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  • Charles J. Esdaile
  • Philip Freeman
Part of the War, Culture and Society, 1750–1850 book series (WCS)


Occupying a key position in the geography of northern Spain, the city of Burgos played an eventful role in the history of the Peninsular War. Having already witnessed the passage of large numbers of French troops in the direction of Portugal in the autumn of 1807, in November of that year it was among the first of Spain’s cities to play host to a permanent French garrison, whilst in April 1808 it witnessed the fateful journey that took Spain’s rival monarchs to the conference with Napoleon at Bayonne that brought down the Bourbon monarchy, and contributed the very first of the quarter of a million or more lives that formed Spain’s share of the human cost of the attempt to incorporate Iberia into the Napoleonic imperium. In the war that followed, the presence of large numbers of French troops initially saved the city from experiencing the horrors of battle — the insurrection of May 1808, then, was not replicated in Burgos — and in consequence el rey intruso, Joseph Bonaparte, was able to pass through in safety en route to his triumphal entry into Madrid, and, for that matter, to travel back the other way when he abandoned the capital and fled for the safety of the River Ebro in the wake of the battle of Bailén. The liberation that followed, however, was short-lived. Spain’s armies proving incapable of holding back the punishment unleashed upon her by Napoleon in retribution for the loss of Dupont’s army, French forces swept back into the city following a brief battle at the suburban village of Gamonal, and the result was a sack that saw it both thoroughly pillaged and badly damaged by fire.


British Army Copious Evidence Peculiar Circumstance French Troop French Force 
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  1. 1.
    See E. de Olivier-Copons, El castillo de Burgos: monografía histórica (Barcelona, 1893).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    F. Sánchez-Moreno del Moral, El castillo y fortificaciones de Burgos (Burgos, 1991), p. 60.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The pieces concerned are as follows: A. Ortega Martínez, ‘Intervención arqueológica, 1993–1995’ in M. Sainz (ed.), Seminario sobre el castillo de Burgos (Burgos, 1997), pp. 465–508; F. Serna Montero, ‘El castillo en la Guerra de la Independencia’, in Ibid., pp. 349–70; C. Borreguero Beltrán, ‘Asedio y voladura del castillo, 1812–1813’, in Ibid., pp. 371–92; and F. Sánchez-Moreno del Moral, ‘El castillo en sus aspectos militares’, in Ibid., pp. 393–424.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See F. Sánchez-Moreno del Moral, ‘Aspectos militares de la Guerra de la Independencia en Burgos: el castillo y su asedio’, in C. Borreguero Beltrán (ed.), Burgos en el camino de la invasión francesa (Burgos, 2008), pp. 58–71.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    E.g. C. Borreguero Beltrán, Burgos en la Guerra de la Independencia: enclave estratégico y ciudad expoliada (Burgos, 2007);Google Scholar
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  9. 6.
    J. Belmas, Journaux des sièges faits ou soutenus par les français dans la péninsule de 1807 a 1814 (Paris, 1836–1837). Aside from the account of the defence penned by the governor, Dubreton, the most important of these documents is a report on the state of the defences written by the garrison’s chief of engineers on the very eve of Wellington’s arrival before the walls (see Chapter 5, footnote 11).Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    Older versions of the Jones map are to be found in J. Wyld, Maps and Plans Showing the Principal Movements, Battles and Sieges in Which the British Army was Engaged During the War from 1808 to 1814 in the Spanish Peninsula and the South of France (London, 1840);Google Scholar
  11. C. Vacani di Forteolivio, Storia delle campagne e degli assedi degl’Italiani in Ispagna del 1808 al 1813 (Milan, 1845);Google Scholar
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  15. More recently, it has formed the basis for more-or-less artistic depictions in F. Myatt’s British Sieges of the Peninsular War (Stroud, 1995)Google Scholar
  16. and I. Fletcher’s Fortresses of the Peninsular War (Oxford, 2003), pp. 42–3. Finally, for its latest known outing, this time in facsimile,Google Scholar
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  18. 8.
    J. Davidson, ‘Some comments on the traditional historiography of the Black Watch, 1725–1815’, Journal of the Society of Army Historical Research, LXXXIV, No. 3 (Autumn, 2006), p. 223.Google Scholar
  19. 9.
    For a basic account, see H.C.G. Matthews and B. Harrison (eds.) The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), XXII, pp. 714–16.Google Scholar
  20. 10.
    See W. Jones (ed.), The Military Autobiography of the Major-General J.T. Jones (London, 1853). For some further details, see Colburn’s United Service Magazine, II (1843), pp. 109–115.Google Scholar
  21. 14.
    It should be noted, however, that, in respect of Burgos at least, the most recent biography of Wellington turns this argument round by claiming that Wellington ‘may have been influenced by the enthusiasm and assurance of John Burgoyne …who was confident that he could take the castle with the means available’. R. Muir, Wellington: the Path to Victory, 1769–1814 (London, 2013), p. 485.Google Scholar
  22. 16.
