that he might possibly be able to cut off Soult in an isolated position at Saldana. Having at last effected a junction with Baird's corps on the 19th he reached Sahagun on the 21st, and was on the point of delivering his attack under favourable conditions, though his triumph must have been short-lived.

His real success was of another order. He had anticipated that Napoleon would postpone everything to the opportunity of crushing a British army, and the ultimate object of his march to Sahagun was to draw the French away from Lisbon and Andalusia. He was not disappointed. Napoleon at last divined that Moore was not flying in a south-westerly direction, but carrying out a bold manoeuvre in a north-easterly direction. He instantly pushed division after division from various quarters by forced marches upon Moore's reported track, while he himself followed with desperate efforts across the snow-clad mountains between Madrid and the Douro. Apprised of his swift advance, and conscious of his own vast inferiority in numbers, Moore had no choice but to retreat without a moment's delay upon Benevente and Astorga. He was now sufficiently far north to prefer to retire upon Galicia rather than upon Portugal. The retreat began on the 24th and was executed with such rapidity that on January 1, 1809, Napoleon gave up the pursuit at Astorga, leaving it to be continued by Soult. Whether he was influenced by intelligence of fresh armaments on the Danube, or of dangerous plots in Paris, must remain uncertain, but it is highly probable that he saw little honour to be won in a laborious chase of a foe who might prove formidable if brought to bay.

Moore's army, disheartened as it was by the loss of a brilliant chance, and demoralised as it became under the fatigues and hardships of a most harassing retreat, never failed to repel attacks on its rear, where Paget handled the cavalry of the rear-guard with signal ability, especially in a spirited action near Benevente. In spite of some excesses, tolerable order was maintained until the British force, still 25,000 strong, reached Astorga, and was joined by some 10,000 Spaniards under Romana. Thenceforward, all sense of discipline was abandoned by so many regiments that Moore described the conduct of his whole army as "infamous beyond belief," though it is certain that some regiments, and notably those of the reserve, should be excepted from this sweeping condemnation. Drunkenness, marauding, and other military crimes grew more and more general as the main body marched "in a drove" through Villafranca to Lugo, where Moore vainly offered battle, and onwards to Betanzos on the sea-coast. There a marvellous rally was effected, stragglers rejoined the ranks in unexpected numbers, the moral of the soldiery was restored as the fearful strain of physical misery was relaxed, and by January 12, 1809, all the divisions of Moore's army were safely posted in or around Coruna. Bad weather had delayed the fleet of transports ordered round from Vigo, but it ran into the harbour on the 14th, and the sick and invalids were sent on board.

[Pageheading: THE BATTLE OF CORUNA.]

Moore was advised to make terms for the embarkation of his entire command, but he was too good a soldier to comply. Those who took part in the battle of Coruna on the 16th, some 15,000 men in all, were no unworthy representatives of the army which started from Lisbon three months earlier. Soult, with a larger force, assumed the offensive, and made a determined attack on the British position in front of the harbour and town of Coruna. He was repulsed at all points, but Moore was mortally, and Baird severely, wounded on the field. Hope, who took command, knowing that Soult would soon be reinforced, wisely persisted in carrying out Moore's intention, evacuated Coruna, and embarked his army for England during the night and the following day. His losses were estimated by Hope at above 700, killed and wounded; those of the enemy were twice as great. Thus victory crowned a campaign which otherwise would have done little to satisfy the popular appetite for tangible success. The original object of supporting the Spanish resistance in the north had been rendered impossible of fulfilment by Napoleon's victories when Moore had barely crossed the Spanish frontier, and in this sense the expedition must be regarded as a failure, though its commander was in no sense responsible for its ill-success. On the other hand, considered as a skilful diversion, the expedition was highly successful. It drew all the best French troops and generals into the north-west corner of Spain, leaving all the other, and far richer, provinces to recover their power of resistance.[43]

The spirit in which Napoleon had entered upon this contest is well illustrated in two sentences of his address to the citizens of Madrid. "The Bourbons," he said, "can no longer reign in Europe," and "No power under the influence of England can exist on the continent". The counter-proclamations of Spanish juntas were more prolix and equally arrogant, but one of them reveals the secret of national strength when it asserts that "a whole people is more powerful than disciplined armies". The British estimate of Napoleon's Spanish policy was tersely expressed by the Marquis Wellesley in the house of lords, "To him force and fraud were alike; force, that would stoop to all the base artifices of fraud; and fraud, that would come armed with all the fierce violence of force".


