Category Archives: Spainish History
As spring arrives so do the tourists, their numbers increasing as the temperature increases, both reaching a peek in August. Official figures from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism put the 2005 tally 55.6 million, an increase of 6% on 2004. The number of annual tourists almost doubling the population of Spain.
How did this success come about?
Spain’s recent history revolves securely around the Civil War the emergence of Franco and the country’s subsequent isolation. Not an obvious foundation on which to build one of the most successful tourists industries in history.
Tourist accommodation on a typical costa
When de Gaulle’s 2nd Armoured Brigade rolled into Paris in August of 1944, many of the tanks were crewed by Spaniards, Teruel scrawled across their turrets to commemorate the Republican victory of the Civil War. These men had fought the fascists from Madrid to the Aragón, Paris to Berlin and were confident that they would take the fight back to Spain, but this time with the Allies behind them.
The commander of the Free Spanish forces, General Alvarez, had no doubts. At his base in Toulouse he had plans in place, but apart from a disastrous foray by 150 men into the Pyrenean foothills, the allies refused to sanction a crossing in strength.
With this failure to cross the Pyrenees, Franco remained in power. His regime and consequently the Spanish people were ostracized, forced back on their own resources. He was labelled a pariah, the last fascist dictator in Europe.
As with most things Spanish, especially politics, twists and turns predominate. The most likely outcome to any Spanish dilemma is the one that hasn’t been considered!
The advent of the Cold War in the late 1940s supplied the catalyst for Spain’s re-emergence into the post war world. American paranoia of all things red or even slightly pink put the right wing anti-communist government of Franco in a different light. In 1950 a US ambassador was appointed to Madrid. President Truman didn’t care much for Franco, particularly when he discovered that legalisation required protestant funerals take place after dark. Truman supported the view that the Franco regime was simply a self orchestrated personality cult.
Truman’s successor however, the pragmatic Eisenhower signed an agreement with Franco permitting US bases to be built on Spanish soil in return for financial aid. “Like water to the desert” was how one relieved Spanish minister described the deal. It reached $1.8 billion by the mid 1960s. The financial support and the presence of four American military bases on mainland Spain legitimised Franco’s regime. After the signing of the accord he commented “At last I have won the Spanish war”.
The tourist industry reached just under four million by 1959; state autarchy, price controls, and limits on foreign investment made this a remarkable achievement. These constraints put the continuing development of the Spanish tourist trade in question. Franco reluctantly signed the Stabilization Plan
in June of 1959 putting in place the conditions for a relatively free market. Over the next five years the number of tourists enjoying Spain increased to 14 million a year.
Over the decade tourism went through the roof, fortunes were made from the building boom along the Costa del Sol and other coastal areas, even conservative Falangists cashed in. This unprecedented growth was the confluence of many factors, some perhaps not all that obvious.
The positive aspects are all domestic.
The famed Spanish weather; Málaga having an average temperature of 22° C with over 320 days of sunshine!
For many of the first tourists it was an introduction to Mediterranean cuisine, olive oil, crispy fresh salads and a whole new gastronomic world of exotic sea foods! Where better to bring a family? Children are welcomed everywhere, they are allowed to run and run!
The negative features which helped fuel this upturn in tourism are less clear.
Those resident in Britain in the 70s and 80s, may remember that uneasy feeling of trespass one felt from having the misfortune of staying at a small sea-side hotel. These establishments existed solely to humiliate the guests and the intrusion into the hotelier’s daily life was made quite obvious. The favour of allowing these lodgers to spend time there was immense. Rules and regulations would not have disgraced a borstal. Such was the standard of low cost holiday accommodation available at the time.
After escaping the sighs and disapproving glances of the not so genial hosts, one tried to spend as much time away from the establishment as possible. This meant eating out!
Lunch in a pub of this era was a wonderful affair, crisps and a pickled egg eaten at a bar awash with the overspill from the customers’ morning ale.
Enter the Spanish package holiday, low-cost, exotic (africa starts at the Pyrenees) and with service and accommodation which left the British tourist industry with a serious problem. The quality of accommodation and pub food in Britain has improved in recent years, whether or not this is attributable to the Spanish model is difficult to prove but perhaps this is a collateral benefit, another up-side to the Spanish Miracle.
