peninsular war

Agustina de Aragón was a heroine of the Spanish War of Independence and the Peninsular War against France. She is most famous for her bravery at the Siege of Zaragoza.

In 1808, Zaragoza was one of the last cities in northern Spain not to have fallen to the forces of Napoleon and was ill-prepared for a siege. Agustina, a civiilian at the time, was present during the French attack of the Portillo gateway. Broken by the French onslaught, the Spanish began to retreat. With the French troops just a few yards away, Agustina ran forward, loaded a cannon and lit the fuse, shredding a wave of attackers at point blank range. Inspired by her act of bravery, the Spanish forces rallied and assisted her in repelling the attackers.

While this heroic defense bought time for Zaragoza, the siege was only broken for a matter of weeks, after which the French returned and this time were successful in taking the city. Agustina was captured and saw her own son killed by French guards. She later mounted a daring escape and became a low-level rebel leader for the guerrilleros, harassing the French with hit-and-run raids.

Her forces joined the alliance against the French led by the Duke of Wellington. The only female officer in Wellington’s army, Agustina eventually rose to the rank of Captain and acted as a front line battery commander at the Battle of Vitoria, which led to the French being driven out of Spain. 

Following the war she married and later in life became a familiar sight in Zaragoza as a respectable old lady wearing medals. She died in 1857 aged 71.

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Diferent paintings covering the Two Sieges of Zaragoza refered to the Siege and heroic defense of the Spanish City of Zaragoza in the Peninsular war against the Napoleonic Forces.
The First Siege of Zaragoza marked the first time that a Modern Army was defeated by a force of irregulars, civilians and militias in street fighting.
First picture: “Saragossa” by Harold H. Piffard
Second Picture: “Assault on the Walls of Zaragoza”  by January Suchodolski.

Third Picture: “Assault of the French Forces at the Monastery of Santa Egracia” by Louis-Francoise Lejeune.

Don Miguel Ricardo de Álava y Esquivel (7 July 1770 – 14 July 1843) was a Spanish General and statesman. He was born in the Basque Country of Spain, at Vitoria-Gasteiz, in 1770. Álava holds the distinction of having been present at both Trafalgar and Waterloo, fighting against the British on the former and with them on the latter. Alava served as a naval aide-de-camp during the time of Spain’s alliance with France but switched sides following Napoleon’s invasion of his homeland in 1808.
Later he joined the headquarters of Wellington’s Peninsular Army as a military attaché, eventually becoming one of the Duke’s finest and closest companions. He played a crucial role in the Battle of Vitoria and was present at the Battle of Bussaco, where he was made Brigadier. Having attached himself to Wellington’s staff, Álava stuck close to the Duke during the Battle of Waterloo. Yet, despite being in the thick of the action, both Wellington and Alava survived the 10 hours’ slaughter without so much as a scratch, the Duke declaring to his friend: ‘The hand of Almighty God has been upon me this day.’

Virginia Ghesquière was a soldier in the French army during the First French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte during the 19th century.

While little is known of Ghesquière’s early life, it is established that she joined the French army in 1806. Ghesquière elected to take her brother Jean Baptiste’s place in the French army, disguising herself as a man. Accounts vary as to whether her brother died in battle and she replaced him masquerading as another brother, or if she represented herself as Jean Baptiste himself in order to enlist. Regardless, Ghesquière served in the 27th Line Regiment of the army for 6 years.

Ghesquière had a distinguished military career serving in a number of campaigns during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1807 she took part in the invasion of Portugal during the Peninsular War, serving under General Jean-Andoche Junot. Distinguished numerous times for her performance, Ghesquière was promoted to Sergeant for her bravery at the Battle of Wagram, where she saved her captain from drowning in the Danube river. She was also commended for saving the life of a colonel who had fallen from his horse after being shot.

Ghesquière was injured in battle in 1812 and the surgeon treating her wounds discovered her identity as a woman. This led to her immediate dismissal from the army. However for her contribution in the war she was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal by Napoleon himself.

Ghesquière’s dismissal from the army brought her a small amount of fame and she was featured in an article of the Journal de l'Empire newspaper. There was also a song composed about her life, which referred to her as the ‘jolie sergent’ (pretty sergeant). Although her year of birth is unknown, Ghesquière is believed to have been over 100 years old when she died in 1854.


Lock-blade knives have been dated to the 15th century. In Spain, one early lock-blade design was the Andalusian clasp knife the navaja. But the rise in popularity of the navaja occurred at a time of increased restrictions upon the wearing bladed weapons by persons outside the Spanish nobility, around the late 1600s

During the first part of the 18th century, the blade heel and backspring of the navaja were altered to provide a locking device for the blade. With its locking blade, the navaja was now a versatile fighting knife, able to safely deliver thrusts as well as slashes. The design is thought to have been first adopted by the working classes, sailors, teamsters, and artisans. And, in Spain, the navaja epitomized the concept of a defensive knife to be carried at all times on the person.

Its association with gamblers, rogues, ruffians, and thugs comes from its frequent use as a weapon, where it was often used to enforce the collection of gambling debts or to rob innocent victims, as it proved sufficiently formidable as an offensive arm. (It was specifically named by the Spanish military governor of Catalonia, in his edict of 29 May 1750 prohibiting the carrying of edged weapons.)

A priest executed by French forces for carrying a navaja

Despite official disapproval, the navaja de muelles became popular in Spain as a fighting and general utility knife, and was the primary personal arm of the Spanish guerrilleros who opposed Napoleon during his invasion and subsequent occupation of Spain in the Peninsular War.


