Guest Post: This Blighted Expedition by Lynn Bryant

Ever since I first discovered Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe 30 years ago, I have had a fascination for all-things Napoleonic – the Peninsular War in particular (I even wrote my university dissertation on it!). The Walcheren expedition of 1809 was an extension of this conflict, and a rather disastrous one. Author Lynn Bryant is currently writing a fiction series, The Manxman Series, based on the events of the Walcheren Campaign. Book 2, This Blighted Expedition, is out this week. Today Lynn visits us to talk about the research behind the book.

This Blighted Expedition: a novel of the Walcheren Campaign of 1809 (Book 2 in the Manxman series)

This Blighted Expedition is my eleventh published historical novel, and the second in the Manxman series, which follows the fortunes of the fictional Captain Hugh Kelly of HMS Iris, his wife Roseen and his young first lieutenant Alfred Durrell. This book takes them to the Walcheren campaign of 1809 where a huge joint operation between the army and the navy went disastrously wrong, and led to an ignominious retreat, the deaths of over 4000 men from the deadly Walcheren fever and a Parliamentary inquiry.

Researching Walcheren has been very different to researching the better known campaigns of the wars for my Peninsular War Saga. There is a huge amount of published contemporary material in the form of letters and journals about the Peninsular War. Officers, and in a few cases, their enlisted men, wrote endlessly to their family and friends about their experiences in the war, and modern historians have done a remarkable job of discovering, editing and publishing these accounts. When researching the doings of my fictional regiment at the siege of Badajoz, the problem was having time to sift through all the material and also of knowing when to stop. Writing fiction, as opposed to history, there comes a point when you have to decide how you’re going to write it and then stop researching. You are not trying to give a perfect account of events, you’re trying to give a credible account of events from the point of view of your characters. There’s a big difference.

With Walcheren, I was unusually lucky to have a great deal of help with the sources, in the person of Dr Jacqueline Reiter, who is something of an expert on the campaign. Jacqueline has done an enormous amount of research on Walcheren, and has written an excellent biography of John Pitt, second Earl of Chatham, who commanded the army during the campaign. She is currently working on a biography of Sir Home Popham, the controversial navy officer who played such a large part in the planning and execution of the joint operation at Walcheren. Not only did Jacqueline point me in the direction of the few books written on the subject, but she also generously shared her own notes and sources from many years of research.

With a joint operation, I needed to follow both the army and the navy. As always, my starting point was to read any books on the subject to get a general overview, and I’ve listed them in full below. There aren’t many, but I read Jacqueline’s book on Chatham, and the books by Martin R Howard and Gordon Bond on the campaign. There is a brief account of the campaign in Andrew Limm’s Walcheren to Waterloo and a frustratingly short mention of it in Hugh Popham’s biography of Sir Home Riggs Popham. I was also very grateful to Carl Christie, for sharing his excellent thesis on the campaign with me as well as his list of sources.

There are some accounts by both army and navy officers. Many are very brief, and included in volumes describing their more glorious achievements in later campaigns. One of the most useful sources for the navy was the letters and journals of Edward Codrington, which are available online. I owe the story of the wreck of the Venerable to him and to Dr McGrigor, who was aboard the ship and described it vividly in his autobiography. Jacqueline Reiter generously shared her research notes on the log of the Venerable, which confirmed McGrigor’s account of the army wives aboard the vessel.

Some of my old favourite army writers include an account of Walcheren, including Private Harris and Private Wheeler and it is from them that I have taken my account of the fever, along with several medical men who wrote about it. The Proceedings of the Army give daily accounts of the progress of the siege works, once again shared by Dr Reiter, and offer a marvellous impression of the mind-numbing tedium of the digging of trenches and building of batteries.

