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Annual Booklist 2016-2017 : Carole Divall, FINS

Author of Redcoats Against Napoleon: The 30th Regiment During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (Pen & Sword, 2009); Inside the Regiment: the Officers and Men of the 30th Regiment During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (Pen & Sword, 2011); Wellington’s Worst Scrape: The Burgos Campaign 1812 (Pen & Sword, 2012).


Paul F. Brunyee, Napoleon’s Britons and the St Helena Decision (The History Press, 2009). Although this book was first published seven years ago, I only caught up with it this year, and found it a fascinating afterword to Napoleon’s active career, covering as it does the period from his flight from Malmaison to his death. The author’s familiarity with St Helena, the result of several visits, usefully informs the text, particularly in relation to Napoleon’s many complaints. There is a balance of British and French views and attitudes throughout. (Even Sir Hudson Lowe receives even-handed treatment.) Perhaps the long chapter, Longwood House, reads confusingly at times, but even here the content serves to deepen our understanding of Napoleon’s final years.

Brendan Simms, Three Victories and a Defeat: the Rise and Fall of the First British Empire (Penguin, 2007). As someone whose familiarity with the 18th century between the death of Queen Anne and the French Revolution is less secure than it ought to be, I found this exhaustive study of political, diplomatic and military issues both challenging and rewarding. The challenge lay in digesting a wealth of detail: the reward, in finishing the book with a much firmer grasp of this crucial period in British history. There are times when Simms becomes a little too repetitive, as if he feels the need to beat the reader into submissive acceptance of his arguments, but this does have the useful effect of provoking readers into making their own interpretations of the ideas and evidence he presents.

Martin R. Howard, Death Before Glory! The British Soldier in the West Indies in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (Pen and Sword, 2015). Like Simms’ book this is another volume that took me out of my comfort zone. (I certainly had need of the maps, basic though they are.) The focus is firmly on the British Army and the campaigns fought in the Caribbean, amplified by the experiences of the men themselves. (There is some consideration of the French army of the period but it remains very much the enemy.) What emerges is a comprehensive overview of the men and the campaigns. Any reservations about the view that the West Indies was the graveyard of the European soldier are put to rest by this study. In a concluding chapter, A Great Mortality: Disease, Howard makes clear the price paid for exporting war to the Caribbean.

Paul O’Keefe, Waterloo, the Aftermath (Bodley Head, 2014). Amongst the many books on Waterloo published to mark the bicentenary, this one caught my attention as offering something different, a narrative of what happened next? Too many books dedicated to battles and campaigns end with the closure of victory or defeat, with perhaps a chapter to deal with consequences. This book reverses the process by reminding us that the story of Waterloo goes well beyond the evening of 18 June. After some brief context, O’Keefe’s real starting point lies in a visceral picture of the horrors of the battlefield. Then, like the ripples from a stone tossed in water, he explores how the news spread, how the victors conducted themselves, how even those of the vanquished who had survived the battle fell victim to the White Terror. Thus it is a useful extension to the familiar account that ends as the broken French army flees from the battlefield.

Karl A. Roider, Baron Thugut and Austria’s Response to the French Revolution (Princeton University Press, 2014). Anyone who has struggled to unravel the complexities of Austrian foreign policy during the Revolutionary Wars should welcome the clarification offered by this study of Francis II’s chief minister. To British historians from Fortescue to Mackesy, Baron Franz Maria Thugut was a Machiavellian villain who promoted Austrian interests with studied dishonesty. Perhaps it needed the neutral stance of an American academic to demonstrate that Thugut, while promoting Austrian interests as his position required, was also a man in the Metternich mould, concerned above all else to preserve social and political stability in the face of the French whirlwind. Thus this book is a useful corrective to an Anglo-centric view of Austrian policy and its chief instigator.

As a suggestion for a book that needs to be written, the Flanders campaign of 1793-1795 became increasingly complicated as the four allies, Austria, Prussia, Great Britain and the Dutch Republic, pursued policies that eventually proved inimical. As a result, studies that focus mainly on the military aspects of the campaigns encourage national myopia. Only when someone adopts a wider perspective that embraces the political, social and military concerns of the allies will the complexities of the campaign finally be clarified.

 

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