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Spanish history in art and literature

A blog for ex-pats and others to share their love of art and books with others.

Spain's finest hour
26 June 2020 @ 22:27

Hi again,

As a follow on to my previous post about May 2nd and 3rd uprisings, and the paintings of Goya and Sorolla, I am posting the story of Spain's finest hour. Please bear with with me for the long text but if you are inclined to read more you can go to Page 22 of my website at      

OK here we go:

Only a month after the uprising in Madrid, Bonaparte sent out flying columns of troops to subdue any resistance to French rule and maintain security. A 20,000 strong column was led by General Dupont through the Sierra Morena to the Port of Cádiz where Spanish forces held a squadron of the French fleet captive. Bonaparte had given him enough men to free the French ships, but Dupont stopped to sack Córdoba on the way, and then when he saw the strength of the Analucian forces that had amassed in his path, turned back asking for reinforcements. 

Whilst Dupont was returning to Madrid, the Spanish field army commander at San Roque, General Castaños, and the governor of Málaga General von Reding, rode to Seville where the anti-French sympathisers had gathered and united all three of their separate military groups into one force.  They followed and caught Dupont at Bailén on the Guadalquivir River near to Jaén, and by a series of feints and attacks divided Dupont’s forces. After three desperate charges during which he lost 2,500 men Dupont asked for peace terms and was forced to surrender his army of 18,000 men. Furthermore, to the Spanish generals’ surprise, he also ordered his subordinate, whose division had not been surrounded by the Spanish, to surrender as well. This was the first time that Bonaparte’s army had been defeated in open battle, and the loss of 24,000 French troops shocked him into evacuating Madrid and recalling his troops from Zaragoza and León. He retreated behind the Ebro, whilst the rest of his forces collapsed in confusion. 

 The news spread throughout Europe, and the many countries that were under French tyranny realised that they could be defeated. Spain had given them all hope. But in Spain itself, the original centres of government had collapsed where the French had installed their own men. Juntas of poorly organised partisans sprang up when the French fled.

Spain now had Napoleon’s full attention, and he gave as many divisions of his Grand Armée as he could spare to General Soult to retake the peninsular. The Spanish army backed by thousands of partisan guerrillas was beaten back, losing major battles at Ocaña and Alba de Tormes until they were forced back into the area around Cádiz. In 1810 France had recovered the eagles that Dupont had lost in Bailén. 

Without a government, and led only by military generals, those opposing Napoleon tried to form a new governing body to co-ordinate their fight. Spain still controlled many overseas territories, and some of them had taken advantage of the confusion to declare their own independence from Spain. Nevertheless, on the 24 September 1810, surrounded by 70,000 French troops they convened the Cortes de Cádiz where 134 deputies met to decide how to rule Spain.

The American declaration of independence and the French revolution had shown the world that the old order could be changed for the benefit of all classes. 30 deputies represented overseas territories at the first meeting, but only one from the Americas. One third represented the church, one sixth the nobility and the rest were administrative and clerical officers. The agenda was to create a state where the power lay with a body elected by the people, not with the king. This was strongly opposed by the faction who supported the king, but they were promptly arrested.

 The liberalists continued to pursue their basic aims: equality before the law, reform of the taxes, replacement of the feudal ties by freedom of contract and the establishment of property rights. The liberals had the majority, and their votes carried the day and formed the basis of Spanish Constitution of 1812. Now all they had to do was remove the French from their country.


 The Cortes de Cádiz was painted by Salvador Viniegra y Lasso de la Vega, who was born in Cádiz in 1862 and studied at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Cádiz. After achieving fame in Rome and Munich, he finally became deputy director of the Museo del Prado in Madrid. He died in 1862. His painting hangs in the Museo del Prado.

With the consent and support of the exiled royal family in Brazil, Portugal allowed the British to help reform the Portuguese army, which was led by General William Carr Beresford. They had also asked the British Army to help fight the French under the command of Lt. General Arthur Wellesley, who would later become the Duke of Wellington. The two armies under Wellington drove the French out of most of Portugal and established Lisbon as a base to continue the war against France.

The map is of the Spanish empire at the time of the French occupation.

For two years after the establishment of the Cortes de Cádiz, the Spanish had been holding out against the French using guerrilla tactics to constantly tie down Bonaparte’s forces. Napoleon wanted to continue with his ambitious plans for conquering the world and was growing tired of “The Spanish Ulcer” that he could not rid himself of.

The Spaniards nicknamed the Constitution La Pepa, possibly because it was adopted on Saint Joseph’s Day, and 'Pepa' is a nickname for 'Josephine'. It established the principles of universal male suffrage, national sovereignty, constitutional monarchy, freedom of the press, free enterprise and supported land reform. It is regarded as the founding document of liberalism in Spain and one of the first examples of classical liberalism worldwide. It came to be called the "sacred code" and during the early nineteenth century it served as the model for the Noregian Constitution of 1814, The Portuguese Constitution of 1822 and the Mexican one of 1824.

More can be seen of Spanish history on my website at     For the Spanish War of Independence go to page 22.


Like 0


Tess said:
04 July 2020 @ 12:56

Please don’t stop your posts Marinero they are totally fascinating

animate said:
04 July 2020 @ 19:49

Thank you, Tess. I try to please. Please visit my website because the blogs are only a tenth of Spanish history.

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