Background to Events of 1808




    In The Autumn of 1807 Napoleon's power was at its Zenith. He had crowned himself emperor in 1804, defeated the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz in 1805, the Prussians at Jena in 1806 and the Russians at Friedland in June 1807. Europe, from the Niemen to the Pyrenees and from the Baltic to the toe of Italy, acknowledged his supreme authority. The emperor of Russia was his ally, as was the pathetic King Charles of Spain. There remained but one unconquered enemy, Britain, mistress of the seas, inviolate since Nelson's victory at Trafalgar in 1805.

    The only allies Britain had remaining on the continent were Portugal in the south and Sweden in the North. These were crucial allies for British imports to reach the continent. Napoleon left Sweden to be subdued by the Russians. He had already decided what he would do with Portugal. In August of 1807 he summoned the government to which they protested.

    Unconcerned Napoleon proceded with his plans. He forced the Spanish Government into signing the treaty of Fountainbleu on October 27 1807. The treaty allowed for the joint invasion of Spain and France on Portugal. What he failed to mention was that on October 19th a French force of 30,000 men, led by Junot, had already crossed the Spanish border and was by then occupying Lisbon.

    The Portuguese Regency to Brazil and with Portugal under his thumb Napoleon turned his attention back to Spain. The country had been weakened by the bickering between Charles IV and his son Ferdinand. Napoleon marched 90,000 men into Spain in March 1808 and forced Charles IV to abdicate in favour of Ferdinand. Then dumped Ferdinand and put his own brother, Joseph, on the throne.

    The Spaniards were shocked and turned to the only ally they could, Britain.

    In short the British are fighting the French forces on the Iberian Peninsula. France invaded Spain and Portugal so in 1808 the British sent forces to assist the Portuguese and Spanish nationals to remove them. The British had an ulterior motive. The rest of the continent was firmly under Napoleon's thumb - if they lost their allies in the south, it could have severe effects on the British economy because they would have no ports in to export to in Europe.


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