Sir Rowland Hill had sent L’Isle off to the southward, to ascertain the strength and condition of the reserve of Spanish troops moving up from Andalusia. One might think that these things could be better learned from the official reports of the Conde d’Abispal and the officers under him. But from the Prince of Parma’s day to this, Spanish officers in reporting the number and condition of their commands, have made it a rule to state what they ought to be, not what they are, leaving all deficiencies to be found out on the day of battle. Sir Rowland, knowing this, now made use of L’Isle, whose knowledge of the Spanish language and character, and his acquaintance with many officers of rank, enabled him to ascertain the truth without betraying the object of his mission, or giving offence to these proud and jealous allies. Ten days had gone by when he again rode into Elvas, and in spite of the secrecy aimed at in military councils, many symptoms indicated that the campaign was about to open.
It was high time for the brigade to leave this part of the country. The soldiers were disgusted with the sluggish people around them, keen and active only in their efforts to make money out of their protectors. The Portuguese were exasperated at the insolence of their allies, their frequent depredations and occasional acts of violence, many of which went unpunished; for the English officers, always professing the utmost readiness to punish the offences of their men, were singularly scrupulous and exacting as to the conclusiveness of the proofs of guilt.
Lord Strathern’s lax discipline may have aggravated, but had not caused the evil, which was felt throughout Portugal. The Regency, while proving itself unable to govern the country, or reform a single abuse, had shown its ability to harass their allies and embarrass the general charged with the conduct of the war. “A narrow jealousy had long ruled their conduct, and the spirit of captious discontent had now reached the inferior magistracy, who endeavored to excite the people against the military generally. Complaints came in from all quarters, of outrages on the part of the troops, some too true, but many of them false or frivolous; and when Wellington ordered courts-martial for the trial of the accused, the magistrates refused to attend as witnesses, because Portuguese custom rendered such attendance degrading, and by Portuguese law a magistrate’s written testimony was efficient in courts-martial. Wellington in vain assured them that English law would not suffer him to punish men on such testimony; in vain he pointed out the mischief which must infallibly overwhelm the country, if the soldiers discovered that they might thus do evil with impunity. He offered to send, in each case, lists of Portuguese witnesses required, that they might be summoned by the native authorities; but nothing could overcome the obstinacy of the magistrates; they answered that his method was insolent; and with sullen malignity continued to accumulate charges against the troops, to refuse attendance in the courts, and to call the soldiers, their own as well as the British, ‘licensed spoliators of the community.’”