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The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies

Carlos Frederico Lecor: The Making of a Portuguese General

Part I: The Subaltern Years (1793-1797)

By Jorge Quinta-Nova

The political and social transition in Portugal from the Ancien Régime to a new liberal state was accelerated by the French Invasions (1807-1811), and by the Peninsular War (1812-1814). Most of the middle and high nobility, traditionally holding the higher commands in the Army, were away, either in Brazil with the Prince Regent D. João, or with the Legion Portugaise in the fields of Central and Eastern Europe. This left the next two higher classes - the low country-based Nobility and the merchant Middle Class, who remained in Portugal or returned briefly after June 1808, to take positions in the Portuguese army reorganised in 1808.

Early Years

Carlos Frederico Lecor, son of Louis Pierre Lecor, French émigré, and Quitéria Luísa Marina Krusse Buys, descendant of German-Dutch merchants based in Portugal, was born on October 6, 1764 in Lisbon, Parish of Santos-o-Velho. As things stood at that time in Portugal, he was the most unlikely candidate to become the highest ranking officer of the Portuguese Army in Operations at the end of the Peninsular War in 1814, as it was to happen.

As the oldest son in a merchant family, holding several family traditions, like the Buys from Hoorn, in The Netherlands, or the Krusse, from Hamburg, he was marked for a career in commerce. Although I could not confirm primary sources, most biographical sources indicate that Lecor travelled to England and The Netherlands, to learn the trade.[1] His choice was nevertheless a different one; he chose the military career – that of an artillery officer, a choice which was already made by his younger brothers, João Pedro (1766-1844), António Pedro (1768-?), and Jorge Frederico (c. 1770-1822).

Garrison Life

Although he was born in the capital of the Portuguese Empire, he was living in Faro, one of the southernmost cities of Portugal, when he was at least 16 years old. It so happened that in Faro there was an artillery regiment – the Regimento de Artilharia da Guarnição do Algarve (Algarve Artillery Regiment).[2]

As a member of the emergent Middle Class, grandson of foreign merchants, he could not access the rank of Cadet (Cadete), created in 1757 to call noblemen to military service. He could nevertheless access a commission by starting as a gunner, and advancing rapidly though the ranks while educating himself in the principles of mathematics and artillery. The denomination Sargento-Cadete (Cadet-Sergeant) was often used to indicate such enlisted soldiers aspiring to be officers.

For reasons not fully uncovered, Carlos Frederico becomes a Gunner (Soldado) Pé de Castelo (freely translated as ‘Castle Guard’)[3] on October 13, 1793, in the Fort of S. João do Registro da Barra de Tavira,[4] in what is today known as Cabanas de Tavira (a short distance east of Tavira, one of the largest Algarvian cities and, at that time, the political seat of the Algarve).

According to Baron W. G. von Wiederhold (1753-1810), the Pés de Castelo

 “Were a sort of independent companies made up by men who cannot perform normal duties in the regular regiments, but where young men who offer themselves as volunteers can also be found, perhaps to avoid regular duties and to remain close to their families.”[5] [my translation]

Two elements are relevant to what Teixeira Botelho calls a career “without the habitual regularity of his time”.[6] Carlos Frederico enlisted as a gunner with the unusual age of 29, which was by any means considered old, but also that he enlisted as a Pé-de-Castelo, instead of enlisting directly in the Algarve Artillery Regiment, nearer to his place of residence. Despite, as I said earlier, the reasons not having been fully uncovered, two possibilities spring to mind. The first was that because of his age, he wouldn’t be accepted in the regiment, or that he wouldn’t feel comfortable to do so. In this situation, enlisting in the Pés-de-Castelo he would not be subjected to the regimental life per se, but to the life of a Fort, which is a smaller universe. The second possibility has to do with the fact that the Aula Regimental[7] was not functioning during the command of Colonel Costa Cardoso,[8] which might indicate that he found a viable alternative in Tavira, perhaps private lessons. Other Artillery officers, as for example his brother António Pedro Lecor, also started their military lives in Tavira; in the case of António Pedro, the Tavira Infantry Regiment, in 1788, as a private, having left for the Algarve Artillery Regiment the next year, presumably as a Cadet-Sergeant.

In the Fort of S. João he rose to the rank of Sergeant, when, on 17 March, 1794, he is promoted to Ajudante[9] to the Praça (Garrison) of Portimão.[10] He finally rose to an officer’s commission but still in the garrison universe. As an Ajudante he performed the duties of a Lieutenant, number two to the Commander of the Praça of Portimão.