For three months after the battle of Coruna, the Peninsular war, as regards the action of Great Britain, was all but suspended. Two days before that battle, a formal treaty of peace and alliance between Great Britain and the Spanish junta, which had withdrawn to Seville, was signed at London. Sir John Cradock was in command of the British troops at Lisbon, and took up a defensive position there, with reinforcements from Cadiz, awaiting the approach of Soult, who had captured Oporto by storm, and of Victor, who was in the valley of the Tagus. At the request of the Portuguese, Beresford had been sent out to organise and command their army. Early in 1809 the Spaniards were defeated with great slaughter at Ucles, Ciudad Real, and Medellin; Zaragoza was taken after another siege, and still more obstinate defence; and the national cause seemed more desperate than ever. On April 2, however, Sir Arthur Wellesley, who had returned home after the convention of Cintra, was appointed to the command-in-chief of our forces in the Peninsula. Before leaving England, he left with the ministers a memorandum on the conduct of the war which, viewed by the light of later events, must be accounted a masterpiece of foresight and sagacity. When it was laid before George III., his natural shrewdness at once discerned its true value, and he desired its author to be informed of the strong impression which it had produced on his mind.

Wellesley, indeed, could not estimate beforehand the vast numerical superiority of the French while the rest of Europe was at peace, or the impotent vacillations of Spanish juntas, or the "mulish obstinacy" of Spanish generals, which so often wrecked his plans and spoiled his victories. Nor could he foresee the advantages which he would derive from the resources of guerilla warfare, the mutual jealousies of the French marshals, and the sudden recall of the best French troops for service in Germany and Russia. But his prescient and practical mind firmly grasped the dominant facts of the position—that Portugal, guarded by the ocean on the west and by mountain ranges on the east, was far more accessible to the British navy than to the French army; that, under British officers, its troops might be trained into an effective force; and that, with it as a basis, Great Britain might ultimately liberate the whole Peninsula. "I have always been of opinion," Wellesley said in this memorandum, "that Portugal might be defended, whatever might be the result of the contest in Spain; and that in the meantime the measures adopted for the defence of Portugal would be highly useful to the Spaniards in their contest with the French." On this simple principle all his detailed recommendations were founded, and he expressed a deliberate belief that, if 30,000 British troops were supported by an equal number of Portuguese regulars, and a reserve of militia was provided, "the French would not be able to overrun Portugal with less than 100,000 men". This forecast was verified, and upon its essential wisdom the fate of the Peninsular war, with all its consequences, may be said to have depended.[44]

Wellesley landed at Lisbon on April 22, and was received with the utmost demonstrations of joy and confidence. He found not only the capital but the whole country in a state of tumult, if not of anarchy, due to a growing despair of the national cause. His arrival rekindled the embers of patriotism, and on May 5 he reviewed at Coimbra a body of troops consisting of 17,000 British and Germans, with about 8,000 Portuguese. The next day he marched towards the Douro, and on the 14th he effected the passage of that river in the face of the French army occupying Oporto, which the British forthwith recaptured. Soult beat a hasty and disorderly retreat into Galicia. Having driven Soult out of Portugal, the British general was encouraged to undertake a further advance into Spain, where Joseph with Victor and Sebastiani had collected a much larger army to bar the approaches to Madrid than Wellesley, relying on Spanish intelligence, had been led to expect. During June and the first days of July, he moved by Abrantes and the Tagus valley as far as Plasencia, little knowing that Soult was about to sweep round his rear, with 50,000 men, and intercept his communications with Lisbon. On July 10 he held a conference with the Spanish general Cuesta, who insisted on making an aggressive movement with his own troops only, and met with a repulse.


