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The Sword and the Spirit: Proceedings of the first ‘War & Peace in the Age of Napoleon’ Conference

The Sword and the Spirit: Proceedings of the first ‘War & Peace in the Age of Napoleon’ Conference

The Sword and the Spirit: Proceedings of the first ‘War & Peace in the Age of Napoleon’ Conference

Zack White (Editor):

Helion & Company (2021), paperback

Pages: 178

Images: 1 b/w illustration, 5 tables, 1 diagram

The origins of this book lie in a two-day international conference ‘War and Peace in the Age of Napoleon’ held at King’s College, London on the 13th and 14th September 2019.  The event featured 49 speakers from four continents discussing the social, political, and military aspects of the Napoleonic epoch. This book selects eight of the papers given. Two feature the controversial naval commander Sir Home Riggs Popham – first at Walcheren and then at Santander. Other papers look at the severity of the sacking of San Sebastian; the problems caused by Wellington’s implementation of his Provisional Battalions’ manpower strategy 1812-1814; British policy and the Prussian occupation of the electorate of Hanover in 1801; the dangers of using only desertion figures to assess the contribution of Foreign troops in the British Army; a reappraisal of Clausewitz’s role as Chief of Staff to Prussian III Corps at Ligny and Wavre and a psychological analysis of Napoleon – did he suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (no) or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (oh yes!).

It is of course difficult to decide on which 8 papers to choose out of a possible 49 but looking at the possible papers that were on offer, this reviewer would have made some changes to those selected. Two on Home Popham seems overkill. The paper on the sacking of San Sebastian does not take us any further from Bruce Collins’ admirable work. That on Clausewitz covers 18 pages but actually says little, as indeed, there is little concrete evidence. The summary on the back cover does not help. We are told the book covers ‘from the siege of San Sebastian to the fields of Waterloo’: San Sebastian yes, readers will struggle to see references to Waterloo; that was covered in other papers in the conference that were not selected. The title of the book ‘The Sword and the Spirit’ is confusing.

Nevertheless, some of the papers selected make important contributions to our knowledge and understanding. For possibly the first time, in Jacqueline Reiter’s paper is teased out the idea that Home Popham may have been the instigator of the Walcheren project and Dr Reiter shows how Popham assembled political support for his idea. Andrew Bamford’s look at Wellington’s Provisional Battalions allows us to see how fixated Wellington could be on achieving his own aims, regardless of the problems they might cause his superior the Duke of York. At the same time as Wellington was doing this, he was also extremely critical of the Royal Navy in not supplying him with enough naval support to effectively blockade San Sebastian; obligingly forgetting that the navy was fully stretched and was having to deal with the war against America. Dr Bamford also considers other options that were available to Wellington at the time. Alistair Nicholls in a gem of an article seeks to overturn our view of regiments such as the Chasseurs Britannique and makes the very telling point that if the foreign corps were so bad why did Wellington not send them to secondary stations as he did with other British regiments with which he was displeased.

But the real gem of the publication, and great fun too, is Edward Coss’ article ‘A Damning Diagnosis: Napoleon, Narcissism, Depression, Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’. Five American Army psychologists independently analyse Napoleon’s own words and conclude that he was more encumbered by psychological limitations than has been previously acknowledged. You have been warned!

John Morewood

June 2021