The Siege of Badajoz by Alicia Quigley

My guest today, Alicia Quigley, is a return visitor. In May, she shared her research into smuggling during the Regency. This summer, Alicia spent some time in Spain, where she was able to visit the site of the Siege of Badajoz, one of the most costly battles of the Napoleonic Wars. In today’s article, she tells us something about that battle, its aftermath and how it relates to one of Georgette Heyer’s most powerful Regency novels, The Spanish Bride. Since she was on the actual spot, Alicia has also provided some photos of the city to give us a taste of how it looks today.

Without further ado, I give you Alicia Quigley . . .

The Napoleonic wars were the closest thing the Georgian/Regency period had to a world war — they ranged from Egypt to Scandinavia and from Russia even into the new world, where the English invaded Buenos Aires in 1806 as it belonged to Spain (which was then allied with France), and Montevideo in what is now Uruguay in 1807. So it’s no surprise that these conflicts, and in particular the Peninsular Wars, form an important back drop to Regency romance.

Jane Austen’s novels are full of military characters and elements, the "_th militia" stationed in Meryton with its villainous Wickham in Pride and Prejudice; Colonel Brandon of Sense and Sensibility and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion, are among the important military elements in her novels.

Georgette Heyer novels such as An Infamous Army, The Unknown Ajax, April Lady and others have military themes and characters. In modern Regency romances, in which recent Middle Eastern wars have made themes of returning soldiers in the historical setting relevant to today’s readers, the Peninsular Wars and their aftermath are often part of the plot thread.

Print of a soldier in a red coat with blue pantaloons, leaning on a Brown Bess musket.

Light Division Uniform

I recently had the chance to accompany my husband on a business trip to Spain, which we extended to an impromptu vacation. I had been reading The Spanish Bride, a historical novel about the Peninsular Wars written by Heyer that is based on real life with a romance mixed in. So it was exciting to be able arrange our trip to visit two battlefields, Talavera, and Badajoz, which played a large part in The Spanish Bride.

Talavera has an imposing monument, showing the regiments involved from all combatants, and a map of how the troops were lined up, but there is little else to see at the battlefield.

Fortress in pale grey stone with a corner tower and crenellations along the top edge.

Santa Maria Bastion

Badajoz is very different, and a great place to visit even if you have zero interest in the Peninsular Wars. The town is on a hill that has been occupied since Paleolithic times, and was heavily fortified by the Moors in the 800s. The fortification was formidable in the 19th century and is still now. Taking it required an extended siege, and a bloody battle that is vividly described in The Spanish Bride. In the book, we hear the story through the eyes of the Light Bobs, the famous light infantry division.

Today, the citadel has been partially restored and within the walls are an excellent museum covering all eras of the city’s history, substantial interpretive information about the history of various locations in Badajoz and their role in the Siege of 1812 (as well as part of the University of Extremadura). It’s a fascinating destination for travelers who enjoy history and the tapas and wine at the charming café just across the Plaza Alta from the gate is a nice bonus!

During a prolonged siege of the town, the English sappers and engineers dammed and redirected water from the river below the fortress and built siege engines and attempted to undermine the walls. While this was happening, an assault was planned. The inhabitants and the French occupiers must have realized that their resistance would eventually prove futile but they refused to surrender the city, which angered the English troops. In the end, Wellington, who disliked bloody battles and high casualties, determined that an assault was required and on April 6, 1812 the storming of the citadel was launched.

Two black iron cannons on wooden wheeled carriages set in gun ports in the stone wall.

Guns at La Trinidad

Wellington planned it with his customary attention to detail. The main assault was to be on the LaTrinidad gate, the lowest and weakest part of the wall, and thus presumably the most easily breached part of the fortress. The pictures to left and below show guns in the old gun ports of the walls near LaTrinidad, and a picture of the LaTrinidad gate.

Other attacks were also planned, one on the Santa Maria bastion, one on the Castle Hill, and several others. None were expected to succeed, but the hope was that they would distract the defenders at LaTrinidad enough to make that main assault successful.

Arched gate in the stone wall of the fortress

LaTrinidad Gate

The French defenses were formidable, and thousands of English troops perished in the trench and chevaux frise below the walls in their attempts to scale them. In the end, it was the assaults on the Santa Maria and San Vicente bastions, originally planned as distractions, that succeeded because they were left insufficiently manned when the soldiers posted there were needed to repulse the English at LaTrinidad.

