Antoni de Villarroel

Military Defender of Barcelona during the Siege of 1714

Antoni de Villarroel was a Spanish military commander best known for leading the military defence of Barcelona during the 1713-14 siege of the city by the Franco-Castilian troops of Felipe V.

Born in Barcelona on December 4th 1656, Antoni de Villarroel i Pelaez was the son of a Castilian general stationed in the city and his Asturian wife so was never actually a Catalan.

Following in his father's footsteps, he joined the army and the first major conflict he fought in was the Nine Year War against the French, which lasted from 1688 to 1697.

By 1694 he was already a colonel and commander of Castellfollit de la Roca in La Garrotxa near Girona and in 1695 was promoted to General of Artillery.

After the end of the war, Villarroel continued his career in Flanders, Milan and lastly Naples from where, in 1705, when The War of the Spanish Succession was already four years underway, Villarroel asked to join the army of Felipe V of Castile.


Role in the War of the Spanish Succession

Following a period in Madrid, in February 1709, Antoni de Villarroel joined the Aragonese Army, of which he was made Commander-in-chief two months later, and even then the atrocities committed by the Borbonic troops made him doubt his role in the war.

In 1710, after the fall from grace of his mentor, the Duke of Orleans, and the defeats of Almenar and Zaragoza, he decided to change sides and joined the Austriacist Army with the as a Lieutenant Marshal, which was equivalent to the rank he had in the Borbonic Army.

The Borbonic victories of Brihuega i Villaviciosa led to him being surrounded at the Castle of Illeca, near Calatayud, where he was forced to surrender on December 28th 1710.

He was imprisoned in the Alcázar of Segovia but was released in 1712 following exchange of prisoners between the two sides.

In March 1713, Guido von Starhemberg, the Viceroy of Catalonia, promoted Villarroel to the position of Inspector General of the Imperial Infantry, just after Catalonia had been abandoned by all its allies and would be left to face the Franco-Castilian armies alone.

At the of June 1713, the Junta de Braços, the governing body of Catalonia decided to fight to the end and Antoni de Villarroel was named Commander-in-chief of the Catalan Army and the person responsible for the defence of Barcelona.

At the end of July, the Duke of Populi's army began The Siege of Barcelona and a year later he was replaced by the Duke of Berwick as the siege entered its final stage.

After the heavy attacks of August 13th and 14th 1714 and his calls for immediate surrender were rejected at a meeting of the War Council, Antoni de Villarroel decided to resign his position on September 6th. 

Even so, during the final onslaught on September 11th, Villarroel brought together the remaining cavalry troops and led the defence against the Franco-Castilians on the Plain of Llull.

He was wounded during the charge and as the Conseller en Cap, Rafael Casanova, was also injured, it was decided that Colonel Joan Francesc Ferrer would announce the surrender.

The surrender conditions were accepted but not signed by Berwick, which would be significant over the coming days. 

On September 22nd, in direct contravention of the surrender agreement, Antoni de Villarroel and the rest of the leaders of the defence of Barcelona were arrested, disarmed and imprisoned.

On October 19th, Villarroel was sent to prison in Alicante and then a month later he was transferred to the Castle of San Anton in Galicia, where he arrived on January 11th 1715.

He made an escape attempt with a group of inmates and later developed a way to get messages to the outside and was severely punished for both actions.

All attempts by the Austrians to get Villarroel released were rejected and even after the the Treaty of Vienna was signed on September 15th 1725 and many prisoners were released Villarroel remained in prison.

Antoni de Villarroel died in prison in La Coruña on February 22nd 1726.

He shall always be remembered as one of the great heroes of the Siege of Barcelona and has a street named after him in L'Esquerra de l'Eixample in Barcelona.

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