Luis de Lacy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Luis de Lacy.jpg

Luis Roberto de Lacy (11 January 1772,[1] San Roque, Cadiz, Spain – 5 July 1817, Palma, Majorca) was a brigadier general in the Spanish Army who fought in the Peninsular War. He came from an Irish family that had two previous generations serving in the Spanish army: his grandfather, Patrick de Lacy Sr., had been a general in the infantry regiment of the Spanish "Irish Regiment" of Ultonia, and his father, Patrick de Lacy Jr., had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel before his early death.


Luis was the only child of Spanish-born Lt. Colonel Patrick de Lacy Jr., who died young, and his wife Antonia. Luis was born in San Roque, a Spanish village near the frontier of Gibraltar. Spanish historians tell us that he was born into a "distinguished Irish family". No Irish family has attained greater fame in the military history of Europe than the de Lacy family of county Limerick, Ireland.[2]

Family history[edit]

Luis was the grandson of Limerick-born General Patrick de Lacy Sr., who was a Spanish hero of the siege of Oran in 1732.[3] Patrick de Lacy Sr. was part of the de Lacy-Billingari family; the suffix "-Billingari" refers to the branch of the de Lacy family from Ballingarry, Limerick, also known as "of La Garthe".[4][5] Luis's Spanish-born uncle Francis Anthony de Lacy (1731–1792), his father's brother, was also well known for his military and diplomatic exploits. He conducted the siege of Gibraltar in 1779, was later sent as minister plenipotentiary to Sweden and Russia, and in 1789 became Governor and Capitan General of Catalonia. He was also created a Knight of the order of Carlos Tecera. One of Luis's aunts married General Count Browne, Governor-General of Livonia, Russia, and his other aunt married the Marquis Canada, of the ancient family of Terry.[6]

Many references state that Luis's mother Antonia was French, but this is because she married again to a Frenchman named Gautier who was also in the Spanish army. In Spanish references even today they call him "Luis de Lacy y Gautier" which means that his mother's surname was Gautier. However, his mother's surname and ancestry are unknown; there is nothing to say she was French, and she was probably Spanish.

Early military career (1785–1808)[edit]

  • 1785, age 13 (he was recorded as 14 years of age): Enlisted in the Spanish army, where he served with his French stepfather and step-uncle, John and Francis Gautier (it is not known which of these brothers was Luis's stepfather), and participated in an expedition to Puerto Rico. Because of his courage and fearlessness in battle, 29 October 29, 1786, at only 14 years of age, he was given his first promotion.
  • 1789, age 17: Returned to Coruna with his stepfather and step-uncle. He ran away and walked 200 miles to Oporto with the idea of catching a ship to the Moluccas. Instead his stepfather found him and brought him back to Spain.
  • 1791, age of 19: As a captain in the infantry of the Spanish "Irish Regiment" of Ultonia, he accompanied his regiment to the Western Pyrenees. There he distinguished himself fighting against the French.
  • 1794, age 22: Participated in the Campaign Roussillon in the Great War, where he remained until the signing of the Peace of Basel on 5 April 5, 1795.
  • 1795–1803: In 1795, age 23, Luis was sent to the Canary Islands. There he fell in love with a local girl. Unfortunately his rival in love was no less a person than the Captain General of the Canary Islands. They fought a duel and Luis wounded his opponent. Luis was then banished by the jealous Captain General to the island of El Hierro, which a Spanish commentator called "the only means of disposing of a rival as daring as he was fortunate".
        While in exile, Luis began writing insulting letters to the Captain General, and as a result was court-martialed. In light of Luis's "good military record", the sentence was light and he was condemned to only one year in the Royal Prison at the Concepción Arsenal at Cádiz. While he was there, his resentment at this unjust treatment showed itself so violently that his jailers considered him mentally unbalanced. As a result, he was taken off the active list of the Spanish army, deprived of his commission, and barred from re-enlisting.
        Now a career soldier without a country, he headed towards France and enlisted in a French line regiment. Within a month he was appointed a captain in the new Irish Brigade of the French Army that was being formed at Morlaix. Legend is that Luis's appointment into the Irish Brigade was due to a personal interview with Napoleon, who had been apprised by the Duke of Fettra, General Clarke, of Luis's de Lacy family tradition in Ireland and Spain, and Luis's own personal exploits.
  • 1803, age 31: Married a young French woman, Emilia Guermer, at Quimper. Her family disapproved of the match, not because of his deserved reputation as a lover of many women, but because her family was strongly French Royalist in sympathy and did not want their daughter associated with a soldier in Napoleon's Imperial army. This did not influence Emilia, however, and she accompanied her new husband on most of his campaigns, starting out with him for Antwerp just 3 days after the wedding. Luis participated in the French campaign against Germany, travelling as far as Berlin.
  • 1807, age 35: Appointed Chief of Battalion in the French army and ordered to proceed to Spain as part of a French invasion. Not wanting to fight against his own country he requested a transfer, but his request was ignored. He then tendered his resignation, but it too was ignored. Having no choice, he proceeded to Madrid with his men, but only after first sending his wife and child to her family home in Brittany.
  • 1808, age 36: Arrived in Madrid to find the city in arms against the French. Rather than fight against his countrymen, he deserted from the French army and surrendered to his Spanish comrades as a prisoner of war. Instead, he was given a command in the Spanish army and admitted with the rank of captain.

