Apr 152015
 

Today I am delighted to offer a guest blog-spot to author David Ebsworth, who brought out a fascinating book earlier this year entitled The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour. Over to you David!

 

a4 Ebsworth1“They say that, on the day after the battle, you couldn’t find a pair of pliers for love nor money. Not for fifty miles around. The new fashion – in London, Paris, Berlin and St. Petersburg – was for dentures fitted with real teeth.

Waterloo teeth

Waterloo teeth

And there, on those few square miles of Belgian soil, lay no less than 50,000 potential donors, most of them dead, the rest so close to it that it didn’t much matter. And it wasn’t just the nature of dentistry that changed in June 1815. The battles fought in Belgium over those few brief days brought an end to 22 years of almost continuous fighting between the European powers in what had been, effectively, the first “world war” – and historians estimate that as many as 7,000,000 military and civilian casualties occurred between 1804 and 1815 alone. Until 1917, this was known as “The Great War.”

a6 Panorama2Those battles also brought an end to that military rivalry between Britain and France which had flared so violently and plagued each of the six centuries since the Anglo-French War of 1202-14.

From now on, France would be our ally in all subsequent conflicts – the beginning of a new and more modern Europe in which Germany and Italy would be born, and the seeds of social democratic government would slowly begin to replace the despotism of the old Royal Houses. It’s a process that’s still evolving, of course. But many other things remained entirely unchanged. International banking continues to fund all sides in current conflict, exactly as they did in 1815. The arms industry is still the main beneficiary of warfare, exactly as it was in 1815. And regardless of the original spark, which may ignite the bonfires of war, it has generally been international banking and the arms industry that have fanned the flames and kept the bonfires burning.

a 1 Bonaparte1So, with this in mind, and the bicentenary of Waterloo coming up, I began to think how I might tell the story from a slightly different perspective.   As usual, I began by looking at the controversies.

Was victory at Waterloo

(a) won by the brilliance of Wellington and the resolute steadiness of his British infantry,  or

(b) truly threatened by the alleged cowardice of his Dutch and Belgian contingents, or

(c) snatched from the jaws of an ignominious British defeat by the timely arrival of Wellington’s dogged Prussian allies, or

(d) simply thrown away, against all the odds, by the French.

You’ll find whole battalions of eminent historians, this year, fighting their own battles, for and against each of these viewpoints.

a5 Catherine Baland at ChiclanaAnd then there were the legends – none striking me so hard as the tale of Charles Napier (95th Rifles) and the broken body of a beautiful female French cavalry trooper he discovered among the thickest of Bonaparte’s dead. It was this tale that set me on the path of researching the many feisty women who fought, in their own right, in their own way, in the French front lines.

By the time I’d finished that research, I knew what I didn’t want to write. Not yet another “boy’s own adventure” story of Waterloo. Not another one-sided account that failed to recognize the battlefield fever and frenzy, the heroism, that gripped British, Dutch-Belgian, Prussian and French alike – nor to at least acknowledge that all the protagonists genuinely believed they were “on the right side.” Hindsight, and the pen of the victors, might have shaped the way we’ve been taught about Waterloo over the past 200 years but, on the day, among the French ranks, it all looked very different indeed!

So I became a bit fixated on some little-known and often forgotten issues.  First, Napoleon faced two very powerful armies, not one – and each of those armies was numerically as strong as his own.  By the time of Waterloo itself, over the previous three days, the French had already fought two major battles and several smaller ones. The French army, and its commanders, had slept little over those few days. By the end of the battle, many French Divisions, almost a third of Bonaparte’s total force, had still not fired a shot nor been engaged. For at least half the battle, a relatively small number of French soldiers held off wave after wave of Prussians trying to come to Wellington’s rescue – in some of the bloodiest fighting which those taking part had ever seen.

And, for most of the battle, Bonaparte – either by choice or through illness – was not even present on the field.

The result of all this has been The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour – a tale of Waterloo told from the viewpoint of two French women participants. But is this Napoleonic chicklit? Definitely not. This is a very traditional action story, and will hopefully appeal to all readers of historical fiction. Somebody’s said that the novel’s perhaps akin to Thomas Keneally’s The Daughters of Mars and, if so, that’s a great compliment.

But I’ll leave readers to make up their own minds!”

******

 

 

David has published three previous novels: The Jacobites’ Apprentice, Finalist in the Historical Novel Society’s 2014 Indie Award; The Assassin’s Mark, set during the Spanish Civil War; and The Kraals of Ulundi: A Novel of the Zulu War. Each of these books has been the recipient of the coveted B.R.A.G. Medallion for independent authors.

 

Thanks for that, David. More details of David’s work are available on his website here. The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour was published on 1st January and is available through all normal outlets.

  4 Responses to “The Battle of Waterloo, its 200th Anniversary, and a New Angle on the Story”

  1.  

    Napoleon’s defeat has also been attributed to his having an attack of piles at the time. Any truth to this story?

    •  

      New one on me – anyone else any ideas? The only thing I know about Napoleon is that he wasn’t actually very small – that was a propaganda lie put out by the British in much the same way that in later conflicts we sang songs about the physical inadequacies of the Nazi leadership! It obviously caught on – most French people I have spoken to assume that Napoleon was below average height – not so!But as for his piles … don’t really want to go there!

  2.  

    Thanks for the post, Mike, and happy to pick up any comments.

  3.  

    David, I enjoyed this book immensely and in my opinion it should have been shortlisted in a certain recent historical novel prize…

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