The British came up behind the French defenders, who were soon forced to flee. Lacking a flag to show their victory, one of the soldiers hung his uniform tunic on the flagpole. Almost 5000 English soldiers died in the storming of Badajoz; the Light Division, which primarily led the assault on LaTrinidad, lost 40% of its men. When Wellington entered the city that morning, he wept at the carnage.

The long siege and loss of many of their companions in the terrible battle to take Badajoz infuriated the British troops, and after their victory they engaged in a brutal sack of the town. They looted businesses and private homes, killing civilians who tried to defend their property, raping women, and in general behaving as badly as could possibly be imagined. They pulled barrels of wine out of the taverns and drank themselves into a stupor for a period of several days.

Captain Robert Blakeney wrote:
"The infuriated soldiery resembled rather a pack of hell hounds vomited up from infernal regions for the extirpation of mankind than what they were but twelve short hours previously — a well-organised, brave, disciplined and obedient British Army …"

When their officers tried to stop the looting and pillaging, the men threatened to shoot them, so the sack went on unchecked, with the officers settling for doing what they could for the townsfolk. This is "How Harry Met Juana" in The Spanish Bride. Her older sister approached a group of officers for help during the sack.

View into the corner of the plaza with four-story buildings on both sides of an open area paved with brick.

The Plaza Alta

Eventually Wellington cracked down on this behavior; he first sent some sober troops in to attempt to quell the rioting. When compliance was minimal he had a gallows built in the Plaza Alta, and threatened to hang insubordinate soldiers, which finally brought the sack of Badajoz to an end. Today you can enjoy excellent wine and tapas at the cafés seen across the Plaza Alta from the fortress where the battle was fought.

In my previous post here on smuggling, I included a Kipling poem relevant to my topic. Kipling also wrote a poem that is well suited to this post, and I include it here for fun, along with a version of it set to music. It refers to Brown Bess, the famous musket used by the British Army. Kipling mentioned "Brown Bess" in letters to his father and his close friend Colonel Feilden (The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, IV, 1911-1919, (Ed. Thomas Pinney] pp. 7-11). On 4 January 1911 he told his father:

I have not been altogether idle for I’ve done an additional set of verses for my history book — a metrical version of the life, death and adventures of the old Tower musket which from 1710 to 1835 or 40 was the arm of England and won for us all the main blocks of Empire. Naturally the refrain is "Brown Bess."

Kipling refers to it in the letter as: ‘A conceit somewhat elaborately beaten out but it amused me in the doing — sign that may be t’will amuse other folks to read.’

The only division in the English army to use the more modern and accurate rifle during the Peninsular War was "The Rifle Division;" the others, including the Light Division which suffered so terribly at Badajoz carried Brown Bess.

"Brown Bess"

The Army Musket 1700-1815

In the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
  Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise —
An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
  With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes —
At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

Though her sight was not long and her weight was not small,
  Yet her actions were winning, her language was clear;
And everyone bowed as she opened the ball
  On the arm of some high-gaitered, grim grenadier.
Half Europe admitted the striking success
Of the dances and routs that were given by Brown Bess.

When ruffles were turned into stiff leather stocks,
  And people wore pigtails instead of perukes,
Brown Bess never altered her iron-grey locks.
  She knew she was valued for more than her looks.
"Oh, powder and patches was always my dress,
And I think am killing* enough," said Brown Bess.

So she followed her red-coats, whatever they did,
  From the heights of Quebec to the plains of Assaye,
From Gibraltar to Acre, Cape Town and Madrid,
  And nothing about her was changed on the way;
(But most of the Empire which now we possess
Was won through those years by old-fashioned Brown Bess.)

In stubborn retreat or in stately advance,
  From the Portugal coast to the cork-woods of Spain,
She had puzzled some excellent Marshals of France
  Till none of them wanted to meet her again:
But later, near Brussels, Napoleon — no less —
Arranged for a Waterloo ball with Brown Bess.

