The destabilisation of the Ottoman Empire through internal issues, Russian expansionism in the Caucuses and Balkans not to mention direct French intervention in Egypt and Syria between 1798-1801 created opportunities for ambitious leaders like Muhammad Ali Pasha and Saud Al Kabeer (the great) to carve out nations from the flesh of the empire.
In 1811 the Ottoman Sultan Mahmoud II ordered Muhammad Ali Pasha (the supposed Wāli in Egypt) to redouble efforts to pacify Arabia, where in 1802 the House of Saud had gone on a conquering spree under the expansionist, Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Al Kabeer) Emir of Diriyah netting the holy city of Mecca as a prize.
Though ostensibly on the job since 1807, Ali had other things on his mind than fighting in Arabia, (such as massacring Mamelukes to secure his power-base) but he was content to let Istanbul believe the fiction of Egyptian fealty. He dispatched his son Tusun Pasha with 10,000 men, but Saud Al Kebeer defeated him at Al-Safra in 1812.
Despite stubborn Saudi resistance, Tusun Pasha was reinforced with another 10,000 men & was able to recapture Al Medina and Mecca. The Saudi Emir then died in 1814. Tusun was also ailing and agreed to a treaty with Abdullah bin Saud in which Hijaz was surrendered & vassalage offered.
Neither Ali nor the Sultan ratified the treaty with the House of Saud. In 1816 Tusun Pasha died and with mutual distrust rampant, the war resumed with Ali’s other son, Ibrahim Pasha taking command & driving the Saudi Emir and his fanatical “Wahhabis” (more properly Salafis) into the desert of Nejd.
Ibrahim Pasha was leading a reinvigorated Egyptian army, newly reformed and reorganised against the Emirate’s Wahhabi die-hards. The “Wahhabi’s” being adherents of Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, a Sunni scholar who wanted to reform what he saw as Islam’s decedent devotion to saints and rituals. His puritanical followers dealt harshly with their “unclean” Co-religionists as a result and the objection to the veneration of Muslim saints extended to banning the name of the Ottoman sultans in Friday prayers. The Saud Emirs of Diriyah were the greatest champions of Abd al-Wahhab’s teachings.
Therefore, nothing short of totally subjugation would be tolerated by Istanbul & Cairo, after Wahhabi, massacres, desecrations of orthodox holy sights and direct insults to the Sultan. In 1818 Ibrahim brought his forces, now swollen to 30,000 men to the gates of Diriyah, having marched across the desert and ruthlessly massacring the male population of Dhurma to sap the heart of the rebels. However, the great fortress held out for six months with huge loss of life on both sides.
Outnumbered & starving, the Wahhabi defenders surrendered Diriyah on 9 Sept. Abdullah bin Saud was taken to Cairo & protected for a time, but despite promises to spare the the city, Diriyah was sacked, & the emir himself was reluctantly sent to Istanbul & beheaded in 1819.
The fall of the Diriyah Emirate also known as the 1st Saudi State, brought an end to the period of Sunni Islamist “Wahhabi” expansionism though did not wipe it out & neither the faltering power of the Sultan nor the rising power of Egypt managed to assert dominance over Arabia, and the Saudi state would rise again.
One (or perhaps we should say three) of the the most important armies that ever took the field for King Charles between 1642 and 1646 was that which included they famed regiments of Cornish infantry.
Renowned as both disciplined and fierce, the dogged westerners won fame in several important battles, and some go so far as to say that as the Cornish armies under Sir Ralph Hopton declined, so too did Royal fortunes dwindle. Perhaps only the little army commanded by Montrose in the north has as great a reputation as Hopton’s flinty West Country regiments.
Laurence Spring has gone a long way to creating the ultimate reference for the armies of Ralph Hopton, and indeed a very useful book to own about 17th century soldiering in Britain generally. Perhaps geared towards serious students than general readers, the book is not entangled in jargon, presenting a clearly thought out and carefully constructed presentation of the makeup of the western royalist forces.
Speaking as someone with only basic knowledge of how the civil wars in England, Scotland and Ireland were conducted, I found this book extremely enlightening. It is packed with detail drawn from allot of contemporary or near contemporary sources.
Those old stalwarts, the muster rolls and other administrative minutiae are consulted to form a picture of the type of men who served the King in the West Country. Everything from recruitment to weaponry, rates of pay and life on campaign is gone into with the same investigative thoroughness.