Spanish tourism is still growing with a healthy maturity which is seeing divergence, giving the industry firmer foundations. It is impossible to quantify the effect abroad but we can only assume they have been beneficial for the consumer. Only catastrophic mismanagement or political meddling could destroy the Miracle.
Let us not forget the myth that Andalucía was allowed five wishes by the Gods, only four were granted. To grant all five would have made it a paradise on earth. The fifth and un-granted wish was that of wise government!
Reprisals after the 2nd of May uprising in Madrid. Goya
Bailén and Napoleon’s Spanish Problem
Comments about the fighting prowess of the Spanish soldier during the nineteenth century have not been complimentary. Describing their efforts as variable is perhaps the best one can expect. It has even been suggested that the proximity of luncheon has had a decisive effect on some major engagements. The soldier, historian and contemporary of the period, William Napier, wrote ‘I cannot say that they (the Spanish) do anything as it ought to be done, with the exception of running away and assembling again in a state of nature’.
Is this justified or just a northern European generalisation?
The Spanish War of Independence or the Peninsular War as it is known to the British started in 1808 and ended with the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814. The War began in early May with the insurrections which followed massacres in Madrid. French troops opened fire on a crowd in the Puerta del Sol killing over a 1,000. It was the ordinary people who rose up against Napoleon. The upper strata of Spanish society preferred to accept passively the will of their conquers. Much has been made of the British involvement in the war, however there were more Franco-Spanish actions than those between France and the other two allies.
The two most significant battles were at Vitoria where Wellington’s Anglo-Portuguese Army delivered the fatal blow and at Bailén. Without Bailén there would have been no Vitoria.
Napoleon was determined to quell the uprisings and sent an army of some 23,000 men south to pacify Andalucía. Under General Dupont, the Army mainly consisted of inexperienced conscripts but he had several regiments of veteran troops to support and bolster his force. Their aims were to put down the insurgencies in Sevilla and Córdoba. Dupont sacked Córdoba, carrying off all the portable wealth of the city in a vast train of wagons and pack-mules. His brutality increased the scale and ferocity of the rebellion with many armed peasants joining a Spanish force intending to intercept the French Army.
After the destruction of Córdoba the French column, burdened with its plunder and wounded moved slowly across the Plain of Andújar along the road to Madrid. The town of Andújar, a French logistical base had by this time been taken by Castaños’s Spanish. By the 19th of July his Army stood between Dupont’s French and their passage to Madrid.
From first light the French made five separate and concerted attempts to break the Spanish line and gain the road to Madrid. First the French infantry tried to break through but were repulsed. The French heavy cavalry then managed to crumble two battalions but were eventually forced to retire. Twice more the infantry tried and twice they were repulsed. At twelve thirty in the afternoon, Dupont made a final desperate attempt to advance but was again held. He himself was wounded and his Swiss regiments defected to the Spanish. A Spanish division led by Peña finally completed the encirclement of the French Army. Dupont sued for a ceasefire. Over 17,500 uninjured French soldiers threw down their arms and surrendered.
The lengthy ceasefire negotiations ended with the agreement that the prisoners be sent back to France. The Spanish however reneged on this stipulation under pressure from the British. The British argued that they would simply be re-armed and sent straight back across the Pyrenees. The French were imprisoned on the uninhabited island of Cabrera where almost two thirds succumbed to disease and malnutrition. The conditions on Cabrera were no worse than those in the prisoner-of-war hulks around the British coast however.
This was the first major defeat of the French Grande Armée and sent Napoleon into a blind rage. He accused Dupont of thinking more of his plunder than his duty. It was Bailén that swayed the British into putting Wellington ashore at Lisbon almost a year later and the endgame at Vitoria.
The news of the battle was received in London with outpourings of Hispanic fervour. The courage and heroism of the Spanish were regaled in the British press. Poems were written to commemorate the deeds of the Spanish people .The Morning Chronicle of April 1809 carried a poem concerning the Siege of Saragossa where 40,000 died.
