The Osprey Men-at-Arms of René Chartrand
Chartrand, René. Émigré and Foreign Troops in British Service (2) 1803-1815 (MAA 335).
Chartrand, René. The French Army in the American War of Independence (MAA 244).
Chartrand, René. Louis XV's Army: Cavalry and Dragoons (1) (MAA 296).
Chartrand, René. Louis XV's Army: French Infantry (2) (MAA 302).
Chartrand, René. Louis XV's Army: Light Troops and Specialists (4) (MAA 308).
Chartrand, René. Louis XV's Army: Colonial and Naval Troops (5) (MAA 313).
Chartrand, René. Napoleon's Overseas Army (MAA 211).
Chartrand, René. Napoleon's Sea Soldiers (MAA 227).
Chartrand, René. Spanish Army of the Napoleonic Wars (3) 1812-1815 (MAA 334).
I am not a fan of Osprey publications. There was a time when I would buy every Osprey Napoleonic title. This was until, when doing research in primary sources on my own, I found that many of these books, and their attendant art work, to be generally average at best, and sometimes not reliable at all. This, however, has changed a great deal because historian René Chartrand and others are now doing Osprey Men-at-Arms books. Chartrand has done twelve books so far for Osprey, and whoever asked him to do this is a genius.
I first bought a René Chartrand uniform study in 1984 while in Canada, not paying any attention to either the author or illustrator, but liking the illustrations in the book, the subject matter, and the period it covered. After looking at it later, and reading who the author was, I tucked the information away and went on my way, keeping the book in my collection.
A few years and more experience later, I had both heard and found out on my own that Chartrand is an authority in his own right, an excellent author, and a meticulous researcher. Now, if I find a book by him, it generally goes into my library. Recently while visiting a specialist bookstore in California, I spent more than I probably should have on some of the newer books Chartrand has done for Osprey. They have been a gold mine of information both on the Napoleonic period, and of the pre-Revolutionary French Army during the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI. While this may be just a little outside of our period, it is relevant to it, as it gives an expert view of what the French Army looked like and how military styles developed from 1720-1789. I have added these to my other Osprey titles by Chartrand on the Napoleonic period, Napoleon's Sea Soldiers (MAA 227), and Napoleon's Overseas Army (MAA 211). All of these volumes, while conforming to the Osprey Men-at-Arms format, are jam-packed with excellent information, much of it not available before. Another treat is the use of color plates by Eugene Leliepvre, Painter to the French Army, for the volumes on the French Army of Louis XV.
The volumes by Chartrand I would like to cover here in a very general manner are, besides the two named above, are four of the five volumes on Louis XV's Army; Cavalry and Dragoons (1), French Infantry (2), Light Troops and Specialists (4), and Colonial and Naval Troops (5) (MAA 296, 302, 308, 313, respectively); The French Army in the American War of Independence (MAA 244); Émigré and Foreign Troops in British Service (2) 1803-1815 (MAA 335); and The Spanish Army of the Napoleonic Wars (3) 1812-1815 (MAA 334).
I'm sure everyone is very familiar with the Men-at-Arms format, but I'll briefly review it for anyone not familiar with it. The Men-at-Arms series is a general, somewhat brief (limited to 48 pages) uniform history of famous units and/or armies in specific wars or campaigns. They are profusely illustrated with relevant illustrations of uniforms, as well as eight color plates of the subject in question by a contemporary military artist. The narrative describes the uniforms in detail, sometimes with a brief history of either the unit, personalities, or both. Additionally, the plates are explained and there is a necessarily brief note on sources. In the hands of an expert such as René Chartrand, this can be a narrative overflowing with useful, very accurate, and sometimes newfound information. All of the 48-page volumes have excellent color plates; however, my favorites are those by Eugene Leliepvre and Francis Back. These two very talented artists give us very realistic renderings of what soldiers undoubtedly looked like on campaign and in combat. Leliepvre's rendering of eastern woodland Indians and the French light troops being particularly effective.
Starting chronologically, the first three volumes on Louis XV's army cover the French infantry and cavalry, including Guard formations, the largely embryonic and semi-irregular light troops employed during the period, engineers, medical personnel, as well as general and staff officers. There are brief chronological descriptions of the various units of each type, when they were founded and disbanded (if applicable), if there was a name change (which in the era of proprietary colonels could be somewhat frequent), and the uniforms and livery each unit wore. The last volume on colonial and naval troops is very interesting. In part this is due to the fact that these units were under the cognizance and administration of the Ministre de la Marine (Navy) which causes frequent trouble with English-speaking authors, 'marine' in French means navy, not 'marine' as used in English. Some English-speaking authors have a tendency to call French naval infantry 'Marines' in the sense of either the Royal Marines or the United States Marine Corps, which is incorrect. Especially during the Napoleonic era, when France had no marines, in this sense.
I found the volume on light troops fascinating. The myriad embryonic corps recruited, developed, or thrown together to combat the swarms of very effective Austrian pandours, serazzaners, and hussars are meticulously listed in this volume and it gives a very good picture of the units that gradually developed into the gallant and effective hussars and light infantry regiments of the Grande Armée. What is also interesting is the varieties of both clothing and uniforms these varied corps wore (and there is a difference), being borrowed from Hungarian, Turkish, Bosnian, and Balkan dress. It is a true menagerie for uniformologists.
On the heels of these excellent volumes is Chartrand's work on the French Army that fought in the American Revolution. The units that are covered and listed are those that fought overseas, and one finds a mix of the old and new uniforms that the troops wore. Metropolitan, foreign, and colonial units are covered, from the solid regular regiments that came to North America with Rochambeau's expeditionary force, to Lauzan's colorful legion, which, incidentally, was recruited under the Ministre de la Marine. The French Navy is not ignored, nor are the French Army reforms instituted after the disasters of the Seven Years' War, which eventually led to the Règlement of 1791 and the revolution in French tactics.
I consider the two volumes on Napoleon's sea soldiers and overseas army to be companion volumes. Colonial units are catalogued in the latter volume, and it is extremely useful, especially for units stationed in the Indian Ocean, but Napoleon's Sea Soldiers sorts out the plethora of misconceptions many of us may have had on the Imperial Navy and what it did and didn't accomplish. As has already been stated, the French had no Marines. Their functions aboard ship were taken by garrisons (garnisons) of the regular infantry. However, sailors and the naval artillery were two different organizations, the latter extremely professional and useful, and they were employed with the Grande Armée increasingly as the need for trained manpower became critical. The Sailors of the Guard are also covered, as well as the surprising number of French naval victories during the period, especially in the Indian Ocean.
The last two books on émigré units and the Spanish are both parts of a series, of which I have so far only found these two. Both are excellent and very informative. I am definitely going to buy the first volume on émigrés and foreign troops in the British Army, but will not buy the other Spanish volumes, as I only purchased this one as it also covered the Spanish Army of King Joseph Bonaparte. The Spanish Army is not one of my areas of interest. This is absolutely no reflection on either the author or the artist, just personal preference.
All of these books are thorough studies, written in a scholarly manner with well thought out illustrations and color plates. René Chartrand and Osprey have done us a great service with these volumes and all of them belong on our bookshelves. They are accurate, packed with information, written by an acknowledged authority of the periods covered, who is a meticulous researcher and an entertaining author. What these volumes proved to me is that we really shouldn't judge a book (or a series, for that matter) by its cover or its title. Osprey has once again, in my mind, placed itself in the top notch of military history books available for research purposes, as well as entertainment.
Reviewed by Kevin Kiley