The author is not content either to find a convenient bottom line to present the reader for the sake of a neat paragraph, but presents a whole range of anomalies and contributing factors to each section. In the 17th century, exceptions tended to prove the rule, and this is especially obvious when he looks at how the royalist regiments were raised, trained and equipped.
The recruitment and commissioning of men and officers shows us how the struggled insinuated itself at all levels of society, and how seriously (and not so seriously) some gentry and nobility took their service. Readers more seasoned to military history will find it as no surprise that there was a degree of mixing in terms of the rank and file, and for instance, not every Cornish Regiment was made up of Cornishmen.
As noted above, although this is an invaluable insight into the workings of the royalist armies of Cornwall and Devon due to its deep level of research, but it’s also a good general work on ‘soldiering’ in the period, which we come to see somewhat less as a profession as in many cases a group of men who have mastered the use of arms for a fixed period. As such even those who are pursuing a wider impression civil wars, rather than just people specifically studying the western royalist forces, will find its many observations and findings of interest.
Amongst aficionados and buffs of military history, not least the majority of academics, the shores of the Baltic are a backwater of the Napoleonic Wars. The scene of moderately interesting special operations (Evacuation of the Romana Divison), a place of backstory for Wellington and Nelson (Operations against Copenhagen) and the scene of highly abbreviated campaigns over territorial possessions that were surprisingly influential in the tangled web of Napoleonic politics, (Russo-Swedish and Dano-Swedish Wars and the founding of the house of Bernadotte).
As a result very little time is given to the military forces of the Norse kingdoms of Denmark-Norway and Sweden (and Finland), dismissed as Bernadotte’s toy soldiers in the latter case and a nonentity of militias in the former. But the makeup and administration of the Danish army of the Napoleonic Wars will carry the reader beyond the field of discarded Clogs that is conjured whenever the Battle of Køge (1807) is mentioned.
Much as surveys of the minutiae and material culture of military history may be dismissed as mere rivet counting, David A. Wilson highlights the importance for military historians to be aware of the intricacies of the military machines at work in his excellent 3 volume series of books on the organisation, uniforms and equipment of the Danish land forces of the period.
In an age of reform, Revolution and innovation, there is much to observe in the armies of what we might term the lesser powers, and a look at the organisation of their armies, the challenges they faced and the ambitions of their leaders can greatly inform the popular narrative of this war.
Far from a pathetic rabble of militias, Wilson points the reader directly to a few home truths about the Danish army in a succinct and direct historical overview before digging into a breathtakingly detailed summary of uniforms and trappings that all writers of fiction, war-gamers and serious military historians wanting some basis in English for the war in the Baltic.
In 1802 the Danish army was looking to the future and trying to create a strong military deterrent to a host of enemies. Indeed few countries can have been as luckless as Denmark between 1802 and 1814. That being said they had taken steps to secure their position after the upheaval of the 1790’s. Entering the league of armed neutrality and introducing sweeping reforms had taken hold of their armed forces and created a national army of conscripts, well equipped and well trained according to military thinkers like Von Huth, and led by capable generals like Carl of Hessen.
The importance of a slew of German military thinkers on the kingdoms of Europe cannot be understated in the development of warfare at the end of the 18th century. Wilhelm Heinrich Von Huth, Who was an artillery commander under Frederick the Great, made reforms that braced Denmark’s armed forces for the trials to come and indeed were the bedrock of their effectiveness up to 1850. His innovative use of all available European improvements created a singular Danish model for the kingdom, which though unlikely to sweep away the other systems was more than suitable for the aggressive tactical doctrines that came to typify the kingdom.
A large national army, well equipped and trained with intelligent, well educated, if not brilliant officers emerged where they could, as an unusually aggressive and capable army. Hordes of skirmishers advanced before the infantry battalions who moved in lines rather than columns, light artillery rushing forwards, impelled by the doctrine to get into action and aim well, as there was no shame in losing a gun that had been well served. Trotting behind came equally waspish squadrons of horse, who showed considerable dash and elan when called to drive off inumberble Cossack and irregular columns after Leipzig.
As a military force, in 1813, the Danish division impressed even the iron marshal Davout during the siege of Hamburg, the infantry and cavalry showing great potential, displaying a marked mastery of light infantry warfare and all arms cooperation with startlingly aggressive cavalry, as the Russians, Swedish and Prussians found out as the French allied forces retreated from Northern Germany in the winter of 1813. Some might have heard of the defeat at Copenhagen and Køge, but few will have heard of the Battles of Boden and Sehested where Prince Hessen’s men proved why Davout had bend moved to declare that ‘I march as happily with them as I would with any French veterans.’
