The Moonwalkers: A Journey with Tom Hanks


Lightroom – The Moon


‘… a stirring and moving homage to the past and future of lunar exploration’

At the end of the 1995 feature film Apollo 13, Tom Hanks, playing astronaut Jim Lovell, speaks over a slow-motion scene of himself and his fellow cast-mates recreating the welcome of the returning voyagers to the USS Iwo Jima. ‘I look up at the moon and wonder,’ Hanks says in his familiarly understated but reassuring tone as the music of James Horner swells in the background, ‘when will we be going back and who will that be?’

Although, in reality, four more missions would reach the lunar surface between the ‘successful failure’ and December of 1972; when Apollo 13 came to theatres it had been twenty-three years since that last moon landing, and now half a century on from that last poignant step for mankind, the question posed in that final monologue is being answered.

In the next 3 years, NASA will launch a manned mission to the surface of the moon, comprising of Commander Reid Wiseman, pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialist Christina Koch from NASA, with mission specialist Jeremy Hansen from the Canadian Space Agency, ushering in perhaps the next chapter of human discovery.

This event, the irrepressible enthusiasm of Hanks for space exploration, and a chance meeting with the CEO of Lightroom London, Richard Slaney presented a unique opportunity to not only celebrate the birth, (and act as a reminder) of the Artemis Program but to also look back at those small steps, and giant leaps that had come before. The Moonwalkers: A Journey with Tom Hanks which opened on 6 December 2023 at the Lightroom is a stirring and moving homage to the past and future of lunar exploration.

I can’t pretend to be a space geek, but I am a space fan, and so when I received an invitation from the thoughtful and charming, Alysa Beckner from the Borkowski publicity team to attend an early screening the day before opening to the public, I did not even contemplate passing up the opportunity. I chose to go.


Alysa and her team greeted everyone who entered with a generous smile, a branded tote bag with the specially produced guide to the show, and directed us to where we could find refreshments. The publicity team deserve a round of applause for their smooth handling of the event, and for prioritising guests they believed would genuinely enjoy the performance.

Walking into the foyer of the Lightroom, a visitor is immediately stuck by the elegant, but modern design of your surroundings, which harmonises with an almost old-time Hollywood glamour just noticeable in the outer facade and bold red lettering above the door. A gold, statement wall adorned with mission patches strikes you through a cloud of intricately constructed light-bulbs, fashioned with what appears to be crepe so as to conjure a stillness and tranquility. These float over the smooth outline of the central staircase which curls down to a space used for merchandise, a small selection of which, including the spectacular prints of some of the most iconic lunar photography, is available on the ground floor. To the left of the door is a well-stocked bar that also serves excellent coffee and cakes.

The foyer is a relaxing place, with a warm, comforting colour-palate to rest and have a snack, and look out at the cold grey city. The Lightroom is situated 8 minutes away from Kings Cross and rests at the edge of a swanky array of chic restaurants, shops and café’s called the Coal Yard, that could easily be included in a visit.

Like many venues that offer immersive experiences, each room transitions you from the real world outside the ample glass windows to a secret place far from the familiar. Winding passages that curve, rise and fall take you to the Lightroom stage, and nothing you’ve seen online can prepare you for the scale of the room. The dimensions are immense, as if someone had built a large cinema room, common to most multiplexes, but then scooped out the usual mountainous bank of seats to leave a sort of void into which, when I was there at least, seating is artfully arranged to create a sense of distance from the crowd. In the right angle between the back wall and the stair case that leads you onto the floor, was a wedge of benches, and the rest were spread out symmetrically towards the centre, strategically leaving room around the edges.

The lighting was subdued, and a few images were already projected on the left and right walls, while the large principal wall was filled with a capsule like image and a countdown. No one can leave that theatre and not come away with an understanding of why The Moonwalkers and the Lightroom were a perfect match.


‘There are not stars enough in the sky to rate this show’

Watching a feature in the Lightroom is an experience like no other, and as The Moonwalkers unfolds around you, it’s hard not to become immersed in the story, indeed you have no choice, as surrounded by the impactful music  and enfolded by projections that probably cover 90% of the available surface, you are literally a part of the spectacle. Even in the more world-renowned theme parks, where every effort is made to immerse a guest inside a story, there is nothing to match the scale of what the Lightroom can offer.

Unlike conventional cinemas, viewers are encouraged to get up and wander around the room so as to be able to take in the different perspectives around them, making it a viewing experience like no other, and perfect for the sort of info-tainment that Hanks and the collaborative forces behind the Lightroom created when they made The Moonwalkers. What better place to talk about the moon than in a multi-dimensional space, a place as immersive as this, a place almost as panoramic as the moon itself.

Production wise it is a genuine wow moment as the roar of the rocket engines travel through the floor and seats, contrasting almost violently with the serene vocals and harmonies of the score when the landing sites and lunar landscape are recreated, so that, if you have listened to the narrator’s story of the pool and the hose-pipe, and you use just a little imagination you might just think you’re there.

