A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Monday, 23 January 2017

1809 Spaniards - a mystery unit?

This post covers a topic which has been discussed in a couple of my emails recently, so if you recognise any of it then I have simply opened the subject up a bit wider, in search of clues. Because, my dear Holmes, I am puzzled.

One of the forthcoming units in my 1809 Spanish army is a light battalion, the Voluntarios de Campo Mayor. I've included a picture of them in their 1805 regulation uniform, if only to give some proof they existed. I have checked my Spanish army database (a fine thing - the work of Col. JJ Sañudo), and it shows that they had a long and busy career during the Guerra de Independencia, but of course Sanudo's lists start in 1808, and I'm looking a bit earlier than that.

I have a little research to do to try to find an authentic (or at least feasible) flag for the unit. I enjoy lightweight digging jobs like this, but there is something a bit odd going on here. Campo Mayor is not in Spain at all - it is in Portugal. Why, then, would the Spanish Army have a unit named after (and raised in?) a Portuguese town? The regiment was raised in 1802 (I don't know where, at the moment), which makes it one of the very youngest of the regular regiments which existed prior to the huge explosion in new units raised from 1808 on. I am guessing here, but this may have something to do with Manuel de Godoy. The War of the Oranges (May-Jun 1801) had resulted in Spain capturing some Portuguese territory - including Campo Mayor and the province of Olivenza. The Treaty of Badajoz returned some of these areas to Portugal, though Olivenza remained Spanish until modern times.

Around 1802, one of the Spanish cavalry regiments changed its name to the Cazadores a Caballo de Olivenza, which may appear a little cheeky, in view of the very recent change of ownership (this is still a disputed region today), but it would have been really cheeky to name a new infantry unit after Campo Mayor, which - if it ever was Spanish - was only so very briefly.

According to Sañudo, the Voluntarios de Campo Mayor became (or were absorbed by) the Regimiento de Infanteria Ligera de Albuera (No.11) on 2nd March 1815. The mystery, then, is why and how the new light infantry battalion of 1802 was named after a Portuguese town? I'm still grinding my way through various books by Esdaile, Bueno and others, so I may yet find something, but I realise that someone might just know the answer.

All clues welcome, as ever!


  1. Hi Foy,

    The War of the oranges from 1801 is the explanation - from wikipedia:

    The Spanish attack to Portugal started on the early morning of the 20 May, and focused on the Portuguese border region that included the main Garrison Town and Fortifications of Elvas and the smaller fortified towns of Campo Maior, Olivença (Olivenza in Spanish) and Juromenha. The main force of the Spanish Army advanced to Elvas, while two divisions advanced to Campo Maior and another division advanced to Olivença and Juromenha. Without having their fortifications complete and defended only by a few hundred soldiers, mostly of the militias, Olivença and nearby Juromenha quickly surrendered to the Spanish forces. The Portuguese garrison of Campo Maior - under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Dias Azevedo - resisted the assault for 17 days, forcing the Spanish to maintain two entire divisions in its siege. The main Spanish force - under the direct command of Godoy - tried to assault Elvas, but was easily repelled by the strong Portuguese garrison commanded by General Francisco de Noronha. The Spanish troops then withdrew to a safe distance from the fortress, with Godoy not daring to attack it again until the end of the war. The war entered in a stalemate, with most of the Spanish forces hold in sieges of fortresses and the rest not being able to face the blockade made by the main core of the Portuguese Army, in order to advance further inside Portugal. Despite this, Godoy picked oranges from the outside of Elvas and sent them to the Queen of Spain[1] with the message that he would proceed to Lisbon. Thus, the conflict became known as the "War of the Oranges".

    1. Hi Uwe - thanks for this - yes, I read the wikipedia entry - it shows that the Spaniards attacked (unsuccessfully) Campo Mayor, but it doesn't really explain why there would be a Spanish regiment formed the following year named after that town. I don't think the Spanish got to keep the place after the Treaty of Badajoz, so it's still a puzzle to me!

      At the start of 1808, according to Sañudo, this regiment marched from Setubal, which (if I remember my football teams correctly!) is not far from Lisbon. No, I don't know what they were doing there...

  2. Just spitting in the wind here so to speak, were there any factions in Portugal who went against the wind and favoured union with Spain, if so is there any chance that the unit was raised from such volunteers?

    Of course since the Spanish had such a hard time with the place maybe they named a unit after as a bit of cheek, pretending the place was theirs despite all evidence.

    1. Ross - thanks for this - you've hit on a couple of points which Mr S Wargamer covers in the next comment, so may I please refer you to my longwinded reply to that one? 8-)

  3. Ross may be on to something.. this document gives two pieces of information... one that the battalion was indeed in existence in 1802... but two, that it's title was indeed *volunteers* etc etc.. disaffected Portuguese, or mercenaries? Having said that all the regiments were Volontaires so I may be reading too much in to it...


    Apropos of nothing, this was interesting...


    The notes in this intimates the regiment was formed in Cadiz? Is it possible the Spanish just wanted to celebrate a (recent) hard battle, so named them for it (and the cavalry you mention) and the men in it were nothing to do with the Portuguese or the location?


    1. Steve - you are indeed a Googlemeister - a couple of exemplary hits there. Thanks for this - I had carried on with my reading, and it looks as though the names of units were almost picked out of the air. The political nuance of naming a regiment after a town they had nearly captured is not unreasonable, in the context. Other random examples - some time between 1798 and 1808 the line infantry Regimiento de Lisboa (no, really, they had one) was renamed as the Regimiento de Zaragoza, which seems a bit arbitrary. The cavalry regiment I mentioned had a rather more tangled history than I guessed. Godoy was responsible for wholesale changes in numbers and types of cavalry units - the light cavalry regiment Costa de Granada became the Husares de Olivenza about 1802 (which must be a marketing exercise, as discussed), and they had changed again to be the Cazadores (a Caballo) de Olivenza by 1805. The Voluntarios de Campo Mayor do seem to have been raised in Cadiz (at least part of them were), as you suggest - this was one of two brand new light infantry units raised in 1802 (the other was Navarra, though I don't feel confident they were raised in Navarre!). At some point early in the Peninsular War, half of the Vols de Campo Mayor were in Portugal (Setubal? - Sañudo notes their being in Setubal at the start of 1808) and half were in Andalucia (which would probably have to be Cadiz). It does occur to me that the British Royal Navy could move troops between Cadiz and Setubal without much ceremony...

      Yes - the title Voluntarios doesn't really signify much - some units really were new volunteers, and some were very ancient units who had always been called The Volunteers of Whatever.

      So I would guess they had nothing to do with Campo Mayor - the name was just allocated. This seems a bit counterintuitive - similar to the British Army creating a new unit in England in 1810 and calling it the Walcheren Regt or similar - but the Spanish army was pretty much a free for all with constant (and never fully implemented) changes to organisation and regulations.

  4. You can find the whole hisstory of the Voluntarios de Campo Mayor in the "Historia organica de las armas de infanteria y caballeria" by the Count Clonard. Vol. 12, pgs.: 263-265. After the Peninsular war the regiment was renamed "Albuhera". in page 263 you can find the coat of arms... the text is in spanish, hope it help...

    1. Thank you very much for this - I've located the volume at Google Books, and will have a good read of it later today. That really is most helpful - appreciated. Blogs work again!