1707 – Siege of Xàtiva

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Sieges >> 1707 – Siege of Xàtiva

The siege lasted from 8 May and 6 June 1707

Introduction

In August 1705, Archduke Charles disembarked at Altea in the Kingdom of Valencia and proclaimed himself king of Spain. The pro-Habsburg Valencian revolt of the Maulets started spreading, led by Juan Bautista Basset. Constantly spurred on by Prince Georg von Hessen-Darmstadt, armed squads blocked the passage of the Bourbon to the plain of Vic. The Allies then captured the City of Barcelona in Catalonia. On 7 November, Archduke Charles swore in the Catalan constitution, and was appointed as Charles III. Lord Peterborough advanced towards Valencia and by the end of the year, the Archduke was already in control of most of Catalonia and the Kingdom of Valencia.

At the beginning of the campaign of 1706, the recapture of the Kingdom of Valencia was one of the main objective of the Bourbon, but the Allies timely relieved Valencia. By the end of the year, the Bourbon had forced the Allies to evacuate Madrid and to take refuge in the Kingdom of Valencia.

On 25 April 1707, a Franco-Spanish army defeated the Allies in the Battle of Almansa. After this victory, King Philip V subdivided his army in two corps. The corps under the Duke of Berwick advanced into the Kingdom of Valencia. Another corps (approx. 10,000 men) under Claude François Bidal d’Asfeld, seconded by José Antonio de Chaves Osorio, was charged to conquer the south of the kingdom. Its objectives were Xàtiva, Gandia and Alcoy.

Shortly after the Battle of Almansa, the Earl of Galway retreated through Xàtiva with his troops. Onofre Assio, the governor of Xàtiva, knowing the outcome of the battle asked him for help in defending the city, which would evidently be one of the next objectives of the Bourbon. However, Galway replied that there was nothing to do, that he was retiring to Catalonia and that it was best for Xàtiva to send an envoy to the Bourbon and surrender them the city without resistance. Assio was determined to do so but the news spread throughout the city and caused great discomfort. The Jurors wrote to the Viceroy of Valencia, the Earl of Corzana, exposing Onofre's intentions and stating that they went against popular will. At these news, Corzana dismissed Onofre and replaced him with the Aragonese Miguel Purroi

Around April 30, Purroi arrived in Xàtiva and was greeted with great joy by the population. He made a public speech, encouraging the inhabitants to defend the city to the last man. Purroi had the defensive works reinforced, barricading and obstructing all streets. Small holes were made in many buildings, so they could shoot from there. Miñana says that Purroi even mobilized the friars of the convents to work on these defensive works and gave them weapons to participate in the defence of the place. All the pro-Bourbons were imprisoned in the castle.

On May 2, Berwick took the town of Requena. He soon captured Buñol. On May 8, Valencia was delivered to Berwick’s Corps without offering any resistance.

The Defenders

Among the defenders were civilians and some monks. However, it should be noted that Xàtiva was the capital of the Governorate of Jucar so it had its own militias that had already participated in the siege of 1706. These militias were made up not only of the inhabitants, but of government personnel. Through the Bourbon chroniclers it is known that among the defenders were people from La Marina, Oliva and Cocentaina and, surely, from many other places. Miguel Purroi recruited men among those who retired from Almansa. Furthermore, the Valencian Captain Josep Marco joined the defenders with about 400 “Micalets” (aka migueletes or Valencian volunteers) and Catalan riflemen. Overall, Purroi and Marco were at the head of approx. 2,000 men.

Description of events

Siege of the City

On of the most reliable testimonies (De bello rustico Valentino of José Manuel Miñana, published at The Hague in 1752) states that the siege began on 3 May. This seems to be a reasonable date, considering that a week had passed since the Battle of Almansa and that Xàtiva is only 50 km from this Castilian city. According to Miñana, d’Asfeld repeatedly summoned the inhabitants and the troops to surrender the city.

In view of the repeated refusal, d’Asfeld was forced to set up his camp in the Raval area and in the neighborhood of Las Barreras, which stood outside the walls. He ordered to dig pits and erect earthworks in front of the west wall to serve as a parapet. There he placed his artillery and began the bombardment.

