British Legions

British Legions

The British Legion or British Legions were foreign volunteer units fighting under Simon Bolivar for the independence of Greater Colombia against Spain. The Venezuelans called them the "Albion Legion". They were composed of over one thousand volunteers, mainly Napoleonic War veterans from Great Britain and Ireland, as well as some German veterans and some locals recruited after arriving in South America.

Volunteers in the British Legion were motivated by a combination of both genuine political motives and mercenary motives.

The British Legions consisted of the 1st British Legion, the 2nd British Legion, and the Irish Legion.

The British Legions were an important part of the army of Bolivar, who credited them with the victory at Boyaca saying "those soldier liberators are the men who deserve these laurels" and the victory at Carabobo describing them as "the saviours of my country". Nonetheless they have been largely forgotten in the countries in which they fought (Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador, and later Peru).

By the end of the wars only a small proportion of the original strength of the British Legions were still fighting, suggesting very high casualty or desertion rates. Few of the volunteers ever returned to Britain, although some gained high rank in Venezuela and remained in the country. Many deserters made their way to the banks of the Orinoco where they lived in poverty.


The motivations of volunteers for the British Legion(s) were mixed. Many Britons were still concerned by the threat that Spain, as a restored world power, potentially posed to Britain (the much-disputed Black Legend of Spain), despite being Spain and Britain having been allies in the Napoleonic Wars a few years before. Volunteers were also motivated by the liberal propaganda of Bolivar's supporters that portrayed the war as bringing freedom and rights to people under Spanish tyranny. For these reasons, particularly the former, the recruiting of British volunteers received tacit government support.

However mercenary motives also played a large part in motivating potential recruits, who were often unemployed, and who perceived Greater Colombia as a land of immense wealth which they would be able to have a share in. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars the United Kingdom no longer required such a large standing army as had previously been necessary to fight Napoleon. In April, 1817, The Times calculated that there were 500,000 ex-soldiers in a British population of 25 million. These men often found themselves in poverty having no other trade except soldiering. South America's wars of independence in South America provided many of them with an opportunity to continue their military careers and escape from the prospect of inactivity and poverty at home.


The British Legions fought until the end of the wars their number had been sadly much depleted.

Their greatest achievements were at Boyaca, Carabobo, Pichincha in 1822, which secured independence for Ecuador, and at the last great victory at Ayacucho in Peru, 1824, which destroyed Spanish rule in South America forever.

They are largely forgotten in South America.


Further Reading

*Hasbrouck, Alfred. "Foreign Legionnaires in the Liberation of Spanish South America" (Columbia University Press: New York, 1928).

*Lambert, Eric. "Voluntarios Británicos e Irlandeses en la Gesta Bolivariana" (Caracas: Ministerio de Defensa, 1980 and 1993), 3 vols.

*Rodríguez, Moises-Enrique. "Freedom's Mercenaries: British Volunteers in the Wars of Independence of Latin America" (Lanham MD: Hamilton Books, University Press of America, 2006), 2 vols.

External links

* [ Bolivar's British Legion] , Ian Fletcher, 1999
* [ El motín de la Legión Británica] (The Mutiny of the British Legion] (spanish)
* [ James Towers English- Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography]

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