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200 Year Anniversary of Peninsular war SI

200 Year Anniversary of Peninsular war

The Peninsular War was a succession of historical facts that by being recalled to memory through bicentenary commemorations of educational nature, enlivens the collective memory, stimulates teaching and rouses the interest for the history of Portugal, in the respect for patriotic feelings and as a homage to those who at that time, fought, were sacrificed or gave their lives for the protection of Portugal’s independence.

The recollection of such episodes takes us back to times of hardship and crisis, to the periods of strong turbulence that swept Europe at the beginning of the 19th Century and to the huge political changes that ensued. To commemorate decisive moments that took place in Portugal between 1807 and 1811 through a philatelic edition will further contribute to the understanding of the different forms of national resistance against the so called French Invasions.

During the invasion, which begun in the area of Castelo Branco on the 20 November 1807, and after months of heroic popular uprising against the French all over the country, the Anglo-Portuguese forces, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Wellesley, and the Napoleonic forces, commanded by General Jean-Andoche Junot, confronted each other at the Battle of Vimeiro on the 21 August 1808. The Anglo-Portuguese victory determined the end of the first French invasion. 

The following year, during the second invasion, Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces came in through the Chaves flood plain on the 10 March under the command of General Soult, seeking to conquer and occupy the territory north of the Douro River and stopping in Porto. 
After the English units had been reinforced on national territory and the reorganization of the Portuguese army had started, an allied force was created, again under the command of Arthur Wellesley, that launched an offense against the French. While Wellesley took the main column directly to Porto and Beresford headed towards Régua, over Viseu, the British Hill and Cameron brigades arrived in Aveiro on 9 May. From here they moved along the estuary, in whatever crafts they managed to get hold of, and reached Ovar; the aim was to take Franceschi’s French cavalry by surprise, attacking from the flanks. 

The manoeuvre, however, did not work out as expected, because besides the difficulty in transporting the brigades, which had to be carried out in two turns thereby separating them for a period of more than 12 hours, the French corps received immediate support from Mermet’s infantry battalions. 

The allied army’s main column had contact with the enemy in Albergaria-a-Nova. After a few skirmishes and the defeat of the French, the latter withdrew to Grijó where, on the 11 May, a combat took place that was decisive in terms of pressure leading to the retreat of Soult’s forces. 

On the dawn of the 12, Franceschi’s and Mermet’s forces crossed the Douro river and destroyed the Barcas bridge on their escape towards Porto. Wellesley occupied the South bank of the river and in a surprise action he succeeded in getting some of the Portuguese and British troops across the river, establishing a bridgehead that allowed a large number of units to cross the river. In view of the situation Soult ordered the swift retreat of the French troops along the same route by which they had entered the country.

In 1810, the third invasions made its way through the region of Almeida and headed for Coimbra. The French, under the command of Marshall André Masséna, and although they got delayed on the margins of the Côa river, advanced across the national territory towards Coimbra, fighting the Anglo-Portuguese army, that was once more under the command of the Duque of Wellington, in Buçaco on the 27 September. Although defeated they continued towards Lisbon, which was their decisive goal. 

The allied destroyed the fields, burned anything that could not be transported by the population and that could be of use to the French army and they strengthened the Torres Vedras defence line where, on the 14 October they stopped Masséna’s troops and thwarted his advance on Lisbon. The latter, deeming that his position was unsustainable due to lack of resources and supplies, tried after one month to withdraw with his army to the North of Portugal where the devastating scorched earth policy had not been pursued, in search of supplies and awaiting the arrival of reinforcements. 

Isolated from the outside, unprotected and after enduring a harsh winter, the French initiated yet another withdrawal from Portugal on the 4 March 1811, gathering for a week in the region of Pombal, with the exception of Reynier and Loison whose troops went in the direction of Espinhal, in the district of Penela, to protect the flanks and afford the bulk of the Napoleonic army an easier march out.

From the Torres Vedras Line of Defence the allied went in pursuit of the fugitives, forcing them to combat daily and almost always under adverse conditions. The French troops moved in the direction of Coimbra.  Masséna sought to defend his troops in a gorge between Pombal and Redinha, however these forces, as well as another sent out on a reconnaissance mission to check the road to Coimbra, were severely beaten. During the combat in Pombal, on 11 March 1811, the town went up in blazing fire, forcing the Portuguese and English allies to abandon some of the sick and wounded who perished in the flames suffering a horrible death.

In view of the obstacles, Masséna gave up taking that course and was compelled to take the only way out that remained, viz. between the Mondego and Zêzere rivers, over the towns of Miranda do Corvo and Ponte de Mucela, coming down through the latter and through Moura Morta, along the old Estrada Real (Royal Road) close to the Alva river and over terrain that in spite of the difficulty of the itineraries offered good positions for covering their retreat.

The defence of Portugal was, at all times and above all, the defence of Lisbon, a privileged position that connected to the sea and facilitated the relations with other territories of the Portuguese Empire. The “war”, however, was not exclusive to the Iberian Peninsula. 
After the Restoration War (1640 to 1668), a period during which Portugal exerted a huge effort in Europe, Africa and Asia in order to guarantee the survival of the national sovereignty, the period of tribulation between 1807 and 1814 was part of a vaster period (1793 to 1817). It was what one could call the “II Global War”, in which Portugal was compelled, once more, to carry out an immense effort on land and on the sea, on the Island of Madeira, in Brazil, in Africa, in the Atlantic, in the Mediterranean, in India, in the Iberian Peninsula, in France, in Prussia or Austria and even in Russia.

Major-General Adelino de Matos Coelho
Directorate of Military History and Culture of the Portuguese Army

Technical Details

Issue Date: 15.09.2010
Designer: Vasco Gracio
Printer: INCM
Size: 40 x 30,6 mm
Values: EUR 3.78, EUR1.77, EUR 2.50, EUR 1.00
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