|Waterloo: myth and reality|
|A while ago I mentioned that I was looking forward to the release of Gareth Glover's Waterloo: myth and reality from Pen & Sword. I was fortunate enough to read an early draft last year, so knew that it would be something special. Now that the book itself is available - Here is the link on amazon, but it ought to be in most decent sized bookshops - I thought that I would post some more detailed comments. There is a minor flood of Waterloo books coming out at the moment, matching the similar deluge of 1914 related material last year. I daresay that in the long run I will get most, if not all of these. Some I suspect will not have a great deal new to say about anything, although if they tell the story well they may still be entertaining. |
However, I will be most surprised if any of them surprise me as much as Waterloo: myth and reality. So much of the familiar story of the battle was shaped by the Victorians, creating a narrative that was inspiring, dramatic, and patriotic - with different versions produced by all the main nations involved. All too often these stories prove to be groundless.
The book offers a very good and very detailed account of the Hundred Days campaign in 1815, including the wider political context. Too often everyone concentrates on 15th-18th June and gives little sense of the wider problems faced by both sides. One example would be battalions of the Young Guard being sent to the Vendee and so unavailable for the campaign in Belgium. From the context we move on to a detailed discussion of the armies, their deployments, and the situation in the weeks before Napoleon attacked. All of this is vital to our understanding of the behaviour of the rival commanders. It is easy to forget that Marshal Ney only arrived on the 15th June, accompanied by a single staff officer, and then within hours found himself in charge of almost half the French army. Then we have detailed discussion of Ligny and Quatre Bras, the manoeuvres of the 17th June and Waterloo itself, as well as the Allied advance into France. All in all, this is one of the clearest and most insightful accounts of 1815 I have ever read. Time and again it presents a picture that is not quite what the Waterloo buff will be expecting.
In the past I have blogged about the authors' series The Waterloo Archive which present so many previously unknown primary sources for these months. This is his first narrative history and his knowledge of this vast source material shines through at every stage. The sheer quantity of information contained in these pages is astonishing, and I am pretty sure that I will go back again and again.
One interesting feature associated more with magazine format is the use of boxed text to discuss particular problems or controversies. So for instance, we have features on such varied questions as the Duchess of Richmond's Ball, the veracity of Mercer of the Royal Horse Artillery's famous and oft-quoted account, and even the story that Marshal Ney survived the firing squad and escaped to the USA. In every case the evidence is assessed with great care and a balanced judgement made - sometimes to admit that we cannot say either way. One particularly interesting example looks at Wellington's army on the 15th June, listing the position of each major unit, when they received orders to march and when they moved. This sort of analysis is far more useful that some of the more wild conspiracy theories to circulate in recent years. One thing that is abundantly clear from this book is the extent to which Napoleon, Wellington and Blucher all made mistakes and errors of judgement, had problems transmitting orders and getting their troops where they were supposed to be, and that really it was more a question of who coped best in all this chaos rather than flawless commanders outwitting the opposition with a master plan which held together from the start. None of this should surprise us, especially when we remember how hastily organised all the three armies were - and how multi-national they were in Wellington's case. Although there were plenty of veterans around on all sides, there were also a lot of inexperienced men - or men inexperienced at that level of command. Friction rather than duplicity is the key to understanding the campaign.
I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone who wants to know more about Waterloo, with the bicentenary due next year. It is also good for reminding us that this was the culmination of what was a World War, even THE Great War for the people who lived through it. In proportion to populations, the devastation it caused was on a par with the conflicts of the twentieth century.
If you are already an enthusiast for the period, then I have no doubt that you will find this a challenging and fresh portrayal of 1815. I suspect that you will also find it highly convincing. The truth is far more interesting than the myth, for it has just as much drama and the greater ring of truth.
As for me, for the moment I am working on the sixth novel, and so my mind is still focused more on 1811!
|The fifth novel in the series is also due for release on 14th August. This one is called Run them ashore and is set in Andalusia culminating in the Battle of Barrosa in 1811. Here is the link to its page on amazon.co.uk |
As with Augustus, I shall add a new page to the website with more detail about the latest story.
Later in August, All in Scarlet Uniform> will be released in paperback and here is the link
|Augustus due out in August|
|My biography of Augustus will be released next month. Here in the UK, Weidenfeld and Nicolson will release Augustus: from revolutionary to emperor on the 14th August & here is a link to it on amazon.co.uk|
In the USA Yale University Press will release it as Augustus: first emperor of Rome on the 26th August & here is the link to amazon.com
There is also an audio cd in the USA and a kindle version in the UK. (I do not yet know whether there will also be a kindle version in the US).
Nearer the time, I will add a new page to the website with more information about the book.
|Today is the one hundred and ninety-ninth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Obviously next year will see bigger commemorations of the event, and for those who are interested it is well worth keeping an eye on the website of Waterloo 200|
Just as last Autumn there was a deluge of books about 1914 and the start of the Great War, the end of this year will see a flurry of books about 1815 and the Hundred Days. I suspect that they will be a very mixed bag, some good, some not really saying anything new, but at least telling the story well, and a few indifferent. One that will be well worth getting is Gareth Glover, Waterloo: Myth and Reality published by Pen&Sword on the 30th September 2014. I was lucky enough to read an early draft of this, and there is a huge amount that is new and often surprising, which is as you would expect from the editor of the Waterloo Archive series, which currently runs to five volumes.
More recently I have read and enjoyed a couple of books focusing on the Battle of Quatre Bras, fought on the 16th June. The first was Mike Robinson, The Battle of Quatre Bras 1815(Pen&Sword 2009), which covers the whole action from the Allied perspective, and then Erwin Muilwijk, Quatre Bras, Perponcher's gamble (Sovereign House Books, 2013) which deals specifically with the Netherlanders. I am looking forward to Andrew Field, Prelude to Waterloo. Quatre Bras, the French perspective (Pen&Sword, 30th July 2014), which should complement these nicely. The same author's Waterloo - the French perspective was very good.
|Hadrian's Wall on-line course|
|Here is a link to a free on-line course looking at the archaeology of Hadrian's Wall. It is being run by Newcastle University and led by my old friend Prof. Ian Haynes - you may remember that I posted a blog entry about his book The Blood of the Provinces a while ago. It s set to begin in September and run for six weeks. Ought to be good fun, especially for those of you who have not had a chance to visit the Wall or want to reminded of past trips. Hadrian's Wall course|
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