These books bring home the fact that Europe was in the throes of another military revolution even before the Napoleonic Wars broke out, and it is fascinating to see how Denmark prepared for the tumult ahead, creating a progressive and modern army that made them, (or should have made them) an attractive ally for the enemies of Napoleon. I am sure these books will be the start of many people’s investigations into the Norse and Baltic theatres of the Napoleonic Wars.
Content wise books are startlingly through, covering organisation, equipment, tactics, rations, recruitment, colours, horse tack, service, weapons and a multitude of uniform details and variations for infantry, technical branches, artillery, staff and cavalry and their various evolutions between 1802-1814. Each is illustrated by the author, who works under the name Jackdaw, and offers incredibly detailed and indeed charming uniform plates that will be a great boon to modellers and reenactors.
Volume 1 gives a general introduction and then focuses on the staff and infantry. Volume 2 progresses to the Cavalry and Artillery and Volume 3 will cover the forces in Norway and the militia. These are large format softcovers, almost A5 in size and will probably be very handy for direct visual reference when painting the Perry Miniatures range.
The weaknesses of the series remain in the lack of foot or end notes, relying for reference on a through bibliography. There are a few tactical diagrams but the majority of the images are those created by the author and among the interesting appendixes can be found a list of images that can be looked up. A lack of index is perhaps also a little frustrating but as the books are well structured navigating them for reference isn’t a problem.
Works like this in English are to be applauded not just for the thoroughness, as for many the Baltic theatre of the war remains illusive due to the language barrier, I eagerly look forward to the Norwegian and militia volume.
If you’ve ever read about pirates, you might have heard of Stede Bonnet especially if I’m your reading you’ve seen something about Blackbeard. But if you’ve only heard of him then you might well be puzzled. This was what author, Jeremy Moss found when he began his search to find out the truth about the ‘Gentleman Pirate.’
Though rather obscure today, Bonnet was better known than some in the 18th century, indeed he was known in his day as one of the more infamous pirates of the Atlantic and Caribbean. But is this deserved?
Amongst student of maritime crime, Bonnet is known as a bit of a joke, and Moss’ critical eye for detail makes him perfectly suited to act as his biographer. Bonnet was a wealthy gentleman who seemingly had a midlife crisis and joined the 18th century equivalent of a biker gang, only he bought all the bikes and hired all the riders to form his gang.
“the author brings the reader into constant contact with important contemporary sources, such as trial records, later history and collections of state papers. Not enough pirate history does this”
Though it is true that he learned a great deal from being the prisoner of Blackbeard, and associations with others like Charles Vane, by the time of his capture he had learned how to act like a pirate, cruising and capturing passing craft casually from a secluded inlet, and puffing and blowing about taking revenge on ships from Carolina, and threatening to shoot any of his crew dead who refused to fight. As Moss brings us through the story of his unusual life, one even begins to wonder who was conning who when it came to Blackbeard.
This book highlights very well the difference between the wannabe apprentice pirate captain Bonnet and ‘real’ pirates, who acted according to codes and traditions and considered themselves a loose brotherhood, hence they felt entitled to act in certain ways depending on who had done what in disregard of the rules. We see this when Moss looks into his motivations in turning criminal. Jacobite sympathies (a popular affectation by certain captains) mixed with, mid life crisis & literal dementia is an original hypothesis, and one that is actually borne out by the available sources.
When I read the book, I loved how the author brings the reader into constant contact with important contemporary sources, such as trial records, later history and collections of state papers. Not enough pirate history does this, and it will really enable a serious student to do some proper digging. *doffs cocked hat*.
Stede actually got off to a good start but he wasn’t a typical pirate as he literally owned his ship & the crew had bounties, but he revealed he was no sailor and then got hammered by a Spanish Man O’ War.
The hero, for all his faults is treated kindly, for instance Bonnet is thought by the author to have likely remained faithful to his wife. I suspect the author is trying to make Bonnet out to be less than the figure of fun that he is commonly ascribed. And it’s true Bonnet isn’t implicated with women in the record.
