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Commentary for Volume 1, Chapter 23 : Torres Vedras (October 1810–February 1811)
The allied troops moved off in the dark, leaving their camp fires burning to deceive French observers, and by dawn the whole army was on its way south, except the Light Division and Anson’s brigade of cavalry which provided the rear-guard. Once the retreat began Wellington made no attempt to halt, or even seriously delay the French advance, giving up his earlier thought of offering battle again in front of Coimbra. (The earlier idea is mentioned in Wellington to Charles Stuart, 24 Septe0mber 1810, WD IV p 299-300). This was partly because lack of rain had left the Mondego fordable in many places, but there were wider reasons. Wellington was haunted by the disintegration of Moore’s army on the retreat to Coruña and the lesser, but still serious problems manifested in the march from Oporto to Abrantes in 1809. A prompt, orderly withdrawal with a long head-start over the French was the best way of ensuring that his men would reach the Lines in good order and retaining at least some of the buoyant confidence produced by their success at Busaco. There was also the weather: the autumn rains would begin in the first half of October making life miserable for troops caught in the open and causing sickness which could be as costly as a lost battle. Far better that the allied army was in its prepared positions behind the Lines when the rains began, than exposed in the open with long marches still ahead of them. And besides Wellington was now confident that Masséna’s invasion would fail, that the French were not nearly strong enough to storm the Lines of Torres Vedras and then defeat the allied army, and he was eager to bring the campaign to its climax, by fighting the decisive battle before any unforeseen event altered the odds. (Wellington’s confidence is reflected in his letters to Charles Stuart 30 Sept 1810 and Henry Wellesley 3 Oct 1810 WD IV p 309-10, 313. But the arguments for a rapid retreat set out in this paragraph are largely those I believe would have influenced Wellington, rather than ones he openly acknowledged. Cocks in Page Intelligence Officer in the Peninsula p 82-84 makes the point about the Mondego being fordable).
There is a vivid glimpse of the difficulty of withdrawing in the dark in ‘The Diary of Lieutenant Ingilby RA’ edited by Major E. A. Lambert Minutes of the Proceedings of the Royal Artillery Institution vol 20 1893 p 242-3 – guns careering out of control or overturning.
The Allied Retreat to the Lines:
Unlike the Portuguese refugees the allied army had a comparatively easy march from Coimbra to Torres Vedras. There was naturally some confusion and disorder at times, (most notably some serious problems with the army’s heavy transport and baggage on 1 October – D’Urban Journal p 152), but the weather remained good until the end was almost in sight, the main body was never pressed or harassed by the French, and the troops were generally well fed. There was some plundering and misconduct, but Wellington reacted firmly before it became a serious threat to discipline: several soldiers were hanged on the spot by the Provost Marshal, and their fate made a considerable impression on the army. (GO and AGO 3rd Oct 1810 WD IV p 311 (General Orders 1810 p 172-5). Tomkinson Diary 4 Oct 1810 p 48. For an example of some of the stories told about these executions see Douglas’s Tale of the Peninsula & Waterloo p 20-21). On 3 October Wellington ‘issued a General Order condemning the prevalence of straggling in the three regiments composing the British brigade of Leith’s division – a problem which, he said, could only be due to the neglect of the regimental officers or the lack of fitness of their men – and warned that if they did not improve he would remove them from active duty and employ them in garrisons while reporting their misconduct to the government at home. At the same time General Picton was publicly instructed not to permit any of the men of his division ‘to enter any town unless necessarily obliged to pass through it’ – a pretty broad hint that the Third Division had been plundering. It was less than a week since these same men of Picton’s and Leith’s divisions had played such a prominent role at Busaco, and now they were publicly rebuked: no wonder Wellington’s officers and men were slow to love him; but he cared little for that, compared with the need to maintain his authority and keep them in good order. (GO 30 Oct 1810 General Orders 1810 p 172-4 printed with suppressions in WD IV p 311).
Once clear of Busaco the retreat was covered by the cavalry commanded by Sir Stapleton Cotton. There was some skirmishing on 1 October before the rearguard abandoned Coimbra in which the British were hard-pressed. William Tomkinson wrote in his diary, ‘We first walked, then trotted, and at last galloped, and at this rate went through the village of Fornos, and half a mile further, onto the plain of Coimbra,’ while another officer was even more explicit: ‘Run away like the Deuce, left our baggage in the rear of us – thought of nothing but our own safety’. (Tomkinson Diary 1 Oct 1810 p 46; diary of William Light. 1 Oct 1810 quoted in Dutton and Elder Colonel William Light p 47 . See also Cocks in Page Intelligence Officer in the Peninsula p 84). The French did not press the pursuit over the next few days but contact was renewed on 5 October. For the next five days there were frequent clashes as the rearguard sought to delay the French advance by forcing them to deploy. At Leiria Lieutenant-Colonel Elley hit upon the ingenious scheme of rolling large wine casks up from the cellars to block the streets and ‘tempt the new-comers to refresh themselves’. (Stepney Cowell Leaves from the Diary of an Officer of the Guards p 18). On the evening of the 7th Tomkinson’s regiment (the 16th Light Dragoons) was disturbed by a false alarm, ‘the men threw away their dinners, and the baggage was sent off. They had not cooked anything regularly for two days’. (Tomkinson Diary 7 Oct p 50). That night the rains began and continued steadily all the next day and for days after. On the afternoon of the 8th the French came close to capturing Bull’s troop of horse artillery. According to Tomkinson ‘Much was said on the day’s work, and Sir Stapleton was to blame for not attending to the reports sent in by Captain Murray of the enemy’s advance’. The flavour of the remarks made can be deduced by Tomkinson’s own dry summary of the incident: ‘Rather a new style of war to place guns in a village, and the troops protecting them a mile in its rear’. (Tomkinson Diary 8 Oct 1810 p 51 cf Combermere Memoirs vol 1 p 164-5 and Cocks’ journal in Page Intelligence Officer in the Peninsula p 85). Fortunately the retreat was almost over: the allied cavalry retired within the Lines on 10 October and the whole of Anson’s brigade were soon in comfortable quarters in the great Convent at Mafra. (Tomkinson Diary 11 Oct 1810 p 54-55). Reflecting on the campaign Captain Tyron still told his friend Lieutenant-Colonel J. G. Le Marchant, one of the leading scientific soldiers in the army, ‘Entre nous, the British cavalry have not shone with that lustre it ought to have done. Sir S. Cotton is a very brave man, but is not held in estimation as a great military genius. The Hussars [KGL] and the 14th [Light Dragoons] excel the others. The 16th is in very good order and goes on well enough. The Heavy Brigade have not the dash about them people expect from British cavalry’. (Still to Le Marchant, Torres Vedras, 28 Oct 1810 Le Marchant Mss 2a quoted in Ward Papers 300/3/3). Yet this is a little unfair, for Cotton and the rearguard had done their job, protecting the main body from the French and ensuring that Wellington could set the pace for the retreat and that there were no forced marches on empty stomachs. Nor were the British cavalry cowed or intimidated by the retreat: they remained full of confidence and ready to fight, while enjoying the soldier’s immemorial right to grumble and criticize the tactics of their commanders.
In January 1811 Charles Cocks told his brother, James Somers Cocks: ‘These Hanoverian Hussars are the best cavalry we have, especially against cavalry. The 16th is brigaded with them, they have been our masters. Perhaps our officers have surpassed theirs but our men are not equal to them’ (Page Intelligence Officer in the Peninsula p 98).
The most serious hitch to occur in the retreat happened at the very end when Craufurd was slow to bring the Light Division into the Lines on the afternoon of 10 October. The combination of a sudden alarm and a defile in the rear – possibly exacerbated by some lack of coolness on the part of Craufurd – led to an undignified scramble. The Division then went astray in the dark and failed to take its allotted place. Rowland Hill then leapt to the conclusion that a disaster had befallen the Light Division and pulled his own men further back, so that for some hours an important part of the allied line was in confusion. The mistake was not dangerous (most of the French army was still distant and the problem was quickly resolved when daylight came), but it shows just how easily things could go wrong, and suggests that Wellington was wise to keep a step ahead of the French rather than withdraw more slowly and enter the Lines with them snapping at his heels. (Oman vol 3 p 413-15 Fortescue vol 7 p 540-1).
Flight of Portuguese Civilians from Coimbra:
Lord Wellington evacuated Coimbra on the approach of the enemy, upon the 1st of October; the town had generally been quitted by the higher classes of inhabitants during the preceding days; a considerable proportion, however, still remained, hoping that the enemy might be prevented getting possession of it. But about ten o’clock on the morning of the first, there was suddenly an alarm that the enemy was approaching; the report was soon magnified into his having entered; and at one burst the whole of the remaining inhabitants ran shrieking from the town. The bridge, which is very long and narrow, was at once choked by the crowds which were pouring upon it; and the unhappy fugitives, who found their flight impeded, threw themselves into the river, and waded through it. The Mondego was fortunately not deep at this time, the dry season having kept it shallow; but there were three or four feet of water in many of the places where the unfortunate inhabitants passed it. In the midst of all the horrors of this scene; of the cries of the wretched people who were separated from their families; of those who were leaving their homes, their property, their only means of subsistence, without the prospect of procuring wherewithal to live for the next day, and of those who believed the enemy (with his train of unheard-of cruelties) at their heels; the ear was most powerfully arrested by the screams of despair which issued from the gaol; where the miserable captives, who saw their countrymen escaping, believed that they should be left victims to the ferocity of the French. ([Burghersh] Memoir of the Early Campaigns of the Duke of Wellington in Portugal and Spain (London John Murray, 1820) p 175-77).
The speed of the retreat and failure to strip the country in front of the Lines:
Cocks wrote in his Journal on 14 November:
The enemy would have suffered much more considerably from the want of supplies had our commissaries been enjoined to buy up everything for ten leagues in front the lines. General Blunt, the Governor of Peniche, asked the Capitao Mors some time ago what time would be necessary to remove all the grain between Leyria and the Lines. Their answer was six weeks but they had only a few days’ notice when we fell back last month. It is clear vast quantities must have been left to the enemy’. (Page Intelligence Officer in the Peninsula p 93).
See also Military Journal of Colonel Leslie of Balquhain p 207-8 for graphic description of the panic in Santarem and Villa Franca and the very short notice given of the need to withdraw. But although the country was not stripped thoroughly, enough was done to force Masséna to retreat in the end: Lisbon did not become another Cadiz, and shortage of food was the main reason for it.
Masséna’s decision not leave a garrison at Coimbra:
Masséna faced an insoluble problem here and that criticism of him should therefore be cautious. Hindsight exaggerates the inevitability of the town falling to the Portuguese militia – Masséna may have felt that they would at least wait until the campaign was decided before risking a move. And would he have been right to detach three or four thousand men just days before the campaign was decided? Busaco had shown that if the allies turned and fought at a position that was even extraordinarily strong he would need every man to defeat them. There is something of a parallel here with Junot’s decision in 1808 to leave a large garrison to hold down Lisbon – a decision which Oman censures.
Fundamentally Masséna’s army was too weak for the task it had been set. He should have had enough men to be able to leave a garrison at Viseu as well as at Coimbra and Leiria or Pombal and still have more than enough men to defeat Wellington. And he would have, if the Portuguese were as insignificant as Napoleon assumed.
The rains began:
Cocks Journal 8 October (Page Intelligence Officer in the Peninsula p 85) ‘The rain set in the morning and lasted the whole day’.
D’Urban Journal 7 October (Journal p 155) ‘Rains commenced tonight’.
Tomkinson Diary 8 October (p 50) ‘It rained nearly the whole night’. (i.e. night of 7th/8th)
Boutflower Journal for 8th October, written on the 9th: ‘Yesterday I consider as the most uncomfortable day of my life without exception. We commenced our March at Day break having to go to Sobral, a distance of three Leagues. It blew and rained with the most dreadful violence, and in a very short time rendered the Roads nearly impassable… Such was our delay in consequence, that at the end of thirteen hours we found ourselves still a league from our destination’ (p 64).
British officers think Masséna right not to attack or withdraw:
British officers watching from the comfort and security of the Lines, could appreciate Masséna’s dilemma. Benjamin D’Urban wrote on 20 October that for the French to retreat ‘without a battle would be so great a loss of reputation to the French Army, that it is not to be supposed Masséna will incur it.’ And a month later Alexander Gordon told his brother that he thought that Masséna ‘would endeavour to maintain himself in this country during the winter… Masséna will by this save himself, and in some degree will prevent that indelible stain which would be forever cast upon the French army were he to quit this country – a stain which might have the greatest possible effect throughout Europe, as well as confer the greatest possible good on our cause’. (D’Urban Journal 20 Oct p 158-9; Alexander Gordon to Aberdeen 21 Nov 1810 At Wellington’s Right Hand p 129-31).
