António Barrento, Guerra Fantástica The Portuguese Army in the Seven Years War (Helion, 2020)
In this slim but informative monograph, António Barrento narrates a most peculiar war between Portugal and Spain in 1762. In doing so, he brings what is usually considered a mere sideshow of the major war going on elsewhere in Europe onto a bigger stage.
Barrento begins with a repetitious introduction that should have been strangled in the draft stage, but the book picks up after that with a brief but useful overview of Europe in the mid-Eighteenth Century. He follows that with a description of warfare and the use of military force, ending in a synopsis of the Seven Years War. Most of us are familiar with the major players in that War – Britain, France, Russia, Prussia, and Austria – but my guess is that Spain and Portugal probably do not make that list. Barrento describes the Portuguese army in the years before the War in Europe as ‘nominal’ and in need of a rapid overhaul. Tensions with Spain and France added to the sense of urgency. An ultimatum was issued to Portugal in March 1762 for the Portuguese to break with the British, which they refused, promising to defend Portugal’s borders. If only they had an army to do that. Barrento dismantles what little army the Portuguese did have, which was not much particularly compared to the Franco-Spanish army on the eve of their invasion on 24 February 1762. In the end, despite some successes, the Spanish first effort met greater than expected resistance from irregular forces. In the meantime, British forces arrived to bolster the Portuguese, but the initiative remained with the Spanish. Yet local opposition, disease, desertion, and effective Anglo-Portuguese manoeuvring under the command of the excellent Count of Lippe, wore down the Spanish, forcing them to retreat and ultimately seek peace. The war was over by the end of November 1762.
For the most part, Barrento tells an interesting tale of strategic marches and counter-marches with the Spanish implementing a seemingly confused war plan and the Anglo-Portuguese stymying them at just about every turn. His narrative of operations effectively untangles the flow of events, revealing a much more serious affair than is sometimes accredited elsewhere in the history books. He is ably supported by Helion’s usual high quality illustrations of soldiers and contemporary prints and maps. Barrento’s rather polemical conclusion, however, based on a 250 years old lesson, puts a puzzling cap on his otherwise balanced account of a significant moment in Portugal’s history. Eighteenth Century warfare enthusiasts will enjoy this book as will anyone interested in the Iberian Peninsula’s history of long running conflicts.