Thursday, April 30, 2015

One Monday Morning

The 2nd of May 1808. A Monday morning in Madrid. We've had French soldiers swaggering all over the city since March. I blame the old King, King Carlos IV, when he let that lackey of his, Godoy, do a deal with Napoleon to invade Portugal. Imagine that! Our troops fighting alongside all those Frenchy garbanzos. Why would we side with that lot after the way they let us down at Trafalgar? Those cowardly Frenchy sailors ran away leaving our lads in the lurch and letting that one eyed, one armed Brit dwarf sink our navy. Lot of good it did the old boy anyway. Napoleon forced him to abdicate in favour of that son of his, Fernando VII, Now old Boney has both our Kings in France at Bayona planning to do goodness knows what with them.

This morning's rumour is that General Murat, Napoleon's brother in law no less, who seems to think that he owns this country, plans to send the last of our Royals up to Bayona. Our worthless puppet government, the Junta de Gobierno, said no but Murat won't take any notice of them. He'll do what he likes. I'm off to the Royal Palace for a bit of a look see. It's time we showed those garbanzos that enough is enough.

And that's where it started. Our man, along with a bunch of other Madrileños, the people of Madrid, forced their way into the Palace. Murat had dealt with rioters before. He'd blown a demonstrating mob in Paris apart with canister shot but in Madrid the result was different. Instead of running home and hiding, as the Parisians had done, the Madrileños began to fight.

Murat was confident of his army. The men in Madrid were a part of the Grande Armée of France. The Great and Invincible French Army that had crushed everyone and everything in it's path for years. It included not only Frenchmen but soldiers gathered together from all over Europe, and beyond: Dutch cavalry, Hungarian Hussars, Polish horsemen and the fearsome, turban wearing, desert warriors, the Mamelukes. The finest army in the world against a rabble, ridden with lice, living in hovels and armed with knives and outdated shotguns. That rabble was angry though and in the narrow streets of Madrid hordes of them fell on those fine cavalry horses and their moustachioed riders, overwhelmed them and hacked them to pieces with their long country knives. Dragoons, who had survived the bloodiest battles in history, died in a rain of plant-pots hurled from balconies by housewives.

Spanish troops garrisoned in the city had been confined to barracks before the revolt because the French didn't quite trust them. Two captains, Luis Daoíz and Pedro Velarde, stationed at Monteleón Artillery Barracks, disobeyed orders, joined the insurrection and became national heroes. They organised a handful of soldiers and ordinary Madrileños who not only beat off the first French attack but took the commanding general prisoner. Murat was amazed and furious. He sent a larger force to overwhelm the Spanish defence. Both Spanish officers perished in the attack.

The French eventually regained control of the city. The best figures suggest that over four hundred Spaniards died, many of them before summary firing squads, when the fighting was over. French losses were about 130.

On June15 Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, was proclaimed King of Spain, leading to a general anti-French revolt. In August, a British force under Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, landed on the Portuguese coast. By mid 1809, the French had abandoned Portugal. In Spain it took longer for the British and Spanish to defeat Napoleon's army and it wasn't till 1813 that the Battle of Vitoria finally saw the French driven from the Iberian peninsula.

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