    For a discussion of the work of Napier and Southey, see S.H.F. Johnston, ‘The contribution of British historians to the study of the Peninsular War’, in J. García Prado, Guerra de la Independencia: estudios (Zaragoza, 1966), II, pp. 133–38.Google Scholar
  23. 18.
    J. Gurwood (ed.), The Dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington during his Various Campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, the Low Countries and France from 1789 to 1815 (London, 1852);Google Scholar
  24. Second Duke of Wellington (ed.), Supplementary Despatches, Correspondence and Memoranda of Field Marshal Arthur, Duke of Wellington (London, 1858–1872). The information contained in these volumes comes in several different forms, of which the most important are the official reports communicated every six or seven days to the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies (at that time Earl Bathurst) and the private letters – often far more trenchant – that Wellington wrote to a variety of correspondents, including the prime minister, Lord Liverpool, his various brothers, and a number of officials at the Horse Guards and the Foreign Office; to these, meanwhile can be added the letters written by Wellington to subordinates and other correspondents in the Peninsula. Finally, a further guide to Wellington’s views is constituted by the General Orders issued to the army at regular intervals army, and subsequently published in the General Orders series.Google Scholar
  25. 19.
    For convenience, the works concerned may be broken down by reference to their provenance. First, Wellington’s headquarters, namely R. Muir (ed.), At Wellington’s Right Hand: the Letters of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Alexander Gordon, 1808–1815 (Stroud, 2003);Google Scholar
  26. G. Glover (ed.), At Wellington’s Headquarters: The Letters of Robert Cooke, Army Pay Corps, 1811–1814 (Godmanchester, 2009);Google Scholar
  27. G. Glover (ed.), Eyewitness to the Peninsular War and the Battle of Waterloo, the Letters and Journals of Lt. Col. the Hon. James Stanhope 1803–25 (Barnsley, 2010);Google Scholar
  28. R. Buckley, The Napoleonic-War Journal of Captain Thomas Henry Browne, 1807–1816 (London, 1987); F.C. Carr-Gomm (ed.), Letters and Journals of Field Marshal Sir William Maynard Carr-Gomm, G.C.B., Commander-in-Chief of India, Constable of the Tower of London, etc., etc, from 1799 to Waterloo, 1815 (London). Second, the First Division:,Google Scholar
  29. namely G. Glover (ed.), ‘It all culminated at Hougoumont’: The Letters of Captain John Lucie Blackman, Second Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 1812–1815 (Cambridge, 2009);Google Scholar
  30. I. Fletcher (ed.), A Guards Officer in the Peninsula: the Peninsular-War Letters of John Rous, Coldstream Guards, 1811–1812 (Staplehurst, 1997);Google Scholar
  31. I. Fletcher (ed.), For King and Country: The Letters and Diaries of John Mills, Coldstream Guards, 1811–14 (Staplehurst, 1995);Google Scholar
  32. W.F.K Thompson (ed.), An Ensign in the Peninsular War: The Letters of John Aitchison (London, 1981);Google Scholar
  33. Third Earl of Malmesbury (ed.), A Series of Letters of the First Earl of Malmesbury, his Family and his Friends from 1740 to 1820 (London, 1870);Google Scholar
  34. J. Page (ed.), Intelligence Officer in the Peninsula: Letters and Diaries of Major the Honourable Charles Somers Cocks, 1786–1812 (Tunbridge Wells, 1986);Google Scholar
  35. H.P. Elkington, ‘Some episodes in the life of James Goodall Elkington, an army surgeon in the Peninsular days’, Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, XVI, No. 1 (January, 1911), pp. 79–104.Google Scholar
  36. Third, the Sixth Division: G. Glover (ed.), Wellington’s Lieutenant, Napoleon’s Gaoler: the Peninsular Letters and Saint Helena Diaries of Sir George Rideout Bingham, 1809–21 (Barnsley, 2005); H. Ross-Lewin, With the Thirty-Second in the Peninsula and other Campaigns, ed. J. Wardell (Dublin, 1904);Google Scholar
  37. A. Mockler-Ferryman (ed.), The Life of a Regimental Officer in the Great War, 1793–1815, compiled from the Correspondence of Colonel Samuel Rice, C.B., K.H., Fifty-First Light Infantry, and from other Sources (Edinburgh, 1913);Google Scholar
  38. P.P. Nevill, Some Recollections in the Life of Lieut.-Col. P.P. Nevill, late Major, 63rd Regiment (London, 1864). And, finally, fourth, the engineers, artillery and other ancillary services,Google Scholar
  39. namely G. Glover (ed.), The Letters of Second Captain Dansey, R.A. (Cambridge, 2006); J.E. Daniel., Journal of an Officer in the Commissariat Department of the Army, comprising a Narrative of the Campaigns under His Grace the Duke of Wellington in Portugal, Spain, France and the Netherlands in the Years 1811, 1812, 1813, 1814 and 1815, and a Short Account of the Army of Occupation in France during the Years 1816, 1817 and 1818 (London, 1820);Google Scholar
  40. J. McGrigor, The Autobiography and Services of Sir James McGrigor, Bart., late Director General of the Army Medical Department with an Appendix of Notes and Original Correspondence (London, 1861); G.F. Burroughs, A Narrative of the Retreat of the British Army from Burgos in a Series of Letters with an Introductory Sketch of the Campaign of 1812 and Military Character of the Duke of Wellington (Bristol, 1814). One work that should certainly be included here but has generally attracted little notice is William Reid’s ‘On assaults’, Reid being a Royal Engineer officer who took part in the siege of Burgos and later went on to achieve high rank: contained, as it is, in the pages of W. Denison (ed.), Papers on Subjects connected with the Duties of the Corps of Royal Engineers (London, 1837), it might be thought that the pamphlet concerned is but a dry technical treatise, but in fact, treatise though it certainly is, it draws very heavily on Reid’s experiences at Burgos and contains important accounts of both the storm of the hornwork and the failed escalade of 22 September, whilst at the same time containing evidence of serious deficiencies in the Royal Engineers’ assessment of the defences. See W. Reid, ‘On assaults’, in W. Denison (ed.), Papers on Subjects connected with the Duties of the Corps of Royal Engineers (London, 1837).Google Scholar
  41. 21.
