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The Peninsular War


Breaking the Deadlock

1812 was a pivotal year in the course of the Peninsular War. In terms of numbers of miles of territory gained, this may not seem obvious, when it is considered that at the end of the year, the Allied army found itself in the same area it had been at the start of it, on the Spanish-Portuguese border.


However, 1812 was a year of pivotal victories: Ciudad Rodrigo fell in January, Badajoz was captured in April, meaning that these crucial border fortress towns, sometimes called ‘the keys to Spain’ were now in allied hands. This allowed Wellington to carefully chose where he would strike next and in July his army routed the French Army of Portugal at the Battle of Salamanca. In August, he marched triumphantly into Madrid, forcing Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, to abandon the capital, humiliating this French imposed King of Spain.

In This Section


S. W. Fores Caricature on the fall of Madrid. Bodleian Collection

The British and Spanish publics exploded with excitement at the news of the liberation of Madrid. Many hoped that by the end of the year, all the French forces in Spain would have been forced back behind the River Ebro in Northern Spain.

Wellington’s success, actually proved to be the cause of the problems that followed though, as the other French armies in Spain were forced to unite to face the overwhelming threat that he posed. Soult abandoned his hold on Andalucía and gave up the siege of Cadiz to march north and threaten Madrid from the south. The Army of Portugal meanwhile was able to regroup surprisingly quickly and, after receiving reinforcements from other French armies in Spain, was able to threaten the allies from the north as their progress stalled at the poorly conduct siege of Burgos.

Over the autumn of 1812, the allies made a depressing withdrawal back to the Portuguese border, abandoning Madrid in the process. Their discipline barely held together in the last days of the retreat. Nonetheless, the French never regained a firm hold on Madrid, and had abandoned their hold on the south of Spain.

1812 also proved significant for another reason: events on the other side of the continent. As Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia led to the destruction of his Grand Armee, he was forced to deprive French forces in Spain of troops, reducing their numbers as he sought to build a fresh army. The balance of power was tipping firmly in the favour of the allies.

In this section you will find a number of detailed pages on the events that took place, reflecting the importance of the complex strategic shift that took place during one of the most exciting phases of the Peninsular War story.


Up next: The Capture of Ciudad Rodrigo

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Interested in Leaning More?

Rory Muir, Salamanca 1812 (Yale: Yale University Press, 2001)


Charles Esdaile, The Peninsular War: A New History (London: Penguin, 2003)


Ian Robertson, A Commanding Presence: Wellington in the Peninsula (Staplehurst: Spellmount, 2008)

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