NAPOLEON’S STOLEN ARMY
◗ John Marsden ◗ Helion & Company (2021) ◗ £29.95 ◗ 192 pages (softback) ◗ ISBN:9781913118983 ◗ helion.co.uk
Readers familiar with the Peninsular War will recognise immediately that Number 62 in Helion’s From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815 series, which is subtitled ‘How the Royal Navy Rescued a Spanish Army in the Baltic’, describes how the Marques de La Romana’s Army, sent to Denmark by Napoleon in 1807 while France and Spain were allies, became a captive force after the French invaded Spain but much of it was evacuated by Rear Admiral Keats’s Royal Navy squadron and was later able to fight against the French.
The first chapter describes the sending of La Romana’s army to Denmark under the Treaty of San Ildefonso and the French invasion of Spain which made the allies into enemies. In the spring of 1808, most of the troops were dispersed to locations on the islands of Funen, Tassing, Zealand and Langeland, but four regiments – El Infante, El Rey, Algarve and Zamora – remained on the Jutland Peninsula.
Chapter two relates the story of Brother James Robertson, a Benedictine monk who claimed to have communicated the British government’s offer to evacuate the Spanish troops to La Romana, but notes that, according to Elizabeth Sparrow’s Secret Service: British Agents in France (London, 1999), the credit may really belong to another British agent, a Mr McMahon.
The Spaniards’reaction to Bernadotte’s demand that they take an oath of loyalty to Joseph Bonaparte is described in the third chapter. La Romana realised that he had to concentrate his forces to resist the French and Danes and to facilitate the embarkation of his men if he could reach agreement with the British. Despite the treachery of Mariscal de Campo Don Juan Kindelan who had persuaded the regiments on Jutland to take the oath by deceiving them that La Romana, his staff and the troops on Funen had already taken it, he succeeded in moving 10,000 of his 15,000 strong army to Langeland to embark on British ships. The British naval operations are detailed in the following chapter.
Chapter five describes the fate of the men left behind in Denmark and chapter six relates the transportation of La Romana’s troops to Spain. His initial plan had been to land in Galicia and use his veterans as the core of a new army of 30,000 men, but Santander was selected as their final destination as it was closer to the expected theatre of operations and would spare the troops a three hundred mile march after their sea voyage. The six battalions of line infantry received new arms and were merged with the light infantry and sappers to form the Division del Norte, which joined Blake’s Army of the Left and suffered a thousand casualties in the Battle of Espinosa.
La Romana replaced Blake as commander of the renamed Army of Galicia. Chapter seven describes his cooperation with Sir John Moore, ending with his troops following Craufurd’s retreat to Vigo and losing five thousand prisoners to pursuing French cavalry. Chapter eight covers the remainder of La Romana’s service and sudden death from a heart attack in January 1811.
Chapter nine describes the formation of the Regiment Joseph-Napoleon by Kindelan from those troops who did not succeed in escaping with the Royal Navy. Napoleon first intended to send it to Spain but suspicions that the men would desert if they returned there led to the battalions being dispersed to France, the Netherlands and Italy.
All four battalions, however, served in the Russian Campaign. The final chapter is compiled from the recollections of that campaign by sous-lieutenant Manuel Lopez, originally a sargento of the Asturias regiment who served with the 2me bataillon of the Regiment Joseph-Napoleon,
and Rafael de Llanza, originally of the Guadalajara regiment who was interim chef de bataillon of the 3me bataillon until he was wounded at Krasny and taken prisoner on 18 November 1812.
Eight colour plates consist of five full page reproductions of paintings from the Suhr brothers’series and three other plates depicting the uniforms of the Prince of Pontecorvo’s Guard of Honour formed by the Zamora regiment, troops of the Catalunya, Infante and Zamora regiments in 1808, and a Grenadier of the Regiment Joseph-Napoleon in 1810. Two half-page black and white reproductions of the Suhr brothers’paintings depict Grenadiers of the Guadalajara regiment and Musketeers of the Asturias, Princesa and Guadalajara
There are eight full-page, black and white maps: Major concentrations of the Spanish Army, spring 1807; Elements of La Romana’s force en route to the Baltic, spring 1807, and Junot’s route to the Portuguese frontier in autumn 1807; Franco-Spanish forces occupying Portugal whilst French forces are poised to invade Spain, late November 1807; French occupation of Spanish fortresses in northern Spain and Madrid, February and March 1808; Danish and western regions of the Baltic Sea; Dispersal of La Romana’s forces in the Danish Baltic territories, June 1808; Movements made by Spanish units in August 1808 as they concentrate on Langeland, and Keats’s convoy carrying La Romana’s army to Gothenburg.
References to sources are given in footnotes. A two-page bibliography concludes the book; there is no index.
The author has used primary sources from the Archivo General Militar de Madrid, including the Comision de Jefes which sat in Madrid in 1818 to investigate La Romana’s Denmark expedition, to produce a far more detailed account of the affair than that usually given in English language histories which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone interested in the Peninsular War.