Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Talavera

Duke of Wellington. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Talavera - Conflict:

The Battle of Talavera was fought during the Peninsular War which was part of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).

Battle of Talavera - Date:

The fighting at Talavera occurred on July 27-28, 1809.

Armies & Commanders:

England & Spain


  • Joseph Bonaparte
  • Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan
  • Marshal Claude-Victor Perrin
  • 46,138 men

Battle of Talavera - Background:

On July 2, 1809, British forces under Sir Arthur Wellesley crossed into Spain after defeating the corps of Marshal Nicolas Soult. Advancing east, they sought to unite with Spanish forces under General Gregoria de la Cuesta for an attack on Madrid. In the capital, French forces under King Joseph Bonaparte prepared to meet this threat. Assessing the situation, Joseph and his commanders elected to have Soult, who was then in the north, advance to cut Wellesley's supply lines to Portugal, while the corps of Marshal Claude Victor-Perrin advanced to block the allied thrust.

Battle of Talavera - Moving to Battle:

Wellesley united with Cuesta on July 20, 1809, and the allied army advanced on Victor's position near Talavera. Attacking, Cuesta's troops were able to force Victor to retreat. As Victor withdrew, Cuesta elected to pursue the enemy while Wellesley and the British remained at Talavera. After marching 45 miles, Cuesta was compelled to fall back after encountering Joseph's main army at Torrijos. Outnumbered, the Spanish rejoined the British at Talavera. On July 27, Wellesley sent forward General Alexander Mackenzie's 3rd Division to aid in covering the Spanish retreat.

Due to confusion in the British lines, his division suffered 400 casualties when it was attacked by the French advance guard. Arriving at Talavera, the Spanish occupied the town and extended their line north along a stream known as the Portina. The Allied left was held by the British whose line ran along a low ridge and occupied a hill known as the Cerro de Medellin. In the center of the line they built a redoubt which was supported by the General Alexander Campbell's 4th Division. Intending to fight a defensive battle, Wellesley was pleased with the terrain.

Battle of Talavera - The Armies Clash:

Arriving on the battlefield, Victor immediately send forward the division of General François Ruffin to seize the Cerro even though night had fallen. Moving through the darkness, they nearly reached the summit before the British were alerted to their presence. In the sharp, confused fight that followed, the British were able to throw back the French attack. That night, Joseph, his chief military advisor Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, and Victor plotted their strategy for the next day. Though Victor favored launching a massive assault on Wellesley's position, Joseph decided on making limited attacks.

At dawn, the French artillery opened fire on the Allied lines. Ordering his men to take cover, Wellesley awaited the French assault. The first attack came against the Cerro as Ruffin's division moved forward in columns. Moving up the hill, they were met with heavy musket fire from the British. After enduring this punishment the columns disintegrated as the men broke and ran. With their attack defeated, the French command paused for two hours to assess their situation. Electing to continue the battle, Joseph ordered another assault on the Cerro while also sending forward three divisions against the Allied center.

While this attack was ongoing, Ruffin, supported by troops from General Eugene-Casimir Villatte's division were to attack the north side of the Cerro and attempt to flank the British position. The first French division to attack was that of Leval which struck the junction between the Spanish and British lines. After making some progress, it was thrown back by intense artillery fire. To the north, Generals Horace Sebastiani and Pierre Lapisse assaulted General John Sherbrooke's 1st Division. Waiting for the French to close to 50 yards, the British opened fire in one massive volley staggering the French attack.

Charging forward, Sherbrooke's men drove back the first French line until being stopped by the second. Hit by heavy French fire, they were forced to retreat. The gap in the British line was quickly filled by part of MacKenzie's division and the 48th Foot which was led into place by Wellesley. These forces held the French at bay until Sherbrooke's men could be reformed. To the north, Ruffin and Villatte's attack never developed as the British moved into blocking positions. They were handed a minor victory when Wellesley ordered his cavalry to charge them. Surging forward, the horsemen were stopped by a hidden ravine that cost them around half their strength. Pressing on, they were easily repulsed by the French. With the attacks defeated, Joseph elected to retire from the field despite requests from his subordinates to renew the battle.

Battle of Talavera - Aftermath:

The fighting at Talavera cost Wellesley and the Spanish around 6,700 dead and wounded (British casualties: 801 dead, 3,915 wounded, 649 missing), while the French incurred 761 dead, 6,301 wounded and 206 missing. Remaining at Talavera after the battle due to a lack of supplies, Wellesley still hoped that the advance on Madrid could be resumed. On August 1, he learned that Soult was operating in his rear. Believing Soult to only have 15,000 men, Wellesley turned and marched to deal with the French marshal. When he learned that Soult had 30,000 men, Wellesley backed off and began withdrawing towards the Portuguese border. Though the campaign had failed, Wellesley was created Viscount Wellington of Talavera for his success on the battlefield.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Talavera." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Talavera. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Talavera." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).