Apart from a few small things, mostly cosmetic to do with naval terminology and weaponry, which gave me no pause to doubt the overall narrative, there were no speed bumps. A highly detailed coverage of the trial of the pirates takes up part two of the book, offering day by day narrative of the proceedings, yielding many interesting points for studious readers, and some are also amusing, such as Chief Justice Alein becoming irritated when he could get no straight answer as to wether or not Bonnet was, as he called it ‘commander in chief’ of the pirate ship.
This wonderful moment of anecdote shows us not only the singularity of the semi-diplomatic nature of pirate crews, but we can also see the novelty of it at the time, as the confused Chief Justice becomes increasingly irate at the mention of the power of the pirate quartermaster exceeding that of Bonnet.
Excellent appendixes round out the book, which is in sum highly readable and supremely informative. I look forward eagerly to Moss’ future work.
The Story of China was a book I was not looking for but in a way I had been waiting for it since at least 2014. In late 2020 I found myself remembering that Michael Wood had not only made an appearance on twitter but that he had written a book on China. The subject of Chinese history is not a small one. From my own brief divergences into the subject of Qing military affairs, for which I read Lovell’s book on the Opium War in 2014, and my reading of Jung Chang’s biography of Empress Dowager Cixi in 2016, I was aware of the daunting scale of the ground I would have to cover in order to better my understanding of one of the world’s great civilisations.
Everything that is united will fall apart and everything that is fallen apart will come back together again. So it has always been.
When during the brief breath between UK lockdowns in the autumn of 2020 I saw the golden eyes of the sinuous, wild haired jade dragon, coiling up through the gilt clouds that frame the title, in a bookshop window I realised that if I was ever to step towards a better understanding of how to interact with Chinese history, Michael Wood would be the author I would trust to guide me.
My confidence in Wood stems from when, again, many years ago, I had reached out and pulled from a bookshelf in Waterstones Inverness a reprint of Wood’s Conquistadors. I then consumed as many of his documentaries as I could, including the documentary on China, which I watched for inspiration after I had been persuaded to review Frank Dikotter’s book on the Cultural Revolution. For all this I felt reassured in purchasing it, not only for the rare beauty and quality of the production of the hardback, but because Wood knows how to write grand history of great complexity with great accessibility.
Having finally found the time between pressing projects to finish it, I can happily say, my faith has been rewarded. The Story of China is the history of a civilisation from a grassroots perspective. In this book we look at Chinese history from a different perspective, not that of a philosophical or intellectual one, but a demographic, sociological one.
Wood focuses not so much on the story of China as a nation but as a civilisation. Thus you will often find yourself not in the courts of emperors but in Han peasant farms, Qin magistrate courts and Tang watchtowers. Indeed only once we reach the age of the Great Qing, (and dare we say it the 20th century ‘dynasties’), can it be said that the Story of China lends more weight to the Emperors themselves as much as his subjects, and even then the occupants of the dragon throne, for all their glamour, are only ever the framework to Wood’s main argument. That the story of the Chinese civilisation can be interacted with through the people who experienced it. And I think he is right.
The wars, laws, social, economic and political movements are revealed through the experiences of the people who were effected by them. With considerable skill, Wood ensures that the vast array of ever changing characters who appear in this book, who have shaped and coloured Chinese history, even those who play only the most fleeting part in it, appear so that they can echo the great themes of the civilisation right down to the end.
A slave who could turn his hand to five trades, soldiers on lonely outposts asking friends to give them news and procure them clothes and shoes, female poets, travel writers, revolutionaries and a true life police procedural murder mystery with the Qin Empire’s version of Hercule Poirot. All have something to say about the historical edifice of China, and in doing so allow the reader to place a more human face upon it. These of course drift along in a narrative, with the famous and legendary, that shifts between geography, culture, biography and story with seamless ease.
In terms of dynasties, Wood primarily examines their political and cultural aspects, one or two emperors of the crop from each is covered, which is simple enough with the Qin, but more difficult with longer lived ones and the Qin, Han and Tang empires feature prominently in the first third of the book.
Events here are both critical and incidental to the people who lived through them, as they left glimpses of what it was like to be a part of the rise and fall of dynasties but it is their experiences that are presented in the most detail. As such more time is given over to mini biographies of people most westerners will have never heard of, but who could be said to be as influential in their own sphere as Samuel Pepys or Jane Austen.
As a result, Wood is just as likely to shun the gilded halls and soft furnishings of palaces, the battlefields, siege works and councils of war, to examine the rude thatch and homespun of the villages nearby, because what is decreed at the top will eventually reach the roots, and it is indeed at a grassroots level, as much as a higher one, that Wood wants us to experience the story China.
