Research Subjects: Biographies


Pedro Caro y Sureda, 3rd Marquis of la Romana

By: Jose Manuel Rodriguez

Born at Palma de Mallorca (Balearic Islands) on  October 2nd, 1761, of noble family. At the age of ten he and his brother José were sent to Trinity College in Lyon, reputed as the best European college of  the time.

When his father died, his merits induced King Charles III to appoint the two brothers as cadets of the Royal Navy on July 7th, 1775. Pedro studied Hebrew and Mathematics at Salamanca University, and afterwards, humanities and arts at the Seminario de Nobles in Madrid (this Seminario was the college where the sons of nobility were trained before occupying the highest places in the Spanish administration). Having ended his studies, he was sent to the naval base at Cartagena in 1778.

At Cartagena Pedro was promoted to alferez de fragata (ensign) and aide to General Ventura Moreno. When, in 1779, Spain and Great Britain went to war (the British had attacked some Spanish bases in America as they thought the Continental rebels used those ports as source of supplies) the king ordered an attack to retake the island of Minorca (in British hands since 1763). A fleet of 73 transport vessels and a small escort, with 8,000 soldiers on board, was dispatched to the island. The land forces were under the command of General Ventura Moreno, and so the young Pedro was attached to him. On February 5th, 1781, the last British post, the castle of San Felipe, surrendered (one of the leaders of the last attack was Colonel Ventura Caro, uncle of the young Pedro) and Minorca returned to Spanish hands. After this, Pedro was posted to the blockade and siege of Gibraltar.

After the war ended in 1783, Pedro retired to private life. He settled in Valencia, where he began to establish his fabulous library, one of the biggest and best in Spain. He also recommenced his study of foreign languages. After he was authorized by the king to leave Spain (this points to a possible mission to collect diplomatic intelligence, but there is no evidence of this), he travelled across Europe. He was in Vienna and Berlin (this was where the well-known story supposedly happened: King Frederick of Prussia gave him the music of the “Grenadiers’ March”, which later became the Spanish National Hymn, in exchange for the knowledge of tactics that Frederick had learned from the Spanish Marquis of Santa Cruz de Marcenado; this is an apocryphal tale and most probably untrue). Later he reached Moscow where he supposedly (there is no evidence) met the future Tsar Paul.

When he returned to Spain he also returned to active duty and was posted to America, but he soon returned to Spain. He was promoted to capitan de fragata (Commander) in 1790 under the orders of Admiral Gravina (the head of the Spanish forces at Trafalgar). His duties were mainly in organisation and logistics.

At the outbreak of the war against the French Convention he transferred from the Navy to the Army with the rank of Colonel. He was posted to the command of his uncle, General Ventura Caro, as Commander-in-Chief of an ad-hoc chasseur corps. He was very distinguished as commander of this force, however the war ended in a Spanish defeat. Pedro Caro ended the war as teniente general (Lieutenant-General), but he retired again in 1795 when peace was signed. This time he settled in Alicante with his friend the Count of Lumiares (later known as Prince Pio; he gave his name to a neighbourhood in Madrid). Once again he devoted himself to the study of foreign languages.

In 1802 he returned to active duty again, as he was appointed Captain-General of Catalonia (Captain-General is equivalent to Field-Marshal, but this rank in the case of La Romana does not imply a military office, but both the military and civil command of the region of Catalonia). In 1805 he was assigned to the High War Council as General Director of the Engineers’ Corps.

On February 5th 1807 King Charles IV agreed to assist Napoleon with a corps of 14,000 men (as agreed in the Treaty of Fontainebleau), including the 6,000 who were garrisoning Etruria at this time. La Romana was appointed Commander-in-Chief of this corps, called the Division del Norte (Division of the North). La Romana was seen at this time as a pro-British general, and completely loyal to both the king and his Prime Minister Godoy, as opposed to General  O´Farrill, the former commander of the Etrurian units and now second in command of the Division. O´Farrill was a pro-French general whose loyalty to the Prime Minister was not as strong. He was removed from this command but his substitute, General  Kindelan, was also pro-French.

The Division was assigned, under the command of Marshal Bernadotte, to garrison Northern Germany in Hamburg and Lübeck. The Division was fully deployed in August 1807. The whole winter of 1807-08 was spent in garrison duties.

In February 1808, Denmark declared war on Great Britain and Spanish units were sent to garrison it.

The Division and its commander did not rebel when Charles IV was overthrown by his son Ferdinand VII. But when the popular revolt against the French (May 2nd) occurred they were isolated from any news from Spain, as Bernadotte (and Napoleon) feared a mutiny.

On June 11th 1808 some Spanish officers arrived in London to ask for British help to enable the Division to escape from the French and return to Spain. A British agent called Robertson (who was an Irish Catholic priest) was dispatched to make contact with La Romana. Furthermore, on June 24th three Spanish officers, eye-witnesses of the Spanish revolt, arrived at La Romana’s headquarters. La Romana was finally convinced that there was open war in Spain between the French and the Spanish. The problem was that he and his men were far from home. The British Government dispatched a fleet to embark the Spanish, but could they escape from the French?