    A sub-class of primary information that concerns the siege but is widely ignored by historians is the comments of British soldiers and civilians — usually very brief for understandable reasons — of men who were in the Peninsula but not at Burgos. While in one sense such views have little relevance to what was happening at Burgos, they are important because they are a gauge of the kinds of news, rumour and gossip circulating within the Army of the Peninsula, and may be indicative of the standing of Wellington’s reputation and the impact of events at Burgos on the morale of the army. Of rather more direct relevance are the accounts of a number of officers and men serving in formations — notably the Fifth and Seventh Divisions — that in almost every instance missed serving in the trenches, but yet took part in the manoeuvres that preceded the siege whilst at the same time experiencing the full ravages of the autumn rains that deluged Wellington’s army. In so far as this last group is concerned, good examples include J. Bogle and A. Uffindell (eds.), A Waterloo Hero: The Reminiscences of Friedrich Lindau (London, 2009);Google Scholar
  42. S.A.C. Cassels (ed.), Peninsular Portrait, 1811–1814: The Letters of William Bragge, Third (King’s Own) Dragoons (London, 1963);Google Scholar
  43. J. Douglas, Douglas’ Tale of the Peninsula and Waterloo, ed. S. Monick (London, 1997); J. Green, The Vicissitudes of a Soldier’s Life or a Series of Occurrences from 1803 to 1815 (London, 1827);Google Scholar
  44. B.H. Liddell Hart (ed.), The Letters of Private Wheeler (London, 1951);Google Scholar
  45. J. Tomkinson (ed.), The Diary of a Cavalry Officer in the Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns, 1809–1815 (London, 1894).Google Scholar
  46. 22.
    For Oman’s discussion of the literature generated by Wellington’s army, see C. Oman, Wellington’s Army (London, 1913), pp. 9–38 passim. A further issue that is worth considering is that the texts we have are not necessarily complete: too many editors, including, be it said, Charles Oman, have had the unfortunate habit of suppressing material that they deemed to be of little interest or importance.Google Scholar
  47. 23.
    That said, Burgos has not featured very prominently in the modern historiography. Over the years many of the battles and sieges of the Peninsular War have received extensive treatment at the hands of popular writers — we have, for example, four accounts of the battle of Albuera alone — but it was not until 2012 that a study appeared of the Burgos campaign, and even then the actual siege was only allotted a single chapter. See C. Divall, Wellington’s Worst Scrape: the Burgos Campaign, 1812 (Barnsley, 2012).Google Scholar
  48. 24.
    See A. Salvá, Burgos en la Guerra de la Independencia (Burgos, 1913);Google Scholar
  49. see also C. Borreguero Beltrán, Burgos en la Guerra de la Independencia: enclave estratégico y ciudad expoliada (Burgos, 2007).Google Scholar
  50. 29.
    J. Weller, Wellington in the Peninsula, 1808–1814 (London, 1962), p. 246.Google Scholar
  51. 33.
    Typical enough is the version of events offered by Gordon Corrigan. Thus: ‘Wellington decided that his next step should be to follow up Clausel’s retreating army, which might allow him to capture Burgos … Wellington crossed the River Douro [sic] unopposed on 6 September and reached Burgos on the eighteenth.’ See G. Corrigan, Wellington: a Military Life (London, 2001), pp. 220–21.Google Scholar
  52. 35.
    R. Holmes, Wellington, the Iron Duke (London, 2002), p. 170.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Charles J. Esdaile and Philip Freeman 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles J. Esdaile
    • 1
  • Philip Freeman
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LiverpoolUK

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