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The Napoleon Series > Military Information > Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Maps in the Peninsular War Part I: Introduction

By: Richard Tennant

This paper will describe the particular problems of military operations in Portugal and Spain, both in respect of the topography as well as the cartography. It will also examine the use, or the lack, of adequate maps in two of the key decision processes during the Peninsular War. Much of the text has been extracted directly from the published works of several eminent historians and this has been related to the actual maps available to the officers of the French and British armies.

In Studies 1&2, a number of different maps will be illustrated and, in each example, the same area of the country will be presented. In this manner the reader will be able to appreciate the relative inconsistences, and errors of each of them.


The Peninsular War (1807–1814) was between Napoleon's empire and the allied powers of Britain, Portugal and Spain for liberation of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars.

The war started when French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in 1807; subdued by its defeat in the Pyrenees War,<[1] Spain was allied with France. In 1806 Napoleon Bonaparte declared the Continental System, a commercial blockade forbidding British imports into continental Europe. Neutral Portugal tried in vain to avoid Napoleon's ultimatum. In November 1807, after the refusal of the Prince Regent, John VI of Portugal, to join the Continental System, Napoleon sent an army into Spain under General Jean-Andoche Junot<[2] with the task of invading Portugal.

The normal invasion route to Lisbon is a corridor 200 miles (322 km) in length via Almeida and Coimbra. Instead, Napoleon ordered Junot to move west from Alcántara along the Tagus valley into Portugal, a distance of only 120 miles (193 km). Based on the maps available in Paris and Spain, there appeared to be a route alongside the Tagus, however it was actually a mere track in a rocky wilderness, through an area with few inhabitants. By the time Junot had reached Abrantes , the only guns with the column were four horse artillery pieces, while half of his 25,000 men were behind, straggling or marauding ; after a couple of days he organized four battalions, made up of his best remaining men, and set out for Lisbon, which was still 75 miles (121 km) away. Finally, without a single cannon or cavalryman, 1,500 French troops eventually staggered into Lisbon, having met with no opposition.[3]



[1] The War of the Pyrenees, also known as War of Roussillon or War of the Convention, was the Pyrenean front of the First Coalition's war against the First French Republic. It pitted Revolutionary France against the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal from March 1793 to July 1795.

[2] Jean-Andoche Junot (24 September 1771 – 29 July 1813), had first met Napoleon Bonaparte during the Siege of Toulon in 1793 when he became his secretary.

[3] For this feat, he was granted the ducal victory title of Duc d'Abrantès and was made Governor of Portugal.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2018 - January 2019



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