On July 22nd 1808 Marshal Bernadotte sent La Romana a letter, asking for his men to pledge an oath of fidelity to Joseph, appointed by Napoleon as King of Spain. La Romana replied that he feared his men would mutiny, but in fact he was trying to gain more time. At this time his troops were widely dispersed between Jutland, Fionia Island and Zeeland. He ordered his units to concentrate on the Danish island of Nyborg. They prepared for an escape, fighting if necessary. And in fact this became necessary when French and Danish troops suppressed a Spanish mutiny in Zeeland. La Romana waited for the British ships and meanwhile had his men pledge an oath of fidelity to Spain instead to Joseph. La Romana tried to gain more time by presenting this oath to the French as a test of loyalty, but first Berthier and then Bernadotte were not convinced. Despite this, he managed to concentrate about 9,000 of his men on Nyborg.

Finally, on August 27th 1808, the British appeared and the Spanish soldiers embarked. Not all of them, as more than 5,000 were taken prisoner.

Due to storms the convoy did not arrive at a Spanish port until October 10th. The Division disembarked at Santander and the infantry was immediately dispatched to join forces with Blake’s Army of the Left, while the cavalry had to be equipped, as all the horses had been lost. La Romana arrived at La Coruña on October 19th, having no effective command at the time. He travelled to Santander where he arrived on November 10th. The same day he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Left.

This army was defeated and almost destroyed in the battle of Espinosa de los Monteros (November 10th) and the following retreat. The entire force of the army was reduced to 6,000 soldiers and lacked most of their equipment. La Romana took effective command of this force at León on November 26th. On paper his army had almost 16,000 men, but in fact many men were widely dispersed and many more were conscripts without full training.

The only thing that La Romana could do with this army was to support Sir John Moore’s retreat from Salamanca to León and then to Galicia. Moore wrote many letters to La Romana demanding closer co-operation of the Spanish forces with his own. Clearly this proves that Moore had a completely illusory view of La Romana’s force. Nevertheless, the Spanish troops managed to fight some rearguard actions to delay the French advance. On December 26th Moore abandoned La Romana at Benavente. The British headed north to La Coruña. La Romana, without British support, had to retreat westwards, heading into Galicia as the shortest (and hardest) way. Finally he reached Valdeorras on January 9th, 1809 with his men.

As the French forces were pursuing Moore, La Romana and his army had some respite to build up their forces.

In the first months of 1809 the people of Galicia revolted against the French, and helped by the military forces dispersed across the whole region, managed on several occasions to defeat the French forces (for example, when Vigo and Santiago de Compostela were forced to surrender). La Romana’s forces played an important role in these combats. In support of the patriots, La Romana took Villafranca del Bierzo and managed to present his force as menace to the French lines of supply from Galicia to León and Salamanca.

In May, obeying orders from the Central Junta (the provisional government of the Spanish fighting against the French), La Romana dispersed “manu militari” the rebel Junta of Asturias, which had refused to submit to the Central Junta. The same month the French began a counter-offensive to retake all the territory lost in Galicia. La Romana refused battle, as his army was still unable to fight in open combat. The French were also unable to break down the fierce resistance of the patriots. They recovered Villafranca del Bierzo, so re-opening the supply lines to Galicia, but after the defeat at Puente Sanpayo (June 6th) finally Soult (although reinforced by a new army corps commanded by Marshal Mortier) ordered a general retreat from Galicia to León.

La Romana did not pursue them. They were concentrated around Verin, with their backs to the Portugal-Spain border, and still in bad shape for major actions. La Romana’s troops were 10,000 strong, but lacked equipment and training.

When the French discovered that the British were not in the Duero valley, but at the Tagus, the three corps under Soult’s overall command were dispatched South (these three corps were Ney’s, Mortier´s and Soult’s) without garrisoning the cities left behind. La Romana immediately advanced and took Astorga (which was fortified) and other cities, as well as the whole of Asturias. On August 24th he resigned the command of the Army as he was appointed a member of the executive commission of the Central Junta.

There is a gap at this time (Summer 1809) about La Romana’s activities. It’s very possible he was in charge of a diplomatic mission to the British government to get more weapons and equipment to Spain, but there is little evidence.

On October 19th 1809, La Romana was in Seville, attending a reunion of the Central Junta. There he defended the British point of view about the Peninsular War: all the Spanish, British and Portuguese units had to be placed under one single head (that is, Wellington). The Junta rejected this idea, but could not disregard his advice and his good relations with the British.

As a member of the Junta and later as a supporter of the new Regency Council, La Romana was at Seville and Cadiz until September 1810. In that month he was sent to Galicia to take command of the Spanish forces in Galicia and Asturias, which were in bad shape, but were intended to make a feint in Northern Spain to divert troops from Andalusia.

When, in October 1810, Marshal Massena began his invasion of Portugal, La Romana (then with the bulk of his forces near Orense) quickly reacted to join forces with Wellington in Northern Portugal. This force was 8,000 strong, organised in two divisions, but lacked (as always) good equipment and training. La Romana’s men followed the British forces to Torres Vedras, seeing no major actions.

After the French retreat, La Romana convinced Wellington to make an effort to relieve the besieged fortress of Badajoz, in order to prevent a new invasion of Portugal, this time via the South. Wellington agreed and sent General Hill as well as La Romana’s forces to Elvas. This Portuguese city would be the base for the planned relief of Badajoz. But before they could attempt it, La Romana died in Cartaxa (Portugal) of dyspnoea, on January 23rd, 1811.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2005

 

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