In house by house, in street by street,
The Franks a brave resistance meet;
Hopeless and baffled they retreat—
Huzza! for Saragossa.
A delegation from the Spanish Supreme Junta visited London and were given one and a half million pounds, 120,000 muskets and 100,000 uniforms. Closer to home, it forced the aristocracy to join the rebellion.
This was certainly not the achievement of cowardly or indisciplined soldiers. The Spanish liked to decide who, when and where they fought, disappearing if they got into trouble and re-emerging when more favourable conditions existed. The French commanders often remarked that innumerable Spanish contingents kept materialising all over the country. By British standards of the day they were indisciplined. Wellington admitted that without a mule-train of 8,000 beasts bringing in supplies daily he would not have been able to keep his army in the field for more than a month. On several occasions open mutiny occurred within the British ranks due to the non-arrival of supplies. To the Spanish who lived off the land this amounted to indiscipline.
During the nineteenth century Spain was a remote country isolated by mountain ranges, the phrase ‘Europe ends begins at the Pyrenees’ held true. The Spanish character was little understood in London. These differences, when it came to the Peninsular War complemented one another. Wellington’s long and vulnerable lines of
supply were never seriously disrupted. The ‘indisciplined’ regulars and irregulars of Spain never allowed the French to move freely and hinder Wellington’s rear-guard.
Franco and beyond: His legacy and a discussion into the effects of a Spanish Republican victory in 1939
On the 1st of April 1939 Franco declared the Civil War to be at an end, Republican refugees poured into France and were interned in camps such as Gurs and Vernet others headed for the hills carrying on the fight with the Maquis, those with means or influence fled to the Soviet Union, Mexico or Chile. Five months later, Hilter invaded Poland, and Britain declared war on Fascist Germany, diverting the world’s attention away from the Iberian Peninsular.
Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco y Bahamonde Salgado Pardo de Andrade
During those early months of the Second World War, Franco’s purge of Republican sympathisers was very thorough, the number who met their ends in cellars or on the remoteness of the campo can only be estimated. This butchery was not of prime importance to the policy makers in London, it did not weigh heavily on their consciences, the problem which kept them awake at night was how to stop Franco bringing Spain into the War as an Axis power.
Spain was in no shape to wage war, its infrastructure was destroyed and its once vast gold reserves, fourth largest in the world had been lost. The Republican finance minister Dr. Juan Negrín had sent half the reserve to Moscow, much to Stalin’s delight, while of the remainder; some went to France and the rest to the republican government’s purchasing commissions, set up by Indalecio Prieto of the PSOE to obtain war materials.
It wasn’t however the materials and men that Spain could deploy against Britain which gave the ministers of the Crown nightmares, it was quite simply Gibraltar. A Gibraltar in British hands and a neutral Ceuta, some 20 Kilometres distant on the North African coast, meant the Mediterranean was open to the Royal Navy. Offensive operations could be launched while maintaining a supply line to Malta, and re-supplying friendly forces such as Tito’s Partisans in Yugoslavia, Franco held the key and it was in retrospect a pivotal key.
The British government approached their tasks on three fronts. Firstly a blockade, to let just enough material into the country to keep the population focused on survival. Secondly, making the Madrid government financially dependent on the western powers with loan bonds issued through Washington and London. Thirdly, although not proven, wheeling and counter dealing directly between Churchill and Franco. This last scenario would go a long way to solving two mysteries of the war years.
On the 12th of November 1940 Hitler issued his directive number 18. The first part dealt with relations with France, the second with Spain and Portugal and Spain’s prompt entry into the War. In January of 1941 Operation Felix was planned to begin, German forces moving into Spain from Vichy France, moving south and overwhelming Gibraltar’s defences. Once the Rock fell, two divisions of German troops would cross the Straits and garrison Ceuta, closing the western Mediterranean to the Allies.
