Napoleon Series Archive 2006

Re: Biography of Nicholas Trant?

If only there was! But the entry in the new DNB is quite good and useful.


Trant, Nicholas (1769–1839), army officer
by E. M. Lloyd, rev. Gordon L. Teffeteller
© Oxford University Press 2004–6 All rights reserved
Trant, Nicholas (1769–1839), army officer, was the son of Thomas Trant and his wife, the daughter of James Trant. His mother and father were probably cousins, living in Dingle, co. Kerry, and his forebears were of Danish origin. His grandfather Dominick Trant, also of Dingle, wrote a tract, Considerations on the Present disturbance in Munster (1787).

Trant was educated at a military college in France, but when the Revolutionary War broke out he entered the British army, and on 31 May 1794 he was commissioned lieutenant in the 84th foot. He served with the 84th at Flushing, and went with it to the Cape of Good Hope in 1795. After his return to England he received command of a company in one of the regiments of the Irish brigade. His regiment was sent to Portugal, and he took part in the expedition under Sir Charles Stuart which resulted in the capture of Minorca in November 1798. There Trant was appointed agent-general for prizes, and helped to organize the Minorca regiment, in which he was made major on 17 January 1799. This was the year in which Trant married Sarah Georgina Horsington, an Englishwoman with evangelical connections. A daughter, Clarissa Trant [see below], was born to the couple in 1800, and a son, Thomas Abercrombie, in 1805. Sarah died shortly after Thomas's birth. Thomas was commissioned in the 38th foot in 1820, and was captain in the 28th foot when he died, aged twenty-seven, on 13 March 1832.

Trant served in the expedition to Egypt, and his regiment supported the 42nd and 28th in the battle of Alexandria. It was disbanded after the peace of Amiens, and Trant left the army; but he soon made a fresh start in it, and was commissioned ensign in the Royal Staff Corps on 25 December 1803. He was promoted lieutenant on 28 November 1805, and was sent to Portugal as a military agent in 1808. Because British officers usually received advanced rank in the Portuguese service he was appointed lieutenant-colonel. When Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the duke of Wellington) advanced from the Mondego in August the Portuguese general Bernardin Freire remained behind, but he allowed Trant to accompany Wellesley with a Portuguese corps of 1500 foot and 250 horse. At Roliça his assignment was to turn the French left. His inexperienced troops became jammed in a narrow gorge, however, and did not fully achieve their objective. At Vimeiro he was in reserve with Craufurd's British brigade.

Trant returned to England after the convention of Cintra, but went back to Portugal early in 1809 as part of the quartermaster-general's contingent to arrange details of the evacuation then planned. However, later in the year another British force began landing, and Trant raised a corps from the students of Coimbra University. After the Portuguese defeat at Braga and the French capture of Oporto, fresh recruits flocked to him. With about 3000 men he boldly maintained himself on the Vouga until May. He took part in the advance of Wellesley's army to the Douro, and was made governor of Oporto when it was recovered.

Trant was promoted captain in the staff corps on 1 June 1809, but soon afterwards was told that he would be removed from it unless he gave up his Portuguese employment. The situation was saved by Wellington, who intervened to write, on 9 May 1810, that there was no officer the loss of whose services in Portugal would be more felt. By this time Trant held the rank of brigadier-general.

In the autumn of 1810, while Wellington was falling back on Torres Vedras, Trant twice showed his ‘activity and prudent enterprise’, as Beresford described it. On 20 September, with a squadron of cavalry and 2000 militia, he surprised the French artillery train in a defile. His men became alarmed, and he had to fall back; but he took 100 prisoners, and caused Masséna to lose two vital days in his advance. On 7 October he marched suddenly upon Coimbra, where Masséna had left his sick and wounded with only a small guard. He met with little or no resistance, and carried off 5000 prisoners to Oporto. Napier described it as the most daring enterprise by any partisan force during the entire war. Some of the French officers who were taken prisoner prepared a letter, printed in an appendix by Napier, in which they defended his humanitarian treatment of the prisoners despite some atrocities committed by a few of his men.

