Capture of Barcelona 1705
The War of the Spanish Succession broke out in 1701 as a result of a dispute to the Spanish throne between French and Austrian claimants. England and Holland came into the war on the Austrian side, since the French King threatened to annex the Spanish Netherlands (which are now Belgium) and had recognised the claim of the exiled Stuarts to the British throne. One British Army, under the Duke of Marlborough, was sent to aid the Dutch in the Netherlands; later, a small British expedition was sent to the Mediterranean to aid the Austrian claimant to the Spanish throne, the Archduke Charles, who had assumed the title of King Charles III of Spain. It was decided to make an attempt to gain the province of Catalonia, which favoured his cause; and the expedition proceeded to attack Barcelona, the capital of that province. Barcelona was garrisoned by some 5000 Spanish and Neapolitan regular troops in the service of the French claimant to the throne, and was strongly defended. The expeditionary force landed unopposed some three miles north of the city during the last week of August, 1705.
Barcelona region 1705
It was a strangely composite force of some 6000 British, 2500 Dutch, and 1000 Austrian and Spanish troops, supported by a strong British fleet. King Charles III accompanied the expedition in person, together with Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt, an Austrian Field-Marshal who had formerly been Governor of Catalonia. The British were commanded by the Earl of Peterborough, and the Dutch by a General Schratenbach. There was little harmony between these commanders, and for three weeks not much progress was made.
First Battle of the 36th Foot Regiment (2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment)
Afternoon of Sunday, 13th September 1705 (see note 1), in the Allied camp before Barcelona—a pleasant afternoon, with a warm golden sunlight tinting the purple hills of Catalonia and lighting the roofs and towers of the distant city. Save for the occasional boom of a gun there are no obvious signs of war, although in the Allied lines the usual activities are in progress. English, Dutch, Austrian, and Spanish soldiers are busy at many tasks—cleaning their arms and accoutrements, constructing or demolishing hutments and tents, bargaining with the sutlers and the country folk who have come into the camp to sell food. Some companies are marching down to or back from the trenches, which stretch in parallel lines across the open ground between our camp and the city, or from the batteries, whence fifty heavy guns lent by our fleet have been bombarding the enemy's defences. Those defences, however, show very little sign of damage, and from the strong walls and bastions of the city, the defenders' guns are answering us, shot for shot. The ramparts of Barcelona sweep round unbroken across the plain to the far southern side of the city, where, rising above them, we can see the steep hill called Montjuich, crowned by its strong castle, some three miles away.
There has been but little firing from our batteries today, and the rough seamen-gunners are sprawling in every direction, asleep in the sun. Everywhere there is a feeling of inertia and depression. For three weeks now we have remained stationary in this camp, digging trenches indeed and suffering some few casualties from the enemy's shot, but with no clear evidence of any progress towards success.
On a low knoll, near the village of St. Martin, a group of red-coated British officers are standing in bitter discussion. "Any news, m' Lord ?" asks Major Thomas Alnuttt (see note 2) of the latest arrival, a pleasant faced gentleman whose bearing, as well as his richly embroidered coat, alike denote his superior rank. "I think so," answers Colonel Lord Charlemont, "At least I have word of a meeting held this morning. And to my knowledge the Earl was out all last night on some business or other. I saw him from my tent at daybreak, riding into camp, though Heaven knows where he had been—'only one with him, young Dacres of the Dragoons."
"Would to God some of the rest of our precious leaders would show a tithe of his energy," breaks in Colonel William Southwell "This damned German princeling doing nothing but fuming like a spoilt child because he can't order us about, old Dutch Schratenbach sitting saying, 'Nenny, Nenny,' in his coat all over snuff, and His Most Catholick Majesty presiding over all, with his solemn protests and his hanging lip and a general air of disapprobation—blockheads and nincompoops the whole pack of 'em! Six damn'd councils-of-war in a fortnight and nothing done! If they're going to break up and sail for Savoy, 'a God's name why don't they do so?"
