The Peninsular War 1807-1814
In 1807 Napoleon Bonaparte was the master of Europe. Virtually every nation on the continent was under his control or influence. Britain, protected by the Channel and its navy, was the only remaining thorn in the Emperor’s side, but Napoleon’s resolve was unshaken. If he could not hammer his enemy into submission on the battlefield, he would cut them off from the continent and choke them financially.
Napoleon orchestrated a continent-wide embargo, closing every port he could to British trade. Britain’s one remaining foothold in Europe was Portugal, its ally of more than 400 years, but in the autumn of 1807 a French army passed through Spain to invade and occupy the country. Britain could not afford to let this go unanswered.
As 1808 dawned, Napoleon made one of the most costly mistakes of his life and turned on his ally, Spain. Taking advantage of an unstable political situation, Napoleon imprisoned the Spanish royal family, installed his brother Joseph as King and sent 75,000 troops to occupy the country.
Napoleon expected the Spanish to welcome new leadership, but he had gravely misread the situation. The Spanish people rose up against the invaders, provoking bloody reprisals which only inflamed the situation further. The Spanish army mobilised for war and Britain and Spain, at war since 1804, made peace. France was now at war with Britain, Spain and Portugal.
In August 1808, a British expeditionary force under Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) landed in Portugal and drove the French back into Spain. The six years of bloodshed that ensued would be known to posterity as the Peninsular War. The British army, along with its Portugese allies, would range back and forth across the Portugese border and win some of the greatest victories in its long history. The Spanish army would fight several campaigns across the country, both in concert with and independent of the British, while guerilla forces across the Peninsula would exhaust, subdue and inflict untold damage on the French armies that had brought Europe to its knees.
‘Over the Hills’ does not seek to tell the whole story of the Peninsular War. Rather, the album is a collection of stories from that dramatic conflict; stories of titanic battles and lone acts of valour, of generals, spies and ordinary men, of horror and heroism over the hills and far away.
This page contains a substantially condensed version of the sleeve notes that accompany ‘Over the Hills’. For a more detailed look at the history behind these songs, along with a bibliography of the books that were invaluable in writing them, you can purchase a copy of the album here.