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"Good, accessible overview of the Peninsula?" Topic

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Fireymonkeyboy19 Mar 2017 8:56 a.m. PST


Looking for a book recommendation please. I need a good, accessible overview of the Peninsular War, ideally for a relative novice to the period.


Camcleod19 Mar 2017 9:00 a.m. PST

The Osprey Essential History is a short overview:


Personal logo Mserafin Supporting Member of TMP19 Mar 2017 9:11 a.m. PST

I like this one:


This one is a better history (IMHO), but takes a bit more reading:


Hope this helps.

Brechtel19819 Mar 2017 11:53 a.m. PST

Both are good and useful books.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP19 Mar 2017 12:00 p.m. PST

Esdaile. Spanish Ulcer is good, but hindered by atrocious maps.

dibble19 Mar 2017 2:50 p.m. PST

This was my first ever book on the subject.


I've had mine for 42 years and cherish it above all (along with 'Mosquito' By Martin Sharp & Michael J.F. Bowyer) my other books.

Easy to read with lots of plates, maps and pictures.

Paul :)

Trajanus19 Mar 2017 3:29 p.m. PST

Gates was first published in 1986 and stylistically its showing its age. So I would go with Esdaile, who is also a bit more tuned to the Spanish side of things for my money.

dibble19 Mar 2017 10:19 p.m. PST

I would have chosen Esdaile if the person had already consumed books like gates' Spanish Ulcer but I think Esdaile's book is too sparse in visual details, too 'academic' in his telling and the text itself is very small. I'm sure that the O.P is thinking about a book that is easy going, tells a good general overview, uses maps and gives an idea of what the soldiery looked like, especially as it is surely aimed at someone who is starting out in the theme of that area of conflict, in a wargaming context.

Paul :)

Guthroth20 Mar 2017 1:28 a.m. PST

This was my first real study of the period.


It's probably a bit dated now, but a decent overview of the period.

4th Cuirassier20 Mar 2017 2:02 a.m. PST

I found Esdaile unreadably dull.

Footslogger20 Mar 2017 3:08 a.m. PST

+1 to Dibble. "Military Dress of the Peninsular War" unlocked the whole campaign for me as a teenager and it has hardly dated at all. Poorly named, really, there's at least as much about the history as the uniforms. Only minuses, for me, it ended when Wellington's army crossed into France rather than at Napoleon's abdication, and it's a bit Anglo-centric.

I too struggled with Esdaile; I found him a better speaker than writer.

Personal logo Whirlwind Supporting Member of TMP20 Mar 2017 3:27 a.m. PST

I think Gates is very good for a novice.

If you like maps and are comfortable with military terminology, but don't know much about the Peninsular War, this one is great: link

Brechtel19820 Mar 2017 3:47 a.m. PST


An excellent study and a proper companion to the Esposito/Elting Atlas which only covers Spain as far as Napoleon's campaign there.

Le Breton20 Mar 2017 5:34 a.m. PST

Not perfect, a bit anglo-centric on some points, but lots of info and very accessible (i.e. it's free!).

A History of the Peninsular War
Sir Charles William Chadwick Oman (1860-1946)

v. 1. 1807-1809. From the treaty of Fontainebleau to the Battle of Corunna.
v. 2. Jan.-Sept. 1809. From the Battle of Corunna to the end of the Talavera campaign.
v. 3. Sept. 1809-Dec. 1810. Ocaña, Cadiz, Bussaco, Torres, Vedras.
v. 4. Dec. 1810-Dec. 1811. Masséna's retreat, Fuentes de Oñoro, Albuera, Tarragona.
v. 5. Oct. 1811-Aug. 31, 1812. Valencia, Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Salamanca, Madrid.
v. 6. Sept. 1, 1812-August 5, 1813. The siege of Burgos; the retreat from Burgos; the campaign of Vittoria; the battles of the Pyrenees.
v. 7. August 1813-April 14, 1814. The capture of St. Sebastian; Wellington's invasion of France;battles of the Nivelle, the Nive, Orthez and Toulouse

Vol. I link

Vol. II link

Vol. III link

Vol. IV link

Vol. V link

Vol. VI link

Vol. VII link

Westerner Inactive Member20 Mar 2017 6:01 a.m. PST

For an introduction to the war, one way of avoiding an Anglo-centric bias is to read the lavishly illustrated Napoleon's War in Spain: French Peninsular Campaigns, 1807-14 by Henri Lachouque.

I found it useful to gain an overview from the French perspective, not least because it covers and explains events far distant from British military intervention. It is, as I say, very generously illustrated, mainly with contemporary or later Nineteenth Century paintings and engravings, and some, to the English reader, quite obscure incidents are illustrated. There are some rather nice uniform plates in colour, too.

The tone of some of the captions does border on comic, conveying a deep sense of unfairness that the, often rather unsporting, Spanish kept attacking the French and, sometimes, beating them.

So, in addition to dealing with the war from a French perspective (Talavera is merely an indecisive engagement of no great moment, if I recall), it goes a long way to help the English reader understand why the word "Chauvinist" is French. Mais, c'est Lachouque!

If someone can point me to an English language general history that does justice to the Spanish point of view, I would be grateful.

Trajanus20 Mar 2017 12:25 p.m. PST

I wouldn't recommend Oman to a newcomer to the period it's just too heavy going. Miles and miles of description of terrain and the geographical detail of Spain at the time, internal Spanish goings on etc.

Fantastic detail but way to long for anyone who is not already determined they want to find out as much as possible and so hard to follow with out a separate set of detailed maps as you read it.

I would give a +1 to those who mentioned Lipscome's atlas on that count, although I only have the original not the updated edition.

21eRegt Supporting Member of TMP20 Mar 2017 4:00 p.m. PST

Another vote for the "Spanish Ulcer" by Gates. Yes, the lack of good maps and illustrations detracts but you can find those online.

dibble21 Mar 2017 8:24 a.m. PST

If Atlases are to go by, then yes, Lipscombes' tour de force is very good, but then I would point the beginner to Ian Robertson's compact little cracker equivalent too. And together with Ian Fletcher's The Peninsular War 'Wellingtons Battlefields Revisited' which is packed with fine photographs of the battlefields and his similar, earlier rendition, 'Fields of Fire' both of which really helps with the feel of the Peninsula, especially for those who can't visit, would make an excellent set.

Trajanus21 Mar 2017 10:08 a.m. PST

I would point the beginner to Ian Robertson's compact little cracker

Heck, forgot that one and I have a copy too!

That's "Wellington at War in the Peninisula 1808 – 1814 An Overview and Guide"

Good for info on what the battlefields are like now but it needs to be said, as the title suggests, there's little on the activity of the Spanish themselves.

Gazzola21 Mar 2017 12:20 p.m. PST


As a starter and excellent overview, you won't go far wrong with The Spanish Ulcer by Gates. It also contains details on the battles between the French and Spanish, rather than just those between the British and French.

I think a new paperback version is now available for around £12.00 GBP Great value in my opinion.

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