On the 27th, the combined armies of Wellesley and Cuesta, numbering respectively about 20,000 British and 35,000 Spanish, confronted 46,000 French troops, under Victor, in a strong position behind Talavera.[45] The Spanish forces occupied the right and the British the left of this position. Joseph was present, and disregarding the counsels of Jourdan, his proper military adviser, authorised Victor to assume the offensive. He failed in two preliminary attacks on the 27th, but renewed them on the 28th, when a general engagement ensued. The whole brunt of the battle fell upon the British troops, who gallantly withstood a desperate onset, first on their left and then on their centre and right, until the French quitted the field in confusion. The Spaniards, posted in entrenchments nearer Talavera itself, did and suffered comparatively little. Some of their regiments fled disgracefully, but the rest held their ground, and Wellesley in his despatch spoke favourably of their behaviour.[46] Perhaps the part which they played may be roughly estimated by their losses, amounting to 1,200, as compared with 6,268 British and nearly 9,000 French. Wellesley, after further experience of Spanish co-operation, made up his mind to dispense with it altogether in future.

The victory of Talavera won for Wellesley the rank of viscount, to which he was raised on September 4, with the title of Wellington. Although the victory revived the respect of foreign nations for the prowess of British arms, it was otherwise fruitless, and its sequel was fairly open to criticism. Wellesley found that Soult, with Ney and Mortier, had circumvented him, and that he must retreat through Esdremadura, on the south of the Tagus, upon Badajoz. Cuesta, who had advocated bolder counsels, undertook to guard the rear, and to protect the British wounded at Talavera. But he soon found it necessary to abandon that position. Fifteen hundred of the wounded were left behind, and were humanely treated by the French generals. Wellesley's retreat over the mountains was attended with great hardship and loss, for want of supplies either from Spain or from the coast, and his long encampment in the malarious valley of the Guadiana about Badajoz swelled the number of his sick to a frightful extent. It was not until December, when it got into better cantonments on Portuguese soil, that the British army, triumphant at Talavera, recovered either its health or its moral. Napoleon boasted, in a memorandum to be inserted in the Paris journals, that Wellington had really been beaten in Spain, and that "if affairs there had been properly conducted not an Englishman would have escaped". Without going quite so far as this, the parliamentary opposition in England made the least of the victory and the most of the retreat, which unfortunately coincided in time with the wreck of the Walcheren expedition. Even Wellington's best friends in England began to lose heart, as did many of his own officers. He remained undaunted, and having established his headquarters on the high ground between the Tagus and the Douro, meditated designs which, slowly matured, bore good fruit in later years.

It is difficult to understand the inaction of Wellington for so many months after the Talavera campaign, without taking into account not only the difficulty of obtaining sufficient recruits and stores from England after the waste of both at the mouth of the Scheldt, but the greatly increased strength of the French in Spain during the long interval between the Wagram campaign and the Russian expedition. At the close of 1809 all the fortresses of Spain had fallen into the enemy's hands, and all her principal armies had been defeated and dispersed in successive battles of which the greatest was that of Ocana in the month of November. Suchet was master of Aragon and the east of Spain, nor was he dislodged from it until the end of the war; Andalusia was nearly conquered; Cadiz was only saved by the self-reliant courage of the Duc d'Albuquerque, baffling the intrigues and treachery of the supreme junta there assembled; and Napoleon was preparing a fresh army to overrun Portugal, under the command of Massena. The Perceval ministry, in which Liverpool had taken Castlereagh's post of secretary for war and the colonies, adopting an optimistic tone at home, practically told Wellington that he must shift for himself; and he braced himself up to do so with extraordinary fortitude.

He remained watching the gathering storm from the heights of Guarda, south-west of Almeida, and commanding two great roads from Spain into Portugal, but his thoughts were equally fixed upon the vast and famous lines of Torres Vedras, which he was constructing for the defence of Lisbon. His force, including the Portuguese regulars, did not exceed 50,000 men; that of the French under Ney, Reynier, and Junot consisted of about 70,000, but they were not equally capable of being concentrated on a single point. The Portuguese militia, too, were being gradually disciplined, and the Portuguese civil authorities were being gradually schooled into the new lesson of sweeping their own country bare of all supplies before the coming French invasion. Wellington did not even strike a blow to save Ciudad Rodrigo, which Massena took on July 10, 1810. But it was no part of his plan that Almeida should capitulate, as it did shortly afterwards, partly owing to the accidental explosion of a magazine, and partly as was suspected, to an act of treachery. Still, Massena delayed until urged by Napoleon, and deceived by false intelligence, he launched forth, at the beginning of September, on an enterprise which proved fatal to his reputation. Both he and Wellington issued appeals to the Portuguese nation, the contrast between which is significant. The French marshal, echoing the prevailing note of his master's proclamation, denounced Great Britain as the enemy of all Europe; Wellington called upon the Portuguese to remember their actual experience of French rapacity and outrage.


