New College of the Humanities

'A Particular Service' - Beresford's Peninsular War

Resistance to Napoleon in the Iberian peninsula gave a little-known English general a unique opportunity to remould the Portuguese army.

At the beginning of 1809 the Portuguese government 'solicited that a British general should be appointed to command and organise their army'. The Portuguese tradition was to neglect their army in time of peace and to cry for foreign help, usually British, as soon as an invading army marched over their eastern frontier. The first British auxiliaries, 'a small and disorderly band', had landed in Lisbon as early as 1381 and, although they captured Elvas, it was in defiance of their orders and the Portuguese were glad to see the back of them. Four years later a better disciplined band of English mercenaries played a key role in the great Portuguese victory over the Castilians at Aljubarrota (August 14th, 1385). In the war of the Spanish Succession Lord Galway led an Anglo- Portuguese army to Madrid (and lost it at Almanza) and in the Seven Years War a grandson of George I, the Count of Schaumberg-Lippe- Bückeburg, was invited to command the Portuguese army and successfully repelled a Franco-Spanish invasion, thanks largely to Lieutenant Colonel John Burgoyne and the 16th Light Dragoons. When peace came again a training team was invited to come from Woolwich to train the Portuguese artillery who were no doubt smarting over the offer by La Lippe (as he was known) of a prize to any Portuguese gunner who could hit his, the count's, tent while he was at dinner.

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