Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summoned by loyalty, a soldier returns to the field, but for the wrong side

In 1824, Sir John Campbell found himself, at the age of 44, a widower with a 6-year-old daughter, and in mourning for his 3-year-old son. Before the year was out, he had resigned from the army, where he had distinguished himself in fighting in Portugal during the Peninsular Wars of the early 19th century. He and young Elizabeth were apparently living quietly in London. Then everything changed, again.

Sir John's late wife, Dona Maria Brigida do Faria e Lacerda, was Portuguese and I suspect from a good family. Sir John himself was friends with the royal family, or at least, part of it. By the late 1820s, Portugal was in a crisis over succession, which was a fight between one brother (Dom Pedro) favouring a constitutional monarchy and reform, and the other (Dom Miguel) wanting to stay with an absolute monarchy. It turned into a civil war.

The story of the Portuguese War of the Two Brothers is complicated. The highlights, for my purposes are simple enough, though.

British soldiers fought on both sides! Their leaders were officers who had been brothers in arms in the earlier Peninsular Wars. Men on both sides held knighthoods in both England and Portugal. All of them were at least notionally fighting illegally, according to the Foreign Enlistment Act.

To make things a little awkward for me in the research department, there were too many Campbells around, officers with the KCTS decoration, who served in the Peninsular Wars and possibly in this Portuguese civil war. Anyone who decides to study the story more closely will need to be cautious. I can only hope I am not getting the facts too confused.

There is no doubt that Sir John Campbell of my story, the man who eventually lives at 51 Charles Street, was at the head of the Miguelite forces, as they were called. He supported the absolutist cause whole-heartedly. On the other side were Admiral Sartorius and then Sir Charles Napier. Their respective forces were a mixture of English and Portuguese, and not professional soldiers, but what we might charitably call a motley crew.

A few brief glances at some of the debates in the House of Lords and the Commons after the war ended indicates that the British politicians were not in unanimous support of either side in the Portuguese war. Again, this is an over-simplification, but Sir John became something of a political football.

In the early days of the war, his side did well, but then the tide turned. Sir John was captured on board a ship (apparently leaving Portugal) with some allegedly incriminating papers. Papers or no, his side had lost. He became a prisoner of war.

This was an unpleasant imprisonment. Reading between the lines, I suspect there was a good deal of seeking revenge involved, because in some quarters the Miguelites had a reputation for being barbaric to their own prisioners. English visitors to Portugal after the war, in the early 1830s, reported seeing Sir John behind the bars of the prison compound.

His appeals to the English government for help went unanswered, on the basis that he was fighting in a foreign war on foreign soil, not in a British cause.

Why did he do it?

I've read that Sir John was a personal friend of Dom Miguel from his earlier time in Portugal, and I assume that the granting of the honour of KCTS, whenever that was, cemented that friendship. Sir John's politics must have been conservative, which mattered a great deal against the backdrop of the Reform movement in England.

He was held for at least nine months, much of which was apparently in solitary confinement. The degree of deprivation is in the eye of the beholder, but certainly it was a hard time, during which he was abandoned by his country.

I'm a little surprised that he was ever allowed to return to England. Having fought for the losing side in a battle that put British soldiers against each other, he could have been called treasonous without a huge stretch of the imagination.

I suspect what saved him was the fact that no one had clean hands.

By the time he returned to England in about 1834, his daughter was 16. He had been away from her for a few years (at least).

Here was a man who had spent much of his life achieving honour and glory as a soldier, only to end up disgraced. In the Commons debates, reference was made to his having a Portuguese wife (with the implication being that his loyalty wasn't to Britain), but no one pointed out that Maria Brigida had been dead for ten years.

He'd lost his wife and son, had hardly seen his daughter, had fought on a losing side and been imprisoned, and could probably never return to the country he must have come to love, Portugal.

He had reason to be a bitter and disappointed man, and maybe he was. Or, maybe he was so convinced of the rightness of his cause that he spent the rest of his life deploring the wrongs done to him. I don't know. The dictionary of biography says he lived a quiet life.

The quiet lasted until 1863, some 20 years after the civil war ended. It was then succeeded by that quiet which comes to us all, one day.

The first book, by Shaw, is about the War of Two Brothers. The other two books are from the Duke of Wellington's earlier experiences in Portugal. I have written before that Sir John Campbell was mentioned favourably in dispatches by Wellesley, late the Duke, but this may not be true, or it may be true but some of the mentions may refer to other Campbells. I post links to some of the books here in case anyone is interested in finding out more.

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