"Softly, softly, Southwell. God knows 'tis provoking in the extreme, but don't bawl it, man, or His Most Catholick Majesty will surely suspect you of malevolence-of-intent . . . . . . and God knows 'tis hard enough to keep the peace in our camp as 'tis. At least you will concede that our Handsome Jack (see note 3) 't is in some sort worthy . . . . . . . ."
"And he's mad as a hatter," breaks in impetuously a younger man, whose hard tanned face shows brown against the orange facings of his uniform. "For the last two weeks now have I been acting as assistant to our Adjutant-General. Have I told you, m' Lord, the latest folly on which I am despatched?"
"'Sooth, I'd believe anything from you, Rycault ! And pray what is it? "
"Ladders, m' Lord—ladders! Friday last I was summoned. ‘Rycault,’ says the Earl, 'have you pondered at all the re-embarkment of our force, were that necessary?'; and goes on to remind me of how the water was too shallow when we landed to let the boats beach, so that our grenadiers had to be carried on shore by the country folk. So; says he, and there will be no country 'folk to help us when we go again and leave them in the lurch,' and explains that we shall want ladders with planks laid on 'em to make gangways to the ketches. And, forsooth, my poor men have been collecting naught but ladders ever since, from every farm and building in this pestilent neighbourhood; thus convincing all around, if more conviction were needed, of our mind to desert them."
The others laugh. "How many ladders have you got now, Rycault?"
“Some fifty in all; and the Earl will have 'em bound together in lengths of not less than thirty feet, which, says he, is the closest the ketches can come inshore. 'Tis a strange whimsy for surely the last parties could wade the thirty feet . . . . but it proves well enough that he is bent on re-embarking."
The discussion dies down, and the group breaks up.
Senior Officer 1705
Private Soldier 1705
In the company lines there is equal dissatisfaction. "Damned boobs and lililops," growls Sergeant Peter Grigg, of Charlemont's Regiment, surveying in grim contempt the efforts of a fatigue party to erect a hutment, "What use d'ye think that'll be against the first squall of rain ? Why a' God's name, Corporal Tapp, didst not get better planking? Are there not twenty plunderable farms within a league's walk?"
"Prithee, Sergeant Grigg, don't blame the Corporal," says young Ensign Mosten, " 'Tis in a sense my fault, for I stopped him taking half the yard-paling off that farm beyond the hill. The paling was well enough, but our Adjutant-General has given strictest orders against plundering, lest the country folk turn against us, their Allies."
"God's curse on all this nonsense of ‘Allies,’" swears the Sergeant, when the subaltern is at a safe distance. “These black¬avised Spaniards and their villainous monks (see note 4) 'd as soon stick us in the gizzard as help us take this plaguesome town. I'm all unused to this bowing and scraping. In Flanders we took our fancy—when and how we wanted it.”
“Which was your Regiment in Flanders, Sergeant?” asks the young corporal. “Were you with Lord Charlemont then?" “Lord, no, boy. This new regiment of his Lordship's hasn't lived four years yet. In Flanders I was with a fine fighter, Lord Cutts, ‘The Salamander.' He was a man, he was. Never a better officer in the King's army. He'd march up to the mouth of a cannon though he saw the lighted match at the touch-hole, yet for all that he had a heart as soft as a child once it was over. 'Saw him through Steenkirk field and up the breach at Namur—real fighting that was, none of this dribble-drabble, fiddle-faddle sort of work. You've never seen a battle yet, youngster, neither have any of this brood, save such few as made that campaign with me. Belike you'll never see a real battle—never know what it is to hear the grape-shot howling past your ears and the yells of the Frenchies as they come at you pell-mell with pike and bayonet. It's then you find out whether you're a man or not, m' son. But this damned business of sitting in the dirt and waiting . . . . . . What's the use of it? No proper food, no ale, no wenches, no cover at night save this rotten planking your nincompoops have set up. Pray God that the rain holds off, to save their baby faces lily-livered set of children . . . . . .”
