Here we are then. The scene is set. It must be war. The politics, the philosophy and the cultures of the European great powers are now to be decided on the battlefields. In many ways this conflict was about far more than Napoleon, or even the ideals of the French revolution versus the Ancien Regime. This is the climax of a clash that defined Europe since the discovery of the New World. Would Europe be a land empire, ruled by the French, facing the mediterranean and projecting power to the old core of Western civilisation, into the Balkans and the middle east, or would the British Atlantic facing international empire triumph. That might sound outlandish, but some historians have certainly viewed it that way. Britain had financed Prussia and other nations to attack the French to conquer French oversea’s territories. William Pitt the Elder, a famous British politician had explicitly stated this aim “While we had France for an enemy, Germany was the scene to employ and baffle her arms.” meaning that Britain would arm and finance continental powers to weaken the French to seize French oversea’s colonies.
Tag: Quatre Bras
Europe was at war. The fate of nations and armies hung in the balance. As people made hard choices, Napoleon began his attack. He planned to beat the Prussians, but that meant Marshal Ney had to face the British and their allies. Here was a chance for swift and decisive victory, but was Ney the man to seize it?
This episode covers
Implications of being in the war zone
Position of the armies
Why Ligny and Quatre Bras were key battles
Detailed analysis of pre-battle events and orders
The Battle of Quatre Bras and a background on Marshal Ney
Consequences and the missing day.
Speculation on psychology of Marshal Ney.
In the first episodes of the Age of Victoria we’ve been covering Napoleon and the 100 days. There are a ton of great sources out there. I’ve used
- Memoirs of Napoleon by Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne.
- The 100 Days by Philip Guedalla.
- Waterloo: A French Perspective by Andrew Field.
- Prelude to Waterloo: Quatre Bras: The French Perspective by Andrew Field
- Siborne’s 1815 Campaign Vol 1: The March to Waterloo.
- The Ascendancy of Europe: 1815-1914 by MS Anderson.
- French History since Napoleon edited by Martin S. Alexander.
- Waterloo 1815: Quarte Bras (Waterloo campaign).
- Redcoat by Richard Holmes.
- With Napoleon’s Guns: The Military Memoirs of an Officer of the 1st Empire by Colonel Jean-Nicolas-Auguste Noel
- Wellington’s Guns: The Untold Story of Wellington and his Artillery in the Peninsula and at Waterloo by Colonel Nick Lipscombe
- Rifles: Six Years with Wellington’s Legendary Sharpshooters by Nick Urban
- Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon’s Grande Armee by John Elting
- Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon by Gunther Rothenburg
- Marshal Louis Davout and the Art of Command by Major John M Keefe
- Napoleon and his Marshalls by MacDonell
- Waterloo: the aftermath by Paul O’Keeffe
French and British Sources will all contain some bias’s. Primary sources will naturally have limited views due to the confusion during battles, or the relative positions of the observers. Junior officers particularly tended to have a limited view point and overestimate the importance of their section of the conflict. After the restoration of the Bourbons, the writings of many senior French officers and key Bonapartists were necessarily constrained.
Other primary sources will be plagued by bias’s where people exaggerate their own importance (consciously or otherwise), or they will slander people they dislike or adopt national prejudices. Napoleon was habitually dishonest when it suited him and he was bad at accepting fault, preferring to shift the blame onto his subordinates albeit often deservedly. Still primary sources provide one of the best windows into events at the time and how contemporaries perceived them. Napoleon in particular has suffered at the hands of pro and anti Napoleon historians and writers, so especial care should be taken when reading Napoleonic sources. British sources are very prone to adopting a British=good guys, French=bad guys dichotomy.
This barely scratches the surface. There are reading materials covering everything from uniforms to supply wagons to cooking equipment to grand strategy. There are officers journals and accounts by private soldiers. Napoleon had an incredible career so it is well worth diving deeper into.