However, in Spain the carrying of a navaja did not necessarily identify its owner as a criminal. During the earlier 19th century, the navaja was carried by men of all classes and backgrounds, including the upper classes, the clergy, and the aristocracy.

In 18th and 19th century Spain knife-fighting schools could be found in the major cities.

Duel with navaja

Hello guys! Today for our HistorySunday I want to dedicate a post to the rights of the LGBT community in Spain and UK. (I think that June is the Pride Month, isn’t it?)

Let’s start with Spain!
Here some historical events:

  • Sodomy was considered a sin for the  Inquisición española, some years ago I went to a Museum dedicated to different methods of torture and I can assure that the instruments used for this crime were awful. Generally, the execution for sodomy consisted by burning the victims alive.
  • After the Peninsular War and the independence of Spain, same-sex sexual intercourse were legalized until 1928, with the dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera.
  • The years under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1939-1975) were the worst because homosexuality was considered a disease: in fact, homosexuals were imprisoned in mental institutions or prisons called “Galerías de invertidos” because the State had the intention not to punish them, but to “correct” them.  (Someone said that Garcia Lorca was executed for this reason during the civil war.)
  • In 1979 same-sex intercourse was legalized

Today Spain is considered one of the most gay-friendly countries all over the world. (in particular locations such as Barcelona or Ibiza)

Here some dates for the UK!

  • We need to start with the Buggery Act of 1533, an act during the reign of Henry VIII (It’s funny that he accepted so many divorces and not the love between persons of the same-sex); like in Spain, Sodomy were considered a sexual act against God. In this case the penalty was imprisonment and the pillory. (It was a terrible publish humiliation on a “balcony”)
  • The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 comprehended also sexual activity between two men; in fact Oscar Wilde was sentenced to prison and penal labours for two years.
  • After the Second World War, the punishment for same-sex intercourse was imprisonment; sadly, it’s very famous the case of Alan Turing (There is also a movie about him.), a mathematician that accepted a chemical castration instead of prison. He committed suicide when he was 42 years old.
  • In 1967 same-sex intercourse was legalized. (!! Only in Wales and England !!)

So, If we do a comparison:

Gender Recognition – 2005 (UK) , 1997 (Spain)

Recognition of same-sex unions  - 2005 (UK), 1994(Spain)

Same-sex marriage – 2014 (UK), 2005 (Spain)

Same-sex adoption – 2005 (UK), 2005 (Spain)

Donation of blood - 2011 (UK), 1975 (Spain)

Military – 2000 (UK), 1979 (Spain)

(Really, I think that Spain was one of the first European countries for the marriage?)

Agustina Raimunda María Saragossa Domènech or Agustina de Aragón


“On June 15, 1808, the French army stormed the Portillo, an ancient gateway into the city defended by a hodgepodge battery of old cannons and a heavily outnumbered volunteer unit. Agustina, arriving on the ramparts with a basket of apples to feed the gunners, watched the nearby defenders fall to French bayonets. The Spanish troops broke ranks, having suffered heavy casualties, and abandoned their posts. With the French troops a few yards away, Agustina herself ran forward, loaded a cannon, and lit the fuse, shredding a wave of attackers at point blank range.

The image of Agustina as the saviour of Zaragoza has, however, also overshadowed her later actions. After being captured, she was imprisoned, she subsequently mounted a daring escape and became a low-level rebel leader for the guerrilleros, helping to organise raids and attacks that harassed the French. As the strategic situation deteriorated for the French Army, her role became increasingly orthodox as supplies and training were covertly provided by the Duke of Wellington.

Agustina began to fight for the allied forces as Wellington’s only female officer and ultimately rose to the rank of Captain. On June 21, 1813, she acted as a front line battery commander at the Battle of Vitoria under the command of Major Cairncross, who reported directly to Wellington himself. This battle was to see the French Army that had occupied Spain effectively smashed beyond repair and driven out of Spain.”


From El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministery of Time), a series which premieres tonight in Spanish tv. People from different historical eras (a young woman who studies at the University of Barcelona in 1880, a member of the SAMUR and a soldier of the Spanish tercios) are “recruited” for a secret Ministery which, from the end of the 15th Century, can travel through time. First mission will be during the Peninsular War: saving  Juan Martín Díez el Empecinado from being killed in 1808 but that means to let him to be hanged by order of Ferdinand VII in 1825 instead; this is Spanish history, if you are looking for a happy ending try another country with better propaganda. Critics have praised the first chapter and defined it as a sort of “Spanish Dr. Who” so we’ll see. Also Rodolfo Sancho, who played Ferdinand the Catholic in Isabel,  will be briefly reunited with his “queen” Michelle Jenner in chapter 4.

Spain is a large country; the laziness of the Court of Madrid and the debasement of the people make this kingdom less dangerous in the offensive. Nevertheless, the resigned character of this nation, the pride and the superstition that reign there, the resources offered by a great population, would make her fearsome, if she was attacked in her own terrain (…). Being in a peninsula, Spain will find great resources in an alliance to a maritimal potence (…). A judicious spirit should never have the idea of taking Madrid (…). Attack Germany, but never Spain.
—  Napoleon Bonaparte, Note sur la position politique et militaire de l’Armée du Piémont et d’Espagne, 1794. Too bad - for him and for the Iberian Peninsula - that Napoleon forgot it at some stage. My translation.

Captain Peter Hawker of the 14th Light Dragoons

(later the 14th King’s Hussars)

by James Northcote, 1812.