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Napoleon's Mercenaries - Available Soon!

Napoleon's Mercenaries

Greenhill will shortly publish a fascinating study of some of Napoleon's most diverse, colourful and exotic soldiers ­ the foreign regiments of the Grande Armee. Written by Napoleonic expert Guy Dempsey Napoleon's Mercenaries explores over one hundred individual units and brings to light formations and regiments which played such an important part in Napoleon's bid to conquer Europe.

Based on extensive archival research, and a brilliant grasp of secondary sources, Napoleon's Mercenaries gives an overview of each unit's origins, its organisational and combat history, its uniforms and standards, and details the unit's eventual fate. Colourful accounts, taken from contemporary reports and memoirs, emphasise the qualities of the unit, throw light on what life was like for many of the foreign soldiers recruited into the Grande Armee and make this study a refreshing and lively source of reference. Guy Dempsey stresses the rich background of many of these nineteenth-century mercenaries in his introduction:

'The foreign troops also added a tremendous human diversity to the ranks of Napoleon's armies in the form of unusual characters with exotic backgrounds, such as Colonel Papas-Oglou of the Chasseurs d'Orient, who started as a Mameluke admiral and ended up as a French officer, and Captain Samuel Ulan, the Lithuanian of Tartar descent who chose life as an exile with Napoleon.  The individual mercenaries we can know best today are those who left memoirs. As a result we can consider the military history of the period from the point of view of the class-conscious Miles Byrne of the Irish Legion, the libidinous Captain Friedrich of the Isembourg Regiment, the peripatetic Rifleman Maempfel, who served in the Prussian, French and British armies, or the stalwart Heinrich von Brandt, a German in the Vistula Legion who helps to illustrate the fungible nature of nationality in a world only on the cusp of discovering true nationalism. We can learn about other individuals from snippets in the histories of their units. For instance we can identify Marc Warnery as the individual who probably holds the record for serving in the most foreign units. Warnery, a native of Switzerland who was born in 1776 and is noted  in one inspection report as a zealous officer who spoke three languages, first enlisted in the Helvetian Demi-Brigades, then transferred in 1806 to the Pionniers Blancs. After a stint in the Legion of the North, he joined the Neufchatel Battalion, where he served in the Voltigeur and Carabinier companies prior to his disappearance in Russia.

One cannot help regretting, however, that we cannot learn much more about such tantalising characters as Jan and Vincent Konopka, the brothers who led the Vistula Legion Lancers to their extraordinary triumph at Albuera in 1811, or Kosmas Stephanis from Smyrna, the 161st individual inscribed on the rolls of the Mamelukes of the Guard, who served in the Greek Legion, joined the Mamelukes as an NCO, earned the Legion of Honour in 1806, was stripped of his rank in 1809 and finally was killed at Bautzen in 1813.'

Guy Dempsey has managed to reveal the characteristics of  Napoleon's foreign troops and underscores the fact that they varied tremendously in quality, from the excellent Vistula Legion and Swiss regiments to the more dubious battalions of foreign deserters and Spanish prisoners of war.

Napoleon's Mercenaries will be published to coincide with the International Napoleonic Fair. It has 352 pages of text, 16 pages of plates and coloured endpapers of prints by A. de Marbot.

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