In some respects Trant was ideally suited to lead the Portuguese troops. He was given to derring-do, but he was a steadying influence on his troops, who continued to improve under his guidance despite the handicap that he was always short of money. He seemed to exercise more authority over his troops than the Portuguese officers. In October 1811 the Portuguese government conferred on him the title of knight commander of the Tower and Sword. Both Fortescue and Oman included substantial references to his frequent brilliant accomplishments. In April 1812 he executed a ruse that prevented two French divisions from storming Almeida. He dressed many of his men in red coats, made them visible around the fortress, and at night built many bivouac fires to simulate bodies of British troops. This was convincing enough to cause Marmont to withdraw his forces for a time. On 13 April he was at Guarda with 6000 militia, and had a plan for surprising Marmont in his quarters at Sabugal; but on that night he himself narrowly escaped being surprised by Marmont in Guarda. Wellington, while praising his action in the emergency, warned him not to be too venturesome with such troops as his.

In 1813 fresh difficulties were raised about his drawing pay as a staff corps officer while in the Portuguese service. He obtained leave to go to England, and Wellington wrote strongly in support of his claim, expressing once more his appreciation of Trant's services and merits, and stating that he had been employed in a most important situation for the expenses of which his allowances were by no means adequate. He seems to have had no further part in the war. He had a bullet in his side, from which he suffered much for the rest of his life. He was transferred from the staff corps to the Portuguese service list on 25 October 1814, and received a brevet majority on 6 June 1815: scant reward for services so often praised. He was placed on half pay on 25 December 1816, and he resigned his half pay and left the army altogether in 1825. In May 1818, in financial difficulties, he had asked Wellington to write on his behalf to the king of Portugal; but Wellington replied to Beresford that it would be an indelicacy. Trant died on 16 October 1839 at Great Baddow, Essex, where his son-in-law, John Bramston, was vicar.

Trant's daughter, Clarissa Sandford Trant [married name Bramston] (1800–1844), diarist, was born in Lisbon on 30 November 1800. Owing to her father's long periods in Portugal in her early years her education was unconventional, frequently by tutors or a governess, though she also attended two schools in London: one at Gough House and the other in Sloane Street. Her mind was nimble and her pen well practised, as demonstrated by her diary. She was a serious-minded young woman who did not read fiction. She travelled extensively while young, and, though not associated with the highest society, she had contact with some of the great names of the period such as Lord John Russell, the prince of Orange, Talleyrand, Sir Charles Stuart, George Canning, the duke of Wellington, and Daniel O'Connell. She had a very close relationship with her brother Thomas and with her father during her early years. Though not wanting to be an ‘old maid’ she rejected at least twelve suitors before marrying in 1832, at the age of thirty-one, a spiritually compatible clergyman: the Revd John Bramston, pupil of Keble, friend of Newman, and vicar at Great Baddow, Essex. They had three children: Clara (b. 1833), Mary (b. 1841), and John (b. 1843). Her health was fragile in her later years, and she died of pleurisy on 10 April 1844 at the age of forty-three. Her husband remarried a year later. The Journal of Clarissa Trant, edited from the twenty-eight volumes of her diary, by a descendant, Miss C. G. Luard, was published in 1925.


Annual Register (1839) · Fortescue, Brit. army · D. Gates, The Spanish ulcer: a history of the Peninsular War (1986) · GM, 1st ser., 102/1 (1832), 371 · GM, 2nd ser., 12 (1839), 653 · J. J. G. Pelet, The French campaign in Portugal, 1810–1811, ed. and trans. D. Horward (1973) · The Journal of Clarissa Trant, ed. C. G. Luard (1925) · W. F. P. Napier, History of the war in the Peninsula and in the south of France, rev. edn, 6 vols. (1876) · F. F., M. C. D. T. [Frade Fort or, Cunato Monge Cisterciense Doctor Theologo], Noticias biograficas do Coronel Trant (1811) · C. W. C. Oman, A history of the Peninsular War, 7 vols. (1902–30) · J. Philippart, ed., The royal military calendar, 3rd edn, 5 vols. (1820) · A. I. Shand, Wellington's lieutenants (1902) · G. L. Teffeteller, The surpriser: the life of Rowland, Lord Hill (1983) · The dispatches of … the duke of Wellington … from 1799 to 1818, ed. J. Gurwood, 13 vols. in 12 (1834–9) · H. Blodgett, Centuries of female days: Englishwomen's private diaries (1989)

LPL, corresp. and papers | Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Sir William Napier


Neri, cameo engraving, 1829, repro. in Luard, ed., Journal of Clarissa Trant (1925)
© Oxford University Press 2004–6 All rights reserved

E. M. Lloyd, ‘Trant, Nicholas (1769–1839)’, rev. Gordon L. Teffeteller, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 1 Dec 2006]

Nicholas Trant (1769–1839): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/27664
Clarissa Sandford Trant (1800–1844): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/53045

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Biography of Nicholas Trant?
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Trant's position at Bussaco
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