Charles Stewart wrote on 29 November that Masséna ‘must have shown himself a perfect driveller if he had gone off without being beaten in some engagement, especially when he made no halt after his attack and failure at Busaco.’ (PRONI D3030/P/34). And again on 5 January 1811: ‘The statement of the French officer taken as to his retiring into Spain if he did not receive 30,000 men, I always held cheap. It would be such an evident avowal of his failure that were he to live on stewed horses for months he surely would prefer it’. (PRONI D3030/P/38).
Wellington’s refusal to attack:
Wellington evidently discussed the question at headquarters, not seeking advice but explaining his reasoning, and persuading even Charles Stewart that ‘every military consideration of prudence, wisdom and ultimate success in our cause should induce us more rigidly than ever to persevere in the defensive now.’ (Charles Stewart to Castlereagh 3 Nov 1810 D3030/P/31). While Alexander Gordon told Aberdeen, ‘I am perfectly of the opinion of Lord Wellington that he ought not to attack Masséna under the present circumstances. The Game is now our own we ought to risk nothing which might lose it entirely’. (Alexander Gordon to Aberdeen 10 Nov 1810 At Wellington’s Right Hand p 123-5). Finally Wellington himself wrote to Liverpool that he would not risk a battle because the ‘enemy can be relieved from the difficulties of their situation only by the occurrence of some misfortune to the allied army; and I shall forward their views by placing the fate of the campaign on the result of a general action, on ground chosen by them instead of that selected by me’. (Wellington to Liverpool 1 Dec 1810 WD IV p 444-446. See also same to same 27 Oct and 3 Nov WD IV p 368-9, 388-91). The arguments were all sound, but one is left with the impression of Wellington’s inclination yielding reluctantly in the face of cool calculation.
Was Wellington influenced by the Regency Crisis?
Was Wellington’s refusal to attack influenced by the Regency crisis? No: chronology plainly rules that out, for the time to strike was the end of October or the beginning of November, before first reports of the King’s illness reached Portugal. At most he may have been deterred from taking risks because of the chronic weakness of the government and his lack of confidence in Liverpool, but it is stretching a long bow to regard this is a principal consideration.
On the other hand, it does seem fair to argue, as I do in the ‘Politics and the Peninsular Army’ (Wellington Studies IV p 86-87), that Wellington refrained from attacking Masséna at Santarem even though he knew that a victory in Portugal would greatly strengthen the government at home. In other words, Wellington did not allow domestic political considerations to determine his conduct of operations.
Portuguese anxiety that the British might abandon them:
Officers and men of the two regiments of Lisbon militia talked loosely of seizing the fort at St Julian’s in order to prevent the British embarking and forcing them to fight the French. Such talk was dangerous, sowing the seeds of distrust and, if not effectively checked, possibly leading to foolish actions. Wellington reacted by ordering both regiments to join the army where their martial ardour could be directed towards the French, and by establishing a small British garrison (two companies of the 2/88th) at St Julian’s. (Wellington to Charles Stuart 9 Sept 1810 and Wellington to Liverpool 13 Sept 1810 WD IV p 269-71, 277-9: the latter is printed in WSD vol 6 p 614-17 where it is dated 13 October, however the context suggests that the September date is correct)
‘Principal’ Sousa and Wellington’s relations with the Portuguese Regency:
Disputes within the Regency Council proved much more difficult to resolve. The introduction of Jose Antonio de Menezes e Sousa, known as ‘Principal Sousa’ (he was Principal Deacon of the church of Santa Igreja in Lisbon), caused particular problems. One of Sousa’s brothers was Portuguese ambassador to London, while another was Conde de Linhares the dominant minister at the Court of the Portuguese Regent at Brazil. The Sousas were not hostile to the British alliance, (on the contrary they were traditional advocates of it and Linhares worked closely with Lord Strangford, the British envoy at Rio de Janeiro), but they were rivals and enemies of Dom Miguel Pereira Forjaz. Wellington and Beresford worked well with Forjaz identifying him as the most efficient and trustworthy of the Portuguese ministers in Lisbon. In June Wellington told Charles Stuart, ‘You may depend upon my cordial concurrence in any measures you may adopt for the support of Dom M. Forjaz. I am quite convinced that he is the only man in Portugal fit for the situation which he fills’, while in August he would not take Admiral Berkeley’s side in a dispute, explaining that Forjaz ‘[is] the best instrument we can find in Portugal, and [we] are determined to support him in authority.’ (Wellington to Charles Stuart 24 June and 20 Aug 1810 WD IV p 138, 237). Faced with this close alliance between the British and his political opponent, Sousa had to choose between irrelevance and opposition and preferred the latter, acting in part from genuine disquiet at Wellington’s plans, and in part from the lure of easy popularity.
Sousa’s first move, in late August, was to propose the appointment of the Duke of Brunswick as Commander-in-Chief of the Portuguese army. This was a deliberate attack on Beresford’s authority and only a little less directly on Wellington. The proposal was rejected but the battle lines had been drawn. (Wellington to Charles Stuart 27 Aug 1810 WD IV p 244-5). A much more serious clash occurred at the beginning of September when news of the fall of Almeida led to a debate within the Regency over Wellington’s strategy. Sousa was vehemently opposed to any retreat in the face of a French advance, and urged that a decisive battle he fought close to the frontier so as to spare the population the ravages of war. He won the support of the Patriarch of Lisbon, formerly the Bishop of Oporto, who was also a member of the Regency Council, and who was anxious than Wellington would leave Oporto exposed and undefended. Encouraged by this Sousa went further and demanded that Wellington consult the Regency in all his movements, and that the British fleet and transports leave Lisbon as their presence encouraged fears of an evacuation. This was clearly going too far and the other members of the Regency Council rejected Sousa’s proposals although they agreed to write to Wellington expressing sorrow at the loss of Almeida and hoping that there would soon be better news. (De la Fuente ‘Forjaz’ p 131-7; Wellington to Forjaz 6 Sept 1810 WD IV p 261).
Wellington was furious at Sousa’s opposition and blamed him for encouraging the disquiet which had unsettled the Lisbon militia. His response to the Regency’s letter was uncompromising: ‘I should forget my duty to my Sovereign, to the Prince Regent, and to the cause in general, if I should permit public clamour of panic to induce me to change, in the smallest degree, the system and plan of operations which I have adopted’. (Wellington to Forjaz 6 Sept 1810 WD IV p 261). At the same time he told Charles Stuart to inform the Regency that if they insisted on interfering in Beresford’s appointments, or in the operations of the army, ‘I will not stay in the country’, and would recommend that the British army be withdrawn. He was hurt by the change in attitude of the Portuguese government which he felt was inclined to make the same mistakes as the Spanish Supreme Junta, and made his reaction plain: ‘having the power in my hands, I will not lose the only chance which remains of saving the cause, by paying the smallest attention to the senseless suggestions of the Portuguese government’. (Wellington to Charles Stuart 7 Sept 1810 WD IV p 263-4). Wellington was confident that if it was worth incurring some unpopularity he could force Sousa to resign, or the government in Rio de Janeiro to dismiss him, but for the moment he held his hand, while informing Liverpool that ‘the Principal Sousa, who was introduced recently into the government, is of that impatient, meddling, and mischievous disposition (without, however, designing to do harm), that we cannot expect to go on as we have hitherto, so long as he shall continue a member of the government’. (Wellington to Liverpool 13 Sept 1810 WD IV p 227-9 see also Wellington to Beresford 8 Sept 1810 WD IV p 266).
Arrests in Lisbon:
The Portuguese Regency added to the excitement and tension in Lisbon in September when it arrested and exiled a large number of people, many of them wealthy and prominent, on suspicion of being French sympathizers and potential traitors. Wellington strongly disapproved telling Forjaz, ‘I think it is not just in the government to punish and stigmatize people for words spoken which are only imprudent’. He suspected that the government was responding to popular clamour and argued that its energy would be better spent in the prosecution of those guilty of ‘neglect and malversation in office’ and those who failed to obey the government’s proclamations for stripping the country. (Wellington to Forjaz 24 Sept 1810 WD IV p 298). Charles Stuart intervened with the Regency and arranged for some of the exiles to be sent to England rather than the Azores, but Prince João was furious at this interference in Portugal’s domestic affairs, and the incident was used by Linhares to strengthen the Prince’s resistance when the British eventually called for the dismissal of Principal Sousa. (De La Fuente ‘Forjaz’p 149-50).
Horward (in Pelet French Campaign in Portugal p 240-1) quotes at length from Charles Stuart’s letter of 15 Sept to Wellington, announcing the arrests and making plain his disapproval:
I regret however to say that suspicions, personal animosities, and groundless fears appear to have been the sole causes of an explosion calculated to gain the unthinking part of the public, and unnecessarily to increase the hatred of the higher classes to the Government by carrying affliction into their families, and humiliating the pride of persons, who with some justice will long retain a strong sense of the injury they have experienced.
Stuart also pointed out that the Portuguese Regency were happy to allow the odium of this or any other decision to fall on the British – which may help to account for the strength of their reaction.
Wellington strongly objected to reports in the British press that he had urged and encouraged the arrests: Wellington to Liverpool 27 October 1810 WD IV p 364.
Growing fears as the French advance closer:
News of Busaco brought a brief moment of pride and celebration, but this was rapidly extinguished by Wellington’s retreat and the loss of Coimbra. Throughout the first days of October Charles Stuart was hard at work with preparations for the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees, reducing the amount of paper currency in circulation so as to minimize the inevitable financial panic and struggling to devise ways to keep Lisbon tranquil. Souza and the Patriarch objected to any further retreat, and it seems likely that they shared the widespread suspicion that the British had no intention of stopping until they were on board ship and sailing for home. There was remarkable ignorance of the importance of the Lines – Wellington had to explain where they were even to Stuart, who was apparently under the misapprehension that they were some old fortifications on the outskirts of the city of Lisbon. (Wellington to Charles Stuart 6 Oct 1810 WD IV p 319-20; Stuart to Wellington 5 (three letters) and 6 Oct 1810 WP 1/316). He also protested strongly at any idea of embarking the Portuguese troops in boats or ships inferior to those used for the British army, although he insisted that there would be no embarkation at all. (Wellington to Charles Stuart 30 Sept 1810 WD IV p 309-10). Stuart was able to assure him that Admiral Berkeley had enough good ships available for the entire allied army, (Stuart to Wellington 3 Oct 1810 WP 1/316) but appealed for assistance in dealing with Sousa and the Patriarch, suggesting that they be sent to organize resistance to Oporto in order to get them out of the way. (Stuart to Wellington 5 Oct 1810 WP 1/316). Wellington rejected this idea fearing that they ‘would do more harm than good in the north’, and instead wrote a strongly-worded letter to Stuart to be presented to the Regency in which he criticized Sousa’s conduct and warned of the damage it could do. (Wellington to Charles Stuart 6 Oct 1810 (2 letters) WD IV p 319-20, 320-1). According to Stuart this had an excellent effect, and before it could wear off the French advance had come to a halt before the Lines and the Portuguese were relieved of their worst fears. (Stuart to Wellington 8 Oct 1810 WP 1/316).
Plentiful supplies in Lisbon:
A British officer of despondent whiggish views who arrived in Lisbon at the beginning of March reported home with some surprise that, ‘The American ships are pouring in with provisions and the Army have now a supply of 8 months flour in store. I see no other marks of scarcity than the price of provisions, having had this day for dinner a bowl of soup, a joint of beef, a fowl, and a dish of fish with very good wine’. (Robert Ballard Long to his brother C. B. Long Lisbon 4 March 1811 McGuffie Peninsular Cavalry General p 59-60). Two months earlier Wellington had noted with surprise that progress on the works at Almada was being delayed by a shortage of labour: instead of 4,000 workmen, paid in rations and a meagre money wage, there were only 200 men at work. Wellington to Charles Stuart 31 Dec 1810 WD IV p 489-90. This and similar reports make suggest a degree of scepticisim about the highly coloured descriptions of starvation in some British memoirs written many years after the event: e.g. Leach Rough Sketches p 175-6. This is not to say they were groundless (and those refugees who remained close to the army probably fared far worse than those who went into Lisbon), but that it seems likely that they exaggerated its prevalence. The graphic, and certainly authentic, accounts of starvation in Tomkinson (Diary p 76-77) and Cocks (in Page Intelligence Officer in the Peninsula p 99) both relate to refugees at Caldas some twenty miles north of the Lines in the no man’s land west of the main range of hills. These poor people undoubtedly suffered terribly just as did those few who remained in the country actually occupied by the French. On the Portuguese refugees see also Rice Jones An Engineer Officer under Wellington p 84-86 where the editor H.W. Shore has collected some interesting material.
