The Peninsular War 1808-14: Wellington's Moment, Napoleon's Ulcer

Course summary

  • Wed 04 Oct 2017 to Wed 06 Dec 2017
  • 10:30am-12:30pm 10 meetings
  • Ewert House, Ewert Place, Oxford, OX2 7DD
  • From £199.00
  • 10 CATS points
  • Course code O17P420HIW
  • +44 (0)1865 280892
  • Course ended

The Peninsular War 1808-14: Wellington's Moment, Napoleon's Ulcer


By 1807 Napoleon had defeated the Austrians, Russians and Prussians and was at the zenith of his power. For a series of complex reasons his attention then turned to his southern neighbours. Within a year, the Peninsular War had started providing Britain a badly needed military opening in support of her long-term ally, Portugal. The war was to rage for six years, ebb and flow across the Iberian Peninsula and end in the (hitherto unthinkable) invasion of France and the defeat of Grande Armée.

The course will examine Europe at the end of the eighteenth century and Britain’s response to the French revolution and her unpreparedness for the wars that followed. We will consider Napoleon’s rise to power and his decision-making process that led to the Iberian war. In greater detail, the course will consider Britain’s response; the Duke of Wellington’s strategic vision and military genius; the importance of naval power; guerrilla warfare and Britain’s uncomfortable alliance with Spain.

In conclusion, we will examine the consequences of the war for the four major belligerents; setting each of the nations on very different paths in the nineteenth century.

Programme details

Term Starts:   4th October     

Week 1: Britain at the end of the eighteenth century – response to the French Revolution.

Week 2: Britain’s armed forces: naval victories and army failures.

Week 3: Napoleon his ‘Spanish Ulcer’ and the Grande Armée.

Week 4: Wellington the man: political masters and military subordinates.

Week 5: The Peninsular War – the campaigns, battles and sieges.

Week 6: Command, tactics, logistics, intelligence and communications – an assessment of Wellington’s Anglo-Portuguese army.

Week 7: The Royal Navy and the Peninsular War.

Week 8: Difficult allies and guerrilla warfare.

Week 9: Recording and consequences of the war – different national perspectives.

Week 10: Britain’s other Wars, Waterloo and the Making of a World Power.


Background Reading:

Collins, B., War & Empire, The Expansion of Britain 1790-1830

Esdaile, C. J., The Peninsular War, A New History

Gates, D., The Spanish Ulcer, A History of the Peninsular War 

Knight, R., Britain against Napoleon, the Organisation of Victory 1793 – 1815

Lipscombe, N., The Peninsular War Atlas (second edition)

If you are planning to purchase books, remember that courses with too few students enrolled will be cancelled. The Department accepts no responsibility for books bought in anticipation of a course.

If you have enrolled on a course starting in the autumn, you can become a borrowing member of the Rewley House library from 1st September. If you are enrolled on a course starting in other terms, you can become a borrowing member once the previous term has ended.


Recommended reading

All weekly class students may become borrowing members of the Rewley House Continuing Education Library for the duration of their course. Prospective students whose courses have not yet started are welcome to use the Library for reference. More information can be found on the Library website.

There is a Guide for Weekly Class students which will give you further information. 

Availability of titles on the reading list (below) can be checked on SOLO, the library catalogue.

Recommended Reading List



Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to do so.


Course fee: £199.00
Take this couse for CATS points: £10.00


Mr Nick Lipscombe

CColonel Nick Lipscombe MSc, FRHistS is a historian and author specialising in the Napoleonic Wars. He has written several books including the award winning Peninsular War Atlas, Waterloo a Decisive Victory, Wellington’s Guns & Wellington’s Eastern Front.

Course aims

To develop an understanding of the Peninsular War in the wider context of the Napoleonic Wars and the longer-term implications of that war to the four major belligerents.

Course Objectives

  1. To examine the events leading up to the Peninsular War and the complex nature of the conflict.
  2. To consider how the four major belligerents, France, Spain, Portugal and Britain approached and conducted the war.
  3. To study the very different consequences of the war to those four nations.

Teaching methods

The weekly two-hour sessions will consist of an initial lecture (supported by PowerPoint presentation) to cover the key aspects of the week’s topic followed by syndicate discussion of a key/related theme culminating in a group discussion to gauge group and/or individual viewpoints. At the end of each week students will be given some background reading from the OUCDE library for the following week, as well as direction for further reading and encouragement to use the department’s library resources in order to broaden their knowledge and understanding through self-study.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  1. Have an outline understanding of Europe at the end of the eighteenth and start of the nineteenth centuries.
  2. Have a good understanding of the causes, campaigns and consequences of the Peninsular War within the wider context of the Napoleonic Wars.
  3. Demonstrate an ability to identify, analyse and evaluate a variety of (primary and secondary) sources and, from that process, be able to express their views in a group environment and in written form.

Assessment methods

Assessment of learning will take place through the evaluation and marking of a written assignment (1500 words) submitted after all the seminars have been completed. The title for this essay will be chosen from a list supplied by the tutor, or by individual agreement between the student and tutor.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)