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"'Fairly out-Generalled and disgracefully beaten': the " Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP26 Oct 2017 12:22 p.m. PST

…British Army in the Low Countries, 1793-1814

"The history of the British Army in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars is generally associated with stories of British military victory and the campaigns of the Duke of Wellington. An intrinsic aspect of the historiography is the argument that, following British defeat in the Low Countries in 1795, the Army was transformed by the military reforms of His Royal Highness, Frederick Duke of York.

This thesis provides a critical appraisal of the reform process with reference to the organisation, structure, ethos and learning capabilities of the British Army and evaluates the impact of the reforms upon British military performance in the Low Countries, in the period 1793 to 1814, via a series of narrative reconstructions. This thesis directly challenges the transformation argument and provides a re-evaluation of British military competency in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars."

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KniazSuvorov26 Oct 2017 1:43 p.m. PST

Very interesting.

The campaigns of the British Army in the Low Countries don't even appear outside of extremely specialised scholarly literature. A typical British history of the period practically ignores the Revolutionary Wars, and pointedly ignores any detailed study of failure.

I always thought the British attitude towards the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars was similar to the American attitude towards WWII--emerging as the only real winners, in their own histories they essentially defeated Evil and restored Good to the world, with only a bit of minor help from their allies.

I suspect this thesis paper will be read by a handful of interested people, and will be utterly ignored by the public-at-large.

Skeets Supporting Member of TMP26 Oct 2017 2:50 p.m. PST

Very interested in reviewing thoughts on usually ignored issues regarding failures in this period. I have already requested a copy.

Glengarry526 Oct 2017 8:14 p.m. PST

And yet the British also celebrate and mythologise some of their worst moments, the retreat from Kabul, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Isandlwana, the Somme.

basileus6626 Oct 2017 10:08 p.m. PST


In those disasters you mention, Britain is the protagonist of the story. And it is not a story of shame, but of misguided heroism, which eases the pain of defeat. In the Revolutionary wars Britain role was centered on her Navy. Actions on land were secondary, and usually in a support role -Britain hadn't an army big enough to deal with the French on land-. Any narrative of Britain's land campaigns during the Revolution will be of less interest for British readers, and scholars!, than the analysis of the role of British fleets, which, arguably, was the cornerstone of her hegemony after the Napoleonic wars.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP26 Oct 2017 10:12 p.m. PST

Happy you like it boys!. (smile)


Swampster27 Oct 2017 2:16 a.m. PST

"I suspect this thesis paper will be read by a handful of interested people, and will be utterly ignored by the public-at-large."

Are you really surprised? Few enough of the public-at-large could tell you anything about the main parts of the Napoleonic wars, let alone the Revolutionary Wars.

There is far less published about British involvement in the RW compared to the Peninsular but then their involvement was far less. I don't think this is about hiding defeat or ineptitude – most of what I have read about the Peninsular begins with discussion of how the British Army had to be reorganised in the light of earlier experience. It also gives some details of how mistakes continued to be made, such as the Walcheren invasion.

There is also far less (in English) about any major nation's role in the RW compared to the same nation in the Imperial period and I dare say it is the same in French, German and Russian language publications.

The link is doubtless apocryphal, but there is a nursery rhyme which if anyone has heard of a backstory which it might refer to, it is about the dire performance of the British Army in the RW.

KniazSuvorov27 Oct 2017 5:07 a.m. PST

I wanted to game the Flanders campaign about 10 years ago. I already had French-Revolution-era Russians (they were my man Suvorov's boys, after all), and AWI Brits would've been adequate substitutes, in 6mm, for the redcoats.

Anyway, I couldn't find any books on the topic, even at the university library, which usually has all sorts of obscure stuff.

At the time, Robert Harvey's The War of Wars: The Epic Struggle Between Britain and France: 1789-1815: The Great European Conflict, 1793-1815 was brand new. Since the cover image showed a land battle, rather than Trafalgar, I anticipated a land-focused narrative, and thus some much-welcome information on the land campaigns prior to 1807.

More fool me, for judging a book by its cover! Long story short, Harvey's entire "discussion" of the topic could have been scribbled comfortably on a scrap of fortune-cookie paper.

And the status of the current historiography was about hiding defeat and ineptitude. Jingoistic Victorian-era "scholars" Did their best to play up victory and obfuscate everything else. As a result, there is more available in English on the Battle of Maida (essentially a skirmish of no historical significance, but a British victory) than there is on the entire Revolutionary period. If the army prior to 1806 needed to be reorganised and to learn from its past mistakes, than surely someone at the time was studying those past mistakes. Unfortunately, those studies didn't survive jingoism.

Our modern "knowing for the sake of knowing" attitude really is modern.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP27 Oct 2017 11:26 a.m. PST

Good point my friend!


Swampster28 Oct 2017 2:00 a.m. PST

"And the status of the current historiography was about hiding defeat and ineptitude."

Considering that Oman, writing soon after the Victorian era, begins his discussion of British involvement in the Peninsular with passages such as:
"The history of the last fifteen years was full of the records of unfortunate expeditions sent out to aud national risings, real or imaginary, against France. They had mostly turned out disastrous failures: it is only necessary to mention the Duke of York's miserable campaign of 1799 in Holland, Stewart's invasion of Calabria in 1806 and Whitelock's disgraceful fiasco at Buenos Aires in 1807."
He then goes on to give reasons for the failures. These are general conclusions as the focus of his writing is on the subsequent campaigns.
And this is Oman, who is often criticised.

The lack of decent material on the British involvement is, IMHO, more akin to the situation with the other major wars of the 18th century. English language books on the SYW, WSS and WAS are pretty scarce.

15th Hussar05 Dec 2017 11:11 a.m. PST

Did anyone here ever apply for and receive a copy of said thesis?

138SquadronRAF07 Dec 2017 9:09 a.m. PST

Funnily enough the English nursery rhyme "The Grand Old Duke of York" is attributed most notably to Frederick, Duke of York for his failed campaign in the Low Countries.

"Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.

Now when you're up, you're up,
And when you're down, you're down,
And when you're only half-way up,
You're neither up nor down."

YouTube link

Actually, Pen and Sword has published an excellent account of the 1799 campaign "A Waste of Blood and Treasure" by Phillip Ball. (IIRC this was a find that I would otherwise have missed from Tango!)

Oliver Schmidt17 Nov 2022 11:16 a.m. PST

You can download the book here:

PDF link

von Winterfeldt19 Nov 2022 11:56 p.m. PST

a lot has changed since then, good books were published, like – one of my ever favourite

Thomas : No Want of Courage – The British Army in Flanders 1793 – 95

and also the excellent

Demet : We are Accustomed to Do Our Dury – German Auxiliaries with the British Army 1793 . 95

or also

Ball : Neither Up Nor Down – The British Army and the Flanders Campaign 1793 – 1795

Harrington : With the Guards in Flanders – The Diary of Captain Roger Morris 1793 – 1795

and also in French

Lesage : Flandres 1793 – Les soldats de l'an II repoussent l'invasion

Also Sho Boki produced and is producing a growing range of British, Hessian, Dutch, Austrian, French suitable for this period.

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