Estimated Population of Spain and Portugal in 1808
One of the more difficult tasks to historians of the Peninsula War is determining the population of Spain and Portugal. Even Charles Oman in his magnificent History of the Peninsular War makes few estimates on the size of cities or provinces. The main reason behind this is the lack of a contemporary census of either country. (Spain had not conducted a census since the 1780s and I can find no record of Portugal having done one in the previous 100 years.) This paper is attempts to redress problem, however it is specifically limited to the population of the two countries before the war that would soon engulf them. I deliberately chose the year 1808 because the Peninsula War was so cataclysmic that within a few years after the beginning of it, major cities would be destroyed and hundreds of villages would cease to exist. To attempt to estimate the population during any particular year of the war would therefore be extremely difficult.
The following estimates are based on a variety of sources, mostly memoirs and diaries of French and British officers who fought throughout the Peninsula. Surprisingly many of the sources confirm each other in their estimates of various towns and cities that they visited and fought over during the seven years of the war. A particularly valuable source was Alexander Dickson, a British artillery officer who made extensive entries in his diaries about the places he passed through during the six years he served in the Peninsula. These notes often listed either the number of dwellings in a particular place or an estimate of its population or how many troops could be billeted in the town. Unfortunately, Dickson did not state how he derived his estimates for the figures, however he did give a clue in his diary when he states that the official Portuguese method of estimating the size of a household is that each house has an average of five residents. Therefore a village of 200 houses would have an estimated population of about 1,000 people.
S.G.P. Ward in his book Wellington's Headquarters: A Study of the Administrative Problems in the Peninsula 1809 - 1814 provided additional information that allowed me to make my own estimates. He states that for billeting purposes, the British used a figure of 6-8 soldiers for each house, although at times the number was often twice this. If this is correct, then we can extrapolate from Dickson the population of some of the towns and villages by dividing the figure he gives for the number of troops that can be billeted in a village by eight to get the estimated number of houses and then multiply this figure by the five - the average size of a Portuguese household. For example, Dickson states that there are about 8,000 troops billeted in Castello Branco in 1809. Therefore, we can deduce that the population of Castello Branco was about 5000 people.
Using these sources and making a few calculations, the following is an estimation of the population of a variety of cities and villages in Spain and Portugal. The reader should be cautioned that these figures can not be verified by any published census.
Estimated Population of Spain: 10 million
Population Density: 7 people per square mile
Population of Select Spanish Provinces
Population of Key Spanish Cities (circa 1808)
Estimated Population of Portugal: 1,838,000
Population Density: 67 People per Square Mile
Population of Key Portuguese Cities (circa 1808)
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