The French invasion of Spain[edit]

From the date of his desertion from the Napoleon's army, Spanish history makes frequent references to Brigadier General Luis de Lacy. He became a Spanish hero fighting the French from the river Ebro to the river Tagus. He inflicted notable losses on the French troops, and on one occasion captured 3,000 enemy cavalry.

Early army fighting against Napoleon's forces (1808–09)[edit]

  • 1808, September 24 – Appointed Lieutenant Colonel and given command of the Battalion of Light Ledesma.
  • 1808, November 23 - Participated with his battalion in the Action of Bubierca.
  • 1809, January 24 - Promoted to the rank of colonel.
  • 1809, July 3 - Appointed by the brigadier as Subinspector of the Infantry, chief of staff and commanding general of the Island of León.
  • 1809, November 10 - Appointed 1st Division commander of the army of General Juan Carlos de Aréizaga, participated in the Battle of Ocana. His division was heavily engaged with the French left, at one point driving it back in conjunction with the divisions of Castejon and Giron. This caused Marshal Mortier to reinforce the line just before the French cavalty attacked the Spanish divisions from the flank. Lacy's division was practically annihilated.

Andalusia (1810)[edit]

  • 1810, March 16, age 38: Promoted to the rank of field marshal.
  • 1810, June: In the summer of that year, whilst Cádiz was being besieged by the French, the Spanish Regency adopted the system of sending expeditions by sea to land in the surrounding countryside, encourage the local Spanish resistance, and harry the besiegers. The first of these expeditions was led by Luis, who had command of the Isla de León on which Cadiz is situated.
  • 1810, June 17: After having strengthened the fortifications around Cadiz, Luis embarked with 3,000 soldiers to sail to the city Algeciras. From there they attempted to proceed the 50 miles overland to Ronda with the aim of retaking the city and fortifying a series of other cities in the area. However, the French army sent reinforcements against them, and they were forced to take refuge in Casares. From there they attacked the area of Marbella until a large contingent of enemy French troops forced them to return to Cádiz.
  • 1810, July 22: Luis and his troops reached Cádiz. He then planned another expedition, this time to the area of Huelva near the Portuguese border.
  • 1810, August 23: Embarked for Huelva at the front of a contingent of 3,000 men. This action successfully drew off part of the French forces in Spain by forcing them to go to the aid of the French General André Masséna, who was in command in Portugal.
  • 1810, September 22: Returned to Cádiz, where he led a sally destroying many enemy posts. According to French accounts of the time, this corner of Spain was the only part of the country giving trouble to the would-be French conquerors.

Catalonia (1811–12)[edit]

