2nd May 1808 – 17th April 1814
The Peninsular War was a military conflict between Napoleon’s empire and the allied powers of Spain, Britain and Portugal, for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war started when French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in 1807, and escalated in 1808 when France turned on Spain, previously its ally. The war on the peninsula lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814, and is regarded as one of the first wars of national liberation, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare.
The War overlapped with what the Spanish-speaking world calls the Guerra de la Independencia Española (Spanish War of Independence), which began with the Dos de Mayo Uprising on 2 May 1808 and ended on 17 April 1814. The French occupation destroyed the Spanish administration, which fragmented into quarrelling provincial juntas.
A reconstituted national government, the Cádiz Cortes—in effect a government-in-exile—fortified itself in Cádiz in 1810, but could not raise effective armies because it was besieged by 70,000 French troops. British and Portuguese forces eventually secured Portugal, using it as a safe position from which to launch campaigns against the French army and provide whatever supplies they could get to the Spanish, while the Spanish armies and guerrillas tied down vast numbers of Napoleon’s troops. These combined regular and irregular allied forces, by restricting French control of territory, prevented Napoleon’s marshals from subduing the rebellious Spanish provinces, and the war continued through years of stalemate.
Image: 2nd May 1808: the defenders of Monteleón make their last stand