There are not stars enough in the sky to rate this show, and underpinning it all is the familiar, neighbour-next-door style narration of Tom Hanks, who switches from pathos, to simple enthusiasm with as much ease as Anne Nikitin’s tremendous score glides through movements.

‘… it is tremendous entertainment’

To walk around the theatre and take in the myriad of visuals playing across every wall is a bewildering but very novel experience, and though you tend to live for the big, picture moments, and to hope there aren’t too many excited children running around in the quiet ones, and even if it challenges the capacity of a single mind to take it all in, it is tremendous entertainment, and after all, who can say anyone who walked on the moon was truly able to take an earth-rise in either?

Spectacle aside, there is a rich substance to the show, not only is it Hanks’s own personal love-letter to the Lunar program, but it touches on a number of wider and greater themes. Humanity’s endless quest for discovery that began, as the narrator put it in one interview, when someone ventured beyond the confines of his cave, and left a footprint on a distant riverbank. The message of positivity, to individuals and to the whole, that there are answers to be found if we as people will only work together to solve them.

Lightroom – The Moon


‘a representation of Tom Hanks’s faith in the unquenchable optimism at the heart of lunar and space exploration’

The sense of standing on the edge of a new era is neatly presaged by some of the opening lines, in which Hanks declares that the moon has always been two things to us, and so harmonising with the central theme which asks us to look back at the Apollo era and at the same time look forwards to the beginning of Artemis, the sister of Apollo.

When I asked a fellow attendee, Dr. Fian Smithwick what he thought, he said that the show had reinvigorated his excitement about space, and that he was looking forward to watching the Artemis crew launch and make their own mark on the moon in 2024.

Above all, The Moonwalkers is a representation of Tom Hanks’s creator’s faith in the unquenchable optimism at the heart of lunar and space exploration, and a call to look once more to the stars as one people and to dream of a time when we might all, to paraphrase Gene Cernan before he left the moon in 1972, to live and work ‘in peace and hope.’

Hanks’s message, in truth is more than a reminder to get excited for another age of Moonwalks rather than Spacewalks, but is for us to recall our shared humanity at a time when it is easy to become dragged down by a multitude of factors that set us apart. To look at the moon, he says early in the show, is to look at an object that every human ever born has looked at and to wonder what the stars might look like from beyond the earth.

In leaving the theatre, one cannot help but wonder if he is right, perhaps if we set our eyes to that distant familiar point where mankind has so often looked for answered, and further, to the stars beyond we will be able to see hope for the future.

The Moonwalkers: A Journey with Tom Hanks will be playing at the Lightroom London, from 6 December to 21 April 2024. Please see the links above for ticket information.


La Vie de Boucanier pour Moi!

A new video appeared on Historyland two weeks ago. My friend the legendary author René Chartrand joined me to talk about the swashbuckling rogues who went to the Americas from France and carved out an empire. Make sure you follow the links in the video description to buy René’s book

Book Review: Eagles Over the Alps by Christopher Duffy

Pages : 304 | Images : 72 b/w illustrations & photos, 34 b/w maps | Date of Publication : 14th June 2022 | Size : 345mm x 170mm | ISBN : 9781913336134 | Helion Book Code : HEL1239 |

Originally published in 1999, Christopher Duffy’s Eagles over the Alps has remained the ultimate work on the 1799 Austro-Russian campaign in Italy, and thankfully it has now been republished by Helion after many years on the second hand market. Duffy, one of the foremost experts on 18th century warfare and author of numerous books on little known campaigns, identified this popular but little studied theatre of the War of the Second Coalition as a critical focus of study.

With Napoleon in Egypt, and Switzerland in revolt, Russia and Austria saw an opportunity to regain what had been lost during the first Italian campaign. The Tsar dispatched the legendary and eccentric generalissimo Suvorov to lead the allied troops. The alliance was not a smooth one, and later rifts between the Austrians and Russians have unfairly skewed the reality of these early alliances into national caricatures.

Duffy does excellently in showing that with a strong enough leader, or perhaps personality is the better word, much could be achieved if he was given enough leeway. That being said, despite Suvorov being front and centre in this work, it was more than Russian leadership and military might that counted here, as Duffy highlights the very necessary work of the Austrian Chiefs of staff who made the wishes of their Russian commander possible as indeed did their much maligned troops.

The Austro-Russians swept across northern Italy in the spring, driving back the French in confusion, talented French generals like Moreau found themselves outmatched by a reinvigorated coalition army which matched the dash and elan of the Republican armies of the last war. Only the victory of Masséna at Zurich saved the French position in Italy from utter collapse, and forced Suvorov to retreat back across the alps in one of the most famous, but little known episodes of the great French Wars. 

It is classic Duffy, who tackles the subject with clarity and aplomb, his character study of Suvorov is majestically written, and his summary of the opposing armies allows readers to understand the dynamics of the battles without loss of focus to the narrative. Key points arise in terms of the Russians, who Napoleonic readers will know of from their later campaigns, for this was the campaign that began the long process of getting the army ready for the trials of 1812.

I cannot tell you how many times I have wished for this book to be reprinted, or how happy I am that it has finally been done.

Importantly the book addresses many common conceptions that still exist today. It was common in books on the Napoleonic Wars from around 30-40 years ago, to use Suvorov as a sort of outdated relic that the Russian army of 1805 had to shake off in order to defeat Napoleon in 1812. Much was made of his famous dependence on the bayonet, his aggressiveness and supposed simplicity. This was very much the way Napoleon thought of Suvorov, but it is only the surface of a much more brilliant general, thus it is no surprise that many people characterise him as a mad, eccentric who was only successful against the Ottomans. But despite what Napoleon liked to think, not all allied leaders were either, incompetent, old, mad or all three, nor was the emperor’s genius totally original.

Suvorov was certainly from a different age than that of Napoleon, but he was undoubtedly of the Napoleonic stamp, and in reading this I am given to thinking that perhaps Napoleon was much more a product of the best of the 18th century than something freshly sprung from the soil of innovation. What Napoleon and many people who never fought Suvorov missed, was his strategic acumen and speed of movement, which had the emperor ever faced him would certainly have been an unwelcome surprise. This book, when it was written was undoubtedly meant to redress much of the thinking regarding Suvorov, and as little more has been written since then, it remains so.

Readers used to hearing of the tactical brilliance and modern practices of the French army, will be surprised to see how Suvorov adapted his forces to meet them. At the same time, it will become increasingly obvious how the allies were still prone to weakening themselves with infighting. As a case in point, most senior Austrians and certainly the Austrian government saw this operation as a way to regain lost possessions and shore up Austrian Italy, while Suvorov saw it as a literal crusade against the atheist French and had dreams of storming through Italy in into France itself.

Crucially, the importance of these operations lies in that they form the background to what Napoleon sought to address when he fought the near disastrous, but ultimately decisive, Marengo campaign the next year, which should provide more food for thought regarding, perhaps, how lucky Napoleon was that Suvorov died in early 1800 and did not face him that day when he reestablished himself as a force in Europe. It is therefore a good companion to the work done by Terry Crowdy on Marengo.

The book is illustrated with a selection of photographs taken by the author, which were present in the original publication, as were the engravings of Generals, and some of Duffy’s classic maps which readers familiar with his work will recognise the style from the good old days. The new production by Helion is true to the original with an elegant and refined cover with two figure studies executed by Patrice Courcelle. I cannot tell you how many times I have wished for this book to be reprinted, or how happy I am that it has finally been done.

Book Review: The Battle of Gettysburg 1863 (1) by Timothy J. Orr

  • Author: Timothy Orr
  • Illustrator: Steve Noon
  • Short code: CAM 374
  • Publication Date: 17 Mar 2022

The beginning of Osprey’s new offering on the most famous battle fought on American soil is a crisp, from the shoulder affair and tells the story straight.

Author, Timothy Orr is obviously aware of his audience and as such gives the reader the facts and knowledge they need to understand the first day of the battle rather than how things worked during the war as a whole. 

Mr. Orr is unconcerned with pushing a particular thesis here, nor are any of his sentiments particularly judgemental. Instead the brief but detailed narrative is immediate and restricted to what happened, without a great deal of high level analysis, but with a sprinkling of first hand accounts which allow the chaotic and brutal hours of 1 July 1863 to play out with a human face.

This book sets out to give readers an accessible beginning point to understanding the utter carnage of Gettysburg. Reading through the book I was struck by the appalling casualty figures being cited, seemingly every unit suffering massive casualties with far too many recording a loss of half its strength.

As the author notes, the first days fighting,  which saw a battle of encounter expand out of Robert E Lee’s control into a four mile running fight from ridge to ridge until the confederates had driven the Union forces back beyond Gettysburg, was apocalyptic in terms of losses, and knowing that the fighting would continue for another 2 days, we can easily see how truly ghastly the cost of Lee’s invasion of the north would become.

Noting the stubborn struggle which neither side was really prepared for, Orr shows the reader that warfare had indeed changed. Where once a battle such as this might have been won convincingly by a gifted tactician like Lee, in fact, despite the confederate victory on the first day, their losses were almost as bad as those of their enemy, much as it had been at Chancellorsville. 

Orr gives us also a clear idea that Lee was in this fight as much to seek the decisive and elusive battle he wanted, as he was to ensure his army stayed together and wasn’t parcelled out from Richmond to the Mississippi. Neither senior commander will exercise much control over the battle at this stage. And why Lee thought he could win a napoleonic war winner after Chancellorsville, or why he chose to fight on into the next day is left an open question.

The book is amply illustrated with photographs of interesting uniforms and portraits of participants, many of whose stories will be unfamiliar but form the heart of this book. Detailed maps of a high quality support the text and I cannot praise the original artwork of Steve Noon highly enough. It is not easy to find original ways to portray this battle but Noon has done a splendid job. Definitely a book to seek out if you want an detailed introduction to the battle that doesn’t get too bogged down in theory and critique.

5 Examples of Fine Mughal Architecture you must Know About.

Thank you for visiting Historyland today. I am delighted to share with you this post about Mughal architecture by fellow blogger, Richard Marrison from the HistoryTen website.

Richard Marrison is from Budapest, Hungary. He has an MBA in Cultural Anthropology and loves history. His love and passion for history got him to indulge in creating content on history-related topics


The Mughals developed a style of Indo-Islamic architecture, the Mughal architecture, in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries as their empire expanded throughout the Indian subcontinent. The styles of earlier Muslim kingdoms in India evolved as a combination of Islamic, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Indian architecture.

This style of architecture has giant bulbous domes, thin minarets at corners, massive halls, large arched doorways, and exquisite ornamentation with a consistent pattern of construction and character. Some examples of the style may be encountered in modern Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.

After Babur’s victory at Panipat in 1526, the Mughal empire was created. Babur took a keen interest in buildings during his five-year reign. However, few have survived. His grandson Akbar constructed much, and the style flourished under his rule.

Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri Fort, and the Buland Darwaza were among his achievements. Jahangir, Akbar’s son, commissioned the Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir.

, Mughal architecture achieved its pinnacle during the rule of Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal – one of the World’s Seven Wonders, the Jama Masjid, the Shalimar Gardens of Lahore – one of the greatest inventions of Indus Valley civilization, the Wazir Khan Mosque, and reconstructed the Lahore Fort. Aurangzeb, the last great Mughal architect, created the Badshahi Mosque, Bibi Ka Maqbara, Moti Masjid, and other structures.

Mughal inlay art is a notable aspect of Mughal architecture in India, and overlay art was a vibrant expression tool throughout the Mughal Empire’s golden period. The Monuments of Agra (India) depict the many stages of the evolution of Mughal Inlay art from the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries, as practiced by Akbar (r. 1556-1605), Jahangir (r. 1605-1627), and Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1658).

One of the most beautiful and popular Mughal art developed indigenously in India is marble inlay, also known as ‘Pachchikari’ or ‘Parchinkari.’ It is thought to be of Italian origin.

However, some argue that it is actually of Indian origin. Combining Hindu, Persian, and Islamic themes, the Mughal architecture mainly features large bulbous onion domes, frequently flanked by four smaller domes. White marble and red sandstone are also frequently used.

Other attributes of Mughal architecture also comprise delicate ornamentation work, such as Pachin Kari ornamental work and jali-latticed screens. Monumental structures are enclosed on all four sides by gardens. Mosques also feature expansive courtyards. Likewise, inscriptions in Persian and Arabic calligraphy also include Quranic verses. Moreover, Mughal architecture also inspired later Indian architectural designs such as the British Raj’s Indo-Saracenic style, the Rajput style, and the Sikh style.

Here are some of the most celebrated Mughal Architectures of all time.

The Shalimar Gardens in Lahore

The Shalimar Gardens are a Mughal garden complex in Lahore, Pakistan. The gardens date from the Mughal Empire’s artistic and aesthetic zenith and are today one of Pakistan’s most famous tourist sites. Designed as a Persian paradise garden, the Shalimar Gardens depict an earthly ideal in which humans coexist in perfect equilibrium with all aspects of nature.

The gardens’ construction began in 1641, under the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan, and was completed in 1642. The Shalimar Gardens were included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1981 because they represent Mughal garden design at its pinnacle.

Mughal Gardens were inspired by Timurid gardens created between the 14th and 16th centuries in Central Asia and Iran. A high brick wall elaborately ornamented with complex fretwork encloses the location, allowing for the development of a Charbagh paradise garden – a perfect illustration of earthly heaven.

The Shalimar Gardens are architecturally shaped in the form of a rectangle with a north-south axis, measuring 658 meters by 258 meters and covering an area of 16 hectares. Each terrace level is 4–5 m (13–15 ft) taller than the one before. The gardens’ highest terrace is Bagh-e-Farah Baksh, which translates as “Bestower of Pleasure.” The second and third embankments are the Bagh-e-Faiz Baksh, which translates as Bestower of Goodness.

Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi

The Humayun’s Tomb is the Mughal Emperor Humayun’s tomb in Delhi, India. Empress Bega Begum (also known as Haji Begum) commissioned the tomb in 1558, and it was created by Mirak Mirza Ghiyas and his son, Sayyid Muhammad, Persian architects chosen by her.

It was the earliest garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent. It is located in Nizamuddin East, Delhi, India, near the Dina-Panah Citadel, also known as Purana Qila (Old Fort), which Humayun discovered in 1533. It was also the first skyscraper on a large scale to use red sandstone. The tomb was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and has since undergone substantial repair work, which has now been completed.

The complex includes the main tomb of Emperor Humayun, which contains the graves of Empress Bega Begum, Hamida Begum, and Dara Shikoh, Humayun’s great-great-grandson and son of the later Emperor Shah Jahan, as well as the graves of numerous subsequent Mughals, including Emperor Jahandar Shah, Farrukhsiyar, Rafi Ul-Darjat, Rafi Ud-Daulat, Muhammad Kam.

It was a breakthrough in Mughal construction. It established a precedent for succeeding Mughal architecture with its accomplished Charbagh garden, typical of Persian gardens but had never been seen in India previously. It is viewed as a significant divergence from his father, the first Mughal Emperor, Babur’s humble monument in Kabul, known as Bagh-e Babur (Gardens of Babur) (Afghanistan).

Lahore Fort

The Lahore Fort is a fortress in the Pakistani city of Lahore. The stronghold is positioned at the northern extremity of Lahore’s walled city and covers an area of more than 20 hectares. It is home to 21 famous monuments, some of which date back to the reign of Emperor Akbar. The Lahore Fort is famous for being virtually entirely constructed in the 17th century when the Mughal Empire was at its apex of splendor and opulence.

Though the Lahore Fort site has been inhabited for millennia, the oldest trace of a fortified structure was an 11th-century mud-brick fort. The contemporary Lahore Fort was built in 1566 by Emperor Akbar, who gave the fort a syncretic architectural style with Islamic and Hindu influences.

Shah Jahan’s period additions are distinguished by sumptuous marble with inlaid Persian floral designs. At the same time, the fort’s grand and famous Alamgiri Gate was built by Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughal Emperors, and confronts the renowned Badshahi Mosque.

The Tomb of Jahangir in Lahore

The Tomb of Jahangir is a 17th-century tomb constructed for Mughal Emperor Jahangir. The mausoleum was built in 1637 in Shahdara Bagh, near Lahore, Pakistan, along the banks of the Ravi River.

The site is noteworthy for its interiors, which are highly painted with frescoes and marble, and its exterior is richly ornamented with pietra dura.

The mausoleum, along with the nearby Akbari Sarai and the Tomb of Asif Khan, is part of an ensemble that has been proposed for UNESCO World Heritage classification.

The tomb was built in the Mughal style, influenced by Persia’s Safavid-style architecture. The mausoleum is designed as a takhtgah, or a mausoleum built on a pedestal that acts as a Takht, or “throne.” Except there is no takhtgah on the podium, and it does not appear to have ever been erected.

Jahangir’s mausoleum, like Akbar’s, lacks a central dome because the Emperor is said to have expressly forbidden the erection of a dome over his tomb. Domes were also initially utilized in Mughal funerary architecture at the Tomb of Humayun and were revived by Shah Jahan.

The Taj Mahal

And finally, perhaps the most famous example of the most exemplary Mughal architecture in the world, the Taj Mahal (translated as the ‘Crown of the Palace’), is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the right bank of the Yamuna river in Agra, India.

It was built in 1632 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (r. 1628–1658) to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It also houses Shah Jahan’s tomb.

The tomb is the focal point of a 17-hectare (42-acre) complex containing a mosque and a guest house. It is placed in traditional gardens surrounded by a crenelated wall on three sides.

In 1983, UNESCO declared the Taj Mahal a World Heritage Site for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the globally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.”

Many consider it an outstanding example of Mughal architecture and a symbol of India’s rich past.

The Taj Mahal receives about 6 million tourists every year[3], and it was named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World (2000–2007) initiative’s winners in 2007.

The Taj Mahal includes and develops on Indo-Islamic and older Mughal architectural design traditions. Specific inspiration came from successful Timurid and Mughal buildings such as the Gur-e Amir (the tomb of Timur, the progenitor of the Mughal dynasty, in Samarkand), Humayun’s Tomb, which inspired the Charbagh gardens and hasht-behesht (architecture) plan of the site, and the Itmad-Ud-Tomb Daulah’s (also known as the Baby Taj).

Shah Jahan Earlier Mughal structures were mainly made of red sandstone, but Shah Jahan encouraged the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones. Buildings built under his patronage attained unprecedented heights of refinement, as seen on the Taj Mahal.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the most significant feature of Mughal architecture?

The inflated dome structure found in every building was the primary characteristic of Mughal architecture. The roof of the dome is hemispherical.

What distinguishes Mughal architecture?

The Mughal era saw a remarkable renaissance of Islamic architecture in northern India. Persian, Indian, and diverse regional styles were combined under the patronage of the Mughal emperors to extract works of remarkable quality and finesse.


With its ideal blend of Islamic, Turkish, Indian, and Persian components, Mughal architecture has created masterpieces that never cease to astound visitors.

During their 300-year reign in India, the Mughals built a lot of magnificent first mosques, tombs, and palaces, leaving their imprint on the country’s heritage splendor.

The sheer aesthetic brilliance and grandeur of these creations continue to elevate the country’s tourism. Millions of people visit India and Pakistan to see the grandeur and splendor of Mughal structures today.

Book Review: An account of the Military Campaign of the Year 1812 : Edited and translated with additional notes and commentary by Jimmy Chen

  • Format Paperback | 102 pages
  • Dimensions 152 x 229 x 6mm | 159g
  • Publication date 25 Dec 2018
  • Publisher Independently Published
  • Language English
  • Illustrations note Illustrations, black and white
  • ISBN10 1983002119
  • ISBN13 9781983002113

Maligned as the cautious, wily, German General in War and Peace, forgotten as just another Fabian General who should’ve been behind a desk in St Petersburg who feared to oppose Napoleon, by historians, Field Marshal Mikhail Bogdanovich Barclay de Tolly was one of Russia’s foremost soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars, but due to these perceptions and a multitude of factors people are quick to discount him. 

” … never has a commander-in-chief of any army found himself in such an unfavourable position as I did” noted Barclay de Tolly, remembering the warm days of mid summer in 1812 as the 1st and 2nd Western Armies at marched to combine at Smolensk.

Barclay de Tolly was not a coward, nor was he, in the early months of the campaign disinterested in opportunities to strike at Napoleon’s monstrous array as it trudged towards the heart of the Russian empire, but he knew what later would become clear to the allied planners who formulated the Trachenberg plan; that glamorous maneuvers were not the only way to win wars. In his own words to the Tsar he plainly argued that during these first months of marching and fighting, in war the state was the army and as went one so would follow the other.

“would not a fanciful attempt at glory by handing the fate of the Empire to the powers of blind fate amount to a betrayal of the fatherland? Were such dreams of glorious maneuvers necessary at that time, when the aim of the war was to destroy the enemy, the enslaver of Europe?”

In his account Barclay made no secret of his opinion that he had followed the logical course to keep the army moving unless certain victory was at hand, and attributed the chaos of Borodino to General Bennigsen , who redistributed the staff officers of the army after the amalgamation under Kutuzov and thus ‘The commanding generals themselves were left with no staff officers who could report to them’ and was “sufficient to undermine the direction of the army as established by the new procedures, and amounted to the nullification of the commander-in-chief’s power.” 

Though only a few names are mentioned, Barclay is very careful not to mention his issues with Grand Duke Constantine for instance, and took great care to state his case concisely. The procedures Barclay spoke of were of course his own reforms as minister of war, that in great part had prepared the Russian army for the complicated and dangerous maneuvers they had undertaken so far, reminding us that his main object in writing this account was to present a record of his services.

Wether or not, as Barclay noted ‘the commanders-in-chief of the two armies were made completely redundant,’ in the leadup to Borodino therefore reflects a bias or reality, the ruinous performance of the Russian staff at the battle is plain to see, helping us to see Barclay’s point of view, and as such readers will benefit from some foreknowledge of the campaign.

The style is terse and factual, though not onerously laboured with military minutia or theory, laced throughout is instead a forceful appeal to see things as Barclay saw them. In these pages his exhaustion through physical and mental fatigue, the veritable slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and the strain of opposing Napoleon are plainly laid out.

This is not to say that the account is dry entirely, a novelist or man of letters Barclay de Tolly may not have been, but he did pick out some excellent moments of interaction that form colourful vignettes especially the council of Fili, and his summations come through with the greatest force, for in the end history did bear him out, because as it proved, neither Smolensk, Moscow nor even the very soil occupied by Napoleon’s horde constituted Russia in 1812, and so long as the army survived so too would the country.

The book is rounded out by a short biographical introduction and an index of names for those figures highlighted in the text as well as notes and a commentary section. This edition has one picture of Barclay, and at this time no maps. 

Such as being the case this summary of the operations of the 1st western army (and to some degree the second) translated into English for the first time, giving insight into the political infighting in Russian headquarters alongside an outline of Barclay’s intentions, is a vital aid to research, and will help improve our understanding of this pivotal event in the Napoleonic Wars.

Book Review: Sex & Sexuality in Stuart Britain by Andrea Zuvich.

“a highly informative picture, both raw and wry, of human relationships in 17th century Britain”

Date Published :September 2020
Publisher :Pen and Sword
Illustration :50 black and white illustrations Binding : Paperback
ISBN : 9781526753076 Dimensions : 9.25 X 6 inches
Pages : 232

I’m going to preface this review by observing that, along with violence and to some extent political intrigue, the goings on behind bedroom doors, and beneath the privacy of a bedcover, is a prime reason historical fiction remains popular.

Visual and print entertainment thrives on arousing the passions of it’s audience with ever more gratuitous and graphic depictions of violence and sex. Going where those languid portraits of silk and satin swathed beauties and formal victorious-general battle scenes merely hinted at …

I don’t think I really need to name names here but … ahem, I’m looking at Versailles. (For the 17th century anyway) …

So, given the immense amount of books detailing the reality of historical violence, which I may say I myself have contributed to, it is only right that scholars and authors should also make factual reality available for the romantic side of popular interest. 

Gentle Reader; so Andrea Zuvich begins her book,  following in the tradition of 17th century epistles to the reader. The author has a calm, comforting tone, wry and amusing in the right places, but firm where needed, she holds the reader’s hand, not in a patronizing way, but in the way a friend does for another.

Stringent on period niceties, the author bravely opens herself to all manner of criticism for refusing to pander to modern values and determinedly strives to allow the reader to understand her subject in the way it was understood at the time.

Promising to tread carefully on her reader’s ears and sensibilities, the book, though softly couched, squares its shoulders and carries the burden of its intimate subject without blinking. It is far from pornographic, nor is it by any means elicit, and to those who are titilated (to use a favoured phrase from the pages) rather than amused, an icy bucket of water awaits you in the section regarding diseases. Bringing to mind the story of how a pubescent Nicholas II was brought to view to a syphilis ward to ensure the youth remained relatively chaste. The second half of the book, leaves the general subject behind in favour of explorsironsninto the love lives of the Stuart monarchy 

Fear not either that just because the title is bold it is necessarily a gleeful rampage through smut and scandal. The book covers with encyclopedic thoroughness all manner of things from premarital affairs, to marriage customs and legalities, medical considerations, contraception, romantic and political factors, gender roles, divorce, and a host more practical and unusual topics that make the Stuart’s seem at once familiar and at the same time distant. I appreciated that in the chapter on same sex relationships the author cautions her readers and makes clear that perception of homosexuality and actual homosexuality are not the same thing. 

The book is based in large part on a great many contemporary works that are either outright erotic in nature, (the primary purpose being to arouse), scientific, or sort of self help, alongside with the more preachy pamphlets and sermons admonishing uncleanliness in a less godless time. These not only speak to glamorous liaisons and powerful marriages in the Stuart Court, but to everyday people attempting to negotiate life and love. The result is a highly informative picture, both raw and wry of human relationships in 17th century Britain.

Nepal: The Latest Battlefield of the New Silk Roads.

Current events of the US/China rivalry for emerging markets coincide with the anniversary of the last major Battle of the Anglo Nepalese War.

A curious historical poetry attends the looming conclusion to the current political crisis in Nepal.

Although largley unreported outside of Asia a political divide in the Himalayan nation looks to highlight the struggle for economic influence in this part of the world between China and the United States, and the role of developing country’s in the competition between the two superpowers.

In the last 10 months, the process of ratifying of the Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) agreement, a $5M grant for Nepal’s energy infrastructure, agreed to between the USA and Nepal in 2017, has gone from a blink and you’ll miss it business investment deal to a political football that has split the 5 party coalition government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba

Sources inside Nepal say that although work paid for by the grant had already begun, an ideological tussle about wether to accept the money and what that might mean has hijacked a the stability of the government, but also said that these melodramatic schisms are par for the course in Nepalese politics.

The far left parties, have asked what America wants in return for the money; voicing objections on the grounds that ratifying the compact will threaten the sovereignty of Nepal. Protesters, stirred up, we are told, by the various parties have been taking to the streets of Katmandu, where violent clashes with the police have been seen, deepening the issue.

With delays and deadlock in Katmandu the United States issued a carefully worded but undoubtedly pointed ultimatum to the effect that if the agreement wasn’t ratified by the 28th of February, the grant could be withdrawn and ties with Nepal re-evaluated, a move readily condemned by Beijing. 

Katmandu 2020, photograph by Shadow Ayush

By some accident, this date has an echo in Nepalese history. Over 200 years ago, in early 1816, the country, which was ruled by the Gorkha monarchs of the Shah dynasty and their powerful ministers, faced another crisis. During the Anglo Nepalese war, having survived two years of conflict already, the Gurkhas opposed the might of the East India Company alone. At this time neither the independent states of India, such as the Marathas and the Sikh Khalsa, nor the exterior nations on the periphery of British influence, Burma (Myanmar), Bhutan, or even the mighty Empire of the Qin (China) could be convinced to join the Nepal to resist the British. 

Without allies, and facing the march of over 35,000 men and over 80 guns from all fronts, their only hope lay in a miraculous military victory or ratifying a treaty that at first glance seemed quite generous, but all in the Gurkha ruling class, feared the loss of Nepali sovereignty if they tamely accepted. 

Amar Singh Tapa. Wikipedia.

Negotiations had been droning on for much of 1815 regarding a treaty which would remove much of Nepal’s recently acquired territory, and settle land grants and pensions on those who accepted. The Nepalese government was especially split over the question of wether land in the fertile Terai region should be retained in lieu of promised British pensions.

The so called Living Lion of Nepal, Amar Singh Tapa, her greatest hero, was staunch on the matter of rejecting the treaty if the British would not assent. The delay in signing the Nepalese copy as the factions argued meant that Governer General Hastings was obliged to render their arguments moot, and ordered that the matter be resolved with force.

His field commander, Major General David Ochterlony marched in hopes of peace however, and rather than drag out an already protracted war, he was ready to entertain lenient terms which were at odds with Hasting’s wish for an unconditional surrender from the Nepal Durbar. 

In late February 1816, after entering Nepalese territory, Ochterlony was assured that the treaty had been ratified and would be handed over at Makwanpur (Makwanpurgadhi). Unsure as to the veracity of the information, the British general continued his advance and halted at that place on the 27th, in view of the fort and the valley, where the Karara river bisected the pastures and forest below the undulating ridges. 

Elephants in the rear of the British force attacking the ridge and fort of Jytock. J.B. Fraser. British Library

As it happened no further diplomatic overtures followed the arrival of the British and on the next day, the 28th of February, a bitter battle took place as the Gurkha forces attempted to drive the British back in the difficult terrain. Despite the bravery and skill of the outnumbered Nepalese, led by courageous Subas like Krishna Bahadur Rana, the British were able to force them to retreat. Militarily speaking nothing now could stop the invaders reaching Katmandu, and with news of other reverses coming in, the Nepal Durbar conceded defeat on 5 March 1816.