The object of Massena was to reach Coimbra before Wellington. His manoeuvres to outflank Wellington's left were skilfully devised, but the British army marched steadily down the valley of the Mondego, carrying with it the population of the district, and took its stand on the ridge of Bussaco, north of Coimbra, barring Massena's progress. There was fought, on September 27, 1810, a battle as deadly as that of Talavera, and more decisive in its consequences. The French, as usual, were the assailants; the English and the Portuguese stood at bay. Never, in any of their brilliant victories, did French troops show more heroic daring than in this assault under Reynier on the British right, and under Ney on the British left. Both columns forced their way up bare heath-clad slopes, and reached the summit, whence they were only driven back after repeated charges. Their loss in killed and wounded exceeded 4,500, that of the allies was about 1,300. The French generals threw the blame of defeat upon each other, but, in fact, the skill of Massena converted a defeat into an episode in his victorious advance. On the following day, he again found a way of turning Wellington's left, and, in an intercepted despatch, he naturally treated this as a compensation for the repulse at Bussaco, which he did not disguise. Compelled to retire once more with a vast drove of encumbered, panic-stricken, and famishing Portuguese fugitives, and conscious that no reserves awaited him, Wellington knew, nevertheless, that he was drawing Massena further and further away from his base, to encounter a terrible surprise. For, so useless had been the French scouts, and so worthless the information received from Portuguese sources, that no adequate conception of the obstacle presented by the lines of Torres Vedras had entered the mind of that experienced strategist.

These elaborate works had been constructed in the course of a year by thousands of Portuguese labourers, directed by Colonel Fletcher of the royal engineers, upon a plan carefully thought out and laid down by Wellington himself. The first and principal chain of fortifications stretched for nearly thirty miles across the whole promontory between the river Tagus and the sea, about twenty-five miles north of Lisbon. The summits of hills were crowned with forts, their sides were escarped and protected with earthworks, their gorges were blocked with redoubts, a small river at the foot of them was made impassable by dams; in short, the utmost advantage was taken of the defences provided by nature, and these were supplemented by artificial entrenchments. Portuguese garrisons manned the greater part of the batteries, armed with guns from the arsenals of Lisbon; British troops were to occupy the most vulnerable points of attack. There was a second and third range of fortifications behind the first, in case these should be forced, but no such emergency arose. When Massena had carefully inspected the stupendous barrier reared in front of him, his well-trained eye recognised it as impregnable: he paused for some weeks under semblance of blockading the British forces, while he was really scouring the country for the means of feeding his own; but in November he began to retreat upon Santarem, Almeida, and Ciudad Rodrigo, with a half-starved and dispirited army, greatly reduced in numbers during the campaign.[47]

The year 1811 was perhaps the least interesting, yet the most critical in the history of the Peninsular war. Wellington had not escaped criticism at home for allowing Massena to remain so long unmolested near Santarem. He described himself in a private letter, written in December, 1810, as "safe for the winter at all events". More he could not have said, knowing, as he did, that Soult was in force before Cadiz, and might at any moment join Massena. This, in fact, he did; leaving his fields of plunder in Andalusia under the positive orders of Napoleon, he defeated the Spaniards at the Gebora on February 19, and captured Badajoz, as well as Olivenza. In his absence, Sir Thomas Graham, who commanded the British troops at Cadiz, sailed thence with La Pena, the Spanish commander, and a combined force of about 12,000 men, to make a flank march, and attack the French besiegers, under Victor, in the rear. A brisk action followed at Barrosa, in which Graham obtained a complete victory, but the Spanish troops, as usual, remained almost passive; the beaten army was not pursued, and the siege of Cadiz was not raised. This city was still the seat of the Spanish national government, but the feeble junta had been superseded by a national cortes, fairly representative of the nation, which passed some liberal measures, and dissolved the so-called regency which assumed to represent Ferdinand.