I am indebted to Gareth Glover for sending me the account of the campaign by Joseph Barrallier of the 71st who told the story of Pack’s abortive attack on Veere really well. Excerpts of diaries by Captain Bowlby of the 4th foot and General Trench are very short, but give marvellous small details which help to bring a novel to life, such as Trench’s mention of the order of 24th July stating that plundering would be punished by ‘instant death’. Trench is also scathing about Chatham’s abilities as a commander, and writes that: “yesterday about 12 o’clock he got under way being preceded by a column of 8 waggons in the first of which was a life turtle, he had a fresh horse at Schore but did not attempt to go further than Crabbendyke, tho’ Batz was but 7 miles off.” Evidently Chatham’s indolence and slow progress was a source of frustration in his army.

The rather unusual aspect of the Walcheren campaign was the large number of civilians who accompanied the army, including a number of journalists, most of them invited by that relentless self-publicist, Sir Home Popham. Once again, I am indebted to Jacqui Reiter for a lot of information about them, including the diary and letters of young Lord Lowther. Lowther was a gift wrapped in silver paper for a historical novelist, and almost everything I have written about him was true.

In addition to sources which are directly relevant to the campaign, I spent a great deal of time reading online accounts of the Parliamentary inquiry into Walcheren, since I decided that the story of one of my characters, needed to end with his appearance before the House of Commons. This turned out to be one of those impulsive decisions a writer makes, without really thinking about the amount of work involved. I did the same thing at the end of the first book in the series, by choosing to end the novel with a general Court Martial which took hours of research into procedure and rules of evidence. It turns out that a Parliamentary inquiry takes even longer although as a set piece to end the novel, it was very effective.

While most of my research is done sitting at my desk, I was lucky enough to be able to go to Walcheren earlier this year, to visit many of the sites I’ve been writing about. The apartment we stayed in was in one of the many old houses on Korendijk in Middelburg, which would have been there at the time Katja de Groot was living there and I was ridiculously excited when our hostess explained that the old beams in the house are so scarred and in some places burned, because they were all re-used from broken up ships in the Vlissingen and Antwerp dockyards. That kind of on the ground research is priceless and I feel as though I know Katja’s lovely Middelburg home personally.

This Blighted Expedition is available on Kindle and will be available in paperback in a few weeks. In the end, it is always my aim, as a novelist to engage the reader with my characters, both fictional and real. The research is a framework, on which to build a story, and by the end of the book it often feels as though I’ve been playing a game of Jenga with the research, carefully removing as much of it as I can to enable the story to stand up but not taking out so much that the whole thing comes crashing down. I hope I’ve achieved it and that readers enjoy the end result.

As this is a blog post, not a thesis, I’ve provided a short book list but if readers have any further questions about online sources, please contact me on my website, on Facebook or on Twitter and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Bibliography

Bond, Gordon, The Grand Expedition: the British invasion of Holland in 1809 (University of Georgia Press, 1979); Christie, Carl A, The Walcheren Expedition of 1809 (PhD, University of Dundee, 1975); Howard, Martin R,        Walcheren 1809: the scandalous destruction of a British army; Limm, Andrew, Walcheren to Waterloo: the British Army in the Low Countries during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars (Pen and Sword, 2018); Popham, Hugh, A Damned Cunning Fellow: the eventful life of Rear-Admiral Sir Home Popham (The Old Ferry Press, 1991); Reiter, Jacqueline, The Late Lord: the life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (Pen and Sword 2017).

About the author:

Lynn Bryant was born and raised in London’s East End. She studied History at University and had dreams of being a writer from a young age. Since this was clearly not something a working class girl made good could aspire to, she had a variety of careers including a librarian, NHS administrator, relationship counsellor and manager of an art gallery before realising that most of these were just as unlikely as being a writer and took the step of publishing her first book.

She now lives in the Isle of Man and is married to a man who understands technology, which saves her a job, and has two grown up children and two Labradors. History is still a passion, with a particular enthusiasm for the Napoleonic era and the sixteenth century. When not writing she waits on the Labradors, reads anything that’s put in front of her and makes periodic and unsuccessful attempts to keep a tidy house.

