Battle of Tudela

Last updated

Battle of Tudela
Part of the Peninsular War
La batalla de Tudela, por January Suchodolski.jpg
Battle of Tudela, an 1827 painting by January Suchodolski
oil on canvas, National Museum in Warsaw
Date23 November 1808
Result Franco-Polish victory
Flag of France.svg French Empire
Flag of Poland.svg Duchy of Warsaw
Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg  Spain
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Marshal Lannes
Flag of France.svg Marshal Ney
Flag of France.svg General Lefebvre-Desnouettes
Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg Duke of Bailén
Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg Duke of Saragossa
Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg General O'Neylle
Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg General La Peña
Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg General Grimarest
31,000 33,000
Casualties and losses
650 killed or wounded 4,000 killed, wounded, or captured
26 guns lost

The Battle of Tudela (23 November 1808) saw an Imperial French army led by Marshal Jean Lannes attack a Spanish army under General Castaños. The battle resulted in the complete victory of the Imperial forces over their adversaries. The combat occurred near Tudela in Navarre, Spain during the Peninsular War, part of a wider conflict known as the Napoleonic Wars.


Spanish casualties were estimated to be about 4,000 dead and 3,000 prisoners out of a total force of 33,000. The French and Poles lost no more than 600 dead and wounded out of a total of 30,000. This is one of the battles whose name was engraved on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. [1]


The Dos de Mayo Uprising of 2 May 1808, followed by extensive uprisings throughout Spain, forced the French to pull back from their occupation of Spain to the Ebro River. There was an opportunity for the Spanish to finally expel the French altogether but this was missed due to their failure to appoint a Supreme Commander leaving the individual Spanish forces to operate independently.

These Spanish forces consisted of the army of General Joaquín Blake on the North coast, the army of General Francisco Javier Castaños around Tudela and the army of General José Rebolledo de Palafox around Zaragoza. Blake was active in attacking the French but his offensive near Bilbao was defeated at Pancorbo on 31 October 1808.

Napoleon’s strategy was to make a strong attack towards Burgos splitting off the army of Blake from the others and to outflank them by then swinging both north and south. It was in his interest that the Spanish maintain their exposed advanced positions. The French armies facing them were therefore ordered not to attack. So from October to 21 November 1808, Marshal Bon-Adrien Jeannot de Moncey’s III Corps remained static in front of Castaños's army.

The Spanish armies were however in a constant state of movement to no effect. For much of the time Castaños was ill leaving Palafox to direct operations. Palafox seems to have been indecisive on what course of action to take. [2]


The battlefield was the area between Tudela and the neighbouring hills on the left. The Spanish front was deployed on the hills of Santa Barbara, Tudela, Torre Monreal, Santa Quiteria the top of Cabezoe Maya (the hill where the retreat of San Juan de Calchetas was), and the villages of Urzante (now disappeared), Murchante, and Cascante. Separating the Spanish and the French was the Queiles River, a tributary of the Ebro.

The French advanced from the Cierzo hills that were in front of the Spanish lines towards the Spanish troops.


On 21 November 1808 Castaños was around Calahorra on the Ebro between Logrono and Tudela. On this day the French III Corps crossed the Ebro at Logrono and headed east towards Calahorra while at the same time Marshal Michel Ney with the VI Corps reached the Upper Douro Valley and headed towards Tudela.

Diagram of Spanish positions: Santa Barbara - La Pena Division Esquema posiciones224.jpg
Diagram of Spanish positions: Santa Barbara - La Peña Division

These movements threatened Castaños with entrapment between these two armies. To avoid this Castaños withdrew to Tudela. He decided to defend a line 17 kilometres (11 mi) long stretching west from Tudela along the Ebro, then along the Queiles River to Cascante and finally to Tarazona at the foot of the Moncayo Massif.

Castaños had insufficient men to hold a line of this length so he asked General Juan O'Neylle, who had two divisions at Caparroso on the east bank of the Ebro, for help. As O’Neylle was under the command of Palafox he refused to move without an order from Palafox. This did not arrive until noon on 22 November 1808. O’Neylle moved promptly to the east bank of the Ebro opposite Tudela but decided not to cross the river until the next day.