The true situation was not understood in England where the press continued to suggest that the entire population of Lisbon and all the refugees depended on British bounty. Even Lord Aberdeen, a generally well informed observer, succumbed to the idea that Britain was having to bear the cost of feeding Lisbon and that it would be impossible to sustain this expense for long. (Aberdeen to Alexander Gordon 1 Dec 1810 Gordon At Wellington’s Right Hand p 131-3 and reply 22 Dec 1810 ibid p 139-42. See also Wellington to William Wellesley-Pole 31 March 1811 WSD vol 7 p 93-95). At the same time newspapers in London happily reprinted articles from the Moniteur containing what purported to be letters from Masséna and his subordinates, but which were obvious forgeries flatly contradicted by the genuine letters intercepted by the Portuguese and already sent home by Wellington. (Wellington to Liverpool 7 Dec 1810 WD IV p 451-2; Wellington to Croker 20 Dec 1810 Croker Papers vol 1 p 40-43; Alexander Gordon to Aberdeen 22 Dec 1810 At Wellington’s Right Hand p 139-42; Oman vol 3 p 448).
The £100,000 voted by Parliament to alleviate suffering in Portugal:
These funds arrived after the emergency had passed, but were widely distributed and proved very useful in the difficult months of reconstruction and hardship which extended between Masséna’s retreat and the harvest of 1811. On 6 May 1811 Wellington wrote to Charles Stuart: ‘I learn that you and I are to be appointed to distribute the £100,000 voted by Parliament to the Portuguese nation. Lord Liverpool desires that we should give in kind rather than in money, of which I also approve. The question is, in what kind? And corn is, I fancy, now too late’. (WD IV p 786).
And on the 10th: ‘It occurs to me that the articles most suited to relieve the distress of the Portuguese would be wheat, of which there are several cargoes now at Lisbon; Indian corn; planks and beams for building; nails, large pipe stoves, and iron hoops, or rather casks (shapen), with their hoops, etc. If you are of the same opinion, write for these articles to England’. (Wellington to Charles Stuart 10 May 1811, WD V p 3).
See also Wellington to Stuart 1 June 1811 WD V p 64 and Wellington to Sir C. Asgill 12 June 1811 WD V p 87 about aid from Ireland.
Wellington blames Portuguese for not stripping the country; worries Masséna may cross the Tagus:
Masséna’s halt in front of the Lines calmed nerves in Lisbon but it added to Wellington’s irritation. Cheated of the decisive victory he had confidently expected, and which he had promised the government in London, he blamed the failure of the Portuguese to thoroughly strip the country for the protracted and unwanted stalemate which now ensued. He had been seriously alarmed by a report from Admiral Berkeley that the French had captured forty boats at Santarem, (enough to enable them to bridge the Tagus), and though the story proved groundless it still strengthened his annoyance with the Portuguese government. (Wellington to Admiral Berkeley 11am 16th October, 8 am 17th October 1810, Wellington to Charles Stuart 11am 16th October WD IV p 334-5, 338-8, 335-6 cf Horward in Pelet French Campaign in Portugal p 253n and Stuart to Wellington 17 Oct 1810 WP 1/316). The danger that the French might cross the Tagus remained, indeed Masséna’s engineers were soon hard at work trying to assemble materials for a bridge, and as early as 23 October Wellington pressed the Portuguese to remove the people and livestock and destroy foodstuffs which could not be removed from that part of Alentejo. (Wellington to Stuart 23 Oct 1810 WD IV p 352-3). He also urged on the construction of the defences on the heights of Almada in case the French threatened Lisbon from the left bank of the Tagus. This produced another flurry of opposition from Sousa and the Patriarch: it was bad enough to have a French army established almost permanently only forty miles from Lisbon and the whole country between the Tagus and the sea pillaged and devastated; now Wellington appeared unable to confine the war even within these limits. What would be left of the Kingdom if its salvation required its progressive destruction? (De la Fuente ‘Forjaz’ p 144).
Portuguese government needlessly provocative:
For its part the Portuguese government was sometimes needlessly provocative. At the end of the year Wellington took great exception to regulations proposed by Forjaz which would have put an end to the billeting of British officers and soldiers in private houses in Lisbon. This copied regulations in Britain, but Lisbon lacked the inns which were used to house troops there and had no other suitable accommodation. ‘Are the people of Lisbon so inhospitable that the officers of these corps [regiments newly arrived in Portugal] must be put, on their landing, into cold, damp, and dark empty houses, without the chance of getting anything to eat? Is there an inn or tavern at Lisbon to which an officer can go to in such circumstances’. Wellington was so indignant that he discovered a hitherto little suspected egalitarian streak: ‘am I and Marshal Beresford, to be provided with a lodging upon billet; but the others who go there upon duty, and who can less afford, or bear the hardship, be put into empty houses or into the street? For my part, I do not often go to Lisbon; but if the rule is made for one class it must be for all, and I will have no lodging upon billet any more than any other officer of the army’. (Wellington to Charles Stuart 31 Dec 1810 WD IV p 489-90). There was an element of bluster in this for Wellington had already been given the free use of a private house in Lisbon for himself, his staff and senior officers, but the irritation was real and the issue became a running sore in relations.
Accommodation in Lisbon:
The best inn in Lisbon was the Lion d’Or which was described by one officer: ‘Not an inn is to be found in which you could pass the night without undergoing the tortures of hell, almost as bad to me as flames and brimstone. I made an attempt to lodge in one (Lion d’Or) but had I been destined to pass my nocturnal hours in the most wretched hovel in England, or to have put up in this place, I should have preferred the former. It would be impossible to find in all Great Britain a habitation so ruinous, so ill-furnished, so filthy, and so infested with vermin as this; and yet this was the Lion d’Or, the chief hotel in the city’. Quoted by the editor of Rice Jones An Engineer Officer p 91 (but it was not by Rice Jones).
Wellington’s House at Lisbon:
Wellington to Charles Stuart, Fuente Guinaldo, 12 Aug 1811
I desired Mackenzie to remove my wine from Bandeira’s, because Bandeira, after having invited me and all my family to consider his house as our own, to go there when we pleased without billet, had a breeze with Campbell the other day, because he went to live there without a billet, and was nearly coming to blows in the street. I was very glad to have so good an opportunity of divorcing myself from Bandeira. I desired that a house might be taken for me, in order in some degree to mortify the government and the principal people of Lisbon, and if possible to make them feel a little respecting their conduct about billets. I am slaving like a negro for them: I have saved the people in Lisbon, particularly, from the enemy, and I take nothing from them, while they continually torment me with their frivolous complaints on subjects on which they ought to have no feeling.
I shall not make use of the palace of Bemposta, or of any thing else belonging to the Prince; nor will I lie under any obligation to any Portuguese for my private convenience. I shall pay rent for the house, which I want only to hold my wine, and to receive the officers of my family when they go to Lisbon. I shall not be sorry if the government and principal people of Lisbon know the reason why I take this house; viz., that I will not lay myself under an obligation to any of them. (WD V p 211-12)
Problems with the Portuguese commissariat:
Much more serious was the failure of the Portuguese commissariat to feed its army. This became a major problem in January when the troops around Torres Vedras were so hungry that they began plundering the surrounding countryside. (Wellington to Charles Stuart 25 Jan 1811 WD IV p 551 cf D’Urban Journal 23 Dec, 6 + 26 Jan 1811 p 169-70, 173, 176) Even the magazine at Abrantes, which would be needed to feed the garrison and town if it was besieged, was dangerously depleted. (Wellington to Charles Stuart 14 Feb 1811 WD IV p 598-99) The problem was not lack of food as there were large stockpiles in Lisbon and some elsewhere, (The Portuguese even established a large magazine at Coimbra in December where it could easily have been captured by Masséna’s hungry troops. D’Urban Journal 17 Dec 1810 p 168) but inefficient distribution which was only partly due to a shortage of transport. The difficulty in feeding a stationary army close to the capital suggested that things would be much worse when active operations were resumed, and Wellington was compelled, contrary to instructions from home and his own inclination to supply at least some of the Portuguese needs from the British commissariat. (Wellington to Lord Wellesley 26 Jan 1811, Wellington to Charles Stuart 26 Feb 1811 WD IV p 553-6, 637).
Wellington’s understanding of underlying problems facing the Portuguese government:
Wellington was not blind to the many problems facing the Regency, especially the shortage of money which hampered its conduct of the war. As early as 10 August he told his brother Henry, ‘Great Britain has ruined Portugal by her free trade with Brazil: not only the customs of Portugal, to the amount of a million sterling per annum, are lost, but the fortunes of numerous individuals, who lived by this trade, are ruined’. (Wellington to Henry Wellesley, Celorico, 10 Aug 1810 WD IV p 221-2) In December, he urged the Portuguese government to enforce a 10 per cent tax on all incomes and to collect the customs duties which were in place but which were too often avoided. He also recommended a tax on male servants. He wrote to Stuart,
You are quite right in tracing all the failures of the government to the want of Money, which want could be supplied, I am convinced, by the means in their own power; but they will do nothing unless forced… the system is so radically bad, that no person in Portugal pays one thousandth, instead of a tenth of his income. The tax is laid upon classes; that is to say, the incomes of the clergy, the nobility, merchants, lawyers, &c., are supposed to amount to certain gross sums, of which the government require a tenth, which the several classes divide among themselves; the rate of income supposed for no one class is equal to the real amount of the income of all the individuals; and then the people of Portugal talk of paying a 10 per cent income tax as we do! Do they know that there is not an officer of this army from whose pay the tenth part is not now subtracted for the state? It is really too bad… (Wellington to Charles Stuart 27 Dec 1810 WD IV p 481).
Nonetheless Wellington was well aware that Portugal’s financial problems were unlikely to be solved without an increase in the British subsidy and he doubted if this would be forthcoming. He had pressed the case on several occasions but without much hope for he feared that the cabinet’s preoccupation with economy blinded it to the real interests of the country. (Wellington to Charles Stuart 26 Nov 1810 and 28 Jan 1811 WD IV p 433-4, 559-60).
Richard Ryder’s reactions to the news from Portugal:
Richard Ryder the Home Secretary was pleased with the victory of Busaco and especially the performance of the Portuguese troops, but worried that Masséna might march on Oporto and winter there instead of marching on Lisbon. Ryder also complained that Wellington had not kept the government properly informed.
Whether Lord Wellington has weighed the circumstances or not, we do not know, or whether he determined duly to adhere to the letter of his instructions, for not one word has he written to Liverpool or any member of the Cabinet beyond the dispatch you saw. Considering the new turn which that officer has given to things in Portugal, his silence is most unaccountable and ungracious.
This left Ryder far from happy at the prospects for the campaign:
I own I cannot well stomach the probable though temporary loss of Oporto and those fertile provinces, and the delay which that interposes to the accomplishment of our prospects. The French will, of course, brag that they have taken possession of them to recruit their army and begin the next campaign from thence, and truly, if their army could be recruited.
In the meantime, however, how are we to afford to maintain the immense army we have there? The last 5 or 6,000 men were sent over merely for the spur of the occasion, and cannot be allowed to continue. We cannot spare them and cannot afford the men. (Richard Ryder to his brother, Lord Harrowby, 15 October 1810 Harrowby Papers vol V f 45-49).
Such views were not typical, especially of the ministers, but Ryder’s letters hints at the undercurrents of unease which lay behind the resolute assurances of support which Liverpool and Perceval gave Wellington. The government’s reputation, no less than Wellington’s, would be decided by the outcome of the campaign.
Ryder’s gloom did not last. Four days after this letter he wrote again to his brother much more optimistically, having been cheered by reading a private letter from Charles Stewart to Lady Liverpool written ‘in the highest spirits and anticipating a victorious and triumphant result of the Crisis which he considers is fast approaching’. The French had not marched on Oporto but were pursuing the allied army, news which equally relieved and puzzled Ryder who evidently could not imagine that they were unaware of the existence of the Lines. ‘It should seem as if Masséna had taken the desperate decision of attempting the conquest of Lisbon. It appears so desperate that I hardly know how to believe it.’ Like many in England he was greatly impressed by accounts of the determination of the Portuguese peasantry, and the inhabitants of Coimbra, to abandon their homes rather than submit to French rule, accounts which were fully substantiated by intercepted dispatches from Masséna which Wellington sent home. (Ryder to Harrowby 19 Oct 1810 Harrowby Papers vol V f 51-53). On the following day Ryder’s spirits were lifted even further by unconfirmed reports of Trant’s success at Coimbra and by fresh letters from the army. ‘The perfectly tranquil tone of all the letters – Lord W[ellingto]n’s, Adl Berkeley’s, Stuart’s, and all the officers is the best proof of the confidence felt by all parties’. And ‘I should think our next accounts must be decisive; but the date of the last is so recent, we cannot expect them for some days, even if the wind continues as it is now, favourable’. (Ryder to Harrowby 20 Oct 1810 Harrowby Papers vol V f 55-57).
