Diplomatic struggles: British support in Spain and Portugal, 1800--1810

Frederick H. Black, Jr.
History, The Florida State University - UNITED STATES, 2005
April, 2005
Doctorate thesis


Historians have studied the Peninsular War in great detail for almost 200 years. Most of these works have focused on the military exploits of the involved nations or the individual participants. Those who have examined the diplomatic aspects of the war between France and Great Britain usually focus on the later years of the war when more famous men served in the important positions. The latter period of the conflict also receives more attention from the military standpoint, so there is little surprise in the fact that diplomacy studies often mirror that emphasis. Contemporary scholars have largely overlooked the decade leading up to the conflict, 1800--1807. The same observation holds true as well for the early years of the conflict, 1808--1810. This dissertation examines these important years, and their influence, on the Peninsular War. The efforts of the British to support both the Spaniards and the Portuguese in the initial years of their struggle against France proved critical to the success eventually achieved in Iberia. In particular, the roles played by two British diplomats, John Hookham Frere and John Charles Villiers, demonstrate the difficulties faced by the British in this endeavor. Their efforts in both Spain and Portugal over the first decade of the nineteenth century typify the British experience in creating, solidifying, and maintaining alliances against France. These men dealt with unstable regency governments, a shortage of money, and even a lack of indigenous popular support at times. While these problems all relate to the situations in the foreign countries in which they served, Frere and Villiers also faced issues at home. From their dealings with the Foreign Office, to the oversight from Parliament, and the press coverage of their missions, they had no shortage of problems in London. Nevertheless, they sought to support the nations to which they were assigned. Most references to these two diplomats in the general histories of the war paint them in a negative light. Their whole story, however, has yet to emerge. This dissertation will take an important step in presenting a more complete story of the British diplomatic struggle in the early years of the Peninsular War.