The focus of this book is on how the British army evolved from the small, distrusted organisation of the post-civil war era, into the powerful if rather variable army of the 18th and early 19th centuries, which was capable of winning dramatic victories (especially under Wellington) but also of suffering costly defeats (such as the Walcheren campaign).
Some sections rather turn into generic history of the British army – I’d say the Seven Years’ War chapter is most prone to this, but other areas are more successful in tying the different part of the army’s experiences together. We start with a look at the security of Britain, mainly against Jacobite uprisings, but also covering the use of the army as a domestic security force. The next two chapters look at the European then the world wide conflicts of the same period. After two chapters that cover the full spread of conflicts in their period, the next four go back to the thematic structure, looking at India, Europe and the rest of the world during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and the political role of the army.
I do think the uniqueness of the British experience is slightly exaggerated. While it is true that many major European armies, including the famous Prussians of Frederick the Great, only fought on one continent, but the British army found itself facing French troops in most of the theatres it fought in, from India to the West Indies. To a lesser extent the Dutch and Spanish also had global empires, and an army with very varied experiences.
One strength is a focus on the experiences of individual officers, demonstrating just how varied the experiences of individual army officers could be. This often comes across in histories of the Royal Navy, but not so often in accounts of the army. We thus learn of individuals who fought at Culloden and in India or during the American War of Independence, South Africa and India. By going back into the earlier stages of careers we get a better idea of how varied their experiences were than if you just look at their later, higher ranking experiences.
Overall I found this a useful account of the role of the British army, with a deliberate effort to focus on how the army, and the individuals within in, found themselves operating all around the world, and fighting in very different wars.
1 – Winning the Home Base, 1688-1746
2 – Fighting the French on the Continent, 1689-1748
3 – Fighting for Empire, 1689-1753
4 – The Seven Years’ War, 1754-63
5 – Fighting for America, 1763-83
6 – Winning Another Empire: India, 1746-1815
7 – Fighting in Europe, 1793-1815
8 – The Army around the World, 1793-1815
9 – The Army as a Political Force
10 – Culmination, 1815