Opposition views on state of the war November/December 1810:
Grey wrote to Grenville on 9 November:
I think I entirely agree with you on the subject of Portugal; all the probabilities were, and in my opinion still are, against eventual success there. I have no faith even in the promised victory, and the Ministers seem to me, in their present confident assurances, not a little to resemble the man who sold the bear’s skin before he had killed him. I do not believe that Masséna, having it, as it appears to me, in his options, will attack our army, if their situation and his force are as we see them described. It [is] indeed, contrary to all reason [that] he should expose his army to certain destruction, and such should be the result. I could not deny that such a success would be worth the sacrifices we had made for it. But a doubtful or indecisive victory, and protracted operations, I should think little less ruinous (I am not sure they would not be more so) than an immediate defeat’. (HMC Dropmore vol 10 p 66-68).
While a few days earlier Lord Auckland had reported that,
So late as nine o’clock this morning the expected news from Portugal had not yet arrived. The King’s Government continues to believe that Masséna and his army are starving, and that they must make a desperate and dangerous attack in order to try to get bread to eat… If we should (which I do not expect) gain any colorable advantage, which we shall puff into a glorious victory, it would tend only to the wild waste of more lives and of more money. (Auckland to Grenville 5 Nov 1810 HMC Dropmore vol 10 p 65-66).
Even Earl Temple, who was favourably inclined to Wellington, wrote to Grenville on 4 December:
From this it should appear that both [Wellington and Masséna] felt the impossibility of remaining in their positions before Lisbon and that, fortunately for W[ellington], Masséna was tired out first. He has now retreated upon his Magazines, and will probably wait for his reinforcements. As the Tagus narrows so rapidly in his rear his communication with Alentejo cannot be prevented, as I conclude our gunboats cannot get so high up to act with effect. I cannot say that this news gives me any spirits. The result will now be delayed till the Spring probably, and you will have to decide upon the question of another campaign, with the conviction that, if you determine not to undertake it, that decision will be interpreted into an entire surrender of our best objects to the enemy. This does not add to the les délices of your prospects. (HMC Dropmore vol 10 p 79).
Government supporters hope for good news from Portugal to strengthen position at home:
With the King’s illness threatening the future of the government, the ministers and their supporters reflected that good news from Wellington would prove most opportune. On 2 November Richmond told Bathurst that ‘A Victory in Portugal would of great use just now and I can’t help thinking we have had one before now’. (Richmond to Bathurst Private 2 Nov 1810 Richmond Papers NLI Mss 61 no 33). While on 10 November Harrowby told his wife that carrying the next adjournment ‘will depend not only on the account we can give of the King’s health, but also upon the events in Portugal, which if favourable, will strengthen us beyond all calculation; in point of impression and also in point of argument: for, if things are going on prosperously, there is less necessity to hurry the re-establishment of executive power’. (Harrowby to Countess Harrowby 10 Nov 1810 Harrowby Papers vol LVII f 291-4).
However Liverpool went out of his way to tell Wellington that he should not let such considerations influence his conduct of the campaign:
I am very anxious to assure you that we are most fully and completely satisfied with all that you have done, and all that you are doing. With respect to the expediency of attacking Masséna, no proper judgment can be formed upon such a subject except by those who are near the scene of action. We wish you to be governed on this point entirely by your own discretion, and that you should neither abstain from attack, nor engage in it, in consequence of any opinions which may be supposed to be entertained in this country. (Liverpool to Wellington 19 Nov 1810 WSD vol 6 p 641-2).
Not everyone was so scrupulous. Edward Cooke, Castlereagh’s close friend and supporter, wrote repeatedly to Charles Stewart urging that Wellington should take the offensive. However Cooke’s first letter along these lines was written before the King fell ill, and although he observed that, ‘Lord Wellington will keep in Mr Perceval’, it is clear that his desire for the allies to attack arose from his perception of the military position in Portugal, not from the state of British politics. (Cooke to Stewart 13 October, 18 November and 4 Dec 1810 D3030/AA/17, 19, 20 the quote comes from the letter of 13 October. Cooke and Castlereagh were both out of office at the time, while broadly sympathetic to Perceval’s government). This defence is less plausible in the case of a letter which Croker wrote to Wellington in late November or early December. The original letter does not appear to have survived, but Wellington freely discussed it at headquarters and according to Stewart, ‘Croker … wrote to him that he thought the people of England would now like a battle, even if it was attended with a good share of blood’. (Stewart to Castlereagh, 21 Dec 1810 D3030/P/35). Wellington was evidently pleased with his reply to Croker, for both Stewart and Alexander Gordon report him as having responded, ‘I will not do what will please the people of England. I will endeavour to do what is good for them.’ (This is the wording given by Stewart (Stewart to Castlereagh 21 Dec 1810 D3030/P/35). Alexander Gordon did not name Croker but told Aberdeen that Wellington was determined not as to be influenced by ‘popular clamour’ or ‘your infamous newspaper writers’. ‘Lord Wellington will act as he thinks fit and for their Good, not to please them’. Alexander Gordon to Aberdeen 22 Dec 1810 At Wellington’s Right Hand p 139-41. The published version of Wellington’s letter reads, ‘I cannot but think that I act wisely and honestly towards them [the people of England] to do what I think is good for them, rather than what will please them’. Wellington to Croker 20 Dec 1810 Croker Papers vol 1 p 40-43).
Wellington seems to have lived up to this grandiloquent promise: he did not allow the obvious political advantages of a victory to sway his decision not to attack Masséna; indeed if British politics had any influence it was in the other direction – the weakness of the government, and its inability to protect him in the event of defeat, may have encouraged him to be cautious. It is most unlikely that this was decisive in his decision not to attack Masséna in late 1810, but it is possible that Wellington would have been more inclined to take risks and give way to his natural boldness if the British government had not been so chronically weak and crisis-prone between the autumn of 1809 and the winter of 1812-13. (See Wellington to William Wellesley-Pole 11 Jan 1811 Raglan Papers Wellington A no 39 partly printed in WSD vol 7 p 40-43 and discussed further below).
Ambiguity of news from the Portugal:
Lady Bessborough described the different interpretations of Masséna’s retreat to Santarem which her mother, Countess Spencer, encountered:
At Mrs Howe’s it was explained to her as very good, and a proof of Lord Wellington’s good Generalship making Masséna retreat and Mr Long had betted (for the pleasure of betting with an Arch Bishop) (of York) that Masséna without a battle would be forced to retreat into Spain before February. On her return home she met with Lord Carlisle, who assur’d her Masséna had not retreated, but taken a better position, and plac’d us in a worse; that Ld. W. was no general at all, and fell from one blunder to another, and most we had to hope was his being able to embark quietly and bring his troops safely back to England, which he thought very doubtful. (Lady Bessborough to Granville Leveson Gower n.d. [Dec 1810] Granville Leveson Gower Private Correspondence vol 2 p 372-3).
Aberdeen’s letters to Alexander Gordon written at this time are remarkably negative, possibly because he was spending much of his time at Brighton and mixing in Opposition circles.
The general opinion in this country is, that you will have no battle, and indeed there is no great disposition to look at things in a very sanguine view. It is supposed that if Masséna should get his reinforcements, and retire behind the Mondego into the fertile part of Portugal; that by keeping such a position he would in fact put Lord W in a state of siege, which would compel this government to order him to evacuate the country, from the enormous expense of feeding him and Lisbon. This is the language of Opposition, and it is rather general. (Aberdeen to Alexander Gordon, Brighton 17 Nov 1810 At Wellington’s Right Hand p 126-9).
‘A very great change has taken place in the opinions and expectations of people in this country with respect to the campaign. The most sanguine are staggered…’ Aberdeen goes on to cite reports in The Moniteur – hardly a reliable source – which ‘are certainly disheartening’.
They talk of sending new reinforcement; anything is desirable that would enable Lord Wellington to strike some blow. People begin to murmur and say that charmed with his strong position, he has waited so long inactive, that Masséna has concentrated his strength, received reinforcement, established communications, magazines, and entrenched himself in a position as strong as his own. In short no good is expected. I write all this as of course you will like to know the common talk. For myself, I still confidently rely on Lord W’s genius and spirit, and on the unbroken energy of the troops’. (Aberdeen to Alexander Gordon Brighton 1 Dec 1810 ibid p 131-3).
(This sort of comment would have helped fuel Wellington’s resentment at Croker’s letter and the press urging for more action).
On 1 January 1811 Aberdeen adds: ‘to say the truth, we are so much occupied by them [the Regency crisis] too, that people seem hardly to recollect there is such a thing as an army in that country’. (p 149-50) And as late as 13 February Aberdeen wrote:
With respect to Portugal the public have of late been so much occupied with the Regency that not much has been thought or said about it. The general feeling however is still gloomy and unfavourable, so that any advantage on the part of Lord W. will come with great effect. Your situation is undoubtedly proud, but it would have been more felt if such sanguine anticipations had not been held out. You taught us to expect the utter annihilation of Masséna and his army over an over again, and these expectations which you entertained so warmly were certainly in some degree countenanced by the dispatches of Lord W. This is the reason why people are in some degree disappointed. (ibid p 161-3).
Wellington’s view of British politics before the Regency crisis:
On 4 October Charles Stewart wrote to Castlereagh approving his rejection of Perceval’s overture: impossible for Castlereagh to join with Canning so soon. He added ‘I have little or no communication now with Lord Wellington on anything but points of duty, but his language when I last talked to him at Alverca was precisely what Lord Wellesley’s is stated to be. [i.e. need to strengthen the government]’ PRONI D3030/P/24.
Wellington’s reaction to the Regency Crisis:
Wellington seldom took a rosy view of British politics and even before the King fell ill he had told Charles Arbuthnot, one of the Secretaries to the Treasury and the government’s chief ‘numbers man’, that ‘you have no legitimate majority in the House of Commons, and the occurrences of the last session show how little dependence can be placed upon the casual support of one or other of the loose parties which are floating about.’ He urged the importance of the government gaining recruits but recognized that although Canning would ‘give you most talent in the House of Commons, and by his friends Huskisson and Bourne most assistance in office’, their accession would drive both Castlereagh and Sidmouth into outright opposition while adding a destabilizing element to the cabinet. (Wellington to Charles Arbuthnot 5 Oct 1810 WSD vol 6 p 611-12). Solving this conundrum was probably impossible, yet Wellington sometimes wrote as if the ministers deliberately remained weak simply to tease him.
On 15 December news had arrived up to late November and Wellington gave his first detailed comments on the Regency Crisis in a letter to William Wellesley-Pole. He hoped that the government would not follow the precedents of 1788 too closely: ‘If they limit the power of the Prince in too great a degree, they will necessarily democratize the Prince’s government, and the mischief done to the country will be permanent. Besides, the restrictions on his power are not necessary now, as they were in 1788.’ He feared that restrictions would deeply offend the Prince, and led him to take an active part in politics against Perceval and his colleagues even if the King recovered. He also explained that he had not written to Lord Wellesley,
Because I have always expected that he would quit the government; at which period it would have been reported that he and I had been intriguing to increase the power of our family, and I wished to be able to say that I had not written him a line since he went into office. I could write to him upon no public occurrence which was not referred to Lord Liverpool in letters which he must have seen; and as for private concerns, I never trouble my head about them. (Wellington to William Wellesley-Pole 15 Dec 1810 WSD vol 7 p 4-5).
On the last day of the year Wellington wrote to his brother Henry with some revealing advice on how to react if the Prince brought the Whigs into office:
In the event of a change of government in England, I don’t think it likely that you will be allowed to continue in your office at Cadiz; but I recommend you to remain in it till you will be recalled, on the principle that it is a professional and not a political employment. If you should find that the business does not go on to your satisfaction, it will always be time enough to resign.
I shall follow the same course; and indeed, adverting to the attacks of the Opposition upon me at different times, and the inconvenience which will be felt by any change, I am not certain that I shall not offer any new government which might be formed to stay as long as they might think proper. But you could not adopt this last step certainly; and I doubt even whether I ought. (Wellington to Henry Wellesley Cartaxo 31 Dec 1810 WSD vol 7 p 11-12).
In other words Wellington would offer to serve a new government as he had served the Talents, as an apolitical solider, although it would surely have proved difficult for both sides to set aside the events of the last four years and to establish the mutual trust and confidence needed between a general in the field and the government which bore ultimate responsibility for his actions.