This Blighted Expedition is available on Amazon kindle here and will be out in paperback by the end of November. To celebrate publication, the first book, An Unwilling Alliance is available from 1st to 5th November 2019 FREE on Amazon here.

In the meantime, I am about to embark on book six of the Peninsular War Saga. It’s called An Unrelenting Enmity and to give myself a kick start with the writing process, I am attempting NaNaWriMo for the first time ever. To follow my progress why not join me on my blog over at Writing with Labradors, or on Facebook or Twitter?

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: All Things Georgian by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Take a romp through the long eighteenth-century in this collection of 25 short tales. Marvel at the Queen s Ass, gaze at the celestial heavens through the eyes of the past and be amazed by the equestrian feats of the Norwich Nymph. Journey to the debauched French court at Versailles, travel to Covent Garden and take your seat in a box at the theatre and, afterwards, join the mile-high club in a new-fangled hot air balloon. Meet actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals as we travel through the Georgian era in all its glorious and gruesome glory. In roughly chronological order, covering the reign of the four Georges, 1714-1830 and set within the framework of the main events of the era, these tales are accompanied by over 100 stunning colour illustrations.

I have to say that All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Crammed full of glossy, colourful paintings and photographs, it is impossible for the reader not to appreciate how aesthetically pleasing this book is. It is a pleasure to browse through, just to appreciate the gorgeous images scattered throughout the book.

Having said that, the images are not all this book has to offer. All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is co-written by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden and is replete with some of the best stories from the eighteenth century; scandals, love stories and mysteries fill the pages. The most amazing characters of the Georgian era complement the colourful photos; from Marie Antoinette to ‘Crazy Sally’, from coffee shop rivalries, to smuggling, female jockeys and intrepid balloon rides.

This book has stories to entertain everyone.

On the evening of 20 June 1791, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France, together with their children and a handful of trusted attendants, made an ill-fated attempt to escape the revolutionary forces who were keeping them closely watched. The plan had taken many weeks to bring to fruition and the French queen, to whom it was inconceivable that she should survive without the everyday luxuries with which she was surrounded, had been engaged in smuggling various items to the safety of her sister in Brussels. AN infamous Scottish courtesan played a key role in one of these transactions, risking her life in Marie Antoinette’s service.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott, tall, willowy and stunningly beautiful, had gained her notoriety following a very public Criminal Conversation trial and divorce from her portly little husband, Dr (later Sir) John Eliot; Grace had been discovered in a Berkeley Row bagnio with her lover, the worthless Viscount Valentia who soon after discarded his mistress. The handsome Earl of Cholmondeley became her protector; tall and athletic, he was the perfect match for Grace, and the two made an attractive if slightly disreputable couple but, when a countess’s coronet was not forthcoming, Grace left for France and the arms of Louis XVI’s cousin, Louis Philippe Joseph, Duke d’ Orléans (later known as Philippe Egalité). A brief interlude back in London followed where grace bagged the affections of the young Prince of Wales and gained a permanent memento of her royal dalliance in the person of her daughter, Georgiana, who the future monarch privately – if not publicly – acknowledged as his child. The Earl of Cholmondeley became the child’s guardian and Grace, with an annuity from the royal purse, returned to her French duke, only to become trapped in Paris during the French Revolution. …

Sarah Murden and Joanne Major have done a wonderful job of recreating the Georgian world. The language is beautiful, the stories both exciting and entertaining; and scattered with just the right amount of famous and infamous people to make the reader go ‘ooh!’. The two authors are so in sync that it is impossible to discern which story is told by one of the writers and which by the other.

I usually read through books as quickly as possible, devouring them, so-to-speak. However, with All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century I have taken my time, read only one or two of the fabulous stories at a time. Reading this book is a truly pleasurable experience, and I wanted to take my time and savour every moment.

