THOUSANDS SLAUGHTERED AS BRITISH TROOPS SACK THE CITY OF BADAJOZ
[ 7 April 1812 ]
On 7 April 1812, four thousand Spanish civilians, including many women and children, were slaughtered in the city of Badajoz by victorious British troops, under the command of the legendary Lord Wellington. The soldiers had suffered many casualties while storming the city, which had been held by the French, and apologists blamed the high death toll for provoking the Redcoats into taking a terrible retribution against the population they were supposedly liberating.
Captain Robert Blakeney recalled how ‘there was no safety for women even in the churches… Every house presented a scene of plunder, debauchery and bloodshed, committed with wanton cruelty on the persons of the defenseless inhabitants by our soldiery. … Men, women and children were shot in the streets for no other apparent reason than pastime; every species of outrage was publicly committed in the houses, churches and streets, and in a manner so brutal that a faithful recital would be too indecent and too shocking to humanity.’1
The rampaging soldiers, who were soon drunk on looted alcohol, showed no mercy even to the nuns of the convent of St. Maria, and when they had finished raping the nuns, they burned the building.2 Any description of these horrific events was entirely absent from the reports in the British press, one commenting, with no suggestion of irony, that ‘such courage and discipline, such obedience in the men and enthusiastic encouragement in the officers was perhaps never seen.’3
Lord Wellington waited eighteen hours before issuing orders to clamp down on the orgy of murder and pillage. Although he threatened his soldiers with the death penalty should they ignore his orders, the indiscriminate killings, rape and looting continued for another two days. A few soldiers were flogged, but not a single soldier was executed for engaging in some of the worst war crimes committed during the Napoloenic Wars.4 Wellington called his own men ‘the scum of the earth,’ but he shared their low esteem for Catholic Spaniards and he realised that the atrocities at Badajoz afforded him an important strategic advantage. Other Spanish cities would think twice about remaining neutral, realising that the British could outdo even the brutality of the French occupation.
- Charles Esdaile, Peninsular Eyewitnesses: The Experience of War in Spain and Portugal, 1808-1813, Pen and Sword Military, Barnsley, 2008, pp. 209-210.
- Patrick Mercer, ‘Spain: Triumph of Folorn Hope,’ The Daily Telegraph, 10 March 2001 accessed online at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/spain/centralspain/717101/Spain-Triumph-of-Forlorn-Hope.html
- ‘Badajoz,’ The Cheltenham Chronicle, 7 May 1812, p. 4
- Cody K Carlson, ‘This Week in History: British brutality followed the fall of Badajoz,’ Deseret News, 8 April 2015 accessed online at https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865626016/This-week-in-history-British-brutality-followed-the-fall-of-Badajoz.html
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