The only step necessary to the realisation of this plan was the agreement of Franco; he would have had a great deal to gain by being instrumental in an Axis victory. Hitler and Franco met in a railway carriage at Hendaye on the French Spanish border in late October 1940. Franco made such demands that the German leader could not deliver; 700,000 tons of grain, fuel for the entire Spanish army, re-equipping the Spanish army, the French African territories of Morocco and Oran handed over to Spanish control and redrawing the borders of the Spanish Sahara. Franco may have been a despot but he was not a stupid man, he held his position with such vigour that Hitler was reported as saying he would rather have three teeth pulled than speak to Franco again.
Why did Franco insist on these demands which he knew could not be delivered?
By late October it was clear that the Luftwaffe would not gain air superiority over the RAF and therefore no invasion of Britain, obviously prolonging the war, a crucial factor considering the philosophy behind the German armed forces. They were designed for Blitzkrieg, followed by occupation. Fast moving ground troops coupled with a tactical air force were not meant to fight a war of attrition. An unconquered Britain not only meant a large well armed belligerent war machine operating on Hitler’s doorstep, it all offered a springboard for forthcoming allied offensive.
Was all this clear to Franco?
Did he foresee in the eventual intervention of the United States?
The successful outcome of operation Felix could have radically altered the war’s course, so what did Franco get for the frustration of Hitler’s plans?
Could this be answered by the second mystery?
When de Gaulle’s 2nd armoured division entered Paris in August 1944, many of the tank crews were ex-soldiers of the Second Spanish Republic, they had fought the Fascists from Madrid to the Aragón, from Paris to Berlin, they were confident the fight would be taken back to Spain. Certainly General Alvarez had no doubts, at his headquarters in Toulouse plans were in an advanced state. Just the threat of a full scale Allied invasion may have been sufficient to force Franco to negotiate. Even a strong Republican force crossing the Pyrenees with Allied air and material support would have poised a serious problem to the Franco regime. But it was not to be. The only action sanctioned by the Allies was a foray of 150 men into the Spanish Pyrenean foothills with disastrous results and a demoralising retreat.
Was a deal done between Franco and Churchill in those dark days of 1940?
Was it a case of the security of Gibraltar in exchange for the final extinguishing of the Republican cause?
If Franco did foresee the defeat of Nazi Germany, did he also foresee the falling of the Iron Curtain and the American paranoia against all things Red.? In mid 1960 Eisenhower paid 1.8 billion dollars into the Spanish coffers in exchange for the construction of four bases.
On the 1st of April 1939 Franco declared that the Civil War was at an end, it wasn’t until mid 1960 that he declared the Spanish War had been won.
Christmas day 1884 began like all Christmas days, slowly. Most of the population of Andalucía were recovering from the excesses of the night before. The traditional Nochebuena feast of seasonal Sea Bream and roast Lamb had taken its toll. Liberal quantities of champanada cider and local wines had also helped the festivities. While anise flavoured polvorones, mazapanes, and almond-honey turrones sated the sweet tooth.
Children were beginning to enjoy themselves. The promise of gifts on January the 5th and the spectacle of the processions of Los Reyes heightened their excitement. As the day progressed so did the expectation of the festivities to come. The tranquillity of the evening was soon to be betrayed by the massive subterranean forces building in the earth below.
At eight minutes past nine that evening the Ventas de Zafarraya Fault vibrated for approximately 20 seconds. This set in motion the most destructive earthquake in the history of Andalucía. The epicentre was south of the central Sierra de Tejeda region and caused casualties and damage over an area of almost 6400 Km2.
Arenas de Rey Earthquake
The African tectonic plate impacting on the European plate causes the seismic activity inherent in southern Spain. Over the last 2000 years earthquakes and tremors from Cadíz to Alicante are documented in one form or another. In 1994 an event of magnitude 5.6 occurred, causing walls to crack and minor damage to fixtures and fittings.
The Great Andalucían Earthquake of 1884 struck on possibly the quietest day of the year. Spanish society was renewing the bond of family. The hard work and sacrifice of the year forgotten as the generations became as one. The moving earth and falling masonry must have seemed personal. An inroad into the very fabric of the family orientated society which is essentially Spain.
