1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Talavera de la Reina

TALAVERA DE LA REINA, a town of central Spain, in the province of Toledo; on the right bank of the river Tagus, and on the Madrid-Caceres railway. Pop. (1900) 10,580. Talavera is of great antiquity, the Caesobriga of the Romans. Portions of the triple wall which surrounded it remain standing, and the Arco de San Pedro is one of its Roman gates restored. Among the ancient buildings are the Torres Albarranas, built by the Moors in the 10th century, the Gothic collegiate church, and three secularized convents, one of which dates from the 14th century, but has twice been partially restored, and is now a factory. The bridge of thirty-five arches across the Tagus dates from the 15th century. Talavera “of the queen” was so named because, from the reign of Alphonso XI. (1312–50), it was the property of the queens of Castile.

For the operations which culminated in the famous battle of Talavera, between the English and the French, and those which followed that engagement, see Peninsular War. Sir Arthur Wellesley (afterwards Duke of Wellington), the British commander, acting in co-operation with Lieutenant-General Cuesta's Spanish army, took position on the 27th of July 1809 on the Upper Tagus, protected by his advanced guard. His line, facing due east, ran north from the right bank of the river to a ridge running parallel to the Tagus, beyond which ridge, also parallel to the river, lay the Sierra de Montalban. Cuesta’s men with their right flank resting on the river held Talavera itself and the close country to the northward of it; Wellesley’s right connected with Cuesta’s left, and his line stretched away northwards to the ridge mentioned above. The Sierra was not, on the first day, occupied, and even on the inner ridge itself the division of General (afterwards Lord) Hill was from some misunderstanding very late in taking up its position. The whole front was covered by a rivulet running from the ridge to the Tagus. The battle was begun by the attack of two French divisions on the British advanced guard, which retired into the main position with severe loss and in some disorder. Marshal Victor’s forces followed them up sharply, and soon came upon Wellesley’s line of battle. For some time the possession of the ridge (owing to the delay of Hill’s Division) was doubtful, and Rufane Donkin’s brigade had a severe struggle, but in the end the arrival of Hill’s troops secured this all-important point for the Allied left. Meanwhile the Spaniards (though there was at first a temporary panic amongst them) and the right divisions of the British repulsed an attack in the plain, and the day closed with the armies facing each other along the rivulet and on the ridge. The losses had been heavy on both sides. Early on the 28th the battle was renewed by a furious attack on Hill’s troops, whose left was now prolonged to the Sierra by the Allied cavalry and a division borrowed from Cuesta. King Joseph Bonaparte and Jourdan his chief of staff, whowere present, were averse from fighting on this present ground, wishing to wait for Soult, whom they expected to come in on Wellesley’s rear, and it was only after long discussion that the king gave a reluctant assent to Victor s plan of attack. That Marshal’s divisions once more tried to oust Hill from the ridge, and once more failed before the steady volleys of the British line and the charge of the cavalry posted in this quarter (though, owing perhaps to defective ground-scouting, this nearly ended in disaster). At the same time General Sebastiani’s 4th corps, after a heavy bombardment, assaulted the Allied centre in the plain. Here the British and Spanish battalions held their own firmly, and a counter attack by General Mackenzie’s division hurled back the French in disorder. Yet another attack followed these failures, and came very near to achieving a great success. This time Lapisse’s division of Victor’s corps attacked the Allies' left centre, composed of the British Guards. The French columns were again checked by the British line, but here the counter-stroke, unlike Mackenzie’s, was carried too far, and the troops in the ardour of incautious pursuit were very severely handled and pushed back to the position by the French reserves; when Welesley decided the day by a counter attack with the 48th regiment, made with great intrepidity and steadiness. The Guards, with splendid discipline, resumed their positions, and eventually the French, with their leader Lapisse mortally wounded, fell back. Failure all along the line and heavy losses left King Joseph no alternative but to retire towards Madrid. The French lost 7268 men out of 46,138 present, the British 5363 out of 20,641; the Spanish losses were officially returned at 1201 out of some 36,000 present.