Pawly, Ronald. Napoleon's Mamelukes.
(Men-at-Arms, 429.) Illustrated
by Patrice Courcelle. Oxford, UK: Osprey,
2006. 48 pages. ISBN# 184176955X. Softcover.
The Mamelukes were among the most painted units in Napoleon's Imperial
Guard. Their imagery and their influence in military fashion was large.
Their outlandish costume is a maze of contradictions in styles that
the author of this volume fails to engage. Brightly coloured and distinctively
Middle Eastern, the red, yellows and green outfits of these legendary
warriors grabbed the imagination of much of Europe. In society it became
fashionable for women to wear large turbans and shawls and children
to be dressed in Mameluke styles.
The Author outlines the history behind the fierce horsemen who took
over Egypt and ruled, at varying stages, large Middle Eastern provinces
through beys. Mamelukes were selected from slave markets where light-skinned
Christian boys were bought, converted to Islam and then began a lifelong
service in war for their masters. They were at their best while fighting,
and were renown for their tactical and weapons skills and unwavering
courage. In the 1770s the Mamelukes came to power in Egypt under the
nominal overlordship of the Ottoman Turks.
In 1798 the West clashed with the Mamelukes when Napoleon invaded Egypt.
Their lan and bravery was of an age long gone. The Mamelukes
were no match for the veterans of Bonaparte's army. After Napoleon returned
to France, General Menou formed a Mameluke detachment which soon became
part of Bonaparte's personal guard. Their loyalty was never questioned
and they, fatally for some, became synonymous with Napoleon and his
empire. His final fall led to many Mamelukes in France being murdered
by vengeful Royalists. Throughout the long wars the Mamelukes serve
with the Imperial Guard's Chasseurs Cheval.
The colour illustrations by Patrice Courcelle and detail of the drawings
provided in this book make it stand out from many of the recent Men-at-Arms
books. The narrative is clear and concise history and organisation.
Aside from covering the history of the Mamelukes and detailing their
military campaigns under Napoleon, the section on the personalities
was particularly interesting. The brief biographies open a window on
the type of men serving in the regiment and also how brave they were.
Chahin, for example, suffered no fewer than 40 wounds in the emperor's
service. There is a good section upon standards and flags but no illustrations
to go with them.
The brief of the book may have been too large for only 14,000 words.
Half the book talks about Mamelukes in general and not those who served
loyally Napoleon as would be expected by the title. This has squeezed
out information that would have synthesized the uniforms and equipment
that has been traditionally been given equal weight in an Osprey volume.
I would have liked more information on the weapons, equipment, horses
and style of dress that are shown in the fine illustrations. I would
have especially liked to see an indication whether the illustrations
were typical for the unit or for a particular person and what variations
there were through the period. Certainly there seemed to be such an
indication that by 1813-14 there was a mixture of Arabic and French
styles in dress and equipment. One of the plates refers to Mameluke
Regulation Dress but that does not seem to be further explained.
Plates A to D and many of the illustrations clearly show the Mamelukes
riding Arabs indicated by their narrow their high carry. The horses
for the later period seem to be sturdier European light horse blood
stock. A comment upon this would have been useful.
This book is of use for those interested in the Mamelukes, the Imperial
Guard, the Egyptian Campaign or those readers who are collectors of
the MAA series. Its clear writing style and illustrations makes it a
light read for about an hour or so. The main criticism is the MAA format
does not do justice to this subject. The Mr. Pawly provides a general
history book that is lavishly illustrated and, like many of the recent
Ospreys, lacks a bibliography-- thus being unhelpful to those who wish
to learn more about these fascinating warriors. For a person who is
fascinated in the uniforms, equipment, arms and horses, I was disappointed
with this book that promised so much. This is certainly not the
best of his books upon cavalry of the French Napoleonic Cavalry which
I would recommend.
Reviewed by Stephen Summerfield
Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2006