The initial bombardment proved to be quite ineffective and d’Asfeld had no choice but to send an expedition to Villena to bring back larger-caliber guns. While awaiting the arrival of these artillery pieces, he ordered the attack of the Upper Calvary of Xàtiva, which was located outside the walls on a hill very close to the city on the east side. From this new position, it would be easy to bomb the city and its castle.

However, Miguel Purroi had foreseen this possibility and had placed a garrison in the hermitage crowning the Calvary.

The attack, led by the young Joan Martorell, a pro-Bourbon Valencian, began under the cover of night, but most of the detachment, 17 men and Martorell himself, were killed in the attempt.

On the next day, the Bourbon renewed this attack. This time, they managed to reach the hermitage and attempted to set fire to the gate of the hermitage with oil, but facing a deadly rain of bullets —according to Miñana – they retreated once more without achieving their goal.

The heavy cannon finally arrived from Villena and the bombardment of the west walls, in the area of the present Plaza la Bassa, was renewed with greater vigor. They fired grenades filled with stone and gunpowder and thus managed to breach the wall.

Assault on the City

However, the Bourbon soon found that the Setabenses (Note: The citizens of Xàtiva were called “Setabenses” in Spanish from the ancient Latin name of the city: Setabis) had built a new wall and another moat behind the breached wall.

D’Asfeld then ordered the battlements to be cannoned to force the defenders to abandon the first wall. Once he succeeded, he sent men crawling through the ruins of the wall to observe the Setabense positions and guide the cannon from this observation post. Thus the fire of his artillery managed to drive back the defenders and to force them to retire. He now had a clear passage through the breach.

As early as 18 May, the Bourbon decided to burn down the city after its capture. They wanted to set an example for the rest of the cities of the Kingdom of Valencia, which considered to offer resistance.

On 24 May, d'Asfeld decided to launch an assault on the most vulnerable walls of the Ravelin de Las Barreras. However, the resistance remained so strong that d’Asfeld was forced to make an artillery preparation before launching his attack. His artillery broke through and tore down the new wall and all the barricades that the Setabenses and Allied soldiers had built in the city. The Bourbon penetrated through the open breach and through the Gate de los Baños, under a lively fire. At this point in the confrontation the number of deaths must have been very large, as according to Miñana, French troops filled the moat using ruins and corpses to introduce artillery into the city.

Once established in the city, d’Asfeld again sent emissaries to summon the defenders to surrender, but once more he received no answer.

Quite irritated by the resistance of the Setabenses, d’Asfeld divided his forces into two columns, which advanced through the city with cannon at their head to obliterate any resistance they found inside. The first column, which was commanded by d’Asfeld himself, advanced from the west wall to Santa Tecla and San Agustin and the second column, commanded by José Antonio de Chaves, followed the Calle de San Francisco. The aim of Chaves’ Castilian column was to shut down the defenders who occupied the convents of San Francisco. These defenders saw the maneuver and retreated to the citadel. D’Asfeld’s French column encountered strong resistance in Santa Tecla so it began to cannonade the convent. Meanwhile, the part of the defenders originally posted on the west wall had retreated to the Convent of St. Augustine and from there to the citadel. Then, part of the French column advanced to St. Augustine where 10 monks and 62 women and children had taken refuge. The monks, who appear to be pro-Bourbon, came out to welcome them, but at that time the Allied artillery opened fire from the citadel and caused many casualties to the French. The latter killed the monks and entered into the convent murdering all who were inside. Meanwhile, the French had opened a breach in Santa Tecla, so the defenders also retreated to the citadel. Chaves’ Castilian column also encountered resistance in San Miguel where Oliva's militias were strongly entrenched. Finally, having made himself master of the entire city, d’Asfeld encircled the citadel.

Siege of the Citadel

The citadel was attached to the ancient city wall and was located in the area now known as Bellveret. The defenders and most of the inhabitants had sought refuge there. Purroi ordered the entrance doors to be barricaded. As the citadel dominated the city, it was not easy to attack, so d’Asfeld merely lay siege to it while his troops ransacked the city and killed some of the helpless inhabitants.

After two or three days without food, the defenders started to consider a surrender. Purroi initially objected to the idea and threatened to hang up the supporters of such a measure.

Finally, at the beginning of June, Purroi realised that any further resistance was impossible. He agreed with d’Asfeld on the conditions of the capitulation for the inhabitants of the city.

The Xàtiva militias, and the Valencian and Catalan migueletes commanded by José Marco along with some nobles, city commanders and Miguel Purroi retreated to the castle along with the British garrison. Meanwhile the inhabitants, believing in the good faith of the besiegers, returned to their houses with their most valuable belongings, that they had taken with them but the soldiers confiscated them by force.

Surrender and Evacuation

The surrender therefore occurred on June 6. D’Asfeld accepted the conditions of capitulation proposed to him, but José Marco, his migueletes and some 200 Setabenses had already escaped by the terrace of the castle (the Bixquert area, opposite the city) during the previous night. Moreover, together with the City Council and some nobles, other Maulets came out disguised as British soldiers, although, possibly by delegations, some were recognized and detained by the French when the British column came out.

Exemplary Punishment

Did you know why Philip V's portrait is preserved face down in the museum of the Almudín de Xàtiva?
A few years after the siege and capture of Xàtiva, a local painter was given the task of painting various portraits of King Philip V. One of these portraits, which today hangs in the Almodí Museum in Xàtiva was, in 1940, turned upside down by the museum curator, Carles Sarthou, in a late protest against the burning of the town.

The portrait has remained in that uncomfortable position to this day, although it is now more a question of attracting tourists to the museum to see this curiosity for themselves than a passionate defence of Valencia’s statutes, which were canceled by the king.

Despite what his initial commitment to the conditions of capitulation, d’Asfeld ordered “to knife” everyone who had participated in the defence of the city. According to the Duke of Berwick in a letter:

“An endeavor like that of Xàtiva has never been seen, I have ordered Asfeld to destroy it totally, to serve as an example, and for all its inhabitants to be led to La Mancha.”

And indeed, after a few day of purges and looting, d’Asfeld gathered the population in the citadel, where a list of about 55 people was read. These people, because they were Bourbon supporters, would be forgiven. However, the rest of the population was deported to Castile, many people died during the march.

Soon afterwards, d’Asfeld received the orders of Philip V to burn down the city. The king had given his authorisation after reading the reports of Berwick and d’Asfeld. Brigadier Chaves was charged to execute these orders.

On June 19, after evicting all the inhabitants of the city, the Bourbon army began to systematically burn down the entire City of Xátiva.

On 26 June, after burning down Xàtiva, d’Asfeld’s column headed for Gandia and Alcoy. However, the looting and destruction of the city would continue through the rest of the year.

In addition to Xàtiva, other cities such as Villarreal, Ares del Maestre and Lleida, which had resisted to the Bourbon were also burned down.

Outcome

During the siege, the Bourbon lost 500 men, according to Miñana; or 2,500, according to Castellví. For their part, the Allies lost 270 men, according to Miñana; or 1,000 men, according to Castellví (excluding the inhabitants of Xàtiva).

By November, Xàtiva was a heap of ruins and legally did not exist anymore.

By August 1708, King Philip’s wrath had cooled down and he authorised the reconstruction of the city, which would be renamed Nueva Colonia de San Felipe and endowed with institutions in the image and likeness of those of Castile. In 1812, this name was rescinded by the Spanish Parliament, besieged in Cadiz by Napoleon’s troops.

After the tragedy at Xàtiva, its inhabitants came to be known as ‘Socarrats’, literally ‘the scorched’, and to this day a portrait of Felipe V is hung upside down in the Museo de l’Almudí.

Order of Battle

Allied Order of Battle

Commander-in-Chief: Miguel Purroi and Josep Marco

Summary: 2,000 men

Franco-Spanish Order of Battle

Commander-in-Chief: Claude François Bidal d'Asfeld, seconded by Brigadier José Antonio de Chaves Osorio

Summary: between 9,000 and 11,000 men

References

The Burning of Xátiva in Valencia International

La Guerra de Successiό a la Vall d’Albaida in Aculiber

Miquelets del Regne de València in micalets.cat

Wikipedia

Xàtiva 1707 in Levante el Mercantil Valenciano, on 30 June 2007

Acknowledgements

Dinos Antoniadis for the initial version of this article