First Peninsular Campaign - Subsequent Events
The retaliation of France, for the interferences of other powers with its Revolution, even supposing such retaliation justifiable, was now more than completed. Further measures could only appear as dictated by a desire of aggrandizement. But France was now given up to the direction of a military genius, who had other ends to serve than the defense of the country against foreign aggression or interference. The amazing successes of Napoleon had inspired him with the idea of universal empire: and so great was the influence he had acquired over the French, and so high their military spirit, that the attainment of his object seemed by no means impossible. There was a difference, however, between the opposition which he met with before this period, and that which he subsequently encountered. In the earlier periods of the war, the military operations of the European powers were chiefly dictated by views concerning the interests of governments, and in which the people at large felt little sympathy. Henceforth a more patriotic spirit rose everywhere against Napoleon: he was looked upon in England and elsewhere as the common enemy of humanity and of freedom; and every exertion made for the humiliation of France was animated by a sentiment of desperation, in which the governors and governed alike participated.
The Spanish peninsula was the first part of the prostrated continent where the people could be said to have taken a decidedly hostile part against Napoleon. He had there gone so far as to dethrone the reigning family, and give the crown to his elder brother Joseph. A sense of wrong and insult, mingled with religious fanaticism, raised the Spanish people in revolt against the French troops and though their conduct was barbarous, it was hailed in Britain as capable of being turned to account. In terms of a treaty entered into with a provisional government in Spain, a small army was landed, August 8, 1808, in Portugal, which had been taken possession of by the French. Sir Arthur Wellesley, who afterwards became so famous as Duke of Wellington, was the leader of this force. In an engagement at Vimeira, on the 21st, he repulsed the French, under Junot, who soon after agreed, by what was called the Convention of Cintra, to evacuate the country. Sir Arthur being recalled, the British army was led into Spain under the command of Sir John Moore but this officer found the reinforcements poured in by Napoleon too great to be withstood, and accordingly, in the end of December, he commenced a disastrous, though well-conducted retreat towards the port of Corunna, whither he was closely pursued by Marshal Soult. The British army suffered on this occasion the severest hardships and losses, but did not experience a check in battle, or lose a single standard. In a battle which took place at Corunna, January 16, 1809, for the purpose of protecting the embarkation of the troops, Sir John Moore was killed.
Much of the public attention was about this time engrossed by circumstances in the private life of the eldest son of the king. The Prince of Wales had been tempted, in 1796, by the prospect of having his large debts paid by the nation, to marry the Princess Caroline of Brunswick, for whom he entertained no real affection. Almost ever since the marriage, he had shown the most marked disrespect for his consort, who consequently lived separate from him, and was herself considered by many as not altogether blameless in her conduct as a matron.
In 1809, Austria was induced once more to commence war with France. Upwards of half a million of men were brought into the field, under the command of the Archduke Charles. Bonaparte, leaving Spain comparatively open to attack, moved rapidly forward into Germany, and, by the victory of Eckmühl, opened up the way to Vienna, which surrendered to him. After gaining a slight advantage at Essling, the archduke came to a second decisive encounter at Wagram, where the strength of Austria was completely broken to pieces. The peace which succeeded was sealed by the marriage of Napoleon to Maria Louisa, daughter of the emperor of Austria, for which purpose he divorced his former wife Josephine.
In the autumn of 1809, the British government despatched an army of 100,000 men, for the purpose of securing a station which should command the navigation of the Sheldt. The expedition was placed under the command of the Earl of Chatham, elder brother of Mr. Pitt, a nobleman totally unacquainted with military affairs on such a scale. The army, having disembarked on the insalubrious island of Walcheren, was swept off in thousands by disease. The survivors returned in December without having done anything towards the object for which they set out. This tragical affair became the subject of inquiry in the House of Commons, which by a majority of 272 against 232, vindicated the manner in which the expedition had been managed.