She had danced till the dawn of that terrible day —
  She danced till the dusk of more terrible night,
And before her linked squares his battalions gave way,
  And her long fierce quadrilles put his lancers to flight:
And when his gilt carriage drove off in the press,
"I have danced my last dance for the world!" said Brown Bess.**

If you go to Museums — there’s one in Whitehall —
  Where old weapons are shown with their names writ beneath,
You will find her, upstanding, her back to the wall,
  As stiff as a ramrod, the flint in her teeth.
And if ever we English had reason to bless
Any arm save our mothers’, that arm is Brown Bess!

* "Killing" was a slang term for attractive or fetching
**This verse is not included in the musical version at the link below:
link to YouTube Brown Bess video sung by Michael Longcor.

Couple standing together near the seashore, with a sailing ship in the distance. They are facing each other, his shirt is off and they are just about to kiss.

The Contraband Courtship   Blurb

Malcolm Arlingby, Rowena’s headstrong brother from A Collector’s Item, settles into his new life as the Earl of Wroxton. Content to while away his time in the decadence he missed during his exile from England, Malcolm hasn’t been paying attention to the duties that come with the title. A letter from the mistress of a neighboring estate warns of smugglers using Malcolm’s lands for their dastardly deeds and he must finally put aside his entertainments to handle the business of being an Earl.

Helena, the one who sent the letter, is not the sour spinster Malcolm was expecting, however. She is a beautiful, vibrant and equally headstrong woman who is more than ready to take Malcolm to task for ignoring his duties. As the pair becomes embroiled in solving the problem of the smugglers, a strong attraction develops. The smugglers aren’t going without a fight, though.

Will a chance encounter with his new neighbor bring Malcolm all the things he never knew he wanted? Or, will the smugglers destroy it all? Find out in The Contraband Courtship.

The Contraband Courtship   Excerpt

One half hour later Malcolm and the earl entered the library at Brayleigh House, where a woman sat in an overstuffed leather chair, reading a book. She looked up when the two of them entered, and rose to her feet, her dress of figured muslin fluttering around her. Her wide violet eyes sparkled as she ran a few steps and threw herself into Brayleigh’s arms.

"Alaric, you found him," she said. "How kind of you to help me."

Brayleigh dropped a kiss on her cheek and slipped one arm around her waist. "It was not difficult, but I’m always happy when I can please you, my dear," he answered.

"Lord, you two are tiresome," protested Malcolm, throwing himself into an armchair. His stretched his long legs out in front of him and glared at them. "I think I liked it better when you were quarrelling all the time. At least that was entertaining."

Brayleigh shook his head and released his wife. "I’m sorry you no longer find us amusing, Wroxton," he said. "I, on the other hand, find this existence entirely pleasurable."

He looked at his wife with a satisfied smiled, and she flushed slightly and reached out and took his hand.

"No, don’t start pawing at each other again, I can’t abide it," said Malcolm. "What did you want to see me about, Rowena?"

With an amused glance at her husband, Rowena sank into the chair across from him, while Brayleigh leaned on the corner of the desk, his arms folded.

"Oh ho, it must be something very serious," said Malcolm. "I count on you, Brayleigh, to give me your support."

"Oh, I don’t meddle in Arlingby affairs," said the earl calmly. "You will have to contend with Rowena in this matter."

Malcolm groaned. "All right, what is it then?"

Rowena made an exasperated sound. "Malcolm, I know that you missed England and the pleasures of London dreadfully while you were on the Continent," she said briskly. "But you have been the Earl of Wroxton for eight months now, and you still have not visited the estate."

"I stay in close contact with the bailiff," said Malcolm peevishly. "And both Father and Felix took good care of Wroxton. There is no reason for me to interfere in its running. Indeed, I doubt I’d be thanked for poking my nose into it."

"But surely you wish to visit Wroxton and see how things go on," said Rowena. "And you did tell me you wished to rebuild the stables."

"What are you going on about? I have my horses here in London, where I can use them, and I’ve sent several to Wroxton as breeding stock. I don’t know why you’re suddenly so concerned about this," Malcolm asked. "I think I deserve to enjoy myself a bit after everything that happened."

"Of course you do, dear," Rowena assured him. "It is just that—well, that it has been some time, and I wonder if perhaps you need to—well, think of the future a bit more."

"Is this about Estella?" asked Malcolm suspiciously.

"Well, it is not only about Mrs. Lacey," said Rowena, looking a bit embarrassed. "But, certainly, I have my concerns about her. She is married, Malcolm, and unlikely to be free to wed you any time soon."