As he narrates each dynasty, Wood brings us to the world of the village and the family. Central to the heart of Chinese History is the family histories, lovingly curated and preserved through many calamities and still treasured by many today. With each upheaval and political change comes the ‘View from the Village,’ which is a peak into what was going on outside the imperial court, and the provincial governments. I found myself eagerly anticipating each coming view as the chapters wore on.
Wood has given the reader a thorough introduction to the great themes and debates of Chinese civilisation.
Within this framework, individual lives are used to carry the story forwards, and Wood places special emphasis on the arts as a focal point of culture. Rather than court intrigue or decisive battles, Wood seeks different propulsion for his story. Celebrating economic, scientific, military and architectural achievements are commonplace in most histories of empires and nations, but the Story of China is very much a work that is built around literature and poetry and the people who created it. As a result equal time is given to high and low characters; the famous and the obscure travel together and men share the limelight with women in a equitable light that does not pander.
By the end, though I am admittedly unread in the great expanse of Chinese historiography, it seems that Wood has given the reader a thorough introduction to the great themes and debates of Chinese civilisation. Most of all the continuing balancing act of Confucian moral government and centralised despotism set against the tableau of one of the richest literary and material cultures in the world. More than anything I believe this book wonderfully shows how successive dynasties have tried to espouse the Mandate of Heaven, in whatever form would keep them in power, and how that influenced the people over whom the mandate gave power.
I admit that I might need to ask forgiveness for my delight in finding the portion of the book devoted to the ‘modern dynasties’ from 1911 to 2019, somewhat more concise than the sections of the great imperial dynasties. Or perhaps my bias for those more distant things allowed me to drift more quickly over the upheavals that followed to fall of the Qing: The Civil War, the struggle against the Japan and the progress of Communism.
But therein as I closed the book, I found myself considering the collective eras of Mao, Deng and Ji, (the former two, still within the reach of living memory for people living under the latter) against those of the Tang, Song, and Ming and thinking how new this China, or perhaps I should say, this image of China, we have all come to accept, respect and fear, really is. As I write this the words of the Ming writer Luo Guanzhong, written in the first chapter of his Romance of the Three Kingdoms drifted softly through my mind: ‘Everything that is united will fall apart and everything that is fallen apart will come back together again. So it has always been.’
They were known as bloodhounds. Because the relentless way the British Light Infantry would attack and pursue their patriot foes bred a chilling similarity to a pack of hunting dogs in full chase.
With their sleek and cut down uniforms, garish feathers and distinctive bugle-horns blaring behind them as they went into battle, these were probably the most feared infantry in the British Army Serving in North America during the Revolution.
As author Robbie MacNiven shows us in this book, this was a reputation that the light infantry battalions consciously adopted and cultivated. They bred an elite culture within their ranks and at every opportunity encouraged an aura of capability, toughness and mercilessness that is reminiscent of special forces today.
Even in defeat they were dangerous and Patriot commanders learned to be weary of them on the battlefield. Their fighting spirit was such that they became mutinous at the mention of making peace with the rebels. Their officers, no less spoiling for a fight than the men, would write home of how fighting the Americans was much like fox hunting.
A steely eyed breed of short, stocky, active and dangerous men was born within these light companies. Men adept in the art of movement and concealment, of ambush and encirclement. They asked for no quarter and gave none, and they pursued their enemy relentlessly until they stopped kicking.
The author reveals this elite force with great descriptive skill and academic verve. Not only in battle but on campaign and in camp, giving good descriptions, visual and textual of the dress and training of the units. Also including information on loyalist forces and some little known areas of light infantry history as well. One of the most interesting is the rarely explored subject of the 1776 ‘contract rifle’ which was issued to five men in every light company.
The reader will be able to begin to get an image in their mind as to the esprit de Corps of the light infantry battalions, some of their terminology and traditions, and a sense of warfare in North America in general too.
Here warfare was dominated by who could deploy the most flexible infantry, and as a result this book builds on what other Osprey authors such as Stuart Reid have written about the so called ‘American scramble.’
An open order firing line able to act by company as well as by battalion, a theory which came to dominate practical linear warfare in the 19th century .
