The key think about this book is that it is focused on those women who were officially present with the army. This was an unusual category simply because they were officially regulated and controlled by the army. Other armies of the period also relied on female camp followers for the same sorts of duties, but rarely with the same level of official organisation.
The main focus here is on the two categories of official camp followers who provided official services – the laundresses and the vivandiere or sutlers. This second group provided an essential service for the French armies of the period, selling extra provisions and alcoholic drink as well as other useful bits and pieces (such as writing equipment).
Sadly we don’t have any accounts of their lives written by the women themselves, so we are forced to rely on a series of secondary sources. First are those official regulations, which give some idea of what the Army thought should be happening. They often featured heavily in the memoirs of the soldiers themselves, so we get some idea of how the men saw them. Some of these accounts were written by the husbands of camp followers, so get us close to our subject. Finally they featured heavily in artwork, including many produced during the Napoleonic period, so we do at least have some contemporary visual images to work with.
This is the only Osprey I’ve ever read with a section on the evolution of women’s fashions included! Apart from anything else this section does serve to remind us just how long this period was – in the 26 years between the Revolution and Waterloo fashion changed several times, with a significant impact on the appearance of the camp followers.
This is an interesting study of an element of the French army that is often mentioned, but rarely examined in any detail. An excellent addition to the Osprey library.
Women and the Armies
The role of Vivandieres & Cantinieres
The Regimental Children
The Legend of Marie Tete-du-Bois
Author: Terry Crowdy