Juana Galan: A Spanish Heroine of the Peninsula War
Juana Galan: A Spanish Heroine of the Peninsula War

Juana Galan: A Spanish Heroine of the Peninsula War

Natasha sheldon - September 15, 2018

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.

Juana Galan: A Spanish Heroine of the Peninsula War
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.

Juana Galan: A Spanish Heroine of the Peninsula War
Battle of Bailen by Jose Casado del Alisal c.1864. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

The Legacy of Juana Galan

The brave actions of the women of Valdepenas under the leadership of Juana Galan on June 8 1808 meant that not only did Valdepenas escape the French but so to did the whole of the region of La Mancha for the time being. The battle also ensured that the French reinforcements never made it to their final destination, therefore aiding the Spanish in their decisive victory at the Battle of Bailen. This battle severely set back the Napoleonic cause in Spain, forcing the defeated general, Dupont to surrender 18,000 men and for a time the French abandonment of much of Spain. Bailen had the added humiliation of being the first ever open field defeat of Napoleon.

However, these victories were not to last. In November 1808, the French reclaimed Madrid from the Spanish and their allies and began a long war of attrition with the guerrilla forces across the rest of Spain. Some of the inhabitants on Valdepenas joined the guerrilla forces. Finally, in 1814 their effort paid off when the guerillas and their European allies finally liberated Spain from the French. King Ferdinand was restored to the Spanish throne. He personally acknowledged the bravery of Valdepenas, granting the town the title “Very Heroic.”

Juana Galan: A Spanish Heroine of the Peninsula War
Statue of “La Galana” in Valdepeñas (Spain) by the sculptor Javier Galán in 2008. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

Sadly, however, Juana Galan or “La Galana” as she became known did not live to see this final victory over the French. On May 2, 1810, she had married a fellow resident of Valdepenas, Bartolome Ruiz de Lerma. The couple had two daughters together. However, on September 24, 1812, La Galana died, giving birth to her second child. On this same day, La Mancha was officially liberated from Napoleonic rule.

However, the legacy of La Galana lives on. Today she is remembered as a heroine of Valdepenas, commemorated by a statue in the town by Francisco Javier Galan depicting her armed with a baton. However, the fame of La Galana and her heroic efforts in the early part of the Spanish War of Independence have not been forgotten over the rest of Spain. For Juana Galan is remembered to this day as a Spanish patriot, a symbol of resistance against oppression and a feminist hero.


Where Do we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

The French invasion of Spain, February-May 1808, History of War.org

Napoleon’s Total War, History Net, July 3, 2007

Juana Galán, Bad Ass Ladies of History, June 8, 2014

The Peninsular War: The Complete Companion to the Iberian Campaigns 1807-14 (2005)

Philip Haythornthwaite, Brassey’s Almanac, 2005