"Wed me?" Malcolm gave a hoot of laughter. "I should say not!"

"You see?" said Rowena. "I know that you wish to enjoy yourself, and I would never say you did not deserve to, but surely you are aware of the duty you owe your family."

"Rowena, I have years ahead of me to sire a pack of children, if that’s what I decide needs to be done," said Malcolm. "But for now, I have no interest in leg shackling myself to one woman. I’ve spent twelve years on the Continent living by my wits, and damn, I want to enjoy myself now. One of Estella’s principal charms—outside of the most obvious ones—is that she cannot importune me to marry her!"

"You are being very vexing," said Rowena. "It is not that I wish to deny you your pleasures, Malcolm—"

"I should say not! And, sister dear, should you even know about Estella?"

"Don’t be ridiculous," said Rowena crossly. "All the world knows about the two of you. I’m hardly an innocent. The gossips are only too happy to inform me that half the ladies in London have either succumbed to you since your return or to Alaric prior to our marriage."

"Only half? Well, you might have taken Brayleigh out of circulation, Rowena, but you can’t force me into such a staid existence." Malcolm gave his sister a shrewd glance. "There’s more here than you’re telling me. You might as well come out with it."

Rowena exchanged a glance with Alaric. "Well, if you must know, I have received a letter from Helena Keighley."

"Who?" asked Malcolm.

"Helena Keighley. The daughter of Sir Douglas." At Malcolm’s blank look, Rowena sighed. "Really, Malcolm, this is why you must go to Wroxton. Sir Douglas Keighley’s estate marches with Wroxton to the west. You must have met him, and Helena, dozens of times when you were a child."

"Oh yes, Keighley, I remember the name," said Malcolm. "Sir Douglas, you say? As I recall, Father said he was a bruising rider to hounds."

"Yes, Malcolm, I’m sure he was," said Rowena impatiently. "But this has nothing to do with fox hunting."

"A pity, I might almost be tempted to leave London for that," said Malcolm. "What does this Miss Keighley want?"

"I received a letter from Helena a few days ago," she said, producing a folded piece of paper and waving it at Malcolm. "She would have written to you, but had no idea where to find you, and we are acquainted. She is a year or two older than I am, but we did spend some time together as children, and of course I have met her at assemblies and house parties. Surely you remember her."

"I can’t be bothered to remember your childhood friends, Rowena," said Malcolm. "I had other things to attend to. What does this mysterious letter say?" asked Malcolm.

Rowena unfolded the letter and perused it quickly. "Here it is," she said. "It seems that French brandy is being smuggled in through Kent, and the lack of interest of the Earl of Wroxton in his estate has been taken as a sign that his lands are free to be used for this purpose. While Felix Arlingby was not a strong-minded gentleman, he cared enough to prevent such nonsense, but now landings occur almost nightly. I have no doubt that some of the servants have been bribed to allow this. The whole affair is unsettling; I have no desire to see Keighley lands overrun by ruffians because Wroxton is poorly managed. It is imperative that your brother cease his wastrel ways and take up the responsibilities that come with his birthright. He was ever an irresponsible young man, but surely the circumstances of the past years must have brought him some wisdom, no matter how slight. Please inform him that he is needed immediately at Wroxton."

"What a termagant!" said Malcolm. "She doesn’t even know me, and she’s calling me a wastrel!"

"You might not remember Helena, but I have no doubt she remembers you," said Rowena. "You were wont to tease her unmercifully when we were young."

“"Did I?" asked Malcolm. "Well, she no doubt deserved it; she sounds to be remarkably pert. And why isn’t Sir Douglas attending to this? It seems deuced odd to me that Miss Keighley should be meddling."

"Sir Douglas is elderly and—and not quite right in the head," said Rowena. "And her brother is only seventeen. Helena has been managing the estate quite successfully for some years."

"She’s unmarried, I suppose?" asked Malcolm. When Rowena nodded, he shook his head. "I can see her now; a prim and proper spinster, glaring at me from behind spectacles."

"That is not fair," protested Rowena. "Helena is really quite lovely."

"Then why is she unmarried?" retorted Malcolm.

Rowena looked nonplussed. "Really, Malcolm, Miss Keighley’s personal life is not what I wanted to talk to you about. Surely you can see that you must go to Wroxton and take care of this."

