Welcome to my blog. Please feel free to roam around and learn a bit more about Portuguese History. To find your interests, please, have a look at the right side of the page, where you can find all the posts arrenged into labels, such as "Society", "Politics", etc. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The trauma of the French Invasions

(Taken from the book “Portugal no século XVIII – de D. João V à Revolução Francesa” by the Sociedade Portuguesa de Estudos do século XVIII (Portuguese Society of 18th century Studies), in the International Congress of 1990, chapter “Portugal e as invasões francesas – aproximação à anatomia de um medo”, by Mário de Carvalho Cardoso

The French Invasions are one of those subjects in Portuguese History that bring up, still today, the most emotions. It is still a collective and spontaneous fear where the invaders are demonized.
The general feel of impotence before the cyclic invasions, before the clear instructions of non-resistance and before the flight of the Portuguese crown to Brazil, left the population with a sense of abandonment.
Although the arrival of the French army in Lisbon and the way they looked (in starving and miserable conditions) was seen in big awe, soon that sense of abandonment was transformed into a revolt, mainly because of the so called “Loans” that the French army demanded. The economical oppression, the abuse and the violence had an opposite result from what was expected of the Portuguese. There was a growing sense of national solidarity that legitimized the violence against the French (a.k.a. “dogs” because it was the only thing that many French soldiers had to eat).
Even the forced signing of documents by Portuguese religious high representatives that forbid the population to uprise and forced them to show their obedience to Napoleon had a different outcome. It was the 1st sign that the Portuguese became more independent of the catholic church.
Many authors agree that the norm of violence seen by any invading military force was enlarged because the famous mobility of the French army only brought months and months of walking and lesser and lesser provisions and, therefore, made that each individual soldier had to provide for itself for food, clothing and other interests alike. Looting and murder when there was nothing to loot, violence against nuns and clergymen were something linked to French soldiers only. Even if they would be punished by death by their own regiments, the situation was now out of control.
The 1st invasion was so traumatic that on the other 2 the Portuguese population lost it's shyness and took justice into it's own hands, fighting alongside the English army. Soult described the hatred that the French army felt and the atrocities that they suffered in Évora during the 2nd invasion.
Even the people from Galiza, North of Spain, along the northern Portuguese borders, are known to have joined the Portuguese cause by informing the closeness of the French army. It is with this help that the population of Porto was able to organize themselves, into militias, so well.

Portuguese military and civilians fighting the French army, C. Alberto dos Santos.

On another account, as soon as the invaders crossed the river Minho, the church bells rang and the river margins were filled with light and during the morning, the French saw an immense population of peasants waiting for them to disembark with all sorts of weaponry in their hands. They were all covered in their capotes (long cloaks made of straw) that made them almost unrecognisable in the local vegetation. Some even went into the water by foot or by boat in their rage and despair.
Populations would run away from the advancement of the French army but would kill and burn everything what they would leave behind , leaving the soldiers with nothing.
To fight against the invaders became a national duty. The religious obsession was replaced by another form of obsession even supported by church, not only with the excommunication of Napoleon by the Pope Pious the 7th, but also by the link that the Portuguese priests made in their sermons of holy punishment with resistance (the French invasions were explained of being a punishment against sins and therefore the more the Portuguese fought against it the easier they would be forgiven). It soon became David against Goliath.
“KILL HIM, HE'S FRENCH!” was the Portuguese response to the French brutality and soon the victims became more brutal then the invaders themselves. In some towns it even became a bloodbath not only against the invaders but also against all that were mixed up with supporters. And in fear of being accused of being such the general population became even more “patriotic”.
When Soult arrived in Braga the town was almost deserted and anarchy was installed. The town inspector had been accused of being a French partisan and the population killed him and left his body to be eaten by pigs. In Soult's opinion it would be easier to exterminate the Portuguese population then to overtake it militarily.
At the withdrawal of the troops the French army became the target of all sort of violence:From the 1800 soldiers that in 1809 left Chaves only 200 arrived alive in Lisbon.
The Portuguese population used all types of atrocities to revenge themselves. They used to hide in abandoned villages waiting for lonely French soldiers searching for food, to attack them and torture them to death. The cries and screaming were such that it stopped the remaining soldiers to help the captured companion.
The outrage, the sense of abandonment, the suffered violence felt by the population made it become the judge and executioner at the same time, to the point that still today the Portuguese think in anger and grudge of this part of History and having no regrets.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Women and the war

Yes........ yes.......... The subject is being brought up again.......... Women and the war..........
By this I don't mean those women that stayed at home waiting for their husbands, fathers, brothers, lovers, etc to come home. That must be one of the most ungrateful things to do in life, poor things!
I'm talking about those women that walked, fought and lived alongside the army (whatever side!) during the Napoleonic Wars, the so called camp-followers. And please.... You all know that these women existed......... DON'T YOU??? Or are you still in denial?
If you are, here's some more historical proof.

The most documented woman during the Napoleonic wars was the Vivandière that was employed by the French army. She was the sutler for goods like food, alcohol and tobacco, providing the regiments with these comforting things. She would be known having a little barrel with a measuring-beaker and cup at her side with cognac or other beverage of the sort and gave a dominant male and aggressive environment that feminine flair. A Vivandière would wear the colors of the regiment she would work for, wearing breeches under her short skirt and a military jacket.
It is said that this was a way to calm the feminist movement that had appeared in France after the Revolution, by giving women that wanted to fight in wars just as men did a “controlled purpose” by being sutleresses and washer-women (blanchisseuses).
Anyway, they were there.

Detail from a painting of the Battle of Chiclana by Baron Louis-François Lejeune

Vivandiére, from the book "Uniforms of the retreat of Msocow 1812", by Philip Haythornthwaite and Mike Chappel.

Take a look at the end of the page of book 11 of the Napoleon Series.


For more information on vivandìeres I recommend reading the text below from the the book "Military Dress of the Peninsula War", by Martin Windrow and Gerry Embleton.

Vivandière, French 15e Léger, 1809-10
«To close this book we have decided to show a single representative of the thousands of women who followed the armies of both sides of campaign, suffering great hardships and danger; in an age lacking the most elementary welfare services for the troops, it was to theses staunch camp-followers that the men looked for some touch of comfort or compassion. Officers were often accompanied by their wifes, who traveled on mules or ponies and each night attempted to set up a little camp which would provide some echo of the comforts of home life. Some of the more dashing, particularly among the French, were accompanied by charming mistresses tricked out in saroual trousers and suitable modified forms of trousers or dragoon uniforms. In the ranks life was harsher. Only six men per British company were allowed to take wifes on the ration strength, and the other camp-followers had to shift themselves. On retreats or forced marches their fate was pitiable but it must be also be said that they were often of unmitigated nuisance, blocking the roads and accepting no sort of discipline. One cannot fail to be moved, however, by the accounts of their sturdy courage. More then one exhausted redcoat would have been left in the road if his wife had not carried him on her back, firelock and all. In the aftermath of the battle the wifes of titled captains an illiterate privates could be seen together, searching among the piles of dead and wounded for their men, while the local peasants stole from cover, knife in hand, and casual plunderers of both armies stripped the corpses and rifled pockets all around them.
A French regiment was usually accompanied by a vivandière, a woman who sold liquor, tobacco and the small luxuries from a cart. They had semi-official status, and were often given a form of uniform to mark their allegiance to the regiment. Some 19th Century prints show trim and jauntily costumed girls but in reality most of them probably looked more like Mother Courage. Nevertheless they were sometimes married to a string of NCO's, according to the chances of war - for on campaign they were as eligible as any brewery heiress! The 15e Léger, who apparently had a vivandière dressed in this braided red jacket faced light blue, served under Loison at Vimeiro, and with Clausel at Bussaco.»

Vivandière of the French 15e Léger, 1809-10

But not only sutleresses accompanied the military. There where all sorts of other camp-followers that where part of a the daily lives in war. I don't need to mention those who had the oldest job in the world (because that goes without saying and a good deal is a good deal!) but I'm going to mention the wives and the partisans.
Here's a good website of the National Army Museum in the UK that dedicates some pages to the subject and that shows wonderful etchings by W. H. Pyne (“Camp Scenes”). My favorite one is the scene with the cart/wagon.


On more details on the women that accompanied the military, please read this amazing resume at this address. Please note, that even if only 6 or 4 wifes were allowed per british company, some made a difference, like:

- The wife of the Quartermaster of the 14th Foot Alexander Ross, who fought at his side on the battle field;
- The Sergeant Major's wife of the 7th Hussars that was expected by her husband to join the fight;
- Jenny Jones' tombstone reminds everyone that she fought at Waterloo with her husband of the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers;
- Elske van Aggelin a dutch sutleress that died at the end of the century;
- Barbara Moon that was born during the Peninsula Wars and died in 1903;
- Private Peter McMullens' wife of the 27th Foot carried him of the battle field after he was wounded;


There were also those women, specially during the Peninsula Wars and more particularly in Portugal (given the traumatic experience being invade by the French while the army and King were fleeing), that went into war carrying weapons, alongside with all the militia groups that were formed at the time.
Here's a drawing of one of them, by Auguste Racinet in his book “Le Costume Historique”:

And last but not least, I would like to remind the reader of other women that made it into European History and that you can google about. Here are some examples:

- Francesca Scanagatta, that served in the Austrian Army as a Lieutenant and was only discovered to be a woman when she received a granted pension by the Kaiser;
- Madame d'Oettlinger, who was a Napoleon's spy;
- Jane Townsend, that served at the Battle of Trafalgar;
- Agostina de Aragón, that launched an attack against the French occupying forces at Zaragossa;
- Joanna Zubr, who was the 1st woman to be granted the highest Polish military award;
- Anna Lühring and Friederike Krüger that served in the Prussina army;
- William Brown, a british sailor discovered to be a woman.

To all of the women witnesses of the Napoleonic War, participating or not in the battles, whatever background or activity they had, I salute you!