Book Review: Benjamin Franklin in London by George Goodwin.


Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: W&N; First Edition edition (11 Feb. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0297871536

It is gently witty, it is cooly erudite it is in a word delightful. I will make no bones about it this book has confirmed to me, and will confirm to anyone else’s suspicion; more than ever, what made Benjamin Franklin a great man. The front cover shows one of my favourite images of Franklin, depicted in 1767 in a striking blue coat by David Martin and behind him is William Marlow’s view of Blackfriars Bridge and St Paul’s. The publishers have made a very nice product, and a sturdy one too, given the sometimes high standards of toughness I often expect from my books.

I don’t know that I realised quite how much I liked it until I got to page 117 (of the hardback). Unexpectedly I reached the bottom of the page that talked about his honest and open relationship with his wife, and his sometimes odd way of expressing it, and what I read next just krept up on me so that by the last word I was smiling, and a book that can make you smile is a book you must read.

“I fell in love with it at first sight; for I thought it looked like a fat jolly dame, clean and tidy, with a neat blue and white calico gown on, good natured and lovely, and put me in mind of – somebody”

Caught up as I was with absently considering the realities of what calico cloth looked like I read the last sentence with unguarded clarity, and instantly, an invisible hand snapped its fingers and 250 years instantly melted away.

This is the British life of America’s founding father, and it may come as a surprise to some that at some point every American had a British life. Yet if we really want to understand the American Revolution we need to try to get under the skin of the people of those times. We need to realise that America as a country did not exist in 1755, 1763 or indeed in 1776. This book as well as telling us about London and Benjamin Franklin is able to show us a deeper reason behind the old concepts of America against tyranny, for freedom’s sake. The colonies had reached a point by which they needed to either become closer to Britain or break away.

Benjamin Franklin is therefore the perfect conduit for us to see this time, a time when the Americans, who as yet thought themselves merely an extended form of Briton, reached out to become more so, yet refusing to surrender the rights that they had enjoyed as a separated entity for almost a century. And George Goodwin is an excellent guide. It is particularly enjoyable to read of events like the Boston Tea party not first hand from the American shore, but as it arrived in London. Through the eyes of Franklin and his associates, who were working hard to forge a closer union with the mother country, we see the political wrangling that occurred over the sudden colonial problem Britain was left with in the wake of the materially successful yet financially bruising 7 years war.

As well as that we get a picture the Benjamin Franklin who dreamed of a pan British partnership that included both the mother country and America. Despite this he was disillusioned with the queer prejudice he found against America in Britain, and embarked upon a perilous adventure to change the course of history. We follow him from his origins all the way to 1775 on a journey of self improvement, science, 18th century life and politics. By the end of the book we are left with the portrait of the man we recognise, and most often examine without much thought to the powers and forces that formed him.

The Book is very much charachter driven, and the people Franklin meet and interact with are a constant theme, thus the image selection is made up principally of fine portraits to give faces to the many names. In the rear section along with the usual things one expects to find back there, we get a nice list of Ben Franklin themed places to visit.

Because it shines a very personal light on British America, the book gives us a clearer understanding of the causes of the Revolution, and how we should look at it and the individuals who made it possible. This is a must read for those who strive to understand, not only the rise of Franklin, but the origins of America and indeed why it was possible for Britain and America to move forward afterwards.


One Man’s Sword.

This latest post for Britannia Magazine tells about how General Charles O’Hara connects George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte, and also asks about the veracity of wether he indeed surrendered to Napoleon?


Book Review: British Redcoat vs French Fusilier by Stuart Reid


Publisher: Osprey Publishing (24 Mar. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472812433
ISBN-13: 978-1472812438

The Combat series is fast becoming one of Osprey’s strongest assets as it bridges the gap between warrior, men at arms, elite and campaign, being a fair blend of them all. It fits in neatly with the spirit of the other lines the publisher has produced over the years. Bringing an in depth look at a specific point, and in addition “Versus” as it is also called, allows enthusiasts to actually investigate the age old “who would win” conversation.

