Route 1st Invasion of Portugal

This route represents the first attempt by French forces to invade Portugal. Between 1807 and 1813, Portugal was involved in the so-called Peninsular War, the result of the successive invasions that French troops inflicted on the Iberian Peninsula.

Following the Treaty of Fontainebleau between Spain and France, it was determined that a French contingent, supported by part of the Spanish army, would pass freely through Spanish territory to overthrow the Braganza dynasty and thus establish a common rule of Portugal between the two allies. The French army, under the command of General Junot, established their headquarters in Salamanca and then headed to Ciudad Rodrigo to cross Perales del Puerto and reach Alcántara, where they would then cross into Portuguese territory. The French troops entered through Beira Baixa on November 19, 1807, first through Idanha-aNova, then through Castelo Branco, and then arriving at Abrantes on November 24, 1808.

The next stop will be an unopposed march through Santarem and they finally reach Lisbon on the 30th, but French intentions will suffer a setback, as the day before the Portuguese royal family had fled to Brazil, thanks to the British fleet. French troops settled in the capital and occupied the whole country for months with attempts of popular rebellion that were harshly repressed, as in the case of Souro Pires, Guarda or Alpedrinha at the hands of General Loison, known as the one-armed. This general came to Junot’s aid when his situation became complicated after the end of the Portuguese truce. He left Almeida, which he took easily, and headed for Lisbon, where he was pursued by the Portuguese rebel forces and showed no mercy to the opposition.

At the end of June 1808, the Fort of Santa Catarina in Figueira da Foz was taken by volunteers from Coimbra (Academic Battalion) under the command of Sergeant Bernardo Zagalo.

It was under the protection of its cannons that the British forces with about sixteen thousand men landed between August 1 and 8 on the beach of Lavos under the command of General Arthur Wellesley (future Duke of Wellington) and advanced towards Lisbon along the coast. The protagonism of this Academic Battalion did not end because in the course, the forts of Nazaré and Peniche were also taken during this first Napoleonic invasion.

The first major confrontation took place at Roliça on August 17, where the outnumbered French lost the battle. The French troops were also defeated by the Portuguese-British forces in the battle of Vimeiro, which took place on August 21, 1808 after a new landing of troops on the beach of Porto Novo on August 19 and 20. The surrender of the French forces was effected at the Convention of Sintra, which put an end to the 1st French invasion.

This itinerary follows the French stages and movements through Portugal and the traces of the presence of Napoleonic troops in different places also allowed to explore the first movements of British troops through Portuguese lands.

Despite the participation of several French contingents in the invasion under the command of different generals: Junot, Carrafa, Solano and Taranco, this route focuses on the activity of the first two generals mentioned, as well as the allied side included the first two generals, the Portuguese Bernardim Freire and his “lieutenant” Francisco da Silveira or even the British Wellesley, future Duke of Wellington.

The stages of this route start from Salamanca, pass through Ciudad Rodrigo, Almeida, Guarda, Alcántara, Idanha-a-Nova, Castelo Branco, Abrantes, Golegã, Santarém, Cartaxo, Porto Novo – Vimeiro, Roliça, Figueira da Foz, Montemor-o-Velho and Coimbra.