The book expands every now and then to observe that the British Army did not just stumble upon the light infantry doctrine at Shorncliffe camp in the early 1800s. A circular pattern emerged from 1755 to 1803 where as needs required light troops would be authorised and disbanded, but always enough residue would remain to ensure that the next time war loomed the light corps would return stronger than the last time. So by the start of Britain’s Napoleonic epic, fully authorised permanent light infantry battalions would be ready as a result.
With excellent accompanying images by Stephen Walsh this title is highly recommended.
A simplistic appreciation and survey of three fairly well known actions during the North American War of 1812 is delivered by Gregg Adams in this latest combat title.
While offering little that is terribly novel about the challenges and minutiae of how opposing Battalions tackled each other in the field during the conflict, it is good to see this overlooked conflict get attention.
The point of this book is to demonstrate how the US Army learned to hold it’s own against the British. It does this in straightforward style. The Americans are beaten in two battles, Queenston Heights and Chrysler’s Farm, then win a victory themselves at Chippewa which apparently demonstrated their ability to fight. Yet in the end I felt no closer to understanding what went into this change than I did to begin with.
It is a trend in histories of the wars between Britain and the US to create an underdog scenario in order for the Americans to rise above their supposedly invincible enemies. While there is no doubt that the US Army was in poor shape in 1812 and only found its feet in 1813, this recipe has been done many times and in the confined space of a this type of book, there might have been an opportunity here to investigate a different angle.
The battles are described at a fairly high angle level, without delving too deep into tactical or practical doctrine. Methods of fire control, logistics, and systems of arms handling and manoeuvre are only very briefly explained. The Americans lose the first two battles because of poor leadership and what the author calls their amateurish methods, but with little to demonstrate what exactly this looked like. To be honest I was left to imply from the quotes by General Scott that extensive training in roughly established methods paid dividends and that success could have been theoretically achieved at any time previously. Even the section dealing with Scott’s camp of instruction focuses only on the General’s opinion.
As one might expect, in the last year of the war some talented officers came along and got around to doing a proper job. This book is about regular infantry, and so discussing the militia and irregular forces, isn’t something it has time for, and that is good. But every now and then it throws in a little nugget of unsubstantiated information that raises more questions than answers. For instance in the section dealing with Chippewa, the author happily throws in a description of American Regulars taking aimed shots as if this was; A a hugely unusual thing, and; B even practical at all, given each side had roughly the same capabilties in terms of accuracy.
Combat books should realistically be about the dynamics and first hand experiences of combat from a very low level point of view, trying to conjure up a picture of combat from the ranks so the reader can get beyond the staple military history jargon, revealing what terms like ‘forced back’ actually looked like and what it meant.
This book gives some snappy and exciting battle summaries, especially if you like the David and Goliath scenario of British pros eventually being bested by Yankee amateurs, but little of the boots on the ground realities of linear combat in North America.
On the first day of June 1606 the mutilated body of a Punjabi wise man was swept downstream from Lahore. He had been drowned in the River Ravi after being cruelly tortured for his faith on the orders of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. The current buffeted the lifeless corpse, carrying it southwest towards the lower branch of the Sutlej and maybe from there onwards to where the waters of the Five Rivers meet at the all defining Indus.
His name was Arjan, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, the builder of the Harimandir Singh (Golden Temple) and their first martyr in their struggle against the Mughals. ‘Sit fully armed,’ Arjan advised his son and heir regarding his throne, shortly before he died. He enjoining him to lead his people in the ways of the previous Gurus in all respects, except for that now the Sikhs must in addition to seeking spiritual truth, keep their weapons close.
His son, Hargobind listened well and from his reign was seeded the strong Sikh virtues of spirituality and the warrior arts, forming the first community defence force known as the Akalis, or the Immortals. For as Guru Hargobind demonstrated with the miri and piri swords at his ascension ceremony, he would fight worldly enemies with one hand and spiritual ones with the other. ‘The destroyer of the enemies’ ranks, the brave, heroic Guru, is also a lover of mankind,’ the savant, Bhai Gurdas wrote, for ‘To protect an orchard hedge it with thorny trees.’
And like the prickly plants of Gurdas’ metaphor, the Sikhs became a thorn in the side of the Mughal empire. Stamp as they might even the mighty Aurangzeb could not wipe them out without being impaled by their points. Indeed much as Jehangir had stoked the fires of Sikh resistance by murdering Guru Arjan, the pressure exerted by Aurangzeb when he treacherously murdered the 9th Sikh Guru, and sent his head to his young son, won him a perilous enemy.
The young and dynamic Guru Gobind Das codified the warrior-protector tradition, forming the Khalsa army, where as the authors of Warrior Saints explain ‘even someone born into the lowliest caste could, through the force of their arms and the justice of their cause, become reborn as kashatriya or defender of the people.’
So powerful was this motivation, that the Sikhs soon began to eclipse the Rajputs as the most feared warriors in northern India, the tales of their epic victories becoming legendary throughout Hindustan.
The dual role of pitiless warrior and benign saint was exemplified during the actions of one warrior called Kanhaiya, who offended the elite Akalis by offering water to both Sikh and Mughal wounded, explaining later to the Guru ‘I saw neither Mughals nor Sikhs there. I saw only the Guru’s face in everyone.’
From these beginnings in the 17th century, the Sikh Khalsa Empire was born. Becoming, as time wore on, the last independent state in India to challenge the British East India Company’s supremacy, due to the unifying genius of the great Maharajah, Ranjit Singh, whose death in 1839 would leave the kingdom in such confusion that it would eventually fall prey to the European conquerors.
This book is a joy to read; every page brings something interesting to the eye and enlightening to the mind. The care and passion of the authors in crafting this volume is clear to see and has been infused into every page, bringing four centuries of Sikh Military history to life in a deeply impactful way.
Warrior Saints is the visual history of the core values of the Sikh Warrior Saint Tradition. Presenting a legacy of art and culture for the descendants and adherents of the Gurus today as well as a record for students of history and art alike. Through rare paintings and photographs from a rich variety of sources the authors have collected, in this first volume of the new edition, a stunningly accessible chronicle of the rich legacy of the Sikh Kingdom.
The Duke died on 14 September 1852, in Walmer Castle on the South coast of Kent, this had been his official residence as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. This post was the last of The Duke’s military and government offices he had held. The Duke had been, in turn, Warden of the Tower of London, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, and, Chief Ranger of Hyde Park and St James Park, Leader of The House of Lords, Lord High Constable of England, Prime Minister and at various times Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Home Department, for War and the Colonies and Minister without Portfolio. In short a great statesman and advisor for three monarchs (George IV, William IV and Queen Victoria).
Born in 1769, he was 83 years old and still working; his retirement was only half-hearted as his many honorary positions, along with his near legendary status within Victorian society, led to additional work and calls for advice.
On the morning of 14 September, The Duke’s Valet, Kendall entered his master’s modest bedroom within the castle at 6 o’clock in the morning. The Duke did not apparently move when the fire was laid, despite the clattering of a poker in an iron grill. Only when Kendall entered a second time, this time to open the wooden shutters did the Duke stir.
Kendall recalled he told the Duke that it was getting late, as he rose early, he responded:
“Is it? Do you know where the apothecary lives?” “Yes, at Deal, your Grace.” “Then Send for him. I wish to speak to him”.
Deal is the next town to Walmer, less than a kilometre away, and so Kendall sent for the apothecary to come at once. When he arrived the Duke complained of “some derangement” and held a hand up to his chest. The apothecary obviously felt it was no serious condition, he felt the elderly Duke’s pulse and prescribed an ammonia stimulant, after which he returned home, promising to return later.
The Duke’s condition, sadly, did not improve. It is now believed that he had suffered a stroke overnight or a series of small seizures, which given his age, he was unable to recover from.
Kendall, a ever attentive valet asked the Duke if he would like some tea, which he normally took with sugar, the Duke responded positively, “Yes, if you please”. These were the last words he ever spoke.
On the apothecary’s return the Duke was not conscious, so a doctor was sent for. A few different remedies and poultices were tried, but the Duke did not seem to return. Kendall proposed that they moved him from the camp-bed to the nearby chair, a favourite wing-back. All present agreed to move him there. It was now half past 3 in the afternoon, the Duke of Wellington was quite motionless and gently he passed away.
A mirror was put near his lips, but no breath showed on the glass. This was shown to all in the room
Queen Victoria was deeply upset and refused to accept the news at first. She called the country’s loss “irreparable” and continued, “He was the GREATEST man this country ever produced, and the most devoted and loyal subject, and the staunchest supporter the Crown ever had”
The wishes of Queen Victoria were to include both Houses of Parliament in the arrangements for the funeral, but as the houses were not sitting, they had recently been prorogued, there was therefore a further delay in the final arrangements until Parliament could meet. During this time, and because the Queen had not received formal approval from Parliament, it was agreed that the Duke’s body would remain at rest at Walmer Castle.
