On 21 April 1809 general Sir Arthur Wellesley landed in Lisbon with 17,000 British troops. These were amalgamated with remnants of the Portuguese army which had been re-organised by the Anglo-Irish colonel Wiliam Carr Beresford. He had been appointed as their C-in-C by the prince-regent who had evacuated the royal family and government to Brazil in November 1807. Together they marched north to repel the second invasion of Portugal by French republican armies commanded by general Soult who had taken Chaves and Porto and was awaiting reinforcements which were about to enter Portugal through the valley of the Tagus. Wellesley decided to take the initiative by entering Spain and won a crushing victory at Talavera after which he was made Duke of Wellington.
However this did not deter the French now led by Marshal Masséna who assembled three divisions totalling 65,000 well trained soldiers and artillery of eighty-four cannon. This force made ready a third onslaught and entered Portugal at the Beira frontier in August 1810. Wellington was able to muster about 50,000 men including members of the international Loyal Lusitanian Legion commanded by colonel Robert Wilson and prepared a position in the hills of Bussaco where the French were ambushed and lost 4,500 men. But the relentless Masséna moved onwards to sack Coimbra and attack Tomar while Wellington´s army made a tactical retreat to the fortified lines of Torres Vedras where an ingenious defensive position had been constructed by Beresford. The French entered the trap with a seemingly successful first assault on the outer wall but were outflanked and forced to retreat to Santarém where a bridge was improvised to bring supplies and reinforcements across the Alentejo. As neither arrived, Masséna decided to retreat with his now weary and dispirited troops to Guarda. The allied forces pursued and fought two successful encounters at Sabugal and Fuentes de Oñoro after which the French abandoned the third invasion and the occupation of Portugal was finally brought to an end.
The decade before 1809 had been one of humiliation for the Portuguese at the hands of the French. Napoleon Bonaparte had cunningly dismembered three coalitions of opposing European powers by diplomacy, force or bribery . After he secured the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1796, Spain was made to declare war on England which was left only with its massive sea power to blockade the continental ports and harass shipping. As there was no way in which allied Portugal could be defended, England consented to the suspension of its ancient alliances and allowed Portugal to negotiate neutrality. However, Napoleon, being wary of an Achille´s Heel which could thwart his plan to dominate Spain, imposed impossible terms which included the expulsion of all Britons and confiscation of their possessions, the partition of Portugal into three subject provinces and an enormous contribution of money and military aid to the French Republican cause. War and invasion swiftly followed but , influenced by the resounding British naval victories at Cape St. Vincent (1797) and Trafalgar (1805) and due to the strength of public hostility in both Spain and Portugal , the French army with all its loot was evacuated by sea in 1808 and replaced by a puppet regime.
The successful British intervention in the Peninsular Wars and campaigns for independence was arguably the greatest and last occasion on which the Anglo-Portuguese alliances were observed by military action. However, the economy was in tatters due to the French despoilation and the prince-regent , who remained in Brazil until 1821, decided to sign a new trade treaty with Britain whereby exports would receive “most favoured nation treatment” and imports would be taxed at 15% instead of the 24% charged to other nations. But , as the courts of justice and commercial administration were centred in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil continued to trade directly with Britain and north European countries instead of using Lisbon as its hub. The consequent reduction in revenue and the refusal of France to pay adequate war reparations to Portugal caused much grievance and the ensuing depression encouraged the people to consider liberalism as an alternative to absolutism.
Gradually the trade with possessions dotted around the Indian Ocean was restored but in central Africa the Portuguese influence began to wane in the face of territorial claims made by Britain, Germany, Belgium and Holland while France still nurtured its colonies and established Brazzaville in 1880. Two years later King Leopold of Belgium and the Germans launched the International African Association which aimed to displace the Portuguese (26 out of 49) factories from the territories of the Congo which, in February 1885, became an independent state. This caused consternation in Lisbon because it threatened the Portuguese dream of creating a coast to coast colony by a corridor to link Angola with Mozambique. An appeal to Britain for support met a tepid response because it also had expansionist aspirations including the building of a north to south corridor centred on Lake Nyasa.
This jockeying by European powers for the colonisation of Africa continued until the end of the 19th century with increasingly bitter argument and threats of war. In 1899, for example Lord Salisbury of Britain called upon Portugal to declare war on the Boers (in breach of the Portuguese-Transvaal Treaty of 1875) to support the Anglo-Portuguese Alliances. This was ratified by a secret declaration signed in October 1899 which included the blockade of Lourenço Marques to prevent the shipment of arms and supplies to the Germans and French.
Loyalties and mutual trust were strained to breaking point by these less than dignified squabbles concerning the exploitation by European states of the dark continent and it must be said that Britain did not present a beacon of virtue in this competitive climate. Portugal, having few resources of manpower and arms, was powerless to protect its interests and had to accept the eclipse of its fortunes.
In Part 6 we will complete this study by examining the Alliance from 1900 to 2021
Anglo-Portuguese Alliances and Ruptures - Part 5 : The 19th century
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