All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden is a wonderful little treasure trove of stories and facts, brought to life in beautiful prose and accompanied by glorious images. Well researched and beautifully presented, it would be a stunning addition to any library – it even smells special!

All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is available from Amazon UK and US.

About the authors:

Joanne Major and Sarah Murden are supersleuthing historians who enjoy bringing the Georgian era to life. Their lives were changed forever when they (metaphorically) met an eighteenth-century courtesan, and this is now their fourth book together. Along with their respective families, they live in Lincolnshire.

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly



Book Corner: The Scandal of George III’s Court by Catherine Curzon

From Windsor to Weymouth, the shadow of scandal was never too far from the walls of the House of Hanover. Did a fearsome duke really commit murder or a royal mistress sell commissions to the highest bidders, and what was the truth behind George III’s supposed secret marriage to a pretty Quaker? With everything from illegitimate children to illegal marriages, dead valets and equerries sneaking about the palace by candlelight, these eyebrow-raising tales from the reign of George III prove that the highest of births is no guarantee of good behaviour. Prepare to meet some shocking ladies, some shameless gentlemen and some politicians who really should know better. So tighten your stays, hoist up your breeches and prepare for a gallop through some of the most shocking royal scandals from the court of George III’s court. You’ll never look at a king in the same way again…

I have been taking a break from the medieval era this month to visit the court of King George III, reading the fabulous non-fiction book, The Scandal of  George III’s Court by Catherine Curzon. And what a thoroughly delightful read!

Anyone who has studied the Georgian era to some extent will be familiar with some of these scandals, but to have them all presented on one book is a real treat. Catherine Curzon loves her subject – and her subjects – and this shines through on every page. This is not some onerous read, listing scandal after scandal, but an in-depth look at some of the most devastating and salacious scandals that rocked the Georgian court – and obviously tried the precarious mental state of the king to its very limits.

My favourite is the retelling of a story which I have known for some time, but have never looked into in the depth that Catherine Curzon delves. The story of Caroline Matilda, Queen of Denmark, her mentally unbalanced husband and her lover, Struensee, is one that everyone should know, and ultimately a tragedy for all involved.;

Christian’s mental health had by now deteriorated drastically and when Struensee was promoted again, this time to Councillor of Conference and the queen’s ‘very’ Private Secretary, there could be no doubt how the wind was blowing. Struensee warned Caroline Matilda that her husband would soon be incapable of ruling and someone else would need to steer the ship of state. If Caroline Matilda didn’t seize the day, then Julianna Maria certainly would. That was all it took, and soon Denmark’s newest power couple began positioning themselves to take the reins of the kingdom.

Oddly, almost as soon as the affair began, Christian warmed to his wife, and began to hold her in a higher regard. Together, the trio of king, queen and doctor seemed to get along in a way that Caroline Matilda and Christian never had before. Though this was no ménage both husband and wife seemed far more at ease, and at 18, Caroline Matilda was finally flourishing, no longer the unhappy young woman she had once been.

She donned male attire to ride astride through the towns and countryside of Denmark and even took part in archery contests, scandalising the public and court alike. Her inseparable shadow, Struensee, was in the ascendant. He and Caroline Matilda’s passion blazed and with it, his influence only increased. By now virtually insane, Christian looked to his wife and doctor for guidance in all things yet Stuensee knew that if he wanted real power, he needed real office.

He wanted to be Prime minister.

Not all the scandals involve love affairs – although the majority do (that’s the Georgians for you!). Catherine Curzon also tells us the story of the Duke of York and the scandalous sale of army commissions – when he was Commander-in-Chief of the army – by his girlfriend! There is also the attempted assassination of the Duke of Cumberland, which left the poor prince with some horrific head injuries. The Scandal of King George III’s Court does not just tell us the stories, but analyses their nuances, the veracity of the facts and tries to get to the bottom of exactly what happened and why.

The book also emphasises the great interest by the Georgian public, in scandals involving the royal family, how they hung on every word of scandal they could read about – and how George III and Queen Charlotte tried to protect the dignity of the crown amidst the numerous dalliances of the king’s own brothers and the royal offspring.