It was also Queen Victoria’s wish that the Duke would, at great public expense, be interred in St. Paul’s Cathedral. After all formal arrangements were made, work on the organisation and preparation for the funeral began under direct supervision of Prince Albert, such was the importance given to the Duke’s passing. Prince Albert worked closely with Lord Derby and the Home Secretary Spencer Walpole to arrange one of the largest funerals ever seen, certainly given the population size of the time, an estimated 1 million or more lined the route of the 2 mile procession from Horse Guards to St Paul’s via Apsley House and Wellington Arch, the route was extended to allow for the volume of spectators. There was a national outpouring of grief as it signalled the end of not only a great man’s life, but also an era passed with The first Duke of Wellington.
This post was written by Marcus Cribb, who is the Site Manager at Apsley House London and in my opinion the best kind of person: someone who admires wellington as much as I do. Please find more of his writings here. https://www.dukeofwellington.org/blog
Field Marshal Count Alexander Suvorov was not a man who felt that war needed to be any more complicated than necessary. The quickest way to get an enemy running was to find his weakness and attack it. The quickest way to chase an enemy from the field was to run at him with bayonet and sabre.
Under this diminutive but dynamic deity of battle, Russian troops were expected to be battle ready, not parade ready, and anything that impeded the proper performance of regiments in the field was considered surplus to requirements.
Any officer who had too much baggage or too grand a household had better not let Count Suvorov know about it. From this pragmatism flowed a practical battle-sense that the Count tried to imbue deep into the heart of the Russian army.
The following extract from the memoirs of General Denis Davydov, who was told many things about Suvorov by his father, and as a child even met the old warhorse once. It demonstrates both Suvorov’s no nonsense attitude to warfare, and his practical nature for conditioning troops for the type of battle he wanted to fight:
‘Because the primary obligation of the cavalry was to cut a path through enemy ranks, it should not be concerned with speed alone and maintaining line while on the gallop. It must surge into the midst enemy line or could and strike at anything close to hand, not turn about and break off the engagement alleging that the firing had frightened the horses, or retreat in good order without making actual physical contact with enemy fire.
In order to stop this practice, Suvorov trained the horses of the cavalry to gallop at full speed and accustom them to break through the the central ranks of the opponent’s firing line. To achieve this, he saved the manoeuvre for the end of the training period, relying on the memory of the animals, and reinforced with a verbal command that they knew would signal the conclusion of the exercise.
For this purpose he had half his troops dismount and stand with carbines loaded with blanks. The soldiers were separated from one another by the distance necessary for one horse to gallop between them. The other half remained on horseback, aligned opposite the gaps of the facing infantry, and then were ordered to attack.
The soldiers were told to discharge their weapons at the very moment when the horses galloped through their lines. The riders would then dismount and the training manoeuvres were over. The theory was that instead of being frightened by the shots fired directly at them, the horses would look forward to the moment of facing the infantry fire, remembering that the sound of shots would be followed by their being reined in, haltered, or returned to their stables. Indeed, they would neigh and be eager to charge!’
This imaginative drill, which took advantage of the animals’ natural inclination to return to their stables to rest and feed, had it’s issues. Mostly derived from dismounted troops being, struck, trampled and sometimes killed by charging horses.
For this reason dismounted duty was loathed by the soldiers. Whenever he would be told a man had been killed in this horse training exercise, Suvorov would exclaim ‘May the Lord have mercy on them! I may kill four, five or even ten men; but I’ll train five or ten thousand!’
Not all Suvorov’s officers felt this was the way to use cavalry of course. But only experienced officers dared use their own judgment in the presence of their chief. Colonel Davydov of the Poltava Light Horse Regiment who commanded the second line of cavalry during an exercise in a calm and orderly manner in a classic supporting role, was brought up at dinner the same evening, and asked why he had ignored an order from Suvorov to hurry up. Apparently Suvorov had already led the first line in three charges and thought Davydov was dragging his heels.
Davydov, who knew the old general well enough to know how to get around him, thought for a moment and replied that there had been no cause for the second line to charge, as the first line kept pursuing.
‘And what if the enemy had taken heart and repulsed the first line?’ Quizzed Suvorov.
‘That could never happen.’ Replied Davydov ‘Your excellency was leading it.’