Friday, 15 June 2012

The Hero of Waterloo? part I

Lately, I've been reading several books on the Waterloo campaign as a friend of mine is doing a biography of Dutch king William II, who fought in the Peninsula and at Quatre Bras and Waterloo. Friend's given me the Waterloo chapter in manuscript for a military history check. You can imagine how happy I am to help out!

William, then known as Prince of Orange, has a bad reputation in the English press, as many cock ups in the field are blamed on him. This new book (based on new research of primary resources from all participant nations) puts all that into a different perspective. It is supposed to be published in 2013 for the celebration of 200 years of The Netherlands. At some point (2014/5) the parts on the Napoleonic Wars are hoped to be published in English as well.

Looked at Geoff Wootten's Waterloo from the Osprey Campaign series, Haythornthwaite's introduction to Uniforms of Waterloo, Chandler's Campaigns of Napoleon and Hofschroers 1815 Waterloo Campaign, plus George Blond's La Grande Armee.

Chandler's book is still the standard work in English on Napoleonic warfare, even though published more than 45 years ago. You can easily trace his influence through other English accounts of the battle. However, the absense of German and Dutch sources (even those published in French) is a considerable limitation. Chandler can be a bit critical of Wellington when it comes to his deployments on 15th and 16th of June. The Prince of Orange only features in his narrative of Quatre Bras, not very condemning, so the negative attitude displayed by Haythornthwaite and Wootten must come from another source. I guess Siborne. It wouldn't be surprising if British officers after the war tried to put all problems at the door of a foreigner.

Haythornthwaite's book, first published in 1974, is of course more about uniforms and considering the references don't think the author did a lot of research on his account of the campaign and battle. No foreign language sources. The Brits are great, the Dutch-Belgians doubtful and William plain rubbish. Wellington of course can do no wrong.

Wootten ( the original publication is from 1992, I have a 2005 edition) still writes for a primary English audience but with more tactfull treatment of the allies. Book list not much improved on Haythornthwaite's. The Brits are still great, the Dutch-Belgians remain doubtful but William is now just inexperienced and doesn't seem to have so many battallions run down by French cavalry. He also notes that the Dutch held on to Quatre Bras in direct violation of Wellington's orders.

Blond's Grande Armee (published in French in 1979 and translated in 1995) hardly notices there being others than British at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, so wasn't much use.

Hofschroer (1998) is a different beast. It includes German, but also English and even a few Dutch sources. The Hof notes that William spend 2,5 years on Wellington's staff in the Peninsula and is therefor not totally inexperienced. Hofschroer mentions him generally in a positive light: leading the troops at Quatre Bras from the front, and doesn't point at his presumed mistakes. But as Hofschroer's objective is not a close description of the military events of the Anglo-Dutch army, William mostly appears as a conduit of Wellington's misinformation to the Prussians. Since the book is mostly a revision of English dominated historiography of the campaign, Hofschroer is critical of Wellington's conduct of the campaign and his dealings with the Prussians.

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