King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
The Duke of Wellington

Peninsula - campaign


Orders on beehivesOrders on beehivesWellesley faced particularly difficult odds, confronting very large and well-equipped French armies.

His tactics exploited local knowledge, liasing closely with local militias fighting what became known as a guerrilla war, deftly deploying unexpected and rapid interventions, for example in cheekily ferrying his troops over the Douro in wine barges to secure Oporto, and imposing a particularly thorough discipline on his soldiery in their conduct with the indigenous population.

His General Orders were even specific enough to warn against the plunder of local beehives: Wellesley always feared the rabble his army might become as much as he admired their capacity for selfless bravery.

The Lines of Torres Vedras, 1809-1810

TalaveraTalaveraWellesley followed his daring triumph at Oporto by moving into Spain and confronting the enemy on the plains of Talavera in July 1809, narrowly escaping death during a personal reconnaissance mission at Casa da Salinas.

Furthermore, disaster at Talavera itself was only prevented by the personal intervention of Wellesley when the French army threatened to break through the Anglo-Spanish lines - he received his reward in the form of a peerage and became Viscount Wellington of Talavera and Wellington.

Talavera mapTalavera mapWith the arrival of French reinforcements, Wellington needed a defensive strategy to protect his retreat into Portugal: he personally conceived the mighty 'Lines of Torres Vedras' - a string of concealed fortifications exploiting natural barriers behind a landscape of scorched earth.

The innovation was arguably Wellington's key contribution to the Peninsula Campaign, reflecting his careful emphasis on survey and reconnaissance and showing off his bluff cunning and remarkable self-confidence in the face of demands for the evacuation of his expedition.

The Lines were cleverly situated so as to exploit French overconfidence, enticing the French Army ever deeper into hostile territory and into a series of fruitless assaults in difficult terrain that bled it dry of men - the decisive battle took place on the Bussaco ridge on 27 September 1810 when the surprised French were cut to pieces by concealed lines of British troops.

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