Today on December 4, 1808, the Siege of Madrid comes to a quick end, as the city formally capitulates to Napoleon and his imperial army.
The Siege of Madrid was part of the greater Peninsular War between the French Empire and a coalition of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal. The Spanish had recently launched a full-scale revolt against Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and their French occupiers. The situation across the Iberian Peninsula was quickly deteriorating. The rebel armies were receiving much needed military and financial support from the British. As a result, Napoleon decided to leave Paris and personally lead the reconquest of Spain. He decisively won two crucial victories over the Spanish at the Battle of Tudela and Gamonel, which helped clear the path to Madrid. The imperial army faced little resistance as they approached the Spanish capital.
Napoleon arrived outside the city four days before the surrender. He hoped to recapture it peacefully and remain amicable with the local population. However, the rebel leaders quickly rejected Napoleon’s terms of surrender and prepared for an attack. The challenge was that Madrid was almost impossible to defend. The city had virtually no walls or fortifications. The only gates were purely ceremonial and held offices for processing taxes. To make matters worse, there were only 3,000 inexperienced Spanish soldiers able to mount any serious defense. The local population was initially enthusiastic about resisting French occupation but would soon succumb to the mighty French army.
On the morning of December 3, Napoleon issued a second offer, but it was again rejected. The emperor wasted little time and ordered his artillery to begin bombarding the city. A division of French infantry charged the only heavily defended position on a hill known as Retiro. The Spanish quickly dispersed and the morale of the citizens dissipated. The following day, the city formally capitulated to Napoleon’s demands. After eliminating any pockets of resistance, he planned for his brother Joseph to resume governance of Madrid.