Today is May 2nd. A day that represents the struggle of the people to maintain freedom. The uprising in Madrid on May 2, 1808 is one of the most famous of the French War. But Napoleon’s passage through Barcelona also left its mark.
On February 13, 1808, Marshal Duhesme’s French troops entered Barcelona. These were about 5,500 men and 1,800 horses from the Eastern Pyrenees Observation Corps, made up essentially of Neapolitan regiments.
The occupation of Barcelona
After crossing the Pyrenees and passing through Figueres first, they passed away Girona to consider that wasn’t a stronghold. Serious mistake as they saw years later. The objective for Napoleon’s army was Barcelona. When they arrived at the city, they caught unawares the spanish military leaders who were following the orders given by the king. The French troops on their way to Portugal had to be welcome. Thus, they quickly occupied all the barracks of the city, except the Citadel and the Montjuic Castle.
A few days later, on February 29, General Duhesme also occupied the Citadel. The crowd, furious, took to the streets when they saw that Duhesme’s troops were heading towards Montjuïc. But the interim governor, Alvarez de Castro, shut the doors to the French.
Seeing that Duhesme was willing to enter at any cost, the captain-general, Jose Ezpeleta y Galdeano, ordered Álvarez de Castro to evacuate the castle. It was immediately occupied by the French.
From that moment, the commercial traffic ceased, the port was deserted and the factories closed. The atmosphere was very tense and Duhesme appointed General Giuseppe Lechi chief of police to repress the population. His home on Carrer Ample, the Larrard palace, became the center of Napoleonic repression.
Lechi’s men attacked the area around Barcelona. They looted, robbed, raped, murdered and kidnapped, and then they sold the stolen products in Barcelona, extorted and demanded ransoms. The espionage network and police informants detained and imprisoned hundreds of people, who were systematically tortured.
On May 11, 1809, after the people of Barcelona took up arms at least twice, a third rebellion took place. But this one didn’t go well either. However, the revolt led to serious allegations against his administration and Duhesme and Lechi were dismissed.
After brief governments, the next governor of Barcelona was Maurice Mathieu, known for having blown up the monastery of Montserrat with gunpowder.
It is said that when Matheiu liked a woman, she had her husband imprisoned. Thus, when the woman went to beg for mercy, he easily got her favors.
Mathieu’s government was also very cruel and corrupt. Barcelona was not liberated from this tyranny until the arrival of General Sarsfield’s English troops in 1812.