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Luis de Lacy

Luis Roberto de Lacy (11 January 1772,[1] San Roque, Cadiz, Spain – 5 July 1817, Palma, Majorca) was a Spanish hero, "a heroic martyr in his country's cause", a famous Brigadier General of the Spanish Army who fought for Spain in the Peninsular War. He came from an Irish family that had already seen two generations serving in the Spanish army. His grandfather Patrick de Lacy Snr. had been a General of the infantry regiment of infantry of the Spanish "Irish Regiment" of Ultonia, and his father Patrick de Lacy Jnr. 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 Jnr., 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 of 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.[2] Luis was the grandson of Limerick-born General Patrick de Lacy Snr., who was a Spanish hero of the siege of Oran in 1732.[3] Patrick de Lacy Snr. was part of the de Lacy-Billingari family. The suffix "-Billingari" became added to some in this branch of the de Lacy family from Ballingarry, Limerick that became known as "of La Garthe".[4] 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.[5]

Further back Luis's descent is traced from John de Lacy (b.c.1646) of La Garthe in county Limerick in Ireland. John de Lacy is believed to have descended from John Roe (the ruddy) de Lacy(-Billingari) of La Garthe who owned Ballangarry castle, who was attainted and had some of his lands confiscated in 1583 during the time of Elizabeth I, and who married Lady Eleanor Hurley (b.c.1652) of Knocklong, Limerick, daughter of Sir John Hurley. This made him a cousion to Colonel John Hurley and Sir John Hurley. One of the sons of John de Lacy was Luis's great-grandfather, Pierce (Peter) de Lacy, a Captain in the Jacobite army in the service of King James II of England, who married the Lady Arabella Gould (the daughter of Robert Goold & Eda O'Connor) of Knockraun in the county of Cork. Luis's grandfather General Patrick de Lacy Snr., apparently the second son of a large family, married in Spain. His wife was the daughter of the Irishman Sir (Baron) Ignatius White (d. 1798, France), Marquis D'Albeville, who had been in the service of both King Charles II of England and King James II of England.[5]

Even further back the de Lacys of county Limerick claim descent from William Gorm de Lacy the son of Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath (bef.1135–1186) from his second marriage to Princess Rose Ní Conchobair, daughter of King of Ireland, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair. It is also from the de Lacys of Limerick that the famous soldiers Count Peter von Lacy (1678–1751), and his son Count Franz Moritz von Lacy (1725–1801) descend, and the different branches of the de Lacy family of Limerick did support each other as kinsmen in their respective military careers. The Limerick man whom they all claim as kinsman, Pierce Oge (the young) de Lacy of Bruff (–1607, executed) celebrated from the wars against Elizabeth I, the son of Sir Hempon Pierce de Lacy, maintained that he was 18th in direct descent from William Gorm de Lacy,[6] son of Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath, and great-great-grandson of Walter I de Lacy (–1085), the Norman soldier. It is known that a highly distinguished family known as "de Lacy" was settled in county Limerick and had castles at Ballingarry, Bruree, Bruff and more which were in the family down to the time of the Desmond confiscations in 1583, but the family may be of different origins entirely.[7] 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 is unknown. There is nothing to say that his mother was French, and she was probably Spanish.

Early military career (1785–1808)Edit

  • 1785, at the age of 13 (he was recorded as 14 years of age), Luis enlisted in the Spanish army where he also 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, at the age of 17, Luis 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, at the age of 19, Luis was a Captain in the infantry of the Spanish "Irish Regiment" of Ultonia and accompanied his regiment to the Western Pyrenees. There he distinguised himself fighting against the French.
  • 1794, at the age of 22, Luis 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, at the age of 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's opponent was wounded. 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, which resulted in Luis being summoned to a court martial. In light of Luis's "good military record" he sentence was light and he was condemned to only one year in the Royal Prison at the Concepción Arsonal at Cadiz. While there his resentment at this unjust treatment brokered by the Captain General showed itself so violently that Luis was considered by his jailers to be mentally unbalanced. As a result he was taken off the active list of the Spanish army, deprived of his commission, and prevented from re-enlisting. Now a career soldier without a country, he headed towards France and enlited 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, at the age of 31, Luis married a young French woman, Emilia Guermer at Quimper. This match was frowned upon by her family, not because he had a deserved reputation as a lover of many women, but because her family was strongly French Royaltist 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, commencing with starting out for Antwerp just 3 days after the wedding. Luis participated in the French campaign against Germany, travelling as far as Berlin.
  • 1807, at the age of 35, Luis was 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 county 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, at the age of 36, he 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 SpainEdit

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 – Luis was appointed Lieutenant Colonel and given command of the Battalion of Light Ledesma.
  • 1808, November 23 - Luis participated with his battalion in the Action of Bubierca.
  • 1809, January 24 - Luis was promoted to the rank of Colonel.
  • 1809, July 3 - Luis was appointed by the Brigadier as Subinspector of the Infantry, Chief of Staff and Commanding General of the Island of Leon.
  • 1809, November 10 - Luis was made the 1st Division commander of the army of General Juan Carlos Areizaga, participated in the Battle of Ocana and becomes one its heroes. Luis's detachment was the last to arrive on the scene, and arriving at night, it was unable to reconnoitre the ground, which makes his achievements in that battle all the more remarkable.[citation needed] Adding the cavalry of General Freire he came from Tembleque and temporarily dislodged the French from Ocana. In one phase of the Battle of Ocana there was a hazardous change of front to avoid an attempt on the part of the French to surround them. Luis's troops were noted for the calmness in which they manoeuvered in such dangerous circumstances. Luis was personal hero of the battle, taking two cannon, wounding the French commander, and killing the French adjutant.

Andalusia (1810)Edit

  • 1810, March 16 - Luis, aged 38, was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal.
  • 1810, June - In the summer of that year, whilst Cadiz 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 Leon 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 to prevent them carrying out their purpose 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 him 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 - Luis 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 Andre Massena who was in command in Portugal.
  • 1810, September 22 - Luis returned to Cadiz and lead a sally destroying many enemy posts. According to French accounts of the time this corner of Spain was the only part oif the country giving trouble to the would-be French conquerors.

Catalonia (1811–12)Edit

  • 1811, June - Luis, aged 39, was appointed Captain General of Catalonia in replacement of the Marquis de Campoverde after the Marquis had lost to the French of the City of Tarragona.
  • 1811, July 9 - Luis 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 - Luis 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 Busa's Plan and rebuilt the army of Catalonia, to the astonishment of the country.
  • 1811, July - He also sent reinforcements to the defence of Valencia. His tactics of war were to be to avoid frontal collisions, 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 Catalonian province. This enabled him to concentrate on the training of his recruits.
  • 1811, August - In 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 rather than abandon his post.
  • 1811, August - Luis 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 instead of the French had become the aggressors.
  • 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 Ter (river). They took and destroyed the fort the French had built there, but then on the orders of English Colonel Green abandoned it.
  • 1811, September 11 - Unhappy with the abandonment of the fort on the Medes Islands, 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 Capucin monastery. He was then able to force the French troops out of the monastery, and in this engagement the French lost 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, with his 5,000 infantry, 400 horses, and 4 cannon was routed. Luis sent men, under the command of 2 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 Camaradisambiguation needed untroubled.
  • 1811, December 18 - Luis was 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 worried the French 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 guerilla tactics in French held territory, the war stagnated with neither side able to take the advantage.
  • 1812, January - Luis 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 Villasecadisambiguation needed, 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 marched his troops to Coluspina where he halted over January 24 & 27. After no move was made by the French he proceeded to Moià. On discovering that the French were at Centellas 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 - Luis began 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 in his ambition, 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 from it. During this time Luis was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Anglo-Sicilain Fleet. When it did arrive, however, he sent the fleet to Alicante stating that it was needed there more. According to some sources he was forced to do this as the Catalonian Board of the Principality could not afford to pay the fleet.
  • 1812, May 3 - To take advantage of the French occupation with changing their positions in both the north-east and near Tarragona, Luis's forces marched 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 naval artillery squadron that was provied by the British, 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 the city of Torroella de Montgrí; and General Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen coming over from the city of Lleida in the west. Faced with the prospect of becoming cornered, Luis send the English artillery back to their ships, and Luis with his forces retreated into the region of Llinars del Vallés (Valley of Llinars) - today a municipality of Spain.
  • 1812, July - Luis discovered that bthe local Catalonians resented the requisitioning of their forces for the army. To hold their allegiances 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 of Lleida, injuring or killing 280 French residents of this Spanish city.
  • 1812, July 22 - The conspirators managed to place arsenic in bread flour supplies destined for the garrison of the French in the military Citadell in Barcelona (today Barcelona's most central park incorporating a zoo, a lake, a large fountain and several museums). 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, 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 has 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 Catalonian 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 Luis to the Council of Regency. He was transferred across the other side of 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 out of the Spain over the Pyrenees mountains.
  • 1813, December 11 - Napoleon agreed to acknowledge Ferdinand VII as King of Spain. He set him free in early 1814.
  • 1814, April - With the abducation of Napoleon on 6 April Ferdinand VII 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 VII 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. He, 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 monachy into execution, and disbanded the Cortes. In common with many others Luis was deciding 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 - Luis, aged 44, moved to Catalonia and was in contact with General Francis Milans del Bosch, his former subordinate. They planned a military and civilian uprising against the monachy 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 forced to flee as someone had betrayed them. Francis Milans del Bosch successfully escaped, but Luis was captured attempting to flee by ship to Blanes.
  • 1817, April - Luis was taken to Barcelona and sentenced to death by court-martial on the orders of the King. He was still the popular hero, however, and a protest against the sentence was led by Barcelon's Guild of the City.
  • 1817, July 5 - Fearing an uprising, Luis was taken across to the island of Mallorca on the pretense that he would be pardoned on arrival in the island. Smuggled by night, however, he was instead 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 Col. Rafael del Riego lead a revolt in 1820 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 (vetoing nearly every law, for instance), 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. The King riding the public sentiment 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 alsoEdit

Sources, references, and external linksEdit

  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
  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 (1726-) who commanded the famous Irish regiment of Ultonia in the relief of the Moorish city of Oran in 1732. This is impossible, however, as Count William de Lacy-Billingarri was a younger cousin 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. A later example being Count William de Lacy-Billingari(1726-)who styled himself "Lord of La Garthe" ("Comte de Bellingarri")
  5. 5.0 5.1 Maunsell, R.G., History of Maunsell or Mansel, and of Crayford, Gabbett, Knoyle, Persse, Toler, Waller, Castletown; Waller, Prior Park; Warren, White, Winthrop, and Mansell of Guernsey
  6. Annals of the Four Misters, vol. III. p. 75
  7. Some doubt is cast upon the authenticity of this claim in a closely reasoned article on the subject by N.J. Synnott (J.R.S.A.I. 1919), who suggested that the Limerick families may be Lees, a name of frequent occurrence in Limerick records from the 12th to the 15th century; he points out that in the 16th century the Lacys of Bruff and Bruee spelt their name Leash, as well as Lacy; and Leash, of course, is phonetically equivalent to the Irish form Leis. (In the Annals the name is de Lacy is written as de Leis in Irish.) Most Rev. Hugh Lacy, Bishop of Limerick from 1557 to 1581, is a case in point, as his name appears in records as Lacy alias Lees.

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