History of Europe

The War of the Oranges

The name.

The name of the conflict comes from a joke that had Manuel Godoy as the protagonist. Arrested in Elvas during his war advance, he received some oranges as a gift - an exotic fruit at the time - and sent them to Queen María Luisa, her lover at the time, with the message that he was going to take Lisbon. Thus, this anecdote, used as a mockery by his opponents, served to give the war its name.

The context.

The War of the Oranges was a brief war that, during 1801, pitted Spain and France against each other on the one hand, and Portugal on the other. The war has to be placed in the context of the Napoleonic wars. Bonaparte already held effective power in France through the position of First Consul and, although he had signed peace with Austria in the same year, he did not hide that one of his main intentions was the creation of a great European empire that would take the form of a federation led by him. This objective faced the serious obstacle represented by British opposition to French expansionism. And Portugal was a faithful ally of England, so Napoleon determined the need to bend her to break that alliance.

For obvious geographical reasons, Spain stood between France and Portugal. She was therefore called to play a part in whatever action Napoleon undertook. In addition, at that time, Spain maintained an anti-British alliance with France. In fact, since 1789 Spanish foreign policy had oscillated notably in its relations with the Gallic nation. First, after the outbreak of the French Revolution of 1789, the Spanish monarchy began a war cycle against the French revolutionary governments that began with the establishment of a military cordon on the Pyrenees border to prevent the flow of revolutionary ideas. These anti-French measures would culminate in 1793 when Godoy –an officer with little political experience but who had the favor of Queen María Luisa– declared war on France after the execution of the French King Louis XVI. The main military power of Spain at the end of the 18th century was its navy, but the war with France had to be on land and the army had neither experience nor much combat capacity. However, Manuel Godoy -valid of Carlos IV- chose to unleash the conflict. The war lasted until 1795, with Spain suffering significant territorial losses -Figueras, San Sebastian, Bilbao...-. The end of the war came with the Peace of Basel (1795) by which France returned its conquests in exchange for the Spanish part of the island of Santo Domingo -current Dominican Republic-, however the revolution in Haiti (1791-1804) made the realization of the agreement impossible. This cession meant the beginning of the Spanish retreat in America.

As of the aforementioned peace, Spain changed its cycle of foreign alliances, linking itself now to France through the signing of the Treaty of San Ildefonso (1796). Immediately afterwards the war against England began. The confrontation with the English power ultimately had disastrous consequences for Spanish interests in America.

The English navy focused on attacks on American trade:loss of the island of Trinidad and naval defeat of Cape San Vicente (1797), although there were also English defeats in Cádiz and Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The diplomatic and war disasters were so serious that Carlos IV was forced to dismiss Godoy, although the favorite maintained considerable political influence. The alliance with France was maintained even with Godoy out of power. Napoléon's fundamental interest was to strengthen the continental blockade against Great Britain and for this he needed the Spanish squadron and defeat Portugal. For this reason he forced Spain to declare war on him.

The development of the conflict.

The attack on Portugal was a joint Franco-Spanish action that was foreseen in one of the secret articles of the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso (1800) and that was specified in the agreement of January 29, 1801. It was approved that the monarch The Spanish had to propose certain demands to the Prince Regent of Portugal -his son-in-law-:the breaking of his alliance with England, opening his ports to Spanish and French ships and handing over some province to Spain to compensate for the loss of Menorca, Malta and Trinidad. Logically, the Portuguese regent refused, so Spain declared war on him on February 27, 1801.

To carry it out, French troops entered the peninsula and thus 15,000 French soldiers - who arrived a few days before the conflict began - joined the 60,000 men of the Spanish army. To lead them, Manuel Godoy was given the title of Generalissimo, who saw with it a possibility of restoring his prestige. This, in turn, appointed General Tomás de Morla as his chief of staff. The troops were divided into three army corps:one located in the north, on the Miño line, made up of some 20,000 men; another, the largest, of 30,000 men concentrated in the province of Badajoz; and a third of 10,000 men in the south, facing the Portuguese region of the Algarve.

The attack on Portugal began on May 20 and the Spanish army conquered more than a dozen towns. The main force advanced towards Elvas, while other groups advanced towards Campo Maior and towards Olivenza. The Portuguese resistance was minimal and its few forces quickly surrendered in most of the towns. The greatest opposition was recorded in Campo Maior, which was besieged and where the Portuguese forces held out for 17 days, and in Elvas, which was not taken until the end of the war.

Peace was signed in the Treaty of Badajoz (June 6, 1801). Portugal agreed to close its ports to English ships, grant commercial advantages to France, cede Olivenza to Spain and Brazil to France, and pay compensation. In retaliation, an English force of 3,500 men under the command of Colonel Clinton occupied, with the tacit support of the Portuguese, the island of Madeira, which remained in their hands until 1802. Portugal's links with Spain and France disappeared after the battle of Trafalgar (1805) in which the Spanish-French naval force was defeated by the English. This allowed Portugal to restore its old alliance with England.

The conflict also developed in America, specifically in the region north of present-day Uruguay, between Argentina and Brazil. In this area it also produced a modification of the border, in this case in favor of Portugal.

The consequences.

The Portuguese shift made France consider the Treaty of Badajoz canceled and decide to invade Portugal in 1807. In that year, the Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed between Spain and France, which provided for the partition of Portugal into three zones:the northern part for Napoleon, the central area for the Portuguese royal house (Braganza) when the conflict ended, and the southern part for Godoy. For this, he began to move troops through Spanish territory, giving rise, a few months later, to the beginning of the War of Independence between Spain and France. The territorial conquests caused by the conflict tried to be resolved in the Treaty of Vienna (1817). The need for Spain to return Olivenza to Portugal was affirmed. But neither Spain nor Portugal returned the territories acquired during the conflict:Olivenza, occupied by the Spanish in the peninsula, and Misiones del Este, occupied by the Portuguese in America.


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