I loved Catherine Curzon’s writing style! Such a fun read!

The strength of this book lies with the author. Catherine Curzon has a talent for telling stories – especially scandalous ones, apparently. She draws the reader in with an easy -going, conversational style, presenting the facts with her own colourful observations, making the reader feel a part of the scandalous liaisons and conspiracies that make up this book. The Scandal of King George III’s Court is a pleasure to read, and probably the greatest escapism you will ever experience from a non-fiction book. 

The Scandal of King George III’s Court is available from Amazon UK and Pen & Sword Books.

About the author:

Catherine Curzon is an author and royal historian of the 18th century.

She has written extensively for publications including HistoryExtra.com, the official website of BBC History Magazine, Who Do You Think You Are?, Your Family History, Real Crime, Explore History, All About History, History of Royals and Jane Austen’s Regency World. Catherine has spoken at venues and events including the Stamford Georgian Festival, the Bath Jane Austen Festival, Lichfield Guildhall, the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, Dr Johnson’s House, Kenwood House, the Hurlingham Club, Godmersham Park, and the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. She has provided additional research for An Evening with Jane Austen, starring Adrian Lukis, and has introduced the performance at venues across the UK.

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine can often be found cheering for the mighty Huddersfield Town. She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill with a rakish colonial gentleman, a long-suffering cat and a lively dog.

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Out Now!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Coming out in Paperback on 15 March:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and in the US on 1 June 2019. It is available for pre-order from both Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Duval and the Empress’s Crown

Over on The Review blog!

Read my review of Duval and the Empress’s Crown by Michele McGrath.

632747“Police Agent Alain Duval is tasked with finding the crown but time is very short and his suspects many. Present when the crown disappeared are Napoleon’s sisters, Princess Elisa, Princess Pauline and Princess Caroline. Are they involved or merely witnesses? Aided by his wife Eugenie and his friends Lefebvre and Fournier, Duval sets out to unravel the mystery.” 

Ever since I was a teenager I’ve had a soft spot for the Napoleonic Period.  Napoleon’s story has always fascinated me; the rise of an obscure Corsican to become the most powerful man  in France (a novelist just couldn’t make it up!). So when the chance came to review a novel of the period I jumped at it.Duval and the Empress’s Crown is not the longest book you’ll ever read. At just shy of 100 pages, it’s short and sweet. But it is a little gem.

From the first words you are drawn into the world of Imperial Paris, still recovering from the petrifying post-Revolutionary Terror, but looking forward to the pomp and pageantry that accompanies an Empire.
And into this world are thrown 3 friends: Duval the former soldier, Fournier the career policeman and Lefebvre the reformed thief. They work for Napoleon’s feared Chief of Police, Fouquet. With just days until the coronation of Napoleon and Josephine, the Empress’s crown is stolen from the jeweler tasked with creating it. Duval and his friends are given the unenviable task of finding it – in time for the coronation.
It’s a race against time…
To make matters worse, it soon becomes evident that the prime suspects are the Emperor’s own sisters; the Princesses Elisa, Pauline and Caroline. Duval has to be both determined and diplomatic in order to recover the crown in time for the coronation, just days away. With the Terror still only a recent memory, Duval has to tread very carefully, or he could end up not only with a ruined career, but facing the guillotine!
Duval and the Empress’s Crown is a great detective novel, full of adventure, intrigue and royal scandal. The story takes you through the investigative process in great detail, while giving you the human side of the lead characters. The three policemen enjoy a wonderful relationship, and the book is at its best during the scenes when they are together. Their banter seems natural and easy and makes the reader smile:

 [Duval] “What about my lame leg?”
[Lefebvre] “What about it? You ran at such a high speed when Monsieur Duclos was firing his pistols at you, I couldn’t catch you up, lame leg and all”
[Duval] “Just as well he was such a bad shot….”