Luis de Lacy. Detail of a furniture piece decorated with scenes of the Peninsular War dated 1866. Barcelona City History Museum MUHBA
  • 1811, June, age 39: Appointed Captain General of Catalonia in replacement of the Marquis de Campoverde after the Marquis had lost Tarragona to the French.
  • 1811, July 9: Took his new office as Captain General of Catalonia at the city of Vic.
  • Luis placed himself, his troops, and the Junta in Solsona. Lying between the French captured city of Tarragona and his central base of Solsona is the mountain and monastery of Montserrat, which he left his second in command, Baron de Eroles, to defend. He retook the forts of La Seu d'Urgell and Cardona. He then decided to base the defense of the principality along the front of the three cities of La Seu d'Urgell, Solsona, and Cardona.
  • 1811, July 15: Made a public appeal for volunteers to join his forces; many rallied to the cause. His fame preceded him and he was easily able to both recruit new men and restore the confidence of the existing troops. He set up a field of recruitment and training on the plateau of the Busa Plain and rebuilt the army of Catalonia, to the astonishment of the country.
  • 1811, July: Sent reinforcements to the defence of Valencia. His tactics of war were to be to avoid frontal encounters, and to lash at the enemy with constant raids that cut supply and communications. His forces broke the line of communication established by the French between Barcelona and Lerida and kept the French invaders busy away from his Catalan province. This enabled him to concentrate on the training of his recruits.
  • 1811, August: A rumour was circulating that Luis was going to leave Catalonia. In response he published a manifesto that said that he would rather die with his last soldier than abandon his post.
  • 1811, August: Led his troops on a punitive expedition into France. He attacked Alta Cerdanya and Latour de Carol. He burned several villages in the French province of Ariège in retaliation for French incendiarism in Spain, and levied tribute from Acs and other towns. This brief ground campaign in France moralised his troops, demoralised the French, and had a great impact throughout Europe. The Spanish had become the aggressors, instead of the French.
  • 1811, August 29: On Luis's orders his second in command, Baron de Eroles, with the assistance of the Colonel Green and his men provided by the British, disembarked with troops on the Medes Islands in the mouth of the River Ter. They took and destroyed the fort the French had built there, but then abandoned it on Colonel Green's orders.
  • 1811, September 11: Unhappy with the abandonment of the fort, Luis embarked for the islands himself. He rebuilt, garrisoned, and fortified the fort sufficient to avoid attack, and symbolically renamed the islands the Isles of the Restoration.
  • 1811, October 4: Travelling towards Berga where the Junta had need of his presence, Luis engaged the French at Igualada. The French took refuge in a neighbouring Capuchin monastery. He was able to force the French troops out of the monastery, costing them 200 men.
  • 1811, December 5: On the heights of La Garriga, Luis ambushed a convoy of men and supplies that the new French commander, General Decaen, was sending to Barcelona. General Decaen was routed, with his 5,000 infantry, 400 horses, and 4 cannon. Luis sent men, under the command of two of his subordinates, Casa and Manso, to pursue the fleeing French to Granollers, where the French troops had to turn aside and leave Vic and Camara untroubled.
  • 1811, December 18: Promoted to lieutenant general.
  • 1811, December: Luis's triumphs and his methods of fighting had led to the rise of bands of guerrilleros who constantly harried the French forces and disturbed their communication with France. Luis ordered the army to incorporate all of the guerrilleros without exception. This meant taking the guerrilleros out from among the people, but greatly added to the strength of his forces. In contrast, the stronger French army was lacking in patriots and in organisational skills. With the French making incursions into Spanish-held territory, and Luis's forces employing guerrilla tactics in French-held territory, the war stagnated with neither side able to take the advantage.
