Richard Simkin, The Peninsular Epoche.
Having started this blog and acquiring more knowledge about the French Invasions, I have built a profile of the Peninsula Wars and, therefore, the downfall of the Napoleonic Imperialist attempts.
What we know is that an tired army and it's division in several conflicts across Western Europe made it possible for their end to be sooner then they thought, but what experts have forgotten (in my modest opinion) is the importance of the Iberian Peninsula in this whole scenario, more so Portugal. Everyone just remembers the beginning – Austerlitz – and the end – Waterloo and never that little snowflake that caused the avalanche. Even doing a quick research on the internet one can find innumerable videos, documents, documentaries, etc that seem to forget to mention this particular part of Europe.
Why the Iberian Peninsula? Why Portugal?
Being part of this Continent, Portugal and Spain were part of Napoleon's list of countries to be conquered. Portugal had a particular importance, not only for the French but also for the British: being a good controlling point of the Atlantic Ocean and a natural harbor. Who controls Portugal (including the archipelagos of Azores and Madeira) not only controls the Eastern side of the North Atlantic, but also the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, without mentioning of having a grip on the piracy of North Africa.
Now, what Napoleon never took account of was 1stly, the Iberian population and 2ndly the Portuguese King. You wonder? In fact, in his memoirs written on St. Helena, Napoleon states that it was this little man that brought him down. In his words: «The only one who played a trick on me».
After entering the Iberian Peninsula one is automatically blocked by 2 important geographical points. The Pyrenees and the Atlantic Ocean. The isolation made the Iberian culture different from remaining Europe and it's people to have a certain fighting characteristic.
Of course, after turning the Spanish Crown into French (something hilarious for someone who's fighting for Republican ideals and still gets revered after 200 years!!!) and forcing the Portuguese Crown into exile, gave Napoleon's officers and troops a sense of accomplishment. And it was this feeling that Napoleon advised and warned his officers so many times against, even writing letter to Portugal stating that only because of the forced compliance on the Portuguese shouldn't give the officers a sense of comfort. Nevertheless, this advice he didn't gave himself.
What the French didn't knew is that the Portuguese king was having diplomatic dealing with the British government, his natural allies. For the Portuguese they were the much needed military aid, for the British Portugal was their Maritime stronghold and push against the French Continental Blockade (that is why they occupied the Portuguese Atlantic Islands 1st). If Portugal didn't had this geographical advantage we would have been of no interest to the British counter-offense.
After the Sintra Convention, the french attempted a 2nd Invasion a few months later. Spain was still on their side, so easy access through the biggest part of the Iberian Peninsula. But the political was abut to change. The Portuguese civilians weren't feeling obliged to respect the non-retaliation commands of the 1st Invasion and in Spain, more so Aragon, the population started the “Guerra de la Independencia” already. The French army became the proverbial “sitting duck” with no easy exit possible.
Now, why the French decided to invade Portugal the 3rd time in 1810, I don't understand, since it was a foreseeable suicide. But the Lines of Torres Vedras, made it impossible for a strong continental army to reach Lisbon. So, the attention of an Iberian Conquest changed to Spain and it was a downhill battle for the French with constant civilian rebellion attacking their lines.
With no Iberian Peninsula, Napoleon's empire was a no-go. It would always represent an entry and refuge for anyone against the French. Hence the importance of this part of Europe in the entire Napoleonic Wars.
So, as you can see, long before Waterloo, the years of 1810 to 1812 were the beginning of the end.