The action at Tudela of 8 June 1808 was the first of three attempts by the Spanish to defeat or delay a French army that was marching towards Saragossa. On hearing that Saragossa (and the rest of Aragon) had risen against the French, Marshal Bessières dispatched a column 6,000 strong under General Lefebvre Desnouettes to put down the revolt.
The defence of Aragon had been entrusted to Joseph Palafox, the 28 year old second son of a noble family, who had been present at Bayonne when Ferdinand VII of Spain had been deposed by Napoleon. He had been appointed Captain-general of Aragon on 26 May, and had soon demonstrated that he was unusually energetic and efficient, especially when compared to some of his fellow Spanish commanders of 1808.
One of his first actions was to send 2,000 of the new levies that had been raised in Aragon to the Aragonese frontier town of Tudela, on the Ebro River, under the command of his older brother, the Marquis of Lazan. There he was joined by three or four thousand armed peasants and volunteers from Tudela, giving him a force almost equal in numbers to the Lefebvre’s column.
Although the French army in Spain in 1808 contained a large number of its own raw recruits, they had at least undergone training. When the two forces clashed on 8 June the French won an easy victory. Lazan was forced to retreat sixteen miles, to Mallen, where he would make a second stand on 13 June. Lefebvre stopped at Tudela for long enough to execute some of the leading citizens and to sack the town, before following on to Mallen.