The two great frontier fortresses of Spain, Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, were now in the hands of the French. Massena had regained the Spanish frontier in March, after frequent combats with the pursuing enemy, and with heavy losses in men and horses, though he saved every gun except one. This retreat involved the evacuation of every place in Portugal except the fortress of Almeida. Wellington's pursuit would have been still more vigorous, but that his Portuguese troops were half-starved, and had lost discipline under intolerable privations. His next design seems to have been the recapture of the fortresses, but he was not without ulterior hopes—all too premature—of afterwards pushing on to Madrid and operating in the eastern provinces of Spain. He first invested Almeida, and, leaving General Spencer to continue the blockade, proceeded to Elvas in order to concert measures with Beresford for the siege of Badajoz. Thence he was suddenly recalled northward to repel a fresh advance of Massena, strongly reinforced, for the relief of Almeida. The battle which followed at Fuentes d'Onoro, south-east of Almeida, was among the most hardly contested struggles in the whole Peninsular war. It began on May 3, and, with a day's interval, concluded on the 5th. The British remained masters of the field, and claimed a somewhat doubtful victory, which at least secured the evacuation of Almeida. The garrison of that fortress blew it up by night, and succeeded, by masterly tactics, in joining the main French army with little sacrifice of life.

Wellington returned to Badajoz, only to meet with disappointment. General Cole, acting under Beresford, had retaken Olivenza; but Soult, with a force of 23,000 men, was marching to succour Badajoz, when he was encountered by Beresford at Albuera. Beresford's force was numerically stronger than Soult's, but only 7,000 men were English, the rest being mostly Spanish. Measured by the proportion of losses to men engaged on both sides, this fight on May 16, 1811, must rank among the bloodiest on record. In four hours nearly 7,000 of the allies and 8,000 French were struck down. The decisive charge of the reserve was inspired and led by Hardinge, afterwards Governor-General of India; the French were routed, and Soult was checked, but little was gained by the victors.[48] The siege of Badajoz, indeed, was renewed, but its progress was slow for want of proper engines and artillery, and it was abandoned, after two futile attempts, on June 11. By this time, Marmont had succeeded Massena, and was carrying out Napoleon's grand plan for a junction with Soult's army and a fresh irruption into Portugal. With marvellous audacity, Wellington offered battle to both marshals, who, happily ignorant of his weakness, declined it more than once. In truth, he was never more nearly at the end of his resources than when he went into winter quarters at the close of 1811, having failed to prevent Marmont from provisioning Ciudad Rodrigo, and having narrowly escaped being overwhelmed by a much superior force. His army was greatly reduced by sickness, he was very ill-supplied from England, and he received no loyal support from the Portuguese government. Moreover, the French had apparently extended their hold on Spain, both in the eastern and northern provinces, while it was reported that Napoleon himself, not content with dictating orders from afar, would return to complete the conquest of the Peninsula.

At this juncture, he must have been cheered by the arrival of so able a lieutenant as Graham from Cadiz, and by the brilliant success of Hill against a detached body of Marmont's army south of the Tagus. There were other tendencies also secretly working in favour of the British and their allies. Joseph Bonaparte, as King of Spain, openly protested against the extortions which he was enjoined to practise on his subjects, and went so far as to resign his crown at Paris, though he was induced to resume it. Again the broken armies of the Spanish had reappeared in the form of guerilla bands under leaders such as Mina; they could not be dispersed, since they had no cohesion, and were more formidable through their extreme mobility than organised battalions. Above all, the domination of France over Europe was already undermined and tottering invisibly to its fall. The Tsar Alexander had, as we have seen, been deeply offended by the preference of an Austrian to a Russian princess, as the consort of Napoleon, and still more by his imperious annexation of Oldenburg. Sweden, following the example of Russia, had begun to rebel against the continental system. A series of internal reforms had aroused a national spirit, and stealthily created the basis of a national army in Prussia, and the intense hostility of all North Germany to France was thinly disguised by the unwilling servility of the Prussian court. Napoleon, who seldom laboured under the illusions propagated by his own manifestoes and bulletins, well knew what he was doing when, in August, 1811, he allowed himself to burst into a storm of indignation against the Russian ambassador at the Tuileries. From that moment he clearly premeditated a rupture with Russia, and soon he withdrew 60,000 of his best troops from Spain, to be employed in that fatal enterprise of 1812 which proved to be his doom.