"I don’t see why the bailiff can’t handle it," said Malcolm. He groaned when Rowena glared at him. "Oh, very well, I will go to Wroxton. You are right; I should have gone months ago. I am the new earl, and it’s time I took charge."

At Rowena’s look of amazement, he laughed. "I’m not such a wastrel as you and Miss Keighley think, little sister," he said. "I know I should have visited long ago, but I didn’t want to force cousin Felix to leave hastily, and then, after he moved out—well, then other things happened, and I didn’t care to leave London. But it shouldn’t take long to tidy this up, and I can do the pretty in the county; talk to the gentry, visit the tenants, and be back in no time."

Rowena blinked. "Thank you, Malcolm."

He laughed. "You thought it would be much harder to convince me, didn’t you? But some time away from London won’t go amiss—Lady Hartsmoor seems determined that I shall marry that whey-faced daughter of hers, and if I make myself scarce, perhaps some other fool will catch her eye."

"I’m just pleased you are going, and, to be truthful, I wouldn’t want you marrying Lady Maria; she seems dreadfully dull. I will write to Helena and tell her that you will be visiting Wroxton soon." She paused. "You won’t take Mrs. Lacey with you, will you? I’m not sure the countryside is ready for her."

"I doubt she’d go," said Malcolm cheerfully. "She’s very fond of me, but fonder of her modiste, I’d say. And when I return she’ll be that much happier to see me."

He stood and dropped a kiss on Rowena’s cheek. "I will try to not disgrace the Arlingby name," he said teasingly. "But this Miss Keighley sounds terrifying. I only hope I can stand up to her!"

"Don’t be ridiculous," said Rowena fondly. "I’m sure you will take care of things quickly, and Helena will be a great help to you. She is very sensible and intelligent."

Malcolm grinned. "So, not my sort of woman at all," he laughed. "I’ll leave in a few days, and be back before you know it." He shook Alaric’s hand and, with a wink at Rowena, sauntered out of the room.

Rowena shook her head as the door closed behind him. Alaric walked over to her and took her in his arms.

"Why did you not tell him about Helena Keighley?" he asked.

Rowena wrinkled her nose. "He was gone when the scandal broke, and does not know of it. There is no reason to spread gossip, particularly when I have no idea what truly happened. Helena never speaks of it, and I know better than most about being compromised! I see no reason to cause her further distress."

"He is expecting a dried up spinster," said Alaric. "I’d say Miss Keighley will be a bit of a surprise."

Rowena laughed. "Indeed, she will. I suppose it is too much to hope that Malcolm will understand how extraordinary she is."

"Your brother? He can’t see past the end of his nose," said Alaric. At Rowena’s cross look, he chuckled. "And now, my dear, I am weary of the subject of the Earl of Wroxton. Perhaps we can find a more congenial way to amuse ourselves."

With that, he lowered his lips to Rowena’s, and she very soon put Malcolm out of her mind.

Author avatar of a Regency fashion plate, with a woman in a turban wearing a red gown and holding a white fan.

About the Author

Alicia Quigley is a lifelong lover of romance novels, who fell in love with Jane Austen in grade school, and Georgette Heyer in junior high. She made up games with playing cards using the face cards for Heyer characters, and sewed Regency gowns (walking dresses, riding habits and bonnets that even Lydia Bennett wouldn’t have touched) for her Barbie. In spite of her terrible science and engineering addiction, she remains a devotee of the romance, and enjoys turning her hand to their production as well as their consumption.

Connect with Alicia Quigley online at:




5 thoughts on “The Siege of Badajoz by Alicia Quigley

    • holiday of a lifetime by the sound of it, excellent. Historical Spain is on my bucket list [including Barcelona to see Gaudi’s architecture] for when I have time, money, and a mobile home big enough to take the cats in.
      I’ve always been a fan of Kipling since I read ‘Jungle Book’ and ‘Just So Stories’ when I was about 6, and discovered such gems as ‘I keep 6 honest serving men’ and ‘The female of the Species’ and ‘Jungle Law’.

  1. Thank you, Kat! It looks amazing and your intro was so nice!

    Have a lovely day and a terrific weekend!


    Sent from my iPhone


    • Well, your article is so interesting and informative that I wanted to do it justice. It was very kind of you to share your experiences in Spain.

      I wish you both a lovely day and a wonderful long weekend!



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