By nightfall on 22 November 1808 Castaños had almost 45,000 soldiers in the vicinity of Tudela but very few of them actually in position. Castaños placed General Manuel la Peña’s 4th Division of 8,000 men, mostly Andalusians who had participated in the Battle of Bailén, at Cascante and General Grimarest at the head of three divisions totaling 13,000 to 14,000 soldiers at Tarazona. General Roca's division was on the east bank of the Ebro plus the two divisions from Aragon of O’Neylle and Felipe Augusto de Saint-Marcq. [3]

Most of the fighting in the battle of Tudela would involve only the three divisions of Roca, O’Neylle, and Saint-Marcq – totaling about 23,000 infantry.

For the French only the III Corps was involved in the Battle of Tudela. Prior to 22 November 1808 this force had been commanded by Marshal Moncey. However, Napoleon transferred command to Marshal Jean Lannes when the advance began. This corps was just under 34,000 men consisting of four infantry divisions and three cavalry regiments. To this was added General of Division Joseph Lagrange’s infantry division and General of Brigade Pierre David de Colbert-Chabanais’s cavalry brigade from Ney's corps.

On the night of 22 November the French Army camped at Alfaro – 17 kilometres up the Ebro from Tudela. [4]


Progress Plan of the Battle Campo batalla224.jpg
Progress Plan of the Battle

On the morning of 23 November 1808 Lagrange's infantry and two cavalry brigades were sent towards Cascante. The rest of the force was sent along the Ebro towards Tudela.

At this time O’Neylle was trying to get his three divisions across the Ebro. Roca's was across first and reached its position on the right of the Spanish line just as the French attacked.

Saint-Marcq's division was second across and also took up position before the attack.

Recreation of the battle on the hill of Santa Barbara with the tower of the cathedral in the background Batalla224.jpg
Recreation of the battle on the hill of Santa Barbara with the tower of the cathedral in the background

By the time O’Neylle's own division was crossing it had to fight French skirmishers who were at the top of the Cabezo Malla ridge.

The initial French attack was carried out in a piecemeal fashion by the vanguard when it was realised that the Spanish were not in position. Although this attack was repelled it showed the weakness of the Spanish positions, especially the 5 kilometres (3 mi) gap between Castaños and La Peña's force at Cascante.

The battle would ultimately be decided by La Peña and Grimarest. By noon on 23 November 1808 they had received orders to move: La Peña to close the gap at Tudela and Grimarest to Cascante. Both men failed to carry out these orders other than La Peña moving two battalions and a detachment of provincial Grenadiers to Urzante. La Peña's lack of initiative allowed the two French cavalry brigades of Colbert and General of Brigade Alexandre, vicomte Digeon to pin him in place.

The second French attack was made with much greater force. On the French left General of Division Antoine Morlot’s division attacked Roca's division on the heights above Tudela. On the French right General of Division Maurice Mathieu’s division made a frontal assault on the smaller O’Neylle division while also making outflanking moves. The attacks on both left and right were successful with both Spanish divisions being pushed off the ridges they occupied.

Then the French cavalry under General of Division Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes charged the gap between Roca and Saint-Marcq causing the collapse of the Spanish right.

La Peña and Grimarest finally united at Cascante late in the day giving them a total of 21,000 men against Lagrange's division which was 6,000 strong plus Colbert and Digeon. After the defeat of the rest of the Spanish army however La Peña and Grimarest withdrew after dark. Their poor performance was also reflected in the casualties of only 200 on the Spanish left compared to 3,000 on the right plus 1,000 prisoners. [5]


The Spanish armies of the left and right escaped from Tudela in two directions. The Aragonese forces on the right made for Zaragoza where they would assist in the Second Siege of Zaragoza starting on 20 December 1808. The virtually intact Spanish left moved towards Madrid to defend that city.

Napoleon however moved more quickly, and after defeating a small Spanish army at the Battle of Somosierra on 30 November 1808, arrived in Madrid on 1 December 1808.

Napoleon's strategy ultimately ended in total success with Madrid in his hands. He was then able to prepare for the reconquest of Portugal. [6]

Related Research Articles

Peninsular War War by Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom against the French Empire (1807–1814)

The Peninsular War (1807–1814) was a military conflict between Napoleon's empire and Bourbon Spain, for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war began when the French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in 1807, and escalated in 1808 when France turned on Spain, previously its ally. The war on the peninsula lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814, and is regarded as one of the first wars of national liberation, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare.

Battle of Uclés (1809) battle

The Battle of Uclés saw an Imperial French corps led by Marshal Claude Perrin Victor attack a Spanish force under Francisco Javier Venegas. The French easily crushed their outnumbered foes, capturing over half of the Spanish infantry. Uclés is located in the province of Cuenca 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) east of Tarancón and 100 kilometres (62 mi) southeast of Madrid. The action occurred during what is called the Peninsular War in English-speaking countries and the Spanish War of Independence in Spain. The war was part of a larger struggle known as the Napoleonic Wars.

Honoré Théodore Maxime Gazan de la Peyrière French general

Honoré Théodore Maxime Gazan de la Peyrière was a French general who fought in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars.

Battle of Bailén battle

The Battle of Bailén was fought in 1808 by the Spanish Army of Andalusia, led by Generals Francisco Castaños and Theodor von Reding, and the Imperial French Army's II corps d'observation de la Gironde under General Pierre Dupont de l'Étang. This battle was the first ever open field defeat of the Napoleonic army. The heaviest fighting took place near Bailén, a village by the Guadalquivir river in the Jaén province of southern Spain.

José de Palafox y Melci, 1st Duke of Zaragoza Spanish duke and general

José Rebolledo de Palafox y Melzi, 1st Duke of Saragossa was a Spanish general who fought in the Peninsular War.

Joaquín Blake Spanish general

Joaquín Blake y Joyes was a Spanish military officer who served with distinction in the French Revolutionary and Peninsular wars.

Battle of Medina de Rioseco battle

The Battle of Medina de Rioseco, also known as the Battle of Moclín, was fought during the Peninsular War on 14 July 1808 when a combined body of Spanish militia and regulars moved to rupture the French line of communications to Madrid. General Joaquín Blake's Army of Galicia, under joint command with General Gregorio de la Cuesta, was routed by Marshal Bessières after a badly coordinated but stubborn fight against the French corps north of Valladolid.

First siege of Zaragoza 1808 siege of the Spanish city of Zaragoza by the Grande Armée

The first siege of Zaragoza was a bloody struggle in the Peninsular War (1807–1814). A French army under General Lefebvre-Desnouettes and subsequently commanded by General Jean-Antoine Verdier besieged, repeatedly stormed, and was repulsed from the Spanish city of Zaragoza in the summer of 1808.

Second siege of Zaragoza siege (1809)

The second siege of Zaragoza was the French capture of the Spanish city of Zaragoza during the Peninsular War. It was particularly noted for its brutality.

Manuel Lapeña Spanish general

Manuel Lapeña Rodríguez y Ruiz de Sotillo, sometimes referred to as Lapeña, was a Spanish military officer who served during the Peninsular War. He rose through the Spanish army's ranks to become Captain General of Andalusia. He is primarily known for commanding an Anglo–Spanish expedition from Cádiz, with the intention of raising the siege on that city, which led to the Battle of Barrosa.

Jean-Pierre-Antoine Rey French general

Jean-Pierre-Antoine Rey commanded a famous French infantry regiment during the Napoleonic Wars and became a general officer in 1808. He led an infantry brigade in a number of actions in Spain. His brother Louis Emmanuel Rey was a French general of brigade who also served in Spain during the Peninsular War. Since most sources do not distinguish between the generals named Rey, the two are easily confused.

Antoine Morlot French general, notable for his participation in the battles of Kaiserslautern and Tudela

Antoine Morlot was a French division commander during the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars. After almost eight years of service in the French Royal Army, he became an officer in a local volunteer battalion during the French Revolution. In 1792 he fought with distinction at Thionville and other actions, earning a promotion to general officer in 1793. He was notable for his participation at the Battle of Kaiserslautern where he led a brigade. After another promotion he became a general of division in the Army of the Moselle. In 1794 he led his troops at Arlon, Lambusart, Fleurus and Aldenhoven.

Anne Gilbert de Laval or Anne-Gilbert Laval or Anne Guilbert de La Val became a general officer during the French Revolutionary Wars and led a division in the Napoleonic Wars. Like many other officers, he saw rapid promotion during the French Revolution. He commanded a demi brigade beginning in 1794. He fought in numerous actions during the 1796 campaign in Germany, including the battles of Ettlingen and Neresheim.

Juan ONeylle Spanish general

Juan O'Neylle was a Spanish Field Marshal (Mariscal) of Spanish-Irish descent. He is best known as one of the commanders during the Spanish defeat at the Battle of Tudela.

Siege of Roses (1808)

The Siege of Roses or Siege of Rosas from 7 November to 5 December 1808 saw an Imperial French corps led by Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr invest a Catalan and Spanish garrison commanded by Peter O'Daly. After a siege lasting a month in which the haven and town of Rosas was captured and the nearby Trinity Castle invested by over 13,000 French and Italian infantry, artillery and cavalry with heavy siege trains on the hills above, the Citadel was surrendered to the Napoleonic forces. Roses (Rosas) is located 43 kilometres (27 mi) northeast of Girona (Gerona), Spain. The action occurred during the Peninsular War, part of the Napoleonic Wars.

Battle of Molins de Rei 1808

Template:Campaignbox Peninsular War:1808-1809

The Army of Galicia was a Spanish military unit that took part in the Peninsular War against Napoleon’s French Grande Armée.

The Spanish Army of the Peninsular War refers to the Spanish military units that fought against France's Grande Armée from 2 May 1808 (the Peninsular War began 27 October 1807 with the Franco-Spanish invasion of Portugal) to 17 April 1814) a period which coincided with what is also termed the Spanish War of Independence.

The Reserve Cavalry Corps or Cavalry Reserve of the Grande Armée was the name of a French military formation that existed during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1805, Emperor Napoleon appointed Marshal Joachim Murat to command all the cavalry divisions that were not directly attached to the Army Corps. During the Ulm Campaign, Murat led his horsemen in successfully hunting down many Austrian Empire units that escaped the Capitulation of Ulm. Murat's horsemen fought at Austerlitz in December 1805. Under Murat, the Cavalry Reserve played a prominent role in the destruction of the Kingdom of Prussia's armies after the Battle of Jena-Auerstadt in 1806. Five dragoon divisions of the corps were employed in the Peninsular War starting in 1808 and placed under the overall command of Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières. The Cavalry Reserve was reassembled in 1809 to fight Austria with Bessières still in command. In 1812 the Reserve Cavalry Corps was split up into the I, II, III, and IV Cavalry Corps for the French invasion of Russia.

Charles Louis Dieudonné Grandjean French politician

Charles Louis Dieudonné Grandjean became a French division commander and saw extensive service during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1792 he gave up his legal career to enlist in the infantry and served in the Army of the Rhine. In March 1799 he earned promotion to general of brigade by distinguished actions at Verona. That year he led an Army of Italy brigade at Magnano, the Trebbia, Novi and Genola. In 1800 he fought at Stockach and Hohenlinden.


  1. Arc de Triomphe website
  2. This section is based on Rickard, J (28 February 2008), Battle of Tudela, 23 November 1808
  3. El regimiento de voluntarios de Segorbe (1808–1809) Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931).svg (Es)
  4. This section is based on Rickard, J (28 February 2008), Battle of Tudela, 23 November 1808
  5. This section based on Rickard, J (28 February 2008), Battle of Tudela, 23 November 1808
  6. This section based on Rickard, J (28 February 2008), Battle of Tudela, 23 November 1808

Coordinates: 42°03′17.73″N1°36′58.79″W / 42.0549250°N 1.6163306°W / 42.0549250; -1.6163306

Other Reading

The first volume of Oman's classic seven volume history of the Peninsular War, this is one of the classic works of military history and provides an invaluable detailed narrative of the fighting in Spain and Portugal. This first volume covers the initial French intervention, the start of the Spanish uprising, the early British involvement in Spain and Portugal and Napoleon's own brief visit to Spain.

An excellent single volume history of the Peninsular War, which, when it was published, was the first really good English language history of the entire war since Oman. This is a well balanced work with detailed coverage of those campaigns conducted entirely by Spanish armies, as well as the better known British intervention in Portugal and Spain.