El Defensor de Granada of the 29th was the first to print a report of the disaster. Poor communications and the remoteness of the affected villages had delayed word getting out. Even after the Defensor carried the story the nationals in Madrid put the reports down to typical Andalucían exaggeration. They didn’t dispatch correspondents until the 8th of January.
Meanwhile those made homeless, injured and traumatised by the earthquake were thrown back on local resources. The winter of 1884 was one of the harshest on record, the cold compounded by heavy snowfalls. Many of the fatalities must have succumbed to the elements. The first outside aid that reached the survivors was from a fund set up by the editor of El Defensor de Granada.
The outside world eventually became aware of the scale of the disaster and many magazines and journals began relief funds. The Ilustrierte Welt, L’Illustration Journal, Universal and La Illustración Española y Americana, carried graphic images of ruined towns and gaping fissures. The Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid has these and many other imaged in their archives.
The village of Albuñuelas suffered major damage, with almost 200 fatalities and 500 injuries from a total population 1640. The destructive effects of shaking, plus the deluges of mud caused through liquefaction of the waterlogged soil made the village uninhabitable.
Haunting images show people searching for loved ones in the ruins of Alhama, while wild pigs feed off unearthed corpses. The population forced to camp in open fields, with minimal cover against the harshest of winters.
Near Zafarraia huge fissures opened, while as far west as Málaga with extensive damage caused in the Plaza de la Victoria. Elsewhere in the city many buildings required buttressing. Gelhada was extensively damaged as was Canillas de Albaida and Cómpeta. All the towns and villages from the Sierra Tejeda to the sea suffered to varying degrees. In Periana, north west of the Sierra Tejeda 57 deaths were reported. Perhaps the most pungent lithographs in the archives of the Biblioteca Nacional depict a procession of bedraggled and demoralized villagers. They carry religious images saved from the ruined pueblos, images with no home.
The number of reported casualties varied from 750 to 900 dead, while more than 1800 injured is an accepted figure. The total of 14,000 homes destroyed underlines the scale of the desolation. Help on a national scale did arrive, first from Córdoba and then Seville. The construction of wooden cabins for the people of Albuñuelas began. In April 1885 an international relief fund became established and together with the national effort raised some 6,455,985 Pesetas with a Euro equivalent of 38,801.
The houses of Moorish construction fared better than their more modern counterparts. This was due partly to the construction methods and partly because the Moors knew which terrain best suited which type of construction. The Moorish builders of the Alhambra in Granada had used lead between its joints to absorb movement. A more general method was to use two outer walls of stone with a soft lime mortar infill, the walls tapering as they rise.
Arenas de Rey Earthquake 1884
Some lessons were learnt from the earthquake of December 1884. No houses in the reconstruction consisted of more than two stories and not more than nine and a half metres in height. All streets being 10 metres wide, there were some exceptions however, as in Albuñuelas where stable land was scarce, here the street width was six metres.
The present building boom east to Almería is disconcerting, these dwellings will have to withstand earth tremors. Dwellings built to withstand seismic disturbance, estructura antismica, are feasible. First commercially advertised in 2004 but not popular with builders as they can be realised cheaper than most conventional dwellings. Like all nations the only lesson we have learnt is the one of economics. There must be something more we can do. We must make certain that the next time our Christmas Day is rudely interrupted, the event will be an anomaly rather than a catastrophe.
The next ´big one´ may not occur for another 120 years. It could, however, happen tomorrow.
All countries have their scallywags, men and women who prefer to live outside the law. They exist on their wits in a hostile and lonely environment, not unlike marriage perhaps but still a desperate place. The outlaws’ life has brought fame to some, infamy to others but very short careers usually with a bloody end to most.
Terrorising the prairie towns of the Wild West was Jesse James and others of his ilk. Making a nuisance of himself in the antipodes was the metal clad Ned Kelly. With very few exceptions they were bully-boys thugs and murderers, yet they became idolised by later generations. Their crimes whitewashed and their limited humanity elevated. Some are composite outlaws with the deeds of others attributed to them. Dick Turpin never made the famous ride to York. It was John Nevison, alias Swift Nick half a century earlier. At least two anonymous individuals compose the character of Robin Hood. Considering the brutality and uncertainty of the age labelling his men as Merry is extremely questionable. Mr Hood’s rather strange fiscal policy of taking from the rich and giving to the poor is also questionable. It was nothing more than bribes granted to secure his base of operations.
