Napoleon Series Discussion Forum

Comparison of British and French Military identity

A Comparison of British and French Military identity and organization during the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.
Candlish, Timothy Paul
PhD thesis, University of York. 2012


The British and French armies that existed in the period between the fall of the Bastille and the Battle of Waterloo have been subject to any number of popular caricatures, myths, and misunderstandings. One such common stereotype is that the British army in the period was little more than an Old Regime army that somehow managed to win battles in the face of a French army that after centuries of aristocratic sclerosis and decades of revolutionary turmoil had mutated into an all-conquering juggernaut led by one of the universally recognized military geniuses of all human history; Napoleon Bonaparte. The image of the British soldier is of the downtrodden redcoat, whose life was one long story of alcoholism, hard fighting, and brutal corporal punishment at the hands of uncaring and brutal officers. The French soldier, in sharp contrast, is a bright-eyed young conscript, eager for victory and glory in the service of his country, of the ideals of the revolution, and of his seemingly-unbeatable Emperor. This thesis intends to examine the issues of military identity, that is to say how the soldiers truly saw themselves, and of military organization, specifically why armies organized and conducted themselves in the ways that they did. In so doing this thesis aims to challenge popular misconceptions, and to show that despite differences in ideology and ethos, the French and British armies actually came to adhere to a broadly similar ideal of military professionalism.

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