Two hundred years ago, brave men from Northamptonshire helped defeat the French during
a major battle of the Peninsular war.
The Battle of Talavera took place on the 27th and 28th July 1809. A twenty thousand
strong British army under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley (who later became the
Duke of Wellington) and around thirty five thousand Spanish troops led by General
Gregorio de la Cuesta fought a bloody battle against nearly fifty thousand French
under Joseph Bonaparte (king of Spain and brother of Napoleon), a few miles north
of the Spanish town of Talavera.
It was one of the battles of the Iberian Peninsular war which eventually led to Napoleon's
downfall and included our local infantry regiment the 48th Foot, later the Northamptonshire
Regiment and now part of the Royal Anglians.
During the battle the 48th Foot formed part of the second division commanded by Major
General Rowland Hill and played a crucial role in this pivotal battle. At daybreak
on July 28, the French attacked the British to try to retake a strategic hill and
were fought off when the 29th Foot and 48th Foot, who had been lying behind the crest,
stood up and carried out a bayonet charge.
When a battalion of Coldstream Guards were routed by intense artillery fire, the
regiment were brought in by Wellesley personally to plug the hole. Backed by another
division the 48th broke the French second line's attack allowing the Guards to re-group
and killing one of the French commanders.
The French bore the heaviest losses of this hard-fought battle with 7,390 killed
or wounded. The Spaniards lost about 1,200 and the British 5,500 men. Many of the
wounded on both sides were burnt to death when the dry grass of the battlefield caught
fire. The next day, the 3,000 infantry of the Light Brigade reinforced the British
army after completing a famous march of 42 miles in 26 hours!
The Northamptonshire Regiment began life as the 59th Regiment of Foot in 1741. It
wasn't until 1782 that the county name became attached to the Regiment. It was at
Talavera that they earned the nickname "The Steelbacks" because they didn't react
when being flogged with the cat-o'-nine tails, then a normal method of administering
punishments in the Army even for very minor crimes.