Soldiers of Fortune: First Hand Accounts of Regency Battles

A Dorset Soldier: The Autobiography of Sgt. Williams Lawrence 1790-1869
by Eileen Hathaway (Editor), William Lawrence

An excellent book for collectors of Peninsular War accounts, and especially those interest in light Regiments for this book follows the life of Sergeant William Lawrence – or should I say the military life. It was first published in the 1880′s, some 20 years after Lawrence’s death – and this I believe is the first reprint since then. He was an illiterate man and dictated these when in his 60′s, some 40 years after events.
It begins when he runs away from his apprenticeship and joins the army – or tries several times to join the army and ending up with the 40th Regiment of Foot (the closest) just before they set off for South America in 1806.

The book is just full of fascinating little detail of everyday life in the army – of transportation and some terrible (but brief) accounts of battles fought. In fact the book itself is very Brief – reminding me a lot of another published account by a non-officer – ‘A Soldier of the 71st’. This gives a glimpse of life in the ranks. The editor, Eileen Hathaway, has done a phenomenal job footnoting the text so much of Lawrence’s background and family is explained – and detail which might not be familiar in the Peninsular War – such as seige works – can be easily understood without specialist knowledge or dredging out other reference books. It also comes with a number of extremely useful small maps which illustrate small parts of the text – I really liked that feature. There are a number of black and white reproductions of pictures in the middle- I wish publishers would do these in colour – I’d be willing to pay the extra – they just look so drab, and it is hard to get enthusiastic about black and white reproductions of uniforms. Luckily the back cover has the 40th uniform reproduced in colour and I did like the watercolour on the front cover, which was painted especially for this book.

Lawrence is an engaging story teller – not quite in the self-deprecating vein of someone like John Kincaid – but he is enjoyable. There is a great amount of detail in here which complements other Peninsular War accounts – but it is also wonderful for London and British travelling – Lawrence’s account of sharp practices by London Hackney Cab drivers and Inn land-ladies makes priceless reading.
List Price: £12.95
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Spellmount Publishers; (July 1996)
ISBN: 1873376510

The Prince’s Dolls: Scandals, Skirmishes and Splendours of the Hussars, 1739-1815
by John Mollo

The men of the Prince of Wales regiment – the 10th Hussars, were the ultimate reflection of the contrasts in Napoleonic Warfare. At once fashionable dandys who dressed in immensely expensive uniforms, but also courageous and daring cavalrymen. John Mollo’s history of this regiment covers its beginnings in 1739 until the close of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 although the majority of this history is focussed on the Prince of Wales’s involvement in the regiment. While the Prince of Wales poured all his ambitions for military splendour into this regiment he never actually served overseas with them – all his association with them was superficial.

The personalities in this regiment were often larger than the regiment itself (no mean feat!) – Beau Brummell, the Prince of Wales himself, Lord Henry Paget (later the Marquess of Anglesey), the Duke of Clarence’s illegitimate sons, and Captain Hesse (probably a royal bastard himself). With so many men inextricably linked with highest of the upper-classes there is ample room for a great many wonderfully salacious and scandalous anecdotes which lighten the book. Mollo does not leave it there though, he does a good job in covering all the elements of military life including the regiment’s service in the Peninsular War and the general life and discipline for the ranks.

It is such a pity that most books, this one included, don’t reproduce their illustrations in colour – this one has a number of good pictures, but they are all in black and white. I would certainly recommend reading this book in conjunction with Myerley’s recent work “British Military Spectacle” – which examines in much more detail the structure of the army during this period.

Hardcover: 255 pages
List Price: $39.95
Publisher: Pen & Sword Books / Leo Cooper (March 1997)
ISBN: 0850524938

Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites, the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.

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