British Journal for Military History
Waterloo, as Wellington's final battle, and his only encounter with Napoleon, has been feted by historians as the Iron Duke's greatest battle. This article argues that, whilst the circumstances of the battle undoubtedly render it as one of Wellington's greatest, in terms of its importance in military history (i.e. the history of how wars are fought) Waterloo is in fact not Wellington's greatest battle. Instead, the article examines two of Wellington's own choices as his greatest: Assaye, fought in India in September 1803, and the Nivelle, fought in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Across a sweep of history that takes in Wellington's whole military career, it can be seen that these two battles represent Wellington's learning curve and illustrate his tactical, operational and strategic brilliance. By contrast, Waterloo was for Wellington a hard fought but disappointing battle, since Napoleon has proven less effective an opponent that expected. Indeed, the victory at Waterloo arguably bred stagnation and lazy thinking about the military profession within the British Army between 1815 and 1854.
This article looks at the behaviour of the British soldiers in the Peninsular War between 1808 and 1814. Despite being allies to Spain and Portugal, the British soldiers committed violent acts towards civilians on a regular basis. Traditionally it has been argued that the redcoat’s misbehaviour was a product of their criminal backgrounds. This article will challenge this assumption and place the soldiers’ behaviour in the context of their wartime experience. It will discuss the effects of war upon soldiers’ mentality, and reflect upon the importance of psychological support in any theatre of war.
Scholarly attention on how the British public thought about the Peninsular War is limited. This piece examines contemporary letters, caricatures and newspapers to determine whether the public was influenced by the media’s presentation of the conflict, or vice versa. It is argued that the Peninsular War was a peripheral concern for the public, which was easily eclipsed by political crises or scandals at home. Furthermore, an undertone of patriotism can be identified throughout the Peninsular War. The British public engaged with an ideal of the war in which British honour was maintained, and ultimately personified, by Wellington and his army.
For many years ‘women’s history’ has been a considerable growth area and with this has come an increasing interest in the role women have played in times of war. For the period prior to the mid-nineteenth century, however, interest in this subject has been confronted by a major problem in that large numbers of women were illiterate. In consequence, the few female voices that we have are voices from the elites, one effect of this having been that a tiny handful of semi-mythologised heroines - Agustina Zaragoza in Spain, Molly Pitcher in the States - have been acquired a privileged position that far outweighs their actual importance. How, then, can one best approach the most characteristic female figure in the panorama of ‘horse and musket’ warfare, namely the ‘baggage’, the soldier’s wife who tramped to war in the wake of her husband and carried out a whole range of auxiliary roles in barrack and bivouac alike? In this article, it is argued that one possible source is the ballad, dozens of such works not only discussing the issue of women at war but also doing so in a voice that almost certainly in part comes to us from the otherwise silent lips of the women themselves.
Andrew Roberts and Charles J. Esdaile, 'Debate: Was Napoleon Great?'
Professor Charles Esdaile and Professor Andrew Roberts let the BJMH in on their recent correspondence about Napoleon. These exchanges coincide with the publication of Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts which is reviewed in this issue of the Journal. All correspondence was by e-mail.
Nick Lipscombe, 'Napoleon’s Obsession – the Invasion of England'
By the end of the eighteenth century the threat of French invasion was a way of life. Nevertheless, it was Napoleon’s determination to succeed, where others had failed, that brought the terror of the Revolution from the cities and towns of France to the shores of England. The nation’s response greatly affected Britain’s naval strategy, resulted in a complete overhaul of the country’s auxiliary forces and provoked an unprecedented building frenzy of multifarious defences and communication systems along the southern and eastern coasts of England. As it was, the defences were never tested, but the initiatives had made any planned invasion more problematic and ipso facto made Britain a safer place.
Napoleon and his supposed recipe for victory became the great model for subsequent generations of strategists. This is odd in the light of his epic defeats of Leipzig and Waterloo, and of the total disappearance of his empire. This essay examines whether and to what extent this is due to the first three great analysts of his ‘way of war’, Rühle von Lilienstern and Clausewitz in the German-speaking world, and francophone Jomini. We find their analysis sufficiently complex to exculpate them in part from the excessive adulation of Napoleon by following strategists. Nevertheless, especially Clausewitz’s and Jomini’s writing focused so much on Napoleonic warfare that through this his way of war came to dominate strategic thinking.
Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts, reviewed by Alan Forrest
'The Battle of Waterloo in Bicentennial: A Review of Seven Books on Waterloo' by Charles J. Esdaile