You are also treated to glimpses of the glamour and power of the French Empire by visiting the salons of the Emperor’s sisters, as Duval tries to unravel the mystery of the crown’s disappearance. He has to tread carefully with the wily Elisa and pregnant Caroline. And then there is the Emperor’s over-familiar sister, Pauline:

“Let us be comfortable while you tell me what my brother wants of me”

Although this is the fifth book in a series, it really doesn’t matter. It is eminently readable as a standalone, with only vague references to the previous novels in the series – ensuring you don’t feel like you are missing anything. The author has done a wonderful job of taking the reader on a journey through post-Revolutionary Paris. You can still feel the long shadow of the guillotine, while being treated to a glimpse of the splendour and elitism of the emerging Imperial court, where careers are made and ruined by the whim of one man…
Duval and the Empress’s Crown is a wonderful, easy, light read. The plot is not over-complicated but flows smoothly and swiftly to its conclusion. Whilst it could benefit from deeper descriptions of locations and events the characters are well-developed, amusing and capable of eliciting a range of emotions from the reader.
It’s a wonderful novel for a lazy day in the sun. A highly enjoyable read.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

For King, Country and Glory – Wellington’s Officers in the Peninsular War

Wellington_a_Salamanca
Wellington at the Battle of Salamanca

Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of  Wellington is attributed with saying that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton (although he didn’t actually say it); however, the training ground for many of the officers who commanded at Waterloo was a much more hazardous school – and certainly had nothing to do with cricket.

2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The final battle in the Napoleonic Wars, Waterloo was the culmination of over 20 years of fighting. Wellington’s officers had earned their experience and reputation in Portugal and Spain, in the Peninsular War of 1807-1814, Napoleon Bonaparte’s ‘Spanish ulcer’.

Having risen through the ranks via the army system of purchase – where rank went to those who could buy it, rather than on merit – he was a colonel by the age of 27 and a major-general at 34. Many officers in the British army advanced this way and, although the system was flawed, it did give us the greatest British general of all time.

Sir_Arthur_Wellesley,_1st_Duke_of_Wellington
Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

Practical and meticulous to detail in the day-to-day army administration, Wellington was determined his officers would train their men so they could beat any force they opposed.

He was a master of the battlefield.

Generally, the officers of the Peninsular War were the ‘stiff upper lip’ types. Their letters home spoke of action and adventure, but few officers spoke of their feelings in battle.  These officers were gentlemen who desired glory and lived within a code of honour. Life in war, to them, was a grand experience and the battlefield was where glory could be achieved, if you survived it.

An officer’s life was generally better than that of the men. The officer’s had packs – or haversacks – containing rations (including a charge of rum) and spare equipment, but these were conveniently transported on carts, rather than their backs, like the common soldier.

Retreat, however, showed a less than honourable attitude of some of the officers. Some rode in carts while their men struggled to march – often barefoot. During the retreat to Corunna, in January 1809, there was an incidence of one officer climbing on the back of one of his men, so as not to get his feet wet while crossing a river. This proved a great morale booster for the men, when an even more senior officer ordered the soldier to drop his charge into the river.

220px-36_214430~death-of-sir-john-moore-(1761-1809)-january-17th-1809,-from-'the-martial-achievements-of-great-britain-and-her-allies-from-1799-
Death of Sir John Moore, Corunna 1809

It was during retreat discipline was most likely to break down. The retreat to Corunna was harrowing for the men and officers; the Spanish winter was harsh and the French were constantly nipping at the army’s heels. Officers used a mixture of encouragement and punishment to cajole the men along. Punishment was harsh; floggings and hangings were inflicted for various crimes.

The army’s discipline depended on the diligence of the regimental officers; men convicted of robber with violence or desertion were hanged, while looters and stragglers risked the lash. The chance of reprieve from punishment was dangled over regiments as a way of getting the men to fight harder when the enemy was close by.