Regimental Life

Later the same year, on 2 December, 1794, Carlos Frederico finally enters the regimental life, when an exchange between him and Primeiro Tenente (First Lieutenant)[11] António Pimentel do Vabo, is sanctioned making him the First Lieutenant of the 9th Company of Gunners with the Algarve Artillery Regiment. In the document signed by both officers, but written by António Pimentel do Vabo, it is stated that the exchange is not harmful for the Royal Service, on the contrary it is beneficial, “pelo motivo de ser o ditto Ajudante homem mosso habil e com conheçimentos bastantes de Mathematica e Artelharia” (because the said Ajudante is a able young lad and with good knowledge of Mathematics and Artillery [my translation]).

The Fleet of Brazil (1795-1796)

Nothing is known about his stay in the Algarve Artillery Regiment until Carlos Frederico is detached, along with 130 men from the same regiment, to the garrison of the Nau Príncipe Real specifically to embark on a voyage to Salvador, Brazil, integrated in a large convoy to protect merchant ships.

Due to the menace of French and Spanish navies against the Portuguese commerce, especially after the end of the Roussillon War (1793-1795) which brought about a French-Spanish alliance, as well as fluctuating alliances in the Atlantic, these fleets were common in order to protect the vital routes of the Portuguese Empire, mainly those of Brazil and India. Despite the Navy Artillery Regiment being raised in 1791, the four Artillery Regiments of the Army continued to supply gunners to the garrisons, sometimes for large periods of time.[12]

The Nau Princípe Real, flag ship of the fleet commanded by Lieutenant-General Bernardo Ramires Esquível (1723-1812) had a full complement of 904 men and 90 guns, being the largest vessel in the Portuguese Navy at that time. Its artillery garrison was made up of a Captain, two First Lieutenants, two Second Lieutenants and 125 sergeants, soldiers and drummers. They were divided in two batteries, each with 30 guns of 24 pounds. Additionally, on deck, there were also 8 guns of 12 pounds, 6 carronades of 36 and 6 Howitzers of 24.

On Christmas day, 25 December 1795, the fleet leaves Lisbon protecting 23 merchant ships. The voyage to Salvador is completed in 46 days, with no problems whatsoever, except for an outbreak of an epidemic on the ‘Principe Real’ of a disease not specified by the commander, which is reported to have killed 8 crewmen. On arrival in Brazil, on 9 February 1796, 200 men are reported ill.

Despite the relatively smooth voyage to Salvador, the situation in this city was problematic, as there was a severe drought which complicated the purchase of supplies and made the recuperation of the ill lengthy. Lieutenant-General Esquível refers that “não há farinha de guerra, não há carne, não há legumes, não há arroz” (There is no ‘war’ flour, no meat, not vegetables, no rice [my translation]).

The fleet, despite orders to make haste and to be as inconspicuous as possible, had to remain in Salvador for about 2 months, only setting sail back to Lisbon on 1 April 1796. This crossing proved to be much more complicated than the first one, mainly because of the poor weather conditions, namely bad winds and calmarias (no winds at all), which Lieutenant-General Esquível describes as the worst enemies of Transatlantic navigation.

Another reason, associated closely with the first, was the poor conditions of the merchant ships being escorted, which made it necessary to stop at Faial Island (Azores), as some of the merchant ships were suffering of thirst and starvation.

This stop in Faial took 5 days, and it is there that Lieutenant-General Esquível is informed that a British fleet, commanded by Lord Hugh Seymour, is looking for them in order to accompany them to Lisbon.

Sixty leagues off the Roca Cape, the most stressful event of this voyage occured when two unidentified ships approached the fleet. One of these ships, a frigate, approached even further and hoisted the French flag. The Portuguese commander gave the order to close and engage, without raising his own flag. Meanwhile, the closest unidentified frigate approached even further and lowering the French flag raised the British flag, firing a greeting shot. At this time, the Fleet hoisted the Portuguese flag and greeted back. For Carlos Frederico, this would have been the only opportunity for action, outside the regular duties of an embarked Artillery garrison.

After this, the Portuguese fleet joined another Fleet from India, as well as the British one, setting sail to Lisbon. In all, there were 12 war ships, 7 naus from India, 3 private merchant ships and 23 merchant ships from Brazil.

The epidemics that only affected the Nau Príncipe Real on the first part of the voyage, affected the whole fleet on this second part, even causing the death of  Capitão-de-Mar-e-Guerra (Captain) João Gomes da Silva Telles, commander of the Frigate Ulisses, who was substituted by Capitão-de-Fragata (Commander) Daniel Thompson. The commander of the Fleet, Lieutenant-General Esquível was himself afflicted by disease.

I do not know if Carlos Frederico Lecor was affected by the epidemics, but one thing is certain. His career as an Artillery officer came to an end on arrival to Lisbon, on 25 July 1796. In 1797, he would join, as Captain, the Legião de Tropas Ligeiras (Light Troops Legion), an innovating experimental unit made up of light infantry, cavalry and artillery, commanded by his mentor, the Marquis of Alorna.