Sunset of the same day. In the intervening hours, a conference of the principal officers has hastily been summoned and unexpected orders have been issued. The siege of Barcelona is forthwith to be abandoned. The bulk of the force is to embark tomorrow on board the fleet for transference to Tarragona further south; but lest it should prove difficult to re-embark the whole force at once from the open beach where the landing was effected three weeks ago, the bulk of the infantry and cavalry are to march to Tarragona overland. These are to start at once and to march that night, passing clear of Barcelona before our intentions are known to the enemy, whose spies are everywhere around.
The news has spread like wildfire through the camp, accompanied by savage recriminations between the different Allies and the Spaniards whom they have come to aid. There is general bitterness and bad feeling, and it is in a sullen mood that the British troops fall in for the march to the south. The last rays of the setting sun light up the scene as the battalions form up: four British battalions in red coats, distinguished by their facings and their flying colours—the deep yellow of Rivers' Regiment, the “philimot” of Lord Barrymore's (see note 5) the orange of Lord Donegal's, and the bright green of Lord Charlemont's—followed by two companies of Dutch troops in dark blue. The parade is formed in the sheltered valley of the little river Llobregat, and there the battalions lie waiting until dusk closes in.
“Strange,” murmurs young Captain Rycault to his companion, the Adjutant-General of the force, Colonel Charles Wills of Charlemont's Regiment, “As we well know, for two weeks now the General and the Prince of Hesse have not spoken. Today we abandon the enterprise, and today they are laughing and chatting like old friends”; but Colonel Wills is too much wrapped in gloomy anticipation of the morrow's task of embarkation to share his junior's astonishment at the behaviour of the Allied generals; who indeed seem both in good humour—the only cheerful faces in the whole camp.
Darkness falls, and the march begins. At the head of the column march the grenadier companies of the four British battalions, grouped under the command of Colonel Southwell, followed by the remainder of the force, under Lord Charlemont. The column heads westward, inland into the hills.
Hour after hour the march continues, and the road grows rougher and more difficult for the tramping feet. A big walled convent, the convent of St. Gracia, is reached. There a halt is called and. to the surprise of the senior officers, the two Allied generals suddenly ride up. Under their direction the march is resumed, and the column trudges off again, southwards this time, for several miles, to the village of Serja.
There again there is a halt and a whispered consultation with Spanish guides. The troops, dozing where they lie, are roused and again formed up. The grenadiers move off, followed at a long interval by the remainder, no longer along a made road, but by a rough track over rocky, broken ground.
“What a' God's name are we doing ?” - whispers Lieutenant Robert Ennis of Charlemont's Regiment to his neighbour, Ensign Roger Mosten. “Unless my powers of sensing direction are sorely astray, we are marching due East—back towards towards Barcelona. What foolery is this?”
But no good answer is possible. The weary troops struggle onward. There is a check in front, and the marching column closes up in a small sheltered valley—on a hillside undoubtedly, though it is too dark for any distant view.
As one after another the battalions form up, the stumbling companies almost blunder into a troop of Dragoons standing dismounted at their horses' heads, Dragoons who have escorted a group of wagons laden with objects which project oddly in the darkness. “ 'Sdeath !” exclaims Captain Rycault, “My ladders! What in heaven are they doing here?” His wonderment is brief. In low tones a message is sent along the lines; and the officers of the force gather round a covered lantern, where their general, the Earl of Peterborough, awaits them.
The big stable lantern throws an odd light on his handsome sardonic face as he explains. They are on the steep hillside immediately beneath the Castle of Montjuich, the key to Barcelona. At daybreak they will attack the castle. The inaction of the previous days, the false orders to embark, the long and circuitous night march, have all been but means to ensure secrecy and to effect surprise. He himself has reconnoitred the ground on the previous night, the approach is easy and the outer walls are but ill-guarded. Scaling ladders have been provided, thanks to the energy of Captain Rycault (with a half-bow in the direction of that bewildered young officer). Colonel Southwell will lead the assault with the grenadier companies. Lord Charlemont, with the main body, will follow close behind. A reserve under Brigadier-General Stanhope has left camp six hours after us, and will be held ready to deal with any attempt to reinforce Montjuich from the town; “and lastly may I express my sincerest pleasure in the honour done us by our good friend and ally Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt, who on hearing of my intention most instantly decided to accompany our venture.”