Generals were loved, feared and admired in equal measure. ‘Black Bob’ Craufurd of the Light Brigade was seen as a harsh disciplinarian, but he looked after his men; he led them and suffered with them, marching in their midst and sharing in their miseries. General Roland Hill earned the nickname of ‘Daddy’ due to his care for his troops; his men adored him. And Sir John Moore, killed at the Battle of Corunna having brought the army safely through a harrowing retreat, was mourned deeply, his memory often invoked to encourage the men in the thick of battle.

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Battle of Talavera, 1809

Officers were expected to be brave, to lead their men from the front, wherever possible. An officer was proud to fall injured in front of the regimental colours – leading their men, rather than following. They often waxed philosophical about the “beautifully romantic and heroically sublime”¹ battlefield, while describing the piteous moans of the wounded – men and horses – and the fury of the combatants. The chivalrous sense of honour was a code; one rode straight, spoke the truth and never showed fear.

Many officers considered themselves content and happy in the military life, thinking little about the enemy, except on the few occasions when they were brought to battle. Campaign life for an officer was a combination of adventure, enjoyment and discomfort; although they were expected to lead their men, they rarely kept company with them when not on the march. Officer and soldier were billeted separately wherever possible; the coarse behaviour of the men grated on the refined officer.

If they looked after their men, however, their men would look after them. There are numerous anecdotes of soldiers trying to protect their officers from the enemy, providing their officers with food and souvenirs taken from the enemy. According to Rifleman Harris, an act of kindness from an officer had often been the cause of his life being saved in the midst of battle.

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The Siege of Badajoz, 1812

There were exceptions, of course. An area of Lisbon, known as Belem, was full of officers avoiding the fighting, who fell ill even when only within earshot of a battle. Wellington was happy for unsuitable officers to return home, or at least stay away from the army.

Of those who remained, every officer was a volunteer; they saw the military life as a way of advancement in later civilian life – or as a way to be useful to their king and country. The majority were gentlemen; although their were rare instances of officers having risen from the ranks, these failed to gain the full respect of the common soldier and were not, as a rule, successful.

To many the army was a home.  The military life was a profession, officers lived and died to “promote its honour and glory”².

220px-Wellington_at_Waterloo_Hillingford
Wellington at Waterloo, 1815

And Wellington was the heart of the army, his presence inspired confidence. Even with all his ambivalence of character, he exerted an extraordinary sense of loyalty among both officers and men. Sir John Kincaid said there was “not a bosom in the army that didn’t beat more lightly, when it heard the joyful news of his arrival.”³

And it was with the confidence and experience gained from 7 years of war in the Iberian Peninsular that Wellington led his army against the French for one last time. It would be the 1st time that Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, would face Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French; at Waterloo on 18th June 1815, 200 years ago.

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Footnotes: ¹& ² A Boy in the Peninsular War, Robert Blakeney ; ³ Beggars in Red: The British Army 1789-1889, Sir John Kincaid, quoted by John Strawson.

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Article adapted from my own dissertation of 1992, entitled For King, Country and Glory? The British Soldier in the Peninsular War, 1808-1814.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: A Boy in the Peninsular War, Robert Blakeney; Beggars in Red: The British Army 1789-1889, John Strawson; The Recollections of Rifleman Harris, edited by Christopher Hibbert; On the Road with Wellington: The Diary of a War Commissary in the Peninsular Campaigns, August Schaumann; A British Rifleman: Journals & Correspondence during the Peninsular War and Campaign of Wellington, Major George Simmons; Memoirs of Sir Harry Smith, Sir Harry Smith; The Letters of Private Wheeler, William Wheeler; The Sword and the Pen, edited by Michael Brander; The British Soldier, JM Brereton; The Face of Battle and The Mask of Command, John Keegan; Wellington: the years of the Sword, Lady Elizabeth Longford; Soldiers. A History of Men in Battle, John Keegan and Richard Holmes.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly