Book Review: Waterloo 1815 (2) Ligny by John Franklin.

Volume 2, Ligny.
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (February 17, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472803663
ISBN-13: 978-1472803665
The Second of Osprey’s timely campaign series on Waterloo focuses on the Battle of Ligny. Another seesaw battle that raged about five miles away from Quatre Bras on the 16th of June. However because the two sides were already concentrated there and because the battle hinged on the possession of several fixed points, it presents a slightly more conventional action rather than the confused battle of encounter dealt with in volume 1.
Ligny has always been less of a challenge to write about than Quatre Bras, yet the details of the fight and the participants are much less known and just as fascinating. In my opinion this volume runs smoother than the first one, and nimbly follows the vicious struggle for the hamlets along the Ligne Stream, with the same detailed analysis that has already been shown. Beginning with Napoleon’s return from exile and ending with the beginning of the Prussian retreat to Wavre, this book excellently outlines how Napoleon won his last battlefield victory with brilliant tactical acumen, and indeed economy given the circumstances, against superior numbers but failed to land his much needed decisive blow because of decisions made early in the campaign. It compliments the first volume very well and actually surpasses it in terms of narrative.

The Artwork here is again done by the excellent Gerry Embleton and like volume 1 it also contains some rare and interesting images besides the excellent treatment of the charge of the Grenadiers à Cheval of the Garde Impériale. In both books the maps are positional, (IE no arrows to indicate movement) and rely on the boxes of text to indicate what is happening, they are comprehensive and detailed, which is very helpful.

As far as I am aware there are only two seminal works on the two battles so far covered. Therefore they are a welcome addition to a very select catalogue of books. They are easy and accessible to pick up for reference and detailed enough to satisfy close study and make a great basis for further investigation. As a historical read they are well written and convincingly described, not exceptionally controversial as far as I’m concerned and even handed, which I like in general when it comes to history.


Book Review: Waterloo 1815 (1) Quatre Bras by John Franklin.

Waterloo 1815 (1) Quatre Bras.

Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (November 18, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472803639
ISBN-13: 978-1472803634
Osprey’s multi volume contribution to the 200th anniversary of Waterloo kicks of with the Battle of Quatre Bras. Fought on the 16th of June 1815, it is good to bear in mind that this battle two has reached its bicentenary.
A barrel straight narrative dominates this account of a very confusing battle. This precursor to Waterloo has always defied an easy analysis because it has no real form and eludes clear definition like the shape of water. Therefore the more focused histories that are published the better. However it has been continuously overshadowed by the main battle on the 18th.

I was very pleased with this book, it’s not showy, it’s a nuts and bolts sort of account and supremely detailed, with an emphasis on the Dutch and Brunswick participants as one would expect from Franklin, especially their commanders, The Prince of Orange and the Duke of Brunswick. However all the main points are covered The initial French advance that caught the allies so off guard while the Duchess of Richmond held her ball, and the early fighting between the French and Prussian’s, not to mention the famous stand of the 42nd that adorns the cover is also included.
In an effort to keep a sense of atmosphere the author has resorted to an interesting style of referring to the participants. Instead of just rendering their names and ranks in English, each officer gets his rank and name spelled in the language of his parent nation. Even to Waterloo aficionados some of the spellings will be refreshingly unfamiliar.
One of the reasons the battle is hard to narrate is the ebb and flow of the seesaw struggle that tipped back and forth until late in the day. This theme of constant instability and brilliant split decision, is captured well here as the initial French advantage is squandered, and the pressure on Wellington’s position is relieved over and over again by nick of time reinforcements.

The art alone is worth half the price of the books. Osprey wisely gave this commission to veteran illustrator Gerry Embleton who has exerted himself to find new and overlooked parts of the story to paint. Embleton comes from the old corps d’élite of Osprey illustrators, his mostly watercolour scenes are full of character atmosphere and historical detail. The “Deployment of the artillery battery under Captain Cleeves” is particularly good. They brilliantly compliment the text and are usually my favourite part of Osprey books.

With so few histories focusing solely on the leadup to Waterloo, a series like this is very welcome indeed!

Below you will find some excellent articles by the author on aspects of the battle which for reason’s of space were unable to be included in the main book.


Book Review: Deus Vult by Jem Duducu.

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A concise history of the Crusades.
By Jem Duducu

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (6 Nov. 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445640554
ISBN-13: 978-1445640556