The winter of 1811-12 was spent by Wellington in preparing, with the utmost secrecy, for the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, as the first steps in an offensive campaign. In January, 1812, he struck a sudden blow against the former, and captured it by an assault, attended with great carnage, on the 19th of that month. In this furious conflict, lasting but half an hour, Craufurd, the renowned leader of the light division, fell mortally wounded. Shameful excesses sullied the glory of a splendid exploit. Marmont immediately drew in his troops towards Salamanca, leaving Soult in the valley of the Tagus; and Hill, with his southern army, moved northward. Wellington, who was created an earl in February, transferred the greater part of his troops to Badajoz, and began a regular siege, but with very imperfect materials, no organised corps of sappers and miners, and very few officers skilled in the art of taking fortified towns. He was greatly delayed on the route by the lack of transport, and the vexatious obstinacy of the Portuguese authorities, while time was of the utmost consequence lest any or all of three French armies should come to raise the siege. Hence the extreme rapidity of his final operations.

After the capture of an outlying fort, three breaches were made in the walls, and on the night of April 6, under the cover of thick darkness, two divisions of British troops descended into the ditch, many carrying ladders or sacks of hay, and advanced to the foot of the glacis. Here they were almost overwhelmed with a hurricane of fiery missiles, and in mounting the breaches they had to face not only hand-grenades, trains of powder, and bursting shells, but a chevaux-de-frise of sabre-blades crowning the summit. None of these attacks was successful; but another division under Picton scaled the castle, and a brigade under Walker effected an entrance elsewhere. After this, the French abandoned the breaches; the resistance waxed fainter, and at six in the morning, Philippon, the governor, with his brave garrison, surrendered unconditionally. The loss of the British and Portuguese in killed and wounded was stated at the enormous figure of 4,885, and it was avenged by atrocities prolonged for two days and nights, worse than had followed the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo. Wellington ordered the provost marshal to execute any soldiers found in the act of plunder, but officers vainly attempted to check their men at the peril of their own lives.

[Pageheading: SALAMANCA.]

It had been the intention of Wellington to operate next against Soult, and drive him, if possible, from Esdremadura and Andalusia. But, as appears from one of his despatches to Lord Liverpool, he was ill satisfied with the conduct of his allies guarding Ciudad Rodrigo, and returned to resume command in that region. In the same despatch he complains bitterly of the niggardly policy of his government in regard to money and supplies. The same timidity on the part of ministers at home appears in a letter from Liverpool, almost forbidding him to accept the command-in-chief of the Spanish armies, which, however, was conferred upon him later in this year.[49] At present, he decided to march against Marmont in the plains of Leon. This movement was facilitated by the success of Hill in surprising a body of French troops, and seizing the important bridge of Almaraz over the Tagus on May 19, thereby breaking the French lines of communication and isolating Marmont's army for a time. Soon afterwards, Salamanca and its forts were captured by Wellington, but Marmont proved a very formidable opponent, and, having behind him another army under King Joseph, threatened the British lines of communication. In the series of manoeuvres which ensued, Wellington's forces met with more than one reverse, but the French marshal was determined to win a victory on a large scale. Wellington had no wish to risk a battle, unless Salamanca or his own rear should be seriously threatened, and he stood on the defensive, a little south of Salamanca, with Marmont's army encamped in front of him.

Early on July 22, the French seized one of two hills called the Arapiles which formed the key of the position and commanded the road to Ciudad Rodrigo. Marmont then organised complicated evolutions, of which the ultimate object was to envelop the British right and cut off its expected retreat. To accomplish this, he extended his own left so far that it became separated by a gap from his centre. No sooner did Wellington, with a flash of military insight, perceive the advantage thus offered than he flung half of his troops upon the French left wing, and made a vigorous attack with the rest upon the French centre. It was too late for Marmont, himself wounded, to repair the mistake, the centre was driven in, and, as was said, 40,000 men were beaten in forty minutes. General Clausel, who took Marmont's place, showed great ability in the retreat, but the French army could scarcely have escaped destruction had not the Spaniards, who were entrusted with a post on the river Tormes, left the passage open for the flying enemy. Nevertheless, the battle of Salamanca was the greatest and most decisive yet fought by the British in the Peninsula; it established the reputation of our army, and placed Wellington in the first rank of generals. Three weeks later he entered Madrid in triumph, and was received with the wildest popular acclamations. Joseph once more abandoned his capital, joined Suchet in Valencia, and ordered Soult against his will to withdraw from Andalusia and move in the same direction. This concentration relieved Wellington from immediate anxieties, but exposed him to a serious danger of being confronted before long by forces thrice as great as his own. He also needed reinforcements, and was in still greater want of money.

To students of military history it may seem a very doubtful question whether, under such circumstances, it was prudent to advance farther into Spain from his strongholds on the Portuguese frontier. But Wellington, who had been created a marquis on August 18, judged it necessary to crush if possible the remainder of Marmont's army which had retired northward under Clausel. He therefore left Hill with a detachment to cover Madrid, and marching through Valladolid occupied the town of Burgos. The castle of that place remained in the hands of a French garrison 2,000 strong and had been carefully fortified. Here again we may be permitted to doubt whether, after the experience gained at Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, Wellington did wisely in resolving to invest and storm a fortress so formidable, without an adequate siege-train, and with the knowledge that Clausel might rally his forces in time to relieve it. Wellington himself afterwards admitted to Liverpool that he had erred in not taking with him the best of his own troops, and that he did not possess the means of transporting ordnance and military stores from Madrid and Santander, where there was abundance of them. The siege lasted a month, from September 19 to October 18; the garrison offered a most obstinate resistance, inflicting great loss on the besiegers by sorties, and in the end the attack failed. Souham, with Clausel, was closing in upon Wellington from the north, Soult from the south-east; Hill's position at Madrid was untenable, and another retreat became inevitable. It was the last and most trying in Wellington's military career. The army which had behaved nobly at Salamanca broke down under the strain of suffering and depression, like that of Sir John Moore before Coruna. The enemy was driven back in various rear-guard actions, but on the march the sense of discipline vanished and shameful disorders occurred. A scathing reprimand from Wellington, which might have been written by a French critic and which ought never to have been made public, threw all the blame of this disorganisation on the regimental officers, and denied that any scarcity of provisions could be pleaded in excuse of it.

[Pageheading: MILITARY REFORMS.]

By the middle of November the campaign ended, and Wellington's headquarters were at Ciudad Rodrigo. For the present, Spain was still dominated by the French, but its southern provinces were clear of the invaders, and elsewhere the tide was already on the turn. The Russian war cast its shadow beforehand on the Spanish peninsula; the French army was constantly weakened in numbers and still more in quality, as conscripts were substituted for veterans, and inferior generals succeeded to high commands; the Portuguese and Spanish contingents of the British army were stronger and better disciplined. Wellington himself, tenacious of his purpose as ever, received heartier support from home, where Liverpool had become prime minister in June, and had been succeeded by Bathurst as secretary for war and the colonies; and though the Marquis Wellesley, no longer in the government, complained that his brother's operations had been crippled by ministerial apathy, the Peninsular war, on the eve of its completion, was adopted with pride and sympathy by the nation.

The last chapter of the Peninsular war opens with the operations culminating in the battle of Vitoria, and closes with the battle of Toulouse. Having accepted the office of generalissimo of the Spanish armies, Wellington repaired to Cadiz during the winter of 1812-13, and formed the lowest estimate of the make-shift government there carried on under the dual control of the cortes and the regency. He failed to obtain a reform of this system, but succeeded in effecting a reorganisation of the Spanish army, to be in future under his own command. He next addressed himself, with the aid of Beresford and the British minister at Lisbon, to amend the monstrous abuses, civil and military, of Portuguese administration. By the beginning of May, 1813, a great improvement was visible in the equipment and moral of the Spanish and Portuguese troops; a vigorous insurrection against the French occupation had broken out in the province of Biscay, endangering the great road into Spain; and an Anglo-Sicilian army of 16,000 men, under Sir John Murray, had repulsed Suchet, hitherto undefeated, at Castalla on the Valencian coast, without, however, completing their victory, or capturing any of the French guns in the narrow defile by which the enemy fled. The want of unity in the command of the French army, and of harmony between its generals, was more felt than ever now that Napoleon's master-mind was engrossed in retrieving the awful ruin of the Russian expedition.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse