Juana Galan: A Spanish Heroine of the Peninsula War

The Battle of Valdepenas c. 1910. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Juana Galan and the Battle of Valdepenas

Until June 6, 1808, Valdepenas was just a quiet little town in La Mancha. However, it was not able to remain isolated from the events sweeping Spain for long. Following the May uprisings, the French command began to send troops across the country to quell further riots. By June 1808, a contingent of French riflemen and cavalry were on their way to Andalusia as act as reinforcements- and Valdepenas lay in their path. Most of the town’s men were away fighting Napoleon’s troops. However, if the French thought that crossing through Valdepenas would be easy, they were about to be proven very wrong.

Juana Galan was a twenty-year-old barmaid in one of Valdepenas’s best taverns. The tavern was a nexus point for travelers, who, as wine loosened their tongues would pass on all sorts of news and gossip. It was in this way that Juana heard of the approaching French troops. Juana was well aware that it was unlikely that the occupying forces were unlikely to pass peacefully through Valdepenas and leave it unmolested. This fact aside, she also realized it was imperative to the Spanish cause that they did not reach their destination. And so, even though failure would mean fierce reprisals for the whole town, Juana Galan hatched a  plan of resistance.

Statue of Juana with her baton. Google Images

Juana passed on her news to the remaining townsfolk. Then, she rallied the women of the town under her command, and together they set a trap for the approaching French army. As the soldiers reached the town, women positioned in the upper stories of houses dumped pots of boiling water onto the heads of the passing soldiers. Others poured cauldrons of boiling oil onto the roads to limit the passage of the cavalry. Then, while the French recovered from this surprising and painful welcome to Valdepenas, Juana sprang into action.

Juana led the rest of the women against the French troop, armed only with a baton or according to some versions a cast iron stew pot.  None of the other women were any better armed. Despite this, bravery and determination won the day. In what became known as The Battle of Valdepenas, the women were able to beat back the soaked and overwhelmed French army. The troops retreated from Valdepenas, never to return.