A concise history of the Crusades is as an ambitious a venture as the 1st Crusade itself. Doing it in 223 pages is shooting for the moon. Nevertheless the author is undaunted and daintily skips over the first 1,000 years of history from the birth of Christ to Pope Urban’s preaching campaign in 1095 with barely a pause and goes on dealing with roughly one Crusade per chapter.
The production of the book I received is respectable, of the type one would often find in a tourist shop, the type that feels made to take punishment and is light and able to be slipped into a coat pocket. The my edition shows a sombre looking 15th Century Knight adorning a typically dark medieval cover, holding a giant two handed broadsword. A red “Deus Vult” is emblazoned above him in front of a stormy sky. However the Amazon page, as you can see, shows a different image, which I rather like.
There is one simple map of Europe and Palestine in the front but otherwise it is unadorned by either the usual reproductions of illuminated texts, or travellers photographs of mosques, churches and castles that usually spring from the centre pages of crusader histories. A drawback is the fact that the book has no end guides. Notes, Bibliography and Index are not present here, and while I’m certainly not bothered about the lack of notes explaining more controversial opinions in any book, or indeed lists of sources, I am aware that others feel lost with an unfamiliar author unless the above is included and personally I do think reference books should have index sections.
The book sets out to answer questions, redress misconceptions and to thread together a cohesive story of a large subject in a very short space of time. It begins by pointing briefly to Constantine as the real start to it all, and the spread of Christianity through his successors before going on to the the rise of Islam and the natural challenge this brought about to the old Roman Empire and following the trail straight into the First Crusade. It’s interesting that the story begins so early, and it often gives food for thought, for instance, there were campaigns that looked like allot like crusades prior to the Latin capture of Jerusalem before Crusading ever began. In general I was pleased to see that the focus was on the “True” Crusades in the Middle East and does not indulge in going into the expansion of the Ottoman Turkish empire and the wars which I consider to be a separate issue. Ending at the Siege of Acre and the fall of the Crusader States, with a sort of symbolic post script/epilogue on the downfall of the Templar Knights; the style is fast paced and snappy which is paramount for a concise narrative, full of little euphemisms and imageries, and not a little banter allowed by the light of hindsight.
The story continues through the high points and little known areas alike, with a wit and a reason. On the whole there is a discernible flavour, and is nothing if not confident in its assertions. I feel sure many Crusade enthusiasts will enjoy this fast and light read, that gallops through this complex subject with the nimbleness of a Saracen horse archer, an achievement the author should be proud of.


Wellington, a few things.

The Duke of Wellington
The Duke of Wellington commanded one of Britain’s finest expeditionary forces between 1808 -1814 and defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.

The Duke of Wellington was not an easy man to read. The passage of time has not made it easier. He was incredibly good at projecting the public image of the statesman and general “Duke of Wellington” and keeping the private image of the more sensitive, artistic and shy Arthur Wellesley out of sight. It is that legend of the “Iron Duke” that is best known to people today.

So an article about 11 things we didn’t know about the Duke of Wellington, to help publicise the opening of the new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, should be an enlightening read. It was however a little disappointing for me and highlights just how difficult it is for historians to disentangle myth from fact. Now on the whole the article was not all that bad. It mentions his distaste for war, his fashionably short hair, the amount of pubs with his name on, about not inventing beef Wellington and those famous boots.

However the article is rife with potholes. Three of which stand out, although I found quite a few marked omissions in the others, not least that the boot was not called “Wellington” until after his death and his short hair really had nothing to do with crew cuts. Interestingly the entire rank and file of the army was required to have its hair worn long powdered and clubbed at the back until 1808.
Officers, especially the younger ones, had already ceased in this fashion during the 1790’s and early 1800’s. Wellington was one of these men.

The biggest problems start ominously at the beginning. The very first one is “1) Wellington was Irish”. At first this looks to be rather obvious instead of inaccurate because he was born in Dublin. However at the bottom is quoted “because a man is born in a stable it does not make him a horse”. I cannot be too clear that the Duke of Wellington never said this. It was said by Irish nationalist Daniel O’Connell, with typical self effacing humour, as a way of disowning Wellington from the Irish people. And he had a point for Wellington though being born there, was raised by an Anglo Irish aristocratic family, that had more in common with their English betters than the land they owned. Indeed his brother Lord Mornington felt it a most grievous insult to be awarded an Irish peering acidly calling it a “Gilt potato”.

“3) Wellington thought the British Army was rubbish” a leading statement if ever there was one. The caption confusingly then informs us that while participating in the 1794 campaign he was so appalled by British strategy that he was inspired to study strategy.
Let’s start briefly at the beginning. Wellington was a young Colonel of Infantry in the 33rd foot. While serving in the Duke of York’s campaign in the Low Countries 1793-1794, during the retreat from the river Waal,he witnessed harrowing scenes of neglect and mismanagement in which the army suffered. A long time later he commented that he had learned “What not to do” and that that was always something. He never felt the British army was superb unless it was taken care of, but he equally never thought it was rubbish.

In an effort to highlight Wellington’s distinctive dress sense, the article says “6) Wellington anticipated military camouflage” informing us that he chose to wear his understated frock coats as a deterrent to enemy snipers. This is not so much an inaccuracy as it is a large assumption that cannot be reliably corroborated. Wellington began wearing his plain campaign outfit at the beginning of the Peninsular War in 1808. There is no evidence he did so to deter snipers in that he is thought to have worn full dress in the Low Countries, India and Denmark, and continued to do so for parades and reviews. Also changing to a form of dress that actually made him stand out amongst uniformed officers would not necessarily keep him safe. General officers of the time rarely thought about uniforms in terms of being a target and Wellington is more likely to have worn his simple uniform for comfort rather than safety.

As it is some excellent material was missed. Such things like: He changed his name 3 times.
He helped Robert Peel form the Metropolitan Police. He went on a diplomatic mission to St Petersburg to prevent Russia from going to war with Turkey. What he ate for breakfast on campaign. He always liked to be neat, and because he had a heavy beard he often shaved twice a day and the fertile ground of little known facts that is his time in India certainly should have been included, not least of which that he considered that he knew as much about fighting as he ever did after returning from India.

I think an opportunity to entertain and educate people about the Duke, at a time when people will be more interested in him because of the 200th anniversary of Waterloo, was missed here. Trust me when I say the man is more interesting than the legend, and much available online doesn’t show this.