Gillray’s caricature ‘Whitlock the Second, or another tarnish for British Valour’ has long been recognised as reflecting the distaste of the British public towards the Convention of Cintra, which in many respects dampened civilian excitement with the early phase of the Peninsular War. However, such attitudes were by no means limited to the public. Whilst the letters and diaries of officers show clear engagement with the public mood, the attitudes of the British ranker during the conflict were equally as important, and as inclined to fluctuate.
Bringing together desertion data and primary accounts, this paper seeks to assess the factors influencing the morale of British soldiers during the Peninsular War. It will examine their physical and emotional responses to success, failure and loss, indicating the ways in which they sought to cope with the mixed fortunes of the army over the course of the war, and the way in which they apportioned blame during setbacks. These coping mechanisms took a variety of forms, from grumbling about their officers and using their allies as scapegoats, to poor discipline, plunder and desertion. This in turn will offer an insight into the mindset of the British solider, indicating how they reconciled a sense of supreme self-confidence in their own ability with the strategic reality that they faced in the Peninsula. At times their responses could be just as damaging to British interests as the Convention of Cintra had been.