  • 1812, January: Took back the city of Reus, and from this base was keeping watch over the neighbouring captured city of Tarragona. He was in turn being watched by Laforce who had been sent out from Tortosa specifically to watch him. Laforce made a careless move, and Luis took the advantage to attack the French battalion in Vila-seca, almost destroying it. Fearing that Decaen who was garrisoned at Olot was marching to attack Vic, Luis decided to intercept. To avoid being exposed to a combat disadvantage on the flat, he marched his troops to Collsuspina where he halted over January 24 & 27. When the French made no move, he proceeded to Moià. On discovering that the French were at Centelles and heading towards Sant Feliu de Codines he advanced his troops to these posts, engaged them in a bloody battle, and routed them completely.
  • 1812, February: Beginning of the "Dirty war": in mid-February police discovered a plot to poison Napoleon with flour laced with arsenic destined for the French army in Figueres.
  • 1812, April 17: In a decree the Spanish Regency confirmed Luis's command of the army of Catalonia. Luis then attempted to recapture Tarragona from the French. He did not succeed, but his harrying tactics so disturbed the French General Decaen that he sought a parley at Reus. Luis attended the meeting, but nothing seems to have come of it. During this time Luis was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Anglo-Sicilian Fleet. When it did arrive, however, he sent the fleet to Alicante, stating that it was needed there more. According to some sources,[who?] he was forced to do this as the Catalan Board of the Principality could not afford to pay the fleet.
  • 1812, May 3: As the French were occupied with changing their positions both in the north-east and near Tarragona, Luis decided to take advantage of the situation by marching on Mataró with the intention of taking the fortress that the French had made out of the Capuchin monastery there. However, despite the support of a British naval artillery squadron, they did not reach their goal. Luis's efforts were unsuccessful as both French commanders came with their forces to attack him: General Jean Maximilien Lamarque descending from the north-east from Torroella de Montgrí and General Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen coming over from Lleida in the west. Faced with the prospect of becoming cornered, Luis sent the English artillery back to their ships and retreated into the region of Llinars del Vallès (today a municipality of Spain).
  • 1812, July: Discovered that the local Catalans resented the requisitioning of their forces for the army. To hold their allegiance he ordered that all horses taken be purchased at the usual prices and in cash.
  • 1812, July 16: At midnight, a sabotage action exploded the immense gunpowder magazine of Lleida, injuring or killing 280 French residents of this Spanish city.
  • 1812, July 22: Conspirators managed to place arsenic in bread flour supplies destined for the French garrison in the Citadel of Barcelona. Most of the French troops suffered the consequences of the poisoned bread in the form of painful vomiting. There were then attempts to poison the wine of the Valley of Llinars, the spirit of Tarragona,[clarification needed] and the water of Hostalric and Mataró.
  • 1812, August 1812: Luis's forces now had more than 18,000 patriotic troops grouped into eleven regiments, six battalions, and a small body of light cavalry. Meanwhile, the French army had begun its Russian Campaign and removed its best units from Spain.
  • 1812: During the rest of 1812 Luis's military operations continued. The cruelty of some of the French generals led Luis to shoot some of the French prisoners that he had taken, and to threaten even worse reprisals if the conventions of war were not respected. This was ironic as Luis was involved in the "Dirty war" using tactics that included poisonings, conspiracies, bombings, sabotage, and this latest execution of prisoners. The methods of "Dirty war" were seen as immoral by the Catalan Board of the Principality, as demonstrated in the explosion of gunpowder in Lleida which made no allowance for the civilian casualties. Luis also had a liberal political ideology, which contrasted with the more conservative tone of the Board. As a result of the increasingly strained relations between Luis and the Board, the Board decided to accuse him to the Spanish Regency on a charge of inactivity. The Regency supported Luis and quietly dismissed the Board.