On 10 January Wellington learnt that the King was still very ill and of the restrictions Perceval was proposing for the power of the Regent. He was unimpressed by the government’s success in the initial vote, telling Beresford, ‘From all that I have heard of the composition of the majority of 279, I think it doubtful that the ministry will be able to succeed in restraining the power of the Regent, and certain that the Ministry will be charged immediately’. (Wellington to Beresford 10 January 1811 WD IV p 52)
Wellington’s letter to Pole of 11 January 1811, attacking Liverpool:
It is worth quoting this at greater length:
I think you are mistaken in your conjecture respecting the confidence reposed in me by the Cabinet, and the desire to reinforce this Army. I can’t say what the sentiments and objects of the Cabinet are; but I think I can prove from the letters and conduct of the Minister of the War Department that his sentiments and objects are entirely different from those you suppose. He has been dabbling in a Game separate from that to be played in this Country ever since he came into Office; and he has never acted with me upon any broad or liberal system of confidence; even lately he has gone so far as to send an officer to the Peninsula with Instructions which separate him from me entirely. [Presumably this refers to Graham at Cadiz, although he was sent almost a year before].
Then I have never been able to draw from him any Specific Instructions, or even statement of an object. You have seen the only Instructions which I have; which are to save the British Army; & that is the only object officially stated to me for keeping an Army in the Peninsula.
I agree entirely in opinion with you that it is desirable, nay necessary, to reinforce this army at an early period to a large amount, and of this opinion I have repeatedly apprised Lord Liverpool in some public dispatches, and in many private letters: but after what has been stated to you, you will hardly believe that I have now scarcely the force which was originally promised me, which was to be 35,000 infantry…
… I am sure that if we cannot persevere in carrying it [the contest] on in the Peninsula, or elsewhere on the Continent, we must prepare to make one of our own islands the seat of the war; and when one of them will have been so for a week, we shall heartily repeat all the little, dirty feelings which have prevented us from continuing the contest elsewhere…
I acknowledge that I doubt whether this government (I mean the existing administration in England) have the power, or the inclination, or the nerves, to do all that ought to be done to carry the contest on as it might be. I am the commander of the British army without any of the patronage or power that an officer in that situation has always had. I have remonstrated against this system, but in vain… I have not authority to give a shilling, or a stand of arms, or a round of musket ammunition to anybody. I do give all, it is true; but it is contrary to my instructions, and at my peril; and I don’t think that government ought in fairness to make a man what they call commander of the forces, and place him in the perilous situation in which they have got me, without giving him in specific terms either power or confidence, or without being certain of having a majority in Parliament to support him in case of accidents.
You can have no idea of the risks I incur every day upon every subject, which not another officer of the army even look at; and for this reason I have pressed the strengthening of government much against their inclination: but if I did not incur these risks, the service in these times could not go on for a moment. I believe that the recommendation which I have given that the Government should be strengthened has put me out of favour with the War Minister.
I agree with you in thinking that the Prince of Wales will make a complete change: indeed I don’t think that the restrictions on his power will be carried. (Wellington to William Wellesley-Pole, 11 Jan 1811 Raglan Papers Wellington A no 39, printed with extensive silent deletions in WSD vol 7 p 40-44).
Nothing Wellington wrote either before or after this letter equaled its severity, although he was seldom restrained or understated in his grumbling. There can be no doubt of his sincerity – he was clearly expressing long-nurtured grievances – but it seems unlikely that it was a coincidence that he gave vent to them at a time when he believed that the government was about to be changed. It is more doubtful whether we can take a further step and say that he was deliberately seeking to distance himself from Perceval’s cabinet, but after receiving the letter Pole would certainly have been able to tell any enquirers that his brother did not regard himself as indissolubly tied to the outgoing-ministers. The clear implication of the letter was that Wellington would not be unhappy to see a new government take office. He had little to hope for from the Whigs but may have preferred the idea of a strong government which would either support or dismiss him, to a continuation of the existing regime. (Whether this preference would have lasted long if put to the test is quite another matter). He may also have cherished the hope that the crisis might produce a strong united Pittite government led by Lord Wellesley embracing a Canning, Castlereagh, Sidmouth and all their followers. Many supporters of the existing ministry would have welcomed such an outcome although the other members of the cabinet were by now disillusioned with the Foreign Secretary. Nor did Wellington ever express such hopes – if he had them – on paper; and his own relations with Lord Wellesley were clearly less close than they had been.
How the Army viewed the Regency Crisis:
On 5 Dec 1810 Charles Boutflower recorded that,
English papers received yesterday … confirm the unpleasant intelligence of the King’s Malady. On the supposition that it may continue, many Speculations are afloat. It is conjectured by several, that in the event of a Regency there will be an entire change in the policy hitherto observed towards the Peninsula. Most people however seem to think, that, should a British Force continue here, no set of Ministers would dare to displace Lord Wellington, as from his deserved popularity and local knowledge such a change would not fail to excite the utmost discontent among the British and despondency among the Portuguese troops. (Boutflower Journal p 72).
Not all attitudes to the Regency question fell along predictable party lines. Wellington’s brother-in-law Hercules Pakenham had a seat in the Commons representing County Westmeath, and had supported the government steadily throughout the Walcheren Enquiry. In the winter of 1810-11 he was on the staff of Picton’s Third Division in Portugal, and it was natural to assume that he would have followed Perceval’s line on the Regency restrictions. However he told his brother, Lord Longford,
Had I ever been ever so inclined to join the debaters in London, the Situation of the Armies would have prevented me; as to Politics had I been at home I rather think I should have been for the unrestricted plan, for in my kind it is impossible that any man can imagine that the Good Old King after such frequent visitations, Blind, nearly Deaf, and Seventy Four, can ever recover: His madness may cease, but his Intellects cannot resume their Tone, – in a quiescent state he may long Exist, but can never act as a King. (H. Pakenham to Lord Longford, 26 Jan 1811, Pakenham Letters p 69).
Pakenham does not seem to have been worried that a change of government would affect the army in Portugal.
Alexander Gordon also took a rather puzzling line, writing to Aberdeen on 19 January 1811: ‘I am very anxious to hear from you, and what part you mean to take with the Prince’s Government, I must say I should feel inclined to support him. I very much fear we shall have a peace, which in my opinion will be the first step to the downfall of Great Britain’. And, a fortnight later, ‘You cannot imagine how anxious we are to hear from England. I very much fear we shall soon have a peace if the Prince is regent. In my conversations with the French they always hope for such taking place with a change in our Government’. (At Wellington’s Right Hand, p 152-6, 158-9)
In early February Charles Boutflower had lost his initial confidence and was growing worried.
The whole Army is tired of the late inactivity. If something is not done soon, it is probable that the New Ministers will put a stop to all ulterior intentions by withdrawing the Army from the Peninsula. Their Organ, the Morning Chronicle, appears to be feeling the public Pulse on the subject. Such a proceeding would blot the Page of History, and should only be recorded as a momento of the infamy of those who could recommend and adopt such a measure. (Boutflower Journal 4 Feb 1811 p 75).
If the Opposition had formed a government:
The most credible list of offices in an Opposition government has Grenville as PM; Grey, Foreign Secretary; Ponsonby and Holland as the other two secretaries of state and Whitbread at the Admiralty (Buckingham to Grenville 9 Jan 1811 HMC Dropmore vol 10 p 97-99 Aspinall Correspondence of George, Prince of Wales vol 7 p 130-1; however on 1 February Creevey told his wife that Whitbread believed that he was to have the War Department and Holland the Admiralty: Creevey Papers p 141-3.
Lord Holland later claimed (Further Memoirs of the Whig Party p 88) that he had obtained the agreement of Grey and Grenville to reinforce Wellington’s army, but there is no contemporary evidence to support this suggestion, and it is not really credible.
On the other hand we cannot assume that the Opposition would have recalled Wellington or his army. Apart from anything else the timing would have made this difficult. Assuming that they had taken office in the first week of February they would surely have written to Wellington asking for his views on the prospects facing him, rather than taken an immediate decisive step. By the time their letter reached Portugal, or very soon after, Masséna would have begun his withdrawal and attitudes to the campaign in Britain were transformed. Not even the Whigs and Grenvilles would have been so self-defeating as to turn away this gift horse, and once committed to the cause they might have learnt to champion it. Or they might have quarreled with Wellington. We don’t know and it is unsafe to make dogmatic assertions.
The consequences of a change of government in early 1811:
Edward Cooke speculated on the likely outcome of a change of government in a letter to Charles Stewart written in the middle of January, although he, of course, was a hostile observer:
There will be a run, if [the] Whig Party comes in, against Lord Wellington. You of course see the Morning Chronicle. They say he has done nothing and that Masséna has played with him as he pleased and that he cannot maintain his Position – I hear this Game is in Contemplation, to demand of Wellington his Plan in all its Parts & Objects and then if Lord Wellington will undertake the carrying his own Plan at all Hazards and be responsible for the Consequences they will support him. I should suppose however Lord Wellington will not be taken in by such a Language and that he will make his Continuance at the Head o the Army dependent on the Approbation and support from Home that he will act upon a joint Responsibility or not at all. Of course he must expect hostility from all the Senior Parts of the Army. (Cooke to Stewart 13 Jan 1811 PRONI D3030/AA/22).
Pole assures Wellington of Liverpool’s support; Wellington unconvinced:
Wellington’s letter of 11 January arrived just as the political crisis was being resolved, and Pole hastened to inform his brother that Perceval and his colleagues were likely to remain in office. Pole was evidently shocked at the vehemence of Wellington’s criticism of the government and tried hard to persuade him that it was not justified.
I am perfectly satisfied that you are mistaken in supposing that you do not possess the confidence of ministers – if there is anything like truth in man, there never was more implicit confidence felt in any General Officers, than is felt by Perceval, Lord Liverpool, and I firmly believe by all the other members of the Cabinet in You… If anything has happened of which you disapprove would it not be well to confide it to Lord Liverpool [?] If you think him too reserved in his communications would it not be advisable to tell him so? … I feel so certain that you possess the unbounded confidence and good opinion of Ministers that I am quite unhappy you should think otherwise, and I am satisfied that it wants only explanation to clear the matter up to your satisfaction. (William Wellesley-Pole to Wellington 1 Feb 1811 Raglan Papers Wellington B no 111 – the letter includes news that the Prince had resolved to retain the ministers and it is possible that it may be slightly misdated – possibly 4 February is correct – or that it was written over several days).
Before Pole’s letter reached Wellington he had learnt of the Prince’s decision and reacted with a marked lack of enthusiasm, telling his brother Henry that ‘the Regent had sent for Lord Grey and Lord Grenville; but that, finding the King was so much better, he had informed Mr Perceval that he should not change the ministry. This is the only report, but I think that if the ministers find that they have not his confidence, they must quit their offices. It will not answer to have him running to the opposition upon every communication he receives from ministers.’ (Wellington to Henry Wellesley 23 Feb 1811 WD IV p 615-616). As usual Wellington saw politics too darkly and Pole’s letter when it arrived could not completely dispel his distrust and suspicion of the ministers.
French view of connection between Regency Crisis and Masséna’s campaign:
The French in Portugal took a keen interest in the unfolding of the Regency crisis which they followed in the newspapers which, along with coffee, sugar and other luxuries were smuggled through the Lines to them from Lisbon. (Wellington to Charles Stuart 6 Feb 1811 WD IV p 583). Their understanding of British politics was not very sophisticated (e.g. see Ney’s letter to Junot of 6 June 1810 quoted in Horward Napoleon and Iberia p 102), but they knew that Wellington’s brother was a member of the existing government, and that the Opposition Whigs were the party of Charles James Fox who had shown such enduring sympathy for the French revolution and Napoleon. They hoped that a change of government in London would lead to peace negotiations and a wider European settlement which might see an end to the war in Spain – which they hated – through the marriage of an Austrian Archduchess to Prince Ferdinand and his restoration to power as a French ally. Rumours along these lines persisted throughout the winter and caused some alarm in the British camp, with Alexander Gordon, for example, regarding peace talks as ‘the first step to the downfall of Great Britain’. (Alexander Gordon to Aberdeen 19 Jan 1811 At Wellington’s Right Hand p 152-6 see also same to same 15 Dec 1810 and 2 Feb 1811 ibid p 136-9, 158-9; Charles Stewart to Castlereagh 24 Nov 1810 PRONI D3030/P/33 Pelet French Campaign in Portugal p 341 all reporting opinion in the French army). The more modest and perhaps more likely possibility of a new British government abandoning its commitment to Portugal and withdrawing Wellington’s army figures much less prominently in French hopes: well aware of their own difficulties and oblivious to some of those facing the allies it probably seemed far too good a stroke of fortune to be a reasonable hope. (However Napoleon, who drew on the British press for his information, did hope that a change of government in London would lead to the recall of Wellington and his army. Girod de l’Ain Vie Militaire du General Foy p 122).