Manuscript sources:

Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, Arquivo Geral do Conselho da Guerra, ano 1794, Maço 152, n.º 25 & 172

Arquivo Histórico da Marinha, “Príncipe Real” (Nau), 1795-1826. Caixa 652.

Printed Sources:

Borrego, Nuno. As Ordenanças e as Milícias em Portugal. Lisbon: Guarda-Mor, 2006.

Chartrand, René & Bill Younghusband.  The Portuguese Army of the Napoleonic Wars. (vol. 2), Oxford: Osprey, 2000.

Silva Lopes, João Baptista. Corografia, ou Memoria Economica, Estadistica, e Topografica do Reino do Algarve. Lisbon: Academia Real das Sciencias, 1841.

Teixeira Botelho, Gen. José Justino. Novos Subsídios para a História da Artilharia Portuguesa. Lisbon: Comissão de História Militar, 1944 .

Internet Sources:

Amaral, Manuel. “O Exército Português nos Finais do Antigo Regime”, in: [1.12.2008].


[1] Vide Silva Lopes, João Baptista, Corografia, ou Memoria Economica, Estadistica, e Topografica do Reino do Algarve, Lisboa: Academia Real das Sciencias, 1841. p. 416.

[2] The Algarve Artilley Regiment was raised in 1774, to be located in the city of Faro. Its first commander and organizer was Colonel Diogo Ferrier, who came from Porto, where he commanded the local Artillery Regiment. His second in command was Lieutenant Colonel Simon Frasier. This regiment is not to be confused with the Lagos Artillery Regiment, originally raised in 1718 and extinct in 1776.

[3] The Pés-de-Castelo were the garrison Artillery and they were officially named Guarnições Fixas (Sedentary Garrisons) in 1762. Despite this, they continued to be known by their traditional name, even in official documents. They were not part of the regular artillery regiments. Vide Chartrand, René & Younghusband, Bill, The Portuguese Army of the Napoleonic Wars (vol. 2), Oxford, Osprey, 2000. pp. 24, 33.

[4] This fort, today known as Forte da Conceição, was built in 1670, by the Count of Val de Reis, Captain-General of the Algarves and renovated in 1793, by another Count of Val de Reis and Captain-General, Dom Nuno de Mendonça e Moura, and descendant of the first. The Fort was responsible not only for the defence of the entrance to the Tavira port, but also for the register of all ships coming and going. It is today a privately owned hotel, respecting the original features.

[5] Von Wiederhold, Baron W. G., “Algumas Observações sobre as Reais Tropas Portuguesas às quais passou revista Sua Alteza o Marechal Príncipe Christian von Waldeck nas províncias do Alentejo, Algarve, Beira e Estremadura”, in: Borrego, Nuno, As Ordenanças e as Milícias em Portugal, Lisboa: Guarda-Mor, 2006. p. 510.

[6] Teixeira Botelho, Gen. José Justino, Novos Subsídios para a História da Artilharia Portuguesa, Lisboa, Comissão de História Militar, 1944 . p. 352.

[7] The Aula Regimental (Regimental Class) was, at that time, a idiosyncrasy of the Artillery and consisted in classes taught in the regiment on the subjects of Mathematics and Artillery, focusing mainly in the works of Bellidor and others. Unlike Infantry and Cavalry, exams would determine promotions.

[8] Teixeira Botelho, Gen. José Justino, Op. Cit. p. 126. Based on a report made by Brigadier Bernardim Freire, in 1803, among other irregularities, it is stated that the Aula Regimental hadn’t functioned since Colonel Cardoso took command, in June 1793.

[9] Ajudante (Adjutant), rank equivalent to that of Lieutenant Adjutant of a Major; in this specific case the commander of the garrison. Vide Amaral, Manuel, “Os Postos Militares do Exército” in: O Exército Português nos Finais do Antigo Regime”, [18.11.2008].

[10] The Praça of Portimão, a coastal city in West Algarve, distancing about 70 km of Faro, was constituted by the following forts: Nossa Senhora da Rocha, Carvoeiro and the Castle of Alvor.

[11] Primeiro-Tenente (First Lieutenant), rank specific to Artillery and Engineers designating, for the former, the second in command of an Artillery company. Vide Amaral, Manuel, “Os Postos Militares do Exército” in: O Exército Português nos Finais do Antigo Regime”, [18.11.2008].

[12] Teixeira Botelho states some specific cases, in 1801, namely regimental detachments in the ships Tigre e Onça, embarked as far as September, 1796. Teixeira Botelho, Gen. José Justino, Op. Cit. p. 124.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2008


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