Galicia (1813–14)[edit]

  • 1813, January: Deciding that the whole Spanish army was in need of reorganisation, and that 41-year-old Luis was just the man to do it, the Regency appointed him to the Council of Regency. He was transferred across the country to Santiago de Compostela as Captain General of the Kingdom of Galicia and in command of the Reserva de Galicia. This regiment was composed of some 50,000 men under the direct orders of Lord Wellington. Luis devoted himself to the task of disciplining and reorganising his men, and fighting continued until the end of the war. While there he also joined the Masonic Lodge.
  • 1813, June 21: At Vitoria, the combined Anglo-Portuguese and Spanish armies won against Napoleon's brother Joseph Bonaparte, finally breaking the French power in Spain. The French had to retreat from Spain over the Pyrenees.
  • 1813, December 11: Napoleon agreed to acknowledge Ferdinand VII as King of Spain. He set him free in early 1814.
  • 1814, April: With the abdication of Napoleon on 6 April, Ferdinand returned to Spain. Luis requested a move to Valencia and fixed his residence at Vinaròs.

The events leading to Luis's execution (1814–1817)[edit]

  • 1814–1816: When Ferdinand returned to Spain in April 1814, the Cádiz Cortes refused to acknowledge him as King until he was sworn to recognise the Spanish Constitution of 1812. Ferdinand, however, had decided that his power should be absolute. He came back to a people for whom he had no affection, and when a small band of nobles presented him with a petition for a return of the ancien régime, he decided to put his ideas for an absolute monarchy into execution and disbanded the Cortes. In common with many others, Luis decided that Ferdinand could not be allowed to continue on this path. Luis spent the next couple of years brooding over the injustice and oppression he saw becoming so prevalent in the country before deciding to take action.
  • 1816, November, age 44: Luis moved to Catalonia and was in contact with General Francisco Milans del Bosch, his former subordinate. They planned a military and civilian uprising against the monarchy in order to restore the Spanish Constitution of 1812. Luis did not want this revolt to fail as so many had before in history, and he went from Madrid to Catalonia planning, organising, and inspiring.
  • 1817, April 5: The planned revolt, known as the "Pronouncement of Lacy", began directed by Luis from Caldes d'Estrac. The intention had been to march on Barcelona with the troops quartered in the Maresme, but this was never to happen. On the night of the revolt the few scattered companies and isolated officers that were at the meeting place with Luis at Caldes d'Estrac were betrayed and were forced to flee. Milans del Bosch escaped, but Luis was captured attempting to flee by ship to Blanes.
  • 1817, April: Luis was taken to Barcelona, court-martialed, and sentenced to death on the orders of the King. He was still the popular hero, however, and a protest against the sentence was led by Barcelona's Guild of the City.
  • 1817, July 5, age 45: For fear of an uprising, Luis was taken across to the island of Mallorca on the pretense that he would be pardoned on arrival. Instead, however, he was smuggled in by night and shot in the moat of Bellver Castle in Palma. His long and brilliant career as a soldier ended at the age of 45. It is romantically said that he faced death with "the same bravery which he had shown in defending his country".

Restoration to honor (1820)[edit]

After Luis's execution in 1817 many other military coups were attempted, until finally in 1820 Col. Rafael del Riego led a revolt which succeeded and forced the King to accept the Spanish Constitution of 1812. This was the beginning of what is today called the "Trienio Liberal" (the Three Liberal Years) from 1820 to 1823. In those years the King did everything he could to obstruct the Government, such as vetoing nearly every law, but also asked many powers, including the Holy Alliance, to invade his own country and restore his absolutist powers. He finally received help from a French army (The Hundred Thousand Sons of St. Louis), which allowed the King to restore his powers and begin his second period of absolutist rule.

Back in 1820, however, the newly reconstituted Cortes of Madrid of Madrid, in recognising Luis's "Pronouncement of Lacy", declared Luis de Lacy a heroic martyr in his country's cause. Their Royal Order of 25 March 1820 provided that Luis would be restored to all his honors and have his name placed onto a plaque in the Hall of the Parliament bearing the names of those who, like Rafael del Riego, had served the cause of democracy in Spain. Luis was accorded a public funeral as a Spanish war hero. Ferdinand VII himself, who had three years earlier ordered Luis's execution, begrudgingly attended the funeral. Riding the public sentiment, the King also posthumously created Luis as Duke of Ultonia.

Today the plaque bearing the name of Luis de Lacy and the other heroes of Spanish democracy is seen on the right side of the President of Spain when he faces the Cortes of Madrid.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Some references record him as born in 1775. If this is true he was only 10 years old when he joined the army, and put his age up by 4 years. It is unlikely that a pre-pubescent 10-year-old could pass as an adolescent 14-year-old.
  2. ^ "Irish surname Lacy". Archived from the original on 2012-03-05.
  3. ^ There is some dispute as to whether it was General Patrick de Lacy or his de Lacy 1st-cousin General Count William de Lacy-Billingari (b. 1726), who commanded the famous Irish regiment of Ultonia in the relief of the Moorish city of Oran in 1732. The latter is impossible, however, as Count William de Lacy-Billingarri was only 6 years old in 1732, and his military career was spent fighting in Europe (hence the title of Count that was granted to him), not in Spain. He joined the Imperial Army in 1758 with the support of his kinsman Count Franz Moritz von Lacy.
  4. ^ "In old records, Ballingarry is referred to originally as ‘Garth’, and variations including Gare, Gorth, Garry, Garrystown and Ballingarrie were all used. The De Lacy family is mentioned on record as far back as the early 14th century, and it is likely then that Ballingarry owes its existence to the illustrious Norman family settling there.""Ballingarry: A Brief History". Ballingarry, Co. Limerick. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  5. ^ A later example is Count William de Lacy-Billingari (b. 1726) who styled himself "Lord of La Garthe" ("Comte de Bellingarri")
  6. ^ Denis Larionov & Alexander Zhulin. "History of Maunsell or Mansel, and of Crayford, Gabbett, Knoyle, Persse, Toler, Waller, Castletown; Waller, Prior Park; Warren, White, Winthrop, and Mansell of Guernsey". Retrieved 18 December 2014.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)