(image source: OUP)
The many sieges of the Napoleonic Wars remain a relatively neglected area of historical study, especially in the context of the history of customary laws of war, where sieges played a central role. This article explores an important but largely forgotten episode in the infamous British storm and sack of the French-held Spanish towns of Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz and San Sebastián during the Peninsular War: mercy to the French garrisons, who, in obstinately defending against storming parties, had forfeited their protective rights under prevailing laws of war. Combining military, legal and cultural history, and drawing upon British soldiers’ letters, diaries and memoirs, the article focuses on three interrelated issues: siege capitulation and surrender rituals, attitudes to obstinate defences, and British mercy to the French garrisons. The article highlights sieges as a privileged site for examining laws of war, cultures of war, and moral sensibilities. In doing so, it sheds further light on historical debates about changes and continuities in practices and cultures of war over the long eighteenth century. There has been considerable recent interest in the history of atrocity, massacre and enmity during the French Revolutionary–Napoleonic Wars. Yet the Anglo-French case-studies examined here highlight the persistence of restraint, honour codes, civility and humanity between regular soldiers, even in the seemingly most barbarous of wartime theatres, and despite laws of war that sanctioned violence in these very circumstances.
Read more here (DOI 10.1093/ehr/ceaa190)