Bandits can only operate where conditions allow. There must be a certain amount of law and order to enable the movement of people and goods. Hordes of baddies moving through the countryside are synonymous with a developing nation. When national organisation is such as to restrict their activities, daylight robbery becomes the task of gas, electric and banking concerns.
Spain has had its share of rapscallions operating in all of its regions. In the nineteenth century, Andalucían brigandage was an attraction for early tourists. These travellers purposely fell into the hands of the many bands of bandoleros. British and other Europeans were known to pay for the privilege of such an encounter. One can imagine the heroic stories told over roaring fires on cold winter nights. In any event it was probably safer than a ‘Club 18 to 30′ bargain weekend.
El Tempranillo by Lewis
Arguably the most famous Andalucían bandolero was José Maria Hinojosa Cabacho. Known as El Tempranillo, this epithet probably refers to his early entry into banditry at the age of thirteen.
El Tempranillo had all the characteristics necessary for local hero status. The first perquisite is to become an outlaw after the righting of some wrong. In El Tempranillo’s case he appears to have committed murder while still in his teens. Born on the 21st of June 1805, this would mean the incident took place in 1818 after the French occupation but still uncertain times. There are some references to him protecting his family, in particular his Mother. In 1818 the village of his birth, Jauja, would have been a remote place, adding some weight to the anecdote of his downfall. It was probably the need to escape the law that he joined a band of outlaws.
Like all successful highwaymen a highway is, by definition required. José Maria’s was the Despeñaperros Pass, roughly translated as ‘the place where dogs fall off rocks’, implying treacherous cliffs rather than genetically stupid dogs. The pass is on the Andalucían northern border, an ideal location for a young bandit chief and his gang. With regular through traffic but sufficiently isolated to make a quick response by the authorities difficult. He practised his art in broad daylight demanding 10% of a traveller’s wealth in return for safe conduct through the pass. His flamboyant style and initial success established him as a bona fide highwayman in the highest tradition. José’s ability to obscure the most felonious and seedy events in a fog of spin, self righteous justification and lies would have made him a welcome member of any of today’s political parties. Keeping the local population loyal with liberal doses of cash, gave the El Tempranillo myth a veneer of benevolence.
The gallantry of such English men of the road as Captain James Hind and Claude Duval is legendary and our José wasn’t to be outdone. When relieving a female traveller of her jewellery he reputedly said ‘A hand so beautiful as yours does not need adornments‘. Her words about the loss of her trinkets are not on record. The encounter, embellished if not completely fabricated by our Bandit.
A short man with one hand, the other lost after an accident with a pistol. He became a cult figure in Andalucía. He could separate travellers from their loose change and had a flair for public relations. While the King ruled Spain, El Tempranillo ruled the mountains. The title King of the Sierra Morena was probably José Maria’s own invention. Soon he warranted a bounty of 6000 reales dead or alive. José was becoming an embarrassment to the authorities.
Unlike the archetypical highwaymen of northern Europe José married, but his wife María Gerónima francés died during childbirth. José’s Son survived and was indirectly responsible for El Tempranillo’s most conspicuous act. In 1831 along with 50 of his men he took control of the mountain village of Grazalema. This audacious act was simply to allow the baptising of his offspring at the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Aurora. The local authorities outnumbered and out-gunned looked on helplessly as the bandolero completed his religious observances.
José’s reputation spread beyond southern Spain. Writing of the 1830s the British writer John Ford noted ‘When Fernando VII was King of Spain and José Maria was the love of Andalucía’.
With an expansion of his fame, so his presence became almost universal. Simultaneous sightings occurred in venues separated by dozens of kilometres. The provenance of caves became attributed to him, local town’s people invented tales and encounters with the famous bandolero just so they could claim association.
The momentum of his popularity was unstoppable. Along with his other misappropriations he stole the Kings limelight and vied with him for acclaim. The monarch had to act but he had a problem. On the one hand he had a criminal on the loose, committing crimes with an ever increasing audacity. On the other, he had a man revered by the population of Andalucía, a hero almost.
Fernando VII was in this instance very astute or at least his advisers were. He had to neutralise the bandit while avoiding the civil unrest which would undoubtedly occur if he blatantly went after El Tempranillo. His solution was to pardon the outlaw and put him at the head of a force of sixty men. The role was to hunt down and capture bandoleros, a classic example of setting a thief to catch a thief. The unit was the Escuadrón Franco de Protección y Seguridad Pública de Andalucía (The free squadron for the public protection of Andalucía). The impressive title implying that government pay was not at all good.
Ironically El Tempranillo met his end while bringing the bandolero El Barbarello to justice. José Maria Hinojosa Cabacho died on the 23rd of September 1833 from his wounds. He left very little in the way of tangible wealth but a fortune in the folklore of Andalucía.
Why do seemingly respectable people admire highwaymen and others of their ilk? These people robbed murdered and were generally antisocial, usually meeting their end in a ditch or on the gallows. Is it a reaction to the over organised life we lead today? A yearning from every person worth his salt to be free, to control his own destiny?
If I thought I had half a chance of success, I for one would be out there stalking the open road. El Gordo, demanding money with menaces or perhaps with the threat of a Chinese burn, but certainly carousing in some jovial inn with my cronies.
The Battle at Vitoria was the end-games to what became known to the British as The Peninsular War. To the French it was the Guerre d’Espagne, to the Portuguese The French Invasions. To the Spanish themselves it was their War of Independence.
It was in Andalucía on the 19th of July 1808 that arguably the pivotal event of the war occurred. At Bailén in the province of Jaén the Napoleonic land Army suffered its first major defeat. A French Army of 23,000 under the command of General Dupont engaged a Spanish force led by General Castaños. Out manoeuvred and out fought, Dupon surrendered. Some 17,635 prisoners were taken and José-Napoleon abandoned Madrid in favour of the relative safety offered by Vitoria. The Spanish had shown that the forces of Napoleon were not invincible.
An outraged Napoleon personally led an army of 135,000 which swept across the peninsular. Napoleon staged victory marches throughout all the provinces, but it was an illusion. Although he defeated the Spanish regular army at every occasion, he never totally destroyed it. It was always waiting in the undergrowth ready to leap out and savage him. However, the main threat to the French was not from the Spanish regulars but from the Guerrillas.
Napoleon referred to their activities as a Spanish Ulcer. The actions of the Guerrillas was to have a profound effect on the outcome of the war in the Peninsular.
So why did Britain and the future Duke of Wellington Prevail?
The Guerrillas passed captured despatches to the British, shadowed French columns and harassed their escorts. They attacked supply columns from ambush and before reinforcements could arrive, disperse. The Guerrillas would then reform, perhaps weeks later to cause more mayhem amongst the demoralised French.
Who leads these bands of legalised Bandoleros?
El Empecinado was such a problem to the French that they sent entire columns to track him down, all to no avail however. El Empecinado (The Obstinate One) and his men became incorporated in the regular Spanish army.
Jeronimo Merino, El Cure outraged at the wanton behaviour of the French in his home village of Valloviado raised a Guerrilla of 2500 men. His speciality was the castration of captured French officers. Somewhat strange conduct for a parish priest, but such was his contempt for the foul behaviour of his enemies.
We can conjure up images of these men and women from the shadows of the past. We can see them in the low sierras ambushing a convoy or galloping across the plains pursued by sabre waving cavalry. Almost 200 years has passed since these patriots roamed the campo, unfettered by convention, righting wrongs, free-spirits laughing in the face of an Empire. The theme of every schoolboy’s playtime. The stuff Hollywood revels in, but we forget that the realities were much harsher.
The Battle of Vitoria
The references to the Guerrillas in British historical textbooks are few. Has the debt to the Spanish Irregulars been recognised? On the other hand would Spain have succeeded in evicting the French without the help of the British and Portuguese?
A photo journey
Patricia Díaz Pereda.
To order from Amazon.co.uk