The Popular War

After Napoleon tricked King Fernando VII into abdicating in favour of his brother Joseph Bonaparte, all the Madrid classes rose against the French military forces in riots and uprisings, as they rejected the king that was being forced upon them. When Joseph arrived in Madrid the people were in open rebellion and Britain, who had once supported Portugal against Spain, was now backing the mutineers.

Dos de Mayo Uprising

Dos de Mayo

On the May 2, 1808, the Madrid folk took up arms in protest against the French occupation of the city in what is known as the Dos de Mayo uprising. Different street fights broke out, and the French army was challenged by a barely armed and trained population. The battle was particularly difficult in Madrid's center at Puerta del Sol and Puerta de Toledo. It took the French some time to regain control of the city, but once they managed, they violently repressed the rebels.

The French Marshal in command of Madrid, Joaquim Murat decreed that any person carrying a weapon would be shot, among many other very strict measures. Hundreds of prisoners were executed over the next day and the malcontent spread like wild fire throughout the country. Goya's paintings portray these atrocities. If we are to believe Goya's, "el Dos de Mayo" it was no less than hell on earth.

Manuela Malasaña

Manuela Malasaña

One of Madrid's most typical neighbourhoods is that of Malasaña a little north of Gran Via. Its name comes from the Civil War's heroine Manuela Malasaña, a young seamstress, daughter of a French baker (Malesange). It is said she joined the artillery defence in Monteleon Park, helping the defenders by handing them ammunition.

Others say she was in the wrong place at the wrong time (her workshop was very close to Monteleon, now known as Plaza Dos de Mayo) and she was arrested when French soldiers searched and found on her a pair of scissors, something one would naturally associate with her profession. However, she was executed for carrying a weapon. Manuela Malasaña was only 15 years old. After her death became one of the biggest myths of the Spanish Resistance.

The Creation of The Guerrilla

During the years to come several campaigns took place, the French had some victories and suffered some defeats, while a provisional government was settled in Seville. While the clergy labelled the French atheists and agitated against them, a large number of civilians fought for the Spanish cause, backed by regular armies.

The outcome would have been uncertain, but Napoleon came to the aid of the stationed troops with an army of 300,000. Spain was defeated. The provisional government had to retreat from Seville to Cadiz where they were protected by the British and Bonaparte did not have access to them.

The form of resistance carried out by the Spaniards entered the Spanish Vocabulary as guerrilla, irregular fighters not protected by martial law, who would be executed if captured by the enemy; this means that guerrilla warfare was far more brutal.

But Bonaparte was fighting other wars. After his victory he left Spain with part of his troops and a British army came to Spain's rescue, balancing the forces. By 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia and redirected most of his troops there. The British, under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington defeated the French in Salamanca. Napoleon finally withdrew from Madrid in 1813 after his great army was destroyed in Russia. However Spain would never forget the famous Dos de Mayo.