Posts Tagged ‘Goya’

Mission Accomplished, circa 1808

Posted in General, On This Day on May 2nd, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

May 2, 1808:  Goya Gets Inspiration and the French Get Target Practice

Whatever Napoleon’s motives for invading Spain, they were not petty. He had no Gallic version of Halliburton, and Sevres was not trying to annex Lladros. None of his siblings were unemployed and needed a spare throne. First, Spain really was a cultural embarrassment; still shackled to its repressive Catholicism, Spain’s political and social development was two centuries behind the rest of Western Europe. (Spanish painting was excellent, however; the Church never discouraged that.) The ruling Bourbons had brought French debauchery to Spain, but not the Enlightenment. In fact, the Bourbons were eager to assimilate Spanish prejudices and rekindled the Inquisition. (There were not any Jews left but Freemasons proved to be flammable.) Furthermore, neither Spain nor Portugal were enforcing Napoleon’s trade boycott of Britain. Napoleon was resolved to “liberate” Spain.

In 1807 the Emperor actually persuaded Spain to permit the entry of the French army. The French purpose was ostensibly to invade Portugal; for its collaboration, Spain expected to be rewarded with most of the conquered country. However, Napoleon had other plans. In 1808, Napoleon coerced the King of Spain and the Crown Prince to abdicate, freeing Spain from Bourbon ignorance and incompetence. In their place, Napoleon set up as King his reluctant brother Joseph–who had been quite happy as the French satrap of Southern Italy. Bringing the Enlightenment to Spain, Joseph abolished the Inquisition and the remaining vestiges of feudalism. Unfortunately, the Spanish preferred their own ignorance and repression to foreign liberation.

On this day in 1808, Madrid revolted. A rallying cry of the resistance was “Down with Liberty”. Of course, the French army crushed the uprising. In his paintings, Francisco Goya depicted the initial slaughter and the summary executions that followed. Madrid may have been pacified, but the revolt spread throughout Spain. The French were unprepared to fight partisan warfare, with the Spanish resistance ambushing the French and then disappearing amidst a sympathetic civilian population. Furthermore, the war had an unparalleled savagery. The Spanish tortured to death their French prisoners; the French responded with wholesale slaughter. Goya also depicted these atrocities in a series of drawings called “The Horrors of War.” Indeed, a word was coined for this type of war: guerrilla–the Spanish for “little war.”

But it was not a little war. The initial uprising drove the French out of most of Spain in 1808. Then Napoleon had to invade the country a second time. He did regain control of the major cities, but he had to leave 300,000 men to hold Spain. Two-thirds of the army were assigned to protecting the supply lines against the Spanish guerrillas. The rest of the French force had to contend with the British force that occupied Portugal and was supporting the Spanish resistance. The British commander was unusually competent, a chap named Arthur Wellesley. Wellesley had already established himself (and a fortune) in India, where he had been a tax collector and enforcer (the two professions overlapped). Now this younger son of Anglo-Irish gentry would really make a name for himself; the French would certainly remember it. Leading the British as well as Spanish and Portuguese troops, Wellesley began a five-year campaign that would drive the French from Spain; and this time, the French could not afford a third invasion. There was no additional army to sacrifice. The Russian campaign precluded that possibility. For his victories in Spain, Wellesley was granted the title of Duke of Wellington in 1814. (And we should be grateful that the Duke was too important to be sent to America in 1814. Otherwise, Francis Scott Keyes would have composed the “White Flag Rag”.)

Perhaps the French also should have been grateful to Wellington. At least, they could fight a conventional war against him; when they lost, it was within the rules of military etiquette. But there were no rules, no etiquette in the war with the Spanish guerrillas; the French were trying to fight an enemy whom they could not find and could never understand. The French had cannons but were not sure where to aim; the Spanish had daggers and no doubts.