America’s choice of the date by which Nepal must ratify the MCC therefore is eerily evocative, being the anniversary of the Battle of Makwanpur. It superficially chimes in rhyme with past events (which we must doubt Washington is at all aware of) and cannot fail to have great significance for those who oppose the compact. Speaking to the India based news agency WION, one of the anti MCC protestors marching in the streets of Katmandu some weeks ago, declared that the MCC was nothing more than the beginnings of a new East India Company coming to loot the country.

Nepal is proud of having avoided direct annexation and retaining almost complete sovereignty during the British period, where the country was treated as a valued, albeit dependent, ally. Unlike places such as Delhi, or Seringapatam there was to be no looting of Katmandu. Of course the issue today it is not so simple as an enemy army at the gates, indeed a wider game is being played here quite apart from the squabbling in the capital.

As a developing nation in a critical part of the world, Nepal is not short of interest parties and America is not alone in applying pressure. China has made little secret of the fact that it feels the MCC is a poorly disguised arm of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, and thus a direct strategic challenge to the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), of which Nepal is a member.

The United States has been similarly blunt in condemning the so called Chinese misinformation campaign which is cited as being at the heart of the anti MCC movement. Equally the Chinese Foreign Ministry recently branded the American ultimatum an insult and a threat to Nepalese sovereignty, and neither side can be condemned for thinking the other is not stirring the pot. Indeed it seems painfully obvious that a great deal of stirring is going on.

Nepal’s majority congress party is the main proponent of the pact, and the communists and socialists oppose them. But despite them being the larger in the coalition, Nepal, historically has remained sceptical of the United States and pliant to China. If China is spreading misinformation it has a ready ear in the communist party which is naturally ready to believe the intentions of the Americans are by inclination negative. 

The International Convention Centre. Meeting place of the Nepalese Parliament.

It certainly cannot be denied that the grant would see unavoidable foreign interest grow in Nepal, likely through the hydroelectric industry, but the US assures Nepal, the grant has nothing to do with the Indo-Pacific strategy and is a decision for the Nepalese alone, this despite having representatives previously blurt out that it is essentially an arm of the IPS.

For those who oppose the pact, this tallies with what China has been warning about. But is China the only side that is spreading misinformation here?

Accusations from northern Nepal of encroachment by the Chinese across the passable border points seem to hint at something unsettling and at the same time absurd. These accusations, spread through an apparently leaked Nepalese Government report are denied by Beijing, and indeed the Nepalese government itself has not confirmed lodging a complaint. Pro China voices in Katmandu are pointing the finger at the BBC for printing the story to spreading false rumours to stir up anti Chinese sentiment. 

Essentially, two can play the misinformation game, as the reported protests against encroachment show, people on the ground are always eager to listen to authoritative voices. And the fate of the MCC will perhaps be a telling indicator as to who is winning the economic race in Asia.

As of the 21st the compact has been tabled in the Nepalese Parliament, and headway has apparently been made by the pro MCC Prime Minister, in the political deadlock but much still seems uncertain, if not painfully fragile.

Sir David Ochterloy. (c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

For Nepal in 1816, the Gurkhas were fortunate that David Ochterlony was the man they were dealing with directly, he being a rare breed of British officer and EIC administrator who had no wish to prolong a war for profit and thus was not inclined to be heavy handed in treaty demands. His men were sick, and his pay-chest light, and he wanted the war to end. 

Nepal was never annexed, Katmandu never looted, and British interference thereafter was much more limited than say it was in Punjab. Nepal’s sovereignty remained intact throughout the British period and despite the obvious blow in the cession of territory in the short term, the Himalayan kingdom’s close relationship with the British during the height of their power in South Asia could be said to have remained mostly beneficial until the 20th century.

It cannot be said that this was any more obvious to the Gurkha elite in 1816, arguing over wether to fight to the last or sign the treaty, than the outcome of the MCC crisis of the 21st century is to the current government. What is highlighted here is not just the weakness and factionalism within the Nepalese parliament, but an example of the greater competitive economic struggle between China and the United States for control of what is essentially supply of the building blocks of day to day life. Access to housing, energy, commerce and communication. This high stakes contest is being played out in developing countries across the east, unseen for the most part, and the nations themselves are the playing pieces.

We might hope that if the MCC passes by the anniversary of Makwanpur it will benefit the people of Nepal. But the question is can Nepal indeed keep its head afloat and benefit from being amongst the many developing nations currently being tugged too and fro in the scramble for what Peter Frankopan has called the new silk roads.

The Ottoman Wahhabi War

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.

Book Review: The Armies of Sir Ralph Hopton by Laurence Spring.

General – Pages : 220 | Images : 25 b/w illustrations, 9 b/w maps, 8 pages colour plates, numerous tables

Paperback – Date of Publication : December 2020 | Size : 248mm x 180mm | ISBN : 9781913336516 | Helion Book Code : HEL1277

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.

Happy Reading!