Earl of Peterborough leading Lord Charlemont's Regiment to the second assault on the Castle of Montjuich, Barcelona (14th Sept. 1705)
The company officers return to tell their men, and the news sends a sudden thrill down the ranks. “ 'Tis a real battle after all then, Sergeant!” whispers Corporal Tapp. “Belike,” replies the Sergeant tersely, “See that your lads get sleep now.” The troops lie in their ranks and rest as best as they may.
Capture of Barcelona (September 1705)
The first grey light shows in the East, throwing into silhouette the walls and battlements of the Castle on the skyline close above us. The sky flushes from grey to pink, from pink to rose-red; then, as the sun rises, the silence is broken by a shot, followed by a scattered volley. Some of the enemy's irregulars in bivouac outside the Castle walls have sighted us.
At once the word is given. Trumpets and drums call our troops to their feet. With shouted orders the companies form up, and Colonel Southwell dashes to the front, leading forward the grenadiers. The rest follow. “Remember, lads,” calls Sergeant Grigg, “With y'r bayonets drive first at the bowels, then at the throat—and be quick with your swords (see note 6) for the in-fighting.” With Colours flying, swords and bayonets glinting in the sun, our force pours forward up the hill, the coloured caps of the grenadiers preceding the onrush of the other companies.
The bells of the Castle clang furiously, the walls are dotted with hurrying figures, and a brisk fire of musketry is opened as our leading platoons come within range of the outer walls. But the pace is not checked. Some of the grenadiers are hit, but others dash on to the very foot of the walls, and hurl their hand-grenades up on to the parapet, while struggling groups plant the scaling-ladders. Up the ladders scramble the attackers, and after a short but desperate struggle on the parapet, the outer walls are won.
At once the attackers hasten to secure their gain, throwing up a barricade of loose stones as an entrenchment against the fire of the citadel, which still looms ominously above them. The outer gates are thrown open and Lord Charlemont leads in the main body of the attack. Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt takes charge, and organizes a fresh attack to gain the citadel, while Peterborough himself rides back with some of his staff to bring up Stanhope's reserve troops and to watch for any counter-attack from Barcelona.
In his absence comes a sudden reverse. Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt leads on too recklessly and is mortally wounded. Many of those following him are killed or made prisoners by a sudden Spanish counter-attack. The attackers are forced back from the citadel to the outer walls. Then follows one of those odd events which have been witnessed in a score of famous battles. Somebody gives an alarm of enemy behind, somebody gives an unauthorised order to retire, somebody passes on that order as an order to evacuate the fort, the message is passed further along, and in a few minutes nearly the whole force of the attackers are in retreat, not in rout but in a bewildered disorder—the disorder almost inevitable among young troops in their first battle.
In vain their officers strive to control the intermingled troops—for all the four British battalions and the Dutch as well are hopelessly disorganized. – “Where in God's name are the fools going?” cries Lord Charlemont as the confused mob surges past him. – “Here, Ennis !—Rycault !—Mosten ! —stop all you can, and hold on till we can see what's about.” Around those three young officers there gather some fifty of their men, and a stand is made behind the half-finished breastwork of loose stones within the outer wall.
“Damn'd silly children!” roars Sergeant Grigg. “Stand fast and hold y'r ground.” The pursuing enemy come on with a rush, and a dark-haired Spanish officer leaps forward with rapier in hand; but the Sergeant swings up his great halberd (see note 7) — battle-axe and pike combined—whirls it round his head and with sure aim brings down the broad blade, catching the thrusting Spaniard between neck and shoulder and felling him dead on the spot. A Spanish pikeman lunges past the falling officer, but with a wrench and one backward sweep, the Sergeant clears his halberd from the dead officer and buries its spike in the pikeman's side. The Spaniards recoil snarling. “Grand work, Sergeant!” cries Lord Charlemont, whose rapier and lace ruffles are alike flecked with blood. “Aye, y'r Honour, the halberd's a good tool for close work . . . . . . . .Mark there ! . . . . . . . . . They're priming Down, lads! Down behind the breastwork!” His cry of warning is just in time to save his young soldiers from a ragged volley; the bullets smack and ricochet on the loose stones of the breastwork, and young Captain Rycault falls, mortally wounded. As the smoke drifts away, the Spaniards charge in again. But again they are met with a fierce resistance, and again the Sergeant's sweeping halberd plays havoc among them.
While Lord Charlemont's handful of brave men are standing firm inside the fort, the bulk of the attackers have poured back in disorder out of the gate and down the hillside beyond. Once out in the open the pace is checked and, amid a babel of shouts and orders, the confused mob struggles to stop and re-form.
At that moment the Earl of Peterborough and his staff officers come galloping back up the slope, and at the sight of them the retreat is stopped. “Handsome Jack” Peterborough is wild with rage; and rides his horse through the throng, cursing, exhorting, commanding all to turn again to the ground they have abandoned. The mob of intermingled soldiers sways for a moment irresolute; but the general seizes one of the Colours of Charlemont's Regiment and rides forward, waving it aloft; and at the sight of their bright green Colour waving in the sun, the young soldiers of Charlemont's Regiment rush towards him, shouting. The other regiments rally in their wake, and in a minute the whole situation has changed.
Furious now at the shame of their disorderly retreat, the young battalions surge up the slope once more to the gateway, where Lord Charlemont and his handful of brave men are still holding back the enemy. The position is re-established, an attempt to reinforce the enemy from Barcelona is repulsed, and guns are brought up to reduce the citadel. From the captured ramparts the victorious attackers can look down on Barcelona as on an almost certain prize.
Head of a Sergeant's Halberd
Barcelona in 1705
(Viewed from the Castle of Montjuich. The Allied Camp was at the foot of the hills on the further (northern) side of the city)
Summary & Notes
Such was the first battle of our Regiment—a not unworthy presage of many other gallant deeds. As an example of brilliant personal leadership it is hard to beat, whether as regards the boldness of the plan, the care of the preparations, or the decision and firmness which urged the attack and retrieved disaster. But when recognition has been awarded to the generalship of the leaders, we wish also to claim the credit due to the troops they led—those gallant, if inexperienced, officers and men of the young English battalions who in this, their first battle, marched all night and came into action at daybreak, wearied out and unfed, but nevertheless carried by escalade the enemy's defended battlements, and, even when repulsed and confused by false orders, rallied again at once when called upon and followed their leader to victory.
So far as the part played by the rank-and-file is concerned there is little dispute as to the main features of the fight ; but as to the part played by the leaders there is less certain evidence. The usually accepted version is as we have given it here, but Colonel Parnell, whose “War of the Succession in Spain” is most carefully documented, throws doubt on many points, discredits Peterborough, and would give the credit of both the plan and its execution to Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt (to whose memory he has dedicated his book).
No less obscure is the part played by Lord Charlemont in the fight, especially during the temporary retirement from the fort. Cannon ("Records of the 36th Foot") says that "the troops were seized with panic, and Lord Charlemont . . . endeavoured to counteract the disorder which ensued." General Richards says that Lord Charlemont retreated with the rest, and that Peterborough, when he came up "having grievously reproached Lord Charlemont for his retreat, made the men face about again and led them up to the posts they had quitted." Fortescue, quoting the picturesque but inaccurate memoirs of Captain Carleton, says indeed that Peterborough "snatched Charlemont's half-pike from his hand and waved them back to the fort with a torrent of rebuke." On the other hand, Colonel Parnell says that the rallied soldiers "quickly rejoined their ranks at the outwork, where Charlemont, most of the officers, and some of the soldiers still maintained their position."
In the face of these discrepancies the events decribed here steer a middle course? As to the general outline of the operations, Sir John Fortescue history of the British Army has been followed. But as to Lord Charlemont's personal part, the account of Colonel Parnell has been used, as being on the whole the more likely version of the actions of the first Colonel of the Thirty-Sixth Regiment (later to become the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment).
It remains only to add a postscript as to the results of this bold attack. After the capture of the outworks, the citadel of Montjuich still held out, but surrendered eventually on September 17th. The siege of the city itself was then pressed with vigour. The Catalan populace was all in favour of the Austrian Archduke, the defending troops had been disheartened by the fall of their strongest fortress, and as soon as a practicable breach had been made, the Governor opened negotiations for surrender. When that news was known, the turbulent Catalans rose in revolt, and the Allied troops entered the town on October 14th just in time to avert a massacre of all those who favoured the French. Thanks to the humanity of Peterborough and the discipline of his British troops, order was restored and serious loss of life was prevented; but there was a nasty riot; and it is perhaps worth recording how, in that riot, Peterborough was enabled to display the gallantry for which he was famous. The episode is related by his aide-de-camp, Captain George Carleton, who describes in his “Memoirs” how in one of the streets they sighted a struggle in progress, and then saw “a lady of apparent quality and indisputable beauty, in a most affecting agony, flying from the fury of the Miquelets (Catalan partisans). Her lovely hair was all flowing about her shoulders, from which her raiment had been rudely torn, which disorder, and the consternation she was in, rather added to, than anything diminished from, the charms of an excess of beauty. She, as is very natural to people in distress, made up directly to the Earl, her eyes satisfying her he was a person likely to give her all the protection she wanted. And as soon as ever she came near enough, in a manner that declared her quality before she spoke, she craved that protection, telling him, the better to secure it, who she was that asked it. But the generous Earl presently convinced her he wanted no entreaties, having, before he knew her to be the Duchess of Popoli, taken her by the hand in order to convey her to a place of safety without the town."
“In doing which,” says General De Ainslie in his History of the Royal-Dragoons, “His Lordship very nearly fell a victim to his humanity, for, while escorting the Duchess of Popoli . . . . . . . a ball fired by one of the rioters passed through the Earl's periwig.”
And with this chivalrous little episode, we may leave Peterborough in possession of Barcelona, and Charlemont's Regiment with their other comrades in proud occupation of their conquest, their first battle won, and the foundations of the regimental spirit well and truly laid.
1. All dates in these operations are complicated by the difference between the New Style Calendar, adopted in most European countries by the year 1700, and the Old Style Calendar, retained by Great Britain until 1752. The difference was eleven days, and consequently the date spoken of by the Spanish, French, Dutch, Austrians, and Neapolitans as September 13th was then called in England September 2nd. As a result, the orders and messages for these operations are very confusing; but the English forces engaged used for the most part the Continental dates, and we have followed that practice.
2. Of Charlemont's Regiment, later the Thirty-Sixth Foot, and then 2nd Battalion Worcestershire. Apparently Major Alnutt commanded the Battalion during these operations, for Lieut.-Colonel Charles Wills was acting as Adjutant-General to the force, and there is no mention of the other Major, Arthur Moore.
3. Nickname of the Earl of Peterborough was "Handsome Jack". It will be understood that in those early days of our Army, the standards of discipline were not those of today; and criticism of 'this kind against superior officers, in a manner which nowadays would be considered unpardonably disloyal, was, to judge from contemporary records, not uncommon. Social position was much more important than military rank, and titled noblemen were normally addressed as "my Lord"—even between themselves.
4. It should be remembered that Lord Charlemont's regiment was originally raised in Ulster, although probably filled up with new recruits in England after returning from the West Indies in 1704. The Sergeant's references to "Flanders" relate to the previous war of 1691-97.
5. "Philmot" (derived from " feuille mort ") was a greenish-yellow colour. Lord Barrymore's Regiment became subsequently the Thirteenth Foot, and then the Somerset Light Infantry.
6. During this period, each soldier carried a short cut-and-thrust sword besides his musket and bayonet.
7. The halberd was the distinctive weapon of Sergeant until 1792, when they were replaced by pike.