The coincidence between the long stalemate in Portugal and the political crisis in England has always suggested an important link between them, but on closer examination it proves hard to establish a significant connection.
Masséna’s retreat to Santarem:
The French retreat was carefully planned and well-executed: the hospitals and heavy baggage were removed first, then troops further to the rear, and finally those immediately facing the allies. It achieved complete surprise: a remarkable success given the proximity of the two armies and the amount of unofficial traffic between them. Wellington was slow to launch a pursuit and then misjudged Masséna’s intentions, believing that he was marching for Spain. Encountering what he took to be a rear-guard at Santarem he intended to attack the French even though they were occupying a strong position. The late arrival of some artillery forced a postponement of the attack, and further reconnaissance revealed that the French were in great strength. As Benjamin D’Urban wrote in his diary, ‘we should have fallen into the Trap which had been set for us and sacrificed the two attacking Divisions probably… by blindly making a straggling and unsupported attempt in defiance of local difficulties and with the Body of the Army at a distance. Good fortune has supplied what was deficient on the score of Prudence’. (D’Urban Journal 20 Nov 1810 p 163. See also Tomkinson Diary p 60-62). Wellington then hoped to turn the relatively open right flank of the French army, but heavy rain made the roads impassable and on 24 November he put his army into winter quarters while keeping the Light Division in close contact with the French at Santarem. (D’Urban Journal 24 Nov p 164).
See also James Stanhope’s account (Eyewitness p 41-42) which gives a slightly different version of events.
Masséna’s army winters at Santarem:
The French army now faced several months of inactivity and endurance. There was little Masséna could do to improve the position of his men; although as supplies near Santarem diminished the French looked more eagerly across the Tagus to the wide plains and rich fields of Alentejo. Work on a pontoon bridge had begun at Santarem almost as soon as the army’s march on Lisbon had been checked, but it proved painfully slow and difficult. The Portuguese had been extremely thorough in removing anything that could assist the French, leading General Eblé to complain in despair that there was not even a sack of coal left in the city. (Pelet French Campaign in Portugal p 251-2) Nonetheless some progress was made and Wellington detached General Fane with a battalion of caçadores and brigade of Portuguese dragoons to observe the French from the Alentejo side of the Tagus. When Masséna retreated to Santarem, Wellington sent Hill and his two divisions into Alentejo. An attempt was made to burn the bridging materials at Santarem using Congreve rockets on 13 November but did not succeed and was not repeated. (Oman vol 3 p 461-2, 475-6).
Drouet brought with him letters and news from Paris, the first communication Masséna had received from the outside world, except that which had passed through the allied army, in more than three months. Among the correspondence was Foy’s report of his interview with the Emperor, and Napoleon’s instructions to Masséna. Foy wrote, ‘My mission to Paris has produced excellent results. The Emperor appears to be content; yet his anxieties about the fate of the army are great’. (Foy to Masséna 4 Dec 1810 quoted by Horward in Pelet French Campaign in Portugal p 323n). In fact Foy had emerged well from a long and demanding interview in which Napoleon had questioned him vigorously about Masséna’s conduct of the campaign, before promoting him to be a general of division. In the interview Napoleon had conceded that the attempt to drive the British into the sea had failed and instead looked to sustained operations to wear them down in a war of attrition. ‘As long as Masséna stays in position opposite Lisbon, nothing is lost; he is still a terror to the English, and keeps the offensive. If he retreats, I fear great disaster for him’. (Foy’s notes of the interview quoted in Oman vol 3 p 457). He also suggested that if Masséna besieged Abrantes Wellington might feel forced to attack the French in order to relieve it; but this ignored the fact that Masséna had left his siege train at Almeida. Napoleon’s orders to Masséna were also conveyed through Foy: ‘It is necessary that the Prince organize his food, that he entrench himself, that he construct bridgeheads, that his communication with Spain be established with strong posts at a distance of two or three marches apart, and that he continue to hold the country. I will send the 9th Corps to Coimbra and the 5th Corps to Alentejo’. (Foy to Masséna 4 Dec 1810 quoted by Horward in Pelet French Campaign in Portugal p 323n).
Masséna’s reaction to these instructions may have been mixed. On the one hand his decision not to abandon his position in front of Lisbon and retreat into Spain, or march on Oporto, was vindicated by the Emperor’s approval, and Napoleon had made only relatively minor criticisms of his handling of the campaign – the loss of the hospital at Coimbra and the tactics used at Busaco were inevitably censured with the infallible wisdom of imperial hindsight. But Napoleon offered little comfort for the future. The IX Corps had already arrived and it offered no solution to Masséna’s problems. The V Corps, led by Marshal Mortier, was part of Soult’s army in Andalusia. It was composed of good troops but was numerically not much stronger than Drouet’s IX Corps, and before it could advance into Alentejo it would have to defeat the Spanish Army of Estremadura and capture or bypass Badajoz and Elvas, stronger fortresses than Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida. There was no suggestion that if Masséna could hold out until the spring he would receive another forty or fifty thousand men already being prepared in France, nor that Soult would be ordered to abandon the siege of Cadiz and most or all of Andalusia in order to bring a really large army into Portugal south of the Tagus. And without such dramatic measures to alter the military balance in Portugal it was unlikely that the campaign would end well for Masséna.
The Allied army in winter quarters:
While Masséna’s men foraged far and wide and eked out their rations as well as they could, most of the British army spent the winter in comfortable quarters with regular supplies of rations. Officers did not go hungry if Charles Cocks can be believed: ‘We live very well, having plenty of mutton, beef, fowl, turkey, coffee, butter, bread, potatoes and figs. My cellar – alias pigskins – is stocked with sherry, Collares, an excellent wine of this country like claret but not so strong, and some draught wine’. His quarters were not so good being ‘rather cold, having neither window, nor door, nor fire place’, although it is likely that he soon remedied these deficiencies. (Cocks to Miss Margaret Maria Cocks, 3 Nov 1810 Page Intelligence Officer in the Peninsula p 91). British troops, particularly those of the Fifth Division, had a distressing habit of wrecking their quarters and using the doors and window frames for firewood. Wellington issued repeated General Orders against this, and against cutting down olive trees for firewood, pointing out that plenty of other timber was in easy reach and that regiments should send out fatigue parties each day to cut firewood. (GOs 26 November 5-12 Dec 1810 WD IV p 432, 450, 457). Moyle Sherer of the 2/34th gives an idea of life in a typical line regiment in three months:
For a few days on our first arrival in this quarter, my friend and I pitched our tent in the market place. Here I took my meals, but slept with my company in a church, in which about two hundred of men were accommodated. The senior officer had the sacristy, the next little chamber or recess behind the high altar, and the rest of us made ourselves truly comfortable in the large organ-loft. I used often to lean out of this gallery, and contemplate the strange scene below me. How a sober citizen from St Paul’s church-yard would have stared to see a serjeant of grenadiers writing his reports on the communion-table, a fifer lounging at his ease in the pulpit, and practising his favourite quick step, and the men dividing and calling off their rations of raw beef on tombs of polished marble. (Sherer Recollections of the Peninsula p 123-4).
Reinforcements ordered to sail in January:
Seven full, if rather weak, battalions were ordered to sail in the middle of January: 2nd Foot, 1/36th, 51st; 2/52nd; 85th, 1st + 2nd KGL Light Battalions (Fortescue vol 8 p 26n). They amounted to 4,547 fit for duty (probably rand and file, so over 5,000 including officers etc) 400 sick were not to sail (Liverpool to Wellington 17 Jan 1811 WO 6/29 p 19-23).
A further 1,100 drafts were being prepared and as the seven battalions did not get away until almost the end of the month some of the drafts probably sailed with them (drafts: Liverpool to Wellington 16 Jan 1811 WO 6/50 p 165-7; convoy details McGuffie Peninsular Cavalry General p 51, 59).
The government also took steps to send out fresh horses to the cavalry, and Liverpool told Wellington that he could have the 11th Light Dragoons whenever the war moved into good cavalry country (Liverpool to Wellington 18 Jan 1811 WO 6/50 p 176-77).
Boredom and discontent in allied army:
As the weeks, then months, passed officers and men throughout the army became bored and discontented. Stepney Cowell was a keen sportsman and enjoyed shooting, and hunting ‘We had at this time no dogs, but Lord Wellington kindly allowed officers of his acquaintance to take his; and we frequently did so’. (Cowell Leaves from the Diary of an Officer of the Guards p 46-7 cf Leach Rough Notes of an Old Soldier p 188-9). But he admits that in general life was ‘flat and unprofitable. Without books or anything to break the tedium vitae, the arrival of a mail from England was a great event. When newspapers reached us they were read with avidity’. The protracted stalemate sapped the army’s morale. On 9 November Alexander Dickson wrote that, ‘The two armies are exactly in the same positions as they have been for some time, and in truth it is becoming very tiresome and stupid this laying upon our oars’. (Dickson Manuscripts vol 2 p 295). A fortnight later Charles Boutflower roundly declared that ‘This is generally and justly considered one of the most sickening Campaigns in Military History; notwithstanding the advanced Season of the Year, there being no probability of an early conclusion to it. A great portion of the Officers of the British Army are disgusted with it’. (Boutflower Journal 26 Nov 1810 p 71). Even Rowland Hill was by no means overflowing with confidence. On 3 November he told his father ‘I daresay Bonaparte will, when he finds [Masséna] has not a sufficient troops, send more. Many are of opinion that Masséna will not be able to keep his ground, and must either quit the country or surrender. I must own I am not quite so sanguine as they are; but at the same time, I think he is rather in a scrape if he does not get more troops soon’. A week later he commented that ‘it is, however, a difficult matter to starve a Frenchman’, while by the middle of December he was growing impatient: ‘Surely affairs in this country cannot long remain in a state of uncertainty. I do not, however, think the French have sufficient force in Portugal to drive us out of our strong position, nor do I think Lord Wellington has sufficient strength to drive them out of the country’. (Sidney Life of Hill p 149-50, 150-1, 153-4). On 9 February 1811 Major-General Miles Nightingall, recently arrived from England, told a friend, ‘The idea of the French army being obliged to retreat for want of supplies is, I fancy, given up by this time even the most sanguine and Masséna will naturally remain in his strong position until he receives reinforcements sufficient to enable him to move forward and also to occupy the Alentejo’. (‘The Nightingall Letters. Letters from Major-General Miles Nightingall in Portugal, February to June 1811’ edited by Michael Glover J.S.A.H.R. vol 51 Autumn 1973 p 133).
Captain John Squire of the Royal Engineers went rather beyond the usual grumbling in his comments on the campaign, and as his letters home were directed to Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Bunbury, Liverpool’s under-secretary of state of war, his views may have had some influence on the way the war was perceived in London. Having previously dismissed the Lines of Torres Vedras as useless, Squire had to explain his mistake, which he did as any good commentator would do, by blaming the French for not employing a much larger army. ‘Now indeed in consequence of the follies of our enemy our affairs wear a most brilliant appearances and the very safety of the French Army becomes every day in my mind more and more precarious’. (Squire to Bunbry, Sobral, 10 Oct 1810 BL Add Ms 63,106 f 11-12, courtesy Mark Thompson). The high spirits of this letter soon curdled, soured by the continual failure of events to conform to Squire’s predictions. Within a month he had decided that the French army had never amounted to 50,000 men, that it was now far less, at that Masséna had not attacked the Lines because he was outnumbered three to one. (Squire to Bunbury, Sobral, 6 Nov 1810 BL Add Ms 63,106 f 13-15 courtesy Mark Thompson). By 20 November, with the French at Santarem, Squire was convinced that it would have been a simple matter to cut off their retreat and force their surrender: ‘Is it not afflicting that our affairs should be conducted with such little judgement and foresight? It is I confess the height of mortification to me when I contemplate these lamentable transactions… Within these last 7 days we might have decided the fate of the campaign – we might have made Masséna and his whole army prisoner’. (Squire to Bunbury Chamusca, 20 Nov 1810 BL Add Ms 63,106 f 16-17 courtesy Mark Thompson). The inactivity of the next few weeks drove Squire to distraction so that he viewed events strangely: ‘It is still however in [Wellington’s] power to establish the character and recover the lost reputation of the Army now serving in Portugal – the enemy at this moment between the Mondego and the Tagus have not more than 30,000 men. We have upwards of 70,000 regulars’. He wished that Wellington might be inspired by accounts of the great captain of the past but feared that ‘as a military nation we are becoming more contemptible’. (Squire to Bunbury, Chamusca, 21 Dec 1810 BL Add Ms 63,106 f 20-21 courtesy Mark Thompson). Nothing lightened Squire’s gloom throughout the winter and as late as March he wrote home predicting that the French were about to be reinforced and that the allies would tamely withdraw within the Lines on both sides of the Tagus. (Squire to Bunbury Chamusca 1 March 1811 BL Add Ms 63,106 f 26-27 courtesy Mark Thompson).
Confidence in Wellington:
Squire’s views were both extreme and untypical of opinion in the army where there was widespread confidence in Wellington’s judgement. The Rev Samuel Briscall, who, a year earlier had expressed grave misgivings about his commander, was full of praise of Busaco:
Whatever the French or the opposition may say of Lord Welllington’s campaign, it has been of the highest description of generalship. Nothing like fear or confusion in any part of it, but on the contrary every movement being conducted in the highest degree regularly and nobly. He chooses to keep his army entire for action and therefore risks nothing, nor will he fight them at a disadvantage though there is no doubt of his beating them whenever he fights’. (Glover ‘Excellent Young Man’ p 581).
Charles Stewart told Edward Cooke on 9 November,
I think you are quite right, in Your Conclusion in your Letter, that Lord Wellington has shewn himself a great Officer, if we wanted any proof of that which was before universally acknowledged. There is no doubt he possesses a quickness of Conception – Execution, a facility of Arrangement in the most Complicated Concerns, and a Talent for Command, beyond any officer I ever witnessed. When you add to this his great practise, always acting on a large scale in India and elsewhere, and his known Intrepidity, and I hardly know what other Accomplishment one could wish for this most perfect Soldier. (Charles Stewart to Cooke 9 Nov 1810, PRONI D3030/AA/18).
And Sir Thomas Picton told his friends in London that, ‘The whole business of the Retreat, and everything connected with it, has been conducted with great judgement and regularity, and the Enemy have been completely foiled in all their attempts and expectations’. (Picton to Flanagan 3 Nov 1810 ‘Some Unpublished Letters of Sir Thomas Picton’ p 154-55).
Benjamin D’Urban felt that more might have been done to confine French foraging parties to a limited tract of country, and, in mid December, he thought that he saw an opportunity for a allied attack which might ‘brilliantly terminate the Campaign’, but on reflection he was content to defer to Wellington: ‘he is a Judge that one has no right to dispute the opinion of, and we may safely trust in him’. (D’Urban Journal 24-26 Oct 1810, 18 Dec 1810, 6-8 Feb 1811 p 159, 168-9, 182 cf Page Intelligence Officer in the Peninsula p 92-3, 97-100 and Tomkinson Diary p 58-60, 65-77 describing the many petty operations they were engaged in near Obidos and Coldas, well north of the lines, against French foraging parties).
However passive submission was not a characteristic of British officers of the period, and throughout the campaigns which followed they continued to comment, with great freedom and confidence, on the likely course of events, and Wellington’s successes and failures as they saw them. A small minority remained convinced, like some of the Opposition politicians at home, that the next twist in the road would infallibly bring the long postponed disaster, while others sprang from elation to despair with dizzying speed. Most, throughout the war, had great confidence in the army’s success in action and Wellington’s operational leadership, while the successful defence of Portugal removed longstanding doubts over the strategic purpose and sustainability of the campaign.
Hill wrote in December that Wellington ‘goes out hunting about twice a week’. (Hill to his sister 15 Dec 1810 Sidney Life of Hill p 153-4).
And Squire complained a week later ‘We should not hear of his inactivity and of his having hunted twice in the last fortnight at Salvatierna!!!!’ (Squire to Bunbury 21 Dec 1810 BL Add Ms 63,106 f 20-21 courtesy Mark Thompson).
Both Graham and Larpent lament Wellington’s failure to take hunting seriously enough. (Thomas Graham to Robert Graham of Fintry 17 Dec 1811 HMC Graham of Fintry p 159-60; Larpent Private Journal Tuesday 26 Jan 1813 p 47-9)
For more on the whole subject see Brett-James Life in Wellington’s Army ch13.
The British government had marked the victory at Busaco by conferring the Order of the Bath on Beresford in recognition of his work in reforming the Portuguese army. Wellington was deputed to perform the ceremony and determined to make a grand event of it both for the amusement and pleasure of the officers of the army, and in order that the honour itself be properly valued. (He had similarly celebrated Sherbrooke’s investiture in 1809. Possibly this reflected a lesson learnt from Cradock’s misfired joke over Wellington’s investiture in 1805). A dinner and ball were organized at Mafra on 7 November to which all the leading society of Lisbon, the army and the naval squadron were invited. When Admiral Berkeley expressed some qualms – few of his captains evidently had their full dress uniform with them, Wellington replied with characteristic pragmatism, ‘We shall all appear in our best attire, but I fear that, with many, bad is best; and we shall be highly flattered by your company, and that of the Captains of the fleet, whether in full or in frock uniforms’. (Wellington to Admiral Berkeley 4 and 5 Nov 1810 WD IV p 393-4, 398 (quote from second letter)).
According to Charles Colville, who sent home a detailed description of the entertainment, ‘The ceremony itself was far from grand or imposing, consisting of nothing more than the reading (inarticulate enough) of two short papers by his Lordship, and his laying his sword on the new Knight’s shoulder, when indeed the difficulty he found in returning it to the scabbard struck myself (if it did no others) with a kind of characteristic reference to his imputed love of war…’. Sir Brent Spencer, showing the benefit of years of service at court, managed the introduction and salutation of the new Knight with considerable grace. Formalities over, attention shifted to the dinner, with dancing and supper to follow, although here too the event fell a little way short of the beau ideal.
This took place in the grand audience chamber where, and in an adjoining drawing room, a downright crowd were jammed in from five o’clock (the hour appointed for dinner) till near eight, when numbers composed of juniors of the Allied Army, who had only been invited for the evening party, thought they might as well also partake of what was going on, and a general rush took place into the dining rooms where very elegant an plentiful provisions had been made for 200, but which stood no chance with double that number, so that in fact our noble host was stopt short in a round of appropriate toasts that he had commenced by a message from his aide-de-camp that there was not another drop of wine to be had. He got rid of that awkward circumstance by an admirable ruse de guerre, which both concealed the deficiency and punished the intruders: for calling all his aides de camp suddenly and rather ostentatiously, he instructed them to go round and to order all the officers to their post as the enemy were indicating an attack. The seniors, however, were directed to remain till they received their orders which, when the young ones were clearly off, was understood to be only to remain to supper. This droll circumstance caused much merriment during the rest of the evening. The squeeze indeed had been very unmannerly; I thought I should have lost my hat, but came off only minus a sword knot. My aide de camp lost his spur. I was glad to get a chair, civilly enough offered, between a Portuguese and a Surgeon’s mate who, almost sitting upon my knee, observed as he should himself in that ‘there was lots of room’. With due patience I got a plate of pigs’ head stewed and some half raw ham which, with some sweet biscuits, made my dinner. I drank the King’s health in wine and water that I had mixed in my tumbler. However there was perhaps more fun in this than would have attended a better bred but more formal party. A few couples stood up to dance in the evening, the ladies, of course, from Lisbon, including Lady G. Berkeley and a few very tolerable looking Portuguese, and I understand there was another grand ‘rhow’ at supper; but having a three hours ride to perform I left them at eleven, the whole party being of course at their posts by daybreak, not knowing what other amusement Masséna, hearing of the fete, might have in store for us. Everything however passed off very quietly. (Colville to his father 10 Nov 1810 Colville Portrait of a General p 24-26 cf Stepney Cowell Leaves from the Diary of an Officer of the Guards p 29 and Gomm Letters and Journals p 195-6).
According to another officer, Wellington ‘was in the highest spirits. He withdrew privately about midnight, and the whole retired soon after two o’clock in the morning’. (Boutflower Journal 9 Nov 1810 p 69). And whatever the deficiencies in the ordering and in the behaviour of some guests, the whole occasion was immensely successful as a gesture of confidence in the strength and future of the alliance.
Wellington paid for the dinner himself and grumbled to Charles Stuart the following August that he had been overcharged (Wellington to Charles Stuart 12 Aug 1811 WD IV p 211-212).
Senior officers coming and going:
There were a number of enforced changes in the senior ranks of the army: Catlin Craufurd and Richard Stewart both died after illnesses and Alan Cameron had gone home ‘quite worn out’ by long service and with a warm recommendation from Wellington that the government reward him. (Wellington to Liverpool 24 Nov 1810 WD IV p 431). In December Fane, Hill and Leith all fell ill and were forced home, although not before Hill spent a month in Lisbon trying to throw off the fever without much success. Wellington was particularly sympathetic towards Fane and Hill arranging the former’s passage home on a ship of war and suggesting that the latter try a change of air by visiting Cintra. He made clear that he was sorry to see them go home, but did so without any hint of reproach. (Wellington to Leith 22 Dec 1810, to Fane 23 Dec and to Hill 30 Dec and 8 Jan 1811 WD IV p 470, 472, 486, 509. See also Wellington’s kindness to Charles Cocks when the death of his grandfather required him to go home briefly: Wellington to Cocks 26 Feb 1811; Wellington to Admiral Berkeley 1 March 1811 WD IV p 635, 641. Tomkinson Diary 27 Feb 1811 p 76. Cocks was a particular favourite of Wellington – and well deserved it).
He was much less accommodating towards Cotton and Craufurd both of whom began to talk of going home to attend to ‘private business’ as soon as the troops settled into their winter quarters. Wellington did not believe that he had the authority to deny officers permission to go home, (although as the weeks passed and requests multiplied he came close to doing so), but he strongly urged Cotton and Craufurd to remain, arguing that it was not unlikely that the campaign would resume before they had time even to reach England. He also warned Craufurd that it had not been easy to keep him in command of the Light Division, ‘and, if you should go, I fear I should not be able to appoint you to it again, or to one that would be so agreeable to you, or in which you could be so useful’. (Wellington to Craufurd 9 Dec 1810 WD IV p 455-6; Wellington to Cotton 7 Dec 1810 WD IV p 451; Wellington to Torrens 28 Jan 1811 WD IV p 560-2; see also Wellington to Liverpool 23 March 1811 WD IV p 693-4). These arguments were not without effect, but their power wore off as the weeks went by and Cotton sailed for home in the middle of January, followed by Craufurd in early February. Charles Stewart and George Anson also went home at this time and all four officers returned in April or May.
A few months later (August or September 1811) James Stanhope records Wellington grumbling about ‘the enormous number of sick officers, there being 700 absent and only 1,400 present. He said their constitutions must all be broken, he got warm & said “By God all my generals & officers go home, don’t wonder at it, there is no reward in England for service. In France the man gets wealth & dignities but in England a regiment is just as often given to the man who walks about London as the real soldier. Don’t wonder at their going, but they ought to have some consideration for their country & profession, I never want to go home!”’ (Stanhope Eyewitness p 64)
Senior officers at home on leave:
Liverpool told Wellington on 20 February 1811:
‘I shall endeavour to persuade the officers of your army who are here, to return as soon as possible. In the present state of things their absence from the army has a bad effect; and in more ways than one, as I have explained to you on former occasion, their presence is more injurious than serviceable to the government’. (WSD vol 7 p 68).
Wellington replied to Liverpool on 23 March 1811:
‘I assure you that the departure of the General officers from the army was as much against my inclination as their arrival in England was injurious to the public interests. I did everything in my power to prevail upon them not to go, but in vain; and I acknowledge that it has given me satisfaction to find that they have been roughly handled in the newspapers. The consequence of the absence of some of them has been, that in the late operations I have been obliged to be General of cavalry, and of the advanced guard, and the leader of 2 or 3 columns, sometimes on the same day.
‘I have required Col. Torrens not to allow any General officer to come out in future, who is not willing to declare that he has no private business to recall him to England, and that he will remain with the army as long as it shall stay in the Peninsula’. (WD IV p 693-4).
Jonathan Leach wrote in his journal in early February ‘Brigadier General Craufurd has sailed for England. God be praised we have got rid of the Vagabond’. (quoted in Urban Rifles p 94).
Erskine, Lumley and Hay:
Fortunately these months also saw the arrival of a number of new generals sent out by the Horse Guards in response to Wellington’s earlier complaint that he had too few officers to command his brigades and divisions. (Wellington to Liverpool 14 July 1810 WD IV p 168-9). The first of these generals were announced as early as August when Torrens told Wellington that Sir William Erskine, William Lumley and Andrew Hay had been ordered to Portugal. Wellington’s reaction was caustic: ‘The first I have generally understood to be a madman: I believe it is your own opinion that the second is not very wise: the third will, I believe, be a useful man’. (Wellington to Torrens 29 Aug 1810 Brett-James Wellington at War p 198-99 printed with names suppressed in WSD vol 6 p 582). Torrens knew Wellington sufficiently well not to be disconcerted or intimidated by his initial reaction to the news of their selection, and replied that Erskine had been personally chosen by Sir David Dundas, the Commander-in-Chief, who had formed a high opinion of him when an active service in Germany. ‘No doubt’, Torrens continued, ‘he is sometimes a little mad, but in his lucid intervals he is an uncommonly clever fellow; and I trust he may have no fit during the campaign, though he looked a little wild before he embarked’. Torrens was more defensive about Lumley: ‘I never thought him a clever man, but he is zealous, active, obedient, and as brave as a lion. He is not intended by nature for anything bigger than a brigade; but that, it is generally thought, he will do well’. (Torrens quoted in Fortescue vol 7 p 419 – the second quote is attributed to the ‘Adjutant General’ but this must be a slip of the pen, Torrens was Military Secretary not Adjutant General (though he became so later), for footnote refers only to Torrens’s letters and the whole context of the exchange points to him as the author).
The three generals reached Portugal by early October and Wellington appointed each of them to command a brigade: Lumley replacing Catlin Craufurd in the Second Division; Hay one of the British brigades in the Fifth Division, and Erskine a brigade of newly arrived reinforcements (1/50th, 1/71st and 1/92nd) which joined the First Division. This was part of a wider reorganization which saw the Fifth Division formally recognized and the creation of the Sixth Division which Wellington gave to his old favourite Alexander Campbell. Wellington’s prejudice against Erskine did not last long: he told Torrens on 4 October, ‘I have seen Sir William Erskine, and I think he will do very well; and I dare say so will Lumley’. (Wellington to Torrens 4 Oct 1810 WD IV p 314-15). In January he was full of praise for Erksine’s management of a skirmish at Rio Major in which Junot received a nasty wound in the face; and when Leith was forced home in early February, Wellington gave Erskine command of the Fifth Division, while making special provision for him to remain in command of the outposts on the army’s left. (Wellington to Erskine 21 Jan 1811 WD IV p 538-9 GO 6 Feb 1811 WD IV p 582). This reflected partly Erskine’s seniority (ninth in the army overall, immediately below Lowry Cole) but also Wellington’s growing faith in his ability.
Charles Colville proved the most enduring and useful of the autumn’s newcomers. A year younger than Wellington, the two men had probably never met, for Colville had seen most of his active service in the West not the East Indies, most recently at Martinique. Wellington gave him Lightburne’s brigade in the Third Division where he soon settled in, working well with Picton (after finding him rather inclined to interfere at first) and proving popular with subordinates and superiors alike. By the end of 1811 Wellington was happy to give him temporary command of the Fourth Division when Cole went home, and similar appointments followed regularly until he was finally given a division of his own in the last months of the war. (Colville Portrait of a General passim and p 24 for his initial impression of Picton). His elevation would certainly have come sooner if he had not lacked seniority, he was junior even to Alexander Campbell and only just senior to Henry Fane.
Other senior arrivals:
Six other major-generals arrived over the winter: John Sontag, Daniel Hoghton (who had been one of Lord Wellesley’s circle in India), James Dunlop, Miles Nightingall (who had commanded a brigade in the Vimeiro campaign), William Houston and Kenneth Howard. Charles Alten and Robert Ballard Long arrived with reinforcements in early March; but Lord Dalhousie declined to serve, saying that he would be ruined if forced abroad at that moment, Acland’s health was not good enough for active service, and Fane was not ready to return to Portugal (and indeed did not do so for another two years). (Torrens to Bunbury 17 Jan 1811 WO 3/598 p347-8 in Ward Papers 300/1/1 see also McGuffie Peninsular Cavalry General p 49).
Wellington and this subordinates:
The constant turnover of senior officers in these months, and the introduction of so many new faces of unknown ability, created much work for Wellington as he endeavoured to find the most appropriate, and, where possible, the most agreeable command for each general. It was important to try to appoint men who could work happily together and to avoid conflicts between personalities, but it took time to discover the character and aptitudes of the new arrivals. This probably explains why so many newcomers were initially given an infantry brigade in the First or Second Division, often to be moved to another command after a few months. It also gave them the opportunity to settle into the routine of service under Wellington, to master the General Orders of the army, and to understand its way of doing business, before exercising a more independent command. Yet even well established officers could cause problems. William Stewart was unhappy at being left in command of the Second Division in Hill’s absence, and showed plainly that he had little confidence in his ability to execute Wellington’s instructions. Wellington therefore appointed Beresford in Hill’s place, with command of all the forces on the left bank of the Tagus, while Stewart remained at the head of the Second Division, but without wider responsibility. (Wellington to W. Stewart 29 Dec 1810, the AG to Maj-Gen _____ 29 Dec 1810 WD IV p 483, 486, 486).
The officers of Wellington’s army, in order of seniority in early 1811 were:
(Thanks to Ron McGuigan for assistance)
- Sir Brent Spencer (goes home mid 1811)
- Sir Stapleton Cotton (absent 15 January – 22 April 1811)
- Rowland Hill (absent, ill, Dec 1810 returns May 1811)
- Beresford (although he had a claim to be senior to all but Wellington)
- James Leith (goes home 1 Feb does not return until November)
- Thomas Picton
- G.L. Cole
- Sir William Erskine (gone home in Dec 1811 – WD V p 396)
- William Stewart (goes home in July 1811 does not return until Aug 1812)
- William Houston (went home c August 1811)
- John Slade (commands all the cavalry between Cotton’s departure and Erksine’s appointment)
- William Lumley
- Miles Nightingall (left for India in June 1811)
- John Sontag (goes home ill in October, never returns)
- James Dunlop (commands Fifth Division March-April, May-late 1811)
- Alexander Campbell (leaves for India in November 1811)
- Charles Stewart (absent at home c 5 Jan – 17 April 1811)
- Sigismund Low (commands KGL brigade in First Division)
- Charles Alten
- Daniel Hoghton (killed at Albuera)
- Charles Colville
- Herny Fane (goes home late 1810 does not return until 1813)
- George Anson (goes home 1 March, returns 15 May 1811)
- Kenneth Howard
- Robert Craufurd (home early Feb-22 April 1811)
- Andrew Hay
- Warren Peacocke (Town Commandant, Lisbon)
- James Kemmis
- Robert Burne
- Robert Ballard Long
NB does not include Portuguese officers or British officers in Portuguese service, except Beresford.
At least half these officers left Portugal, either temporarily or permanently during 1811.
Wellington watches Soult’s campaign:
Wellington had good intelligence of Soult’s preparations – he knew that he was collecting an army as early as 1 January (Wellington to Charles Stuart 1 Jan 1811 WD IV p 492-4) – but he was unsure whether he intended to besiege Badajoz, bypass the fortress and invade Alentejo, or to continue his march north, cross the Tagus near the frontier, and join Masséna at Santarem. (Wellington to Liverpool 5 Jan 1811, Wellington to Beresford 9, 12, 15 and 16 January 1811 WD IV p 511, 515-17, 524-525, 525-6; Alexander Gordon to Aberdeen 19 Jan 1811 At Wellington’s Right Hand p 152-156, Oman vol 4 p 72-3). He had no confidence in Mendizabal, who commanded the Army of Estremadura while Romana remained with Wellington, and was annoyed at the failure of the Spaniards to destroy the bridge over the Guadiana at Merida, or to send reliable information of French movements. (Wellington to William Wellesley-Pole, 11 Jan 1811 Raglan Papers Wellington A no 39; Alexander Gordon to Aberdeen 19 Jan 1811 At Wellington’s Right Hand p 152-56). On 19 January Wellington and Romana agreed that the Spanish troops on the Tagus should return to Estremadura, and Wellington drew up a plan in which he advised Romana to be cautious, not to risk a battle in open country, but to keep open communications with Badajoz by establishing an entrenched camp on the heights of San Cristobal on the west of the Guadiana. (Oman vol 4 p 43; Memorandum to the Marques de la Romana 20 Jan 1811 WD IV p 536-7). The Spanish troops began their march on 20 January and reached Elvas on the 29th, but Romana was not at their head.
Wellington and the French siege of Badajoz: early pessimism replaced by confidence:
Wellington was probably relieved when it became clear that Soult intended to besiege Badajoz, as this posed a less immediate problem than an irruption into Alentejo, let alone a junction with Masséna. Nonetheless he was still concerned for Badajoz had great strategic importance and he was not confident that it would make a stout resistance. On 29 January he wrote to Beresford, ‘I think it is also certain that the people of Badajoz will be disinclined to defend the place, particularly when they shall hear of the death of the Marques de la Romana. Do you think the garrisons of Elvas etc, are in that case sufficient?’ (Wellington to Beresford 11½am 29 Jan 1811 WD IV p 563). A few days later he told Henry Wellesley, ‘I have a miserable account of affairs from Badajoz. There is not a grain of provision in the public magazines: the town is full of women and children, and refugees of all descriptions, and nothing can be in a worse state then the public mind in that place’. (Wellington to Henry Wellesley 3 Feb 1811 WD IV p 577). A week later and his pessimism was even greater: ‘I am very much afraid that my next dispatch will bring you accounts of the surrender of Badajoz and of the army of the left! The presumption, the ignorance, and the misconduct of these people are really too bad. They have not done anything they were ordered to do, and have done exactly that against which they were warned’. (Wellington to Henry Wellesley 10 Feb 1811 WD IV p 593). And then suddenly Wellington’s attitude changed. Only two days after predicting the loss of the town and the army he told Beresford, on 12 February, ‘I have great hope that Badajoz will hold out’, while on 17 February he wrote to Henry Wellesley, ‘The accounts from Badajoz are better than I expected to send you. I believe they are getting into the right way, and I hope we shall save the place’. (Wellington to Beresford 12 Feb 1811 and to Henry Wellesley 17 Feb 1811 WD IV p 594-5, 607). This new-found confidence was evidently due to letters from Mendizabal indicating a willingness to adopt Wellington’s plan for the defence of the fortress. (See Wellington to Mendizabal 12 Feb 1811 WD IV p 803-4 also in WSD vol 7 p 60-61).
Wellington’s plans to relieve Badajoz:
The Battle of Gebora did not lead to the immediate fall of Badajoz, but it made its relief much more difficult while encouraging the besiegers and disheartening the garrison. Wellington was dismayed, describing Mendizabal’s defeat as ‘the greatest misfortune which has fallen upon the allies since the battle of Ocaña… and it was not to be expected’. (Wellington to Henry Wellesley 23 Feb 1811 WD IV p 614-15). He had planned to detach a force of 12 or 14,000 men and march to the relief of Badajoz as soon as his long expected reinforcements arrived from England, but this plan had relied on the co-operation of the Army of Estremadura for its success. (Alexander Gordon to Aberdeen 9 + 23 Feb 1811 At Wellington’s Right Hand p 160-1, 164-166; Wellington to Henry Wellesley 23 Feb 1811 WD IV p 64506. Alexander Gordon’s letter of 9 February states that Wellington intended to lead this detachment himself. Wellington to Liverpool 14 March 1811 WD IV p 661-70 p 669 says he had intended to send 14,000 men as soon as the reinforcements arrived).
Now he was forced to think again. Without the reinforcements he was not strong enough to make a large detachment to send against Soult and still hold Masséna in check at Santarem, and he would not risk Lisbon to save Badajoz. This meant that instead of Soult creating a diversion that helped Masséna, it was Masséna’s presence at Santarem that gave Soult an almost free hand in Estremadura. But Masséna could not hold his position forever: supplies were becoming ever scarcer, and his army was dwindling by the day. Soult’s campaign offered Masséna no hope, nor did letters from Paris, and even his iron will, which had subdued a starving population and garrison at Genoa a decade before, would eventually have to accept that his position was untenable. Wellington thought the French were about to retreat in the middle of January and again in the middle of February, but on both occasions he was disappointed. (Wellington to Beresford 13 Jan 1811 (2 letters) WD IV p 520-1, 521; Wellington to Liverpool 16 Feb 1811 WD IV p 605-606). He toyed once again with idea of taking the initiative and attacking them, but their position was strong, poor weather made the roads difficult, and common sense urged that he wait for the reinforcements which must surely arrive soon. In fact the convoy, which had been ordered to sail in the middle of January, did not get away until almost the end of the month and was then twice driven back by gales in the Bay of Biscay, so that in the middle of February it was sheltering in Torbay, and nine days later, having sighted Cape Finesterre, it was almost back at Ushant, so that it did not finally reach Lisbon until early March. (Liverpool to Wellington 17 Jan 1811 WSD vol 7 p 45-6 on order to sail; McGuffie Peninsular Cavalry General p 59, 51 details of their progress).
© Rory Muir