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A Dirty, Indolent, Priest-Ridden City: British Soldiers in Lisbon during the Peninsular War, 1808–1813

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Abstract

Between 1808 and 1813 Lisbon was the gateway for British soldiers entering the Peninsular War. For many British soldiers the Iberian Peninsula was not only their first combat experience but also their first time abroad, with their military service as part of a broader experience of travel and cross-cultural contact. British letters, diaries and memoirs of the Peninsular War have long been used by historians as the basis for military and campaign histories; rarely have they been appreciated as travel and ethnographic accounts, allowing us to explore how British soldiers described, experienced and understood the foreign physical and cultural environments of Portugal and Spain. This article investigates British soldiers' attitudes to Lisbon and its inhabitants. Their writings illuminate the relationship between war, travel and identity; British views on Portugal and the Iberian Peninsula more generally; and the mentalities and cultural values of a broad cohort of young Britons in the early nineteenth century. Most soldiers wrote largely critical and hostile accounts of their time in Lisbon, identifying markers of cultural difference and in so doing revealing their own notions of what it meant to British and civilized.

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