Book Review:
Wellington at war in the Peninsula

By Ian C. Robertson
Leo Cooper 2000

This is a book that has been written by someone who is both a historian and a travel writer, and is targeted towards the would-be battlefield visitor.

As such it is a very broad guide to the Peninsular campaign for someone who is visiting the region, possibly on their own or via a tour organised by Midas, Holts or Ian Fletcher Battlefield Tours.

The author has included as much information as possible to help the travelling historian. There is a general chronology of the campaign, including actions that involved British forces and those that did not.

A Glossary and Abbreviations section explains the terminology used and a list of maps and plans includes modern route maps to enable the reader to visit the sites.

There then follows a very thorough examination of the campaign, relating the history of events in Spain and Portugal that led to the conflict, together with an account of the geography of the Iberian Peninsula.

The author includes an interesting section on the cartography of the area, and looks at the value of contemporary maps and relates how the British Army mapped much of the campaign area.

This is combined with a warning that some of the topography has since been altered due to the construction of dams along rivers, reservoirs and road building over the battlefields.

The text is illustrated throughout with pictures of the conflict, maps (both contemporary and modern) and photographs, all of which combine to give the flavour of the period and the campaign and guide the modern visitor through the battlefields today.

Some of the contemporary pictures I have not seen before and include some unusual ones of an officer asleep in his billet and soldiers camping.

The account of the campaign begins with Wellesley's landing in Mondego Bay and ends with Bayonne.

The lively narrative is generously laced with contemporary quotes and text, and describes the passage of the British Army through the Iberian Peninsula alongside the story of their Spanish and Portuguese allies, plus accounts of the countryside through which the soldiers passed.

All aspects of the campaign are described, including events after each battle such as burying the dead and the Spanish brutality towards the French wounded.

There are interesting little details that add feeling to the story, such as the drought that occurred on the retreat to Portugal with many grass fires appearing due to the carelessness of the soldiers when they were cooking.

Wellington at War in the Peninsula has been written by a travel writer and is therefore geared towards conveying the flavour of the campaign and conditions for the British soldier there whilst visiting the sites as they are today. To emphasise this the author has included a section entitled Practical Notes and Suggested Tours containing travel hints, general advice and notes about accommodation in Spain and Portugal, plus suggestions for further reading.

This 351-pages book has 41 maps and plans and will be of great use to the would-be traveller to the Iberian Peninsula and makes for an enjoyable read even if staying at home.

- Paul Chamberlain


(This review first appeared in The Waterloo Journal)



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