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A Time for War

Wellington: A personal History

Wellington: A Personal History
by Christopher Hibbert

Wellington: A personal History

Wellington is not an easy man to pin down in a biography, and quite a few people have tried to do so in the past. Hibbert makes a p good stab at this very difficult subject and the worst that could be said about his book is that it is the most recent of the Wellington biographies.

Why is Wellington such a difficult subject? Mostly because he had a long and very active career which spanned a broad range of activities. From a rather dreamy and unfocused youth, to an extremely focussed, and successful war hero, then finally as politician. Underlying this was a man of great contradiction. He had an innate sense of nobility and duty which led him to marry a woman he had not seen for nearly eleven years – yet he treated her appallingly during their marriage. His contradictory nature is also very evident in his career – he hated the very activity in which he made his name, war.

I think Hibbert makes a reasonable attempt at coming to grips with Wellington’s nature and its contradictions – but I often think the personal side of Wellington – most especially his treatment of his wife and family, are often left unsatisfactorily explained.

I see three reasons for that in Hibbert’s case. First, there is not enough room in 400 pages to fit in everything with sufficient explanation. Secondly, there are easier, more public and interesting things to dwell on, and finally I suppose, because it would fall too much into the realm of speculation. There is little documentary evidence apart from gossip, some letters between Wellington and his wife, and of course Wellington’s infamously indiscreet confessions to Mrs Abuthnot which were later published in her diaries.

I do feel that Hibbert catches much of the public side of Wellington, his love of women, his modesty and quietness and his kindness and loyalty to those loyal to him.

Hibbert has set the book out chronologically and makes an easy read of his subjects. He does muddle up the first and second marchionesses of Salisbury- Wellinton was friends with both. The first Marchioness (also known as Dow Sal) sent him the hunting uniform from her personal hunt. The Second Marchioness (Frances, also known as the Gascoigne heiress before her marriage) was also a good friend of the Duke’s.

Elizabeth Longford does do a better job of capturing the nature and contradictions of Wellington – but then she can claim some measure of relationship with him – the 1st Duke’s wife, Kitty, was a Pakenham which is the Longford family name. Longford’s biography does fill two substantial volumes. Phillip Guedella has also written a good biography about the man.

Wellington: A Personal History

by Christopher Hibbert

List Price: $18.00

ISBN: 0738201480

Perseus Press; 480 pages; June 1, 1999

Secret Service: British Agents in France 1792-1815
Elizabeth Sparrow

The Secret Service in France

Though not an easy read, I did enjoy this book. The world of subterfuge is a truly murky place. Even with Elizabeth Sparrow’s relatively easy-going style it is, at times, difficult to unravel the complex relationships and payments, double crosses and so on.

This book is well set out and the topic is utterly fascinating. While I found it difficult to untangle the threads the subject was compelling enough to make it worthwhile.

Ms. Sparrow has made the divisions in sections and chapters well. (Visit Amazon.com for a complete index.)While you can read the book from start to finish for a complete overview, if you have a specific interest in a time period or place it is easy to pick up and read for that period. That is what I ended up doing.

Perhaps only giving four out of five stars is underselling the book because the topic is difficult and Sparrow does do a great job making sense of it. A very impressive job actually – it just didn’t grab me by the throat the way some other books do.

I would definitely recommend this book for those with an interest in the British History of this period or for people with an interest in the Napoleonic Wars. Perhaps even for people who just want to know how to be sly and cunning – there are some great tips!

Pair this with one of Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen Mysteries for a fun, historical look into the world of Regency espionage.

Secret Service: British Agents in France 1792-1815
Elizabeth Sparrow

List Price: $24.95

ISBN: 0851157645

Boydell & Brewer; 352 pages; February 2000)

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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