This book examines the experiences of British and French regular soldiers during the French and Indian War 1755-1763. Essentially this is the story less told in the Last of the Mohicans, that of the red and white coats who formed the nucleus around which the more famous Rangers, Couriers du Bois, Indians and light infantry units were formed around.

Therefore bush warfare is not investigated here, rather it is the set piece battle in the open that the author, Stuart Reid looks at. At that immediately focuses the scope to a short period between 1759 and 1760 that nevertheless saw the little studied Battle of Fort Niagara, the legendary Battle of Quebec and the often overlooked Battle of St Foie.

These three battles don’t particularly reveal anything greatly striking about how conventional forces engaged each other in the 18th century. Rather they highlight some of the differences and challenges that regular troops, not trained for bush warfare, faced in North America. The French had to adapt set battle plans regarding columns to accommodate much smaller armies, they also had to make allowance for a large amount of militia being attached to regular battalions. The British were mostly refining their musketry, and did very little different, except in this sphere.

Both armies proved themselves to be incredibly flexible of course, but what the book actually revealed to me is a distinct lack on the part of field commanders, especially on the French side, which is telling, and how when push came to shove it was often down to battalion level officers to do the right thing. The lack of the horse in these campaigns would prove a distinct handicap to communications.

Maps and images, well chosen and properly accompanied by illustrative text, accompany every Osprey book, as do original paintings. Combat offers a look at both types of soldier, plus a split screen page were the same event is observed from both sides, and a traditional full page spread by Peter Dennis. As per usual with this artist, these illustrations are action packed, and very colourful. In the artist’s brief Reid must have stressed that Dennis pose the British Redcoat leaning forwards into the shot, which gives him a slightly strange look but highlights the sort of detail you can expect.

In other combat titles, a theme is used where either the same regiment, or the same soldier is used multiple times to allow a go pro “point of view” read. Here Reid’s combat analysis is based on the testimonies of a greater range of participants, which gives a more conventional “birds eye view” to the actions than is usual in some of the other ones, nevertheless it is an excellent short overview of linear fighting in America and highlights some interesting aspects of the war, showing how the two sides attitudes adapted to try and gain supremacy in Canada.

Joseph Brant and the Fall of the Iroqouis.

The Rise.
The foundations of the success of the “Great League of Peace and Power” were centred on a unified vision of cooperation and neutrality. From the early days until the mid 18th century the Haudenosaunee, proved adept in using their network of alliances to expand their territory and influence their neighbours.
When the Europeans had grown stronger. It had become obvious to the leaders of the League that they must not allow themselves to get embroiled in matters of no concern to them. Therefore they retained their powerful position and remained aloof while the French and British manoeuvred to gain influence over them.
As long as this status quo continued it seemed as if the Iroquois might survive as a nation, they were still expanding, and European trade was profitable. The “French and Indian War” changed everything. With the two great foreign powers locked in a death struggle for control of America, the Iroquois were inevitably drawn into the conflict. In this war they chose the winning side, mostly because the Mohawks respected William Johnson.
After the war and Pontiac’s failed uprising, the League tried to go back to its former course. However their strong policy of neutrality was gone, and they now had bonds of alliance and obligations to Britain, meaning that if there was another war they would get sucked into it again. Between 1758 and 1770 things went along peacefully for the Haudenosaunee. Men hunted and traded and went on raids, women farmed, oversaw things in the longhouse and had babies, winter turned to spring. Everything seemed normal, even if there was a war, there was no reason to think it would change anything. The British had beaten the French, and no one imagined another war on that scale occurring again. Few could have realised what was to come. Joseph Brant in many ways encapsulates the story of the Iroquois during this time. A legendary figure, still labouring under the stigma of Patriot propaganda, he was central to the Indian story of the American Revolution. For more on the rise of the Iroqouis please read my blogs on the subject by following the links above.


Continue reading “Joseph Brant and the Fall of the Iroqouis.”