Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Mini Book Review: Chargez! La cavalerie au combat en Espagne, Première époque, 1808-1810 by Natalia Griffon de Pleineville

I pre-ordered this book on spec. Prior experience with recent publications from Editions Soixante (L'Esprit du Temps) and of previous works by the author lead me to have no hesitation in placing an order prior to publication—with have high expectations about it. The book having arrived yesterday, I am really pleased to have made that decision—my expectations have been exceeded greatly!

Natalia Griffon de Pleineville was the editor-in-chief of the marvellous magazine Gloire & Empire and has written several books about the Napoleonic wars. I have an English-language version of Chiclana-Barrosa 5 March 1811: The Eagles in Andalusia from Les batailles oubliées (Forgotten Battles) published by Historic’One, which is a small, but detailed and really useful book. Those two threads of her past work—quality and visually beautiful work about topics that are less-well covered in the general Napoleonic literature—are in clear evidence here.

My first, wonderful surprise on opening the book was this dedication, handwritten by the author. Presumably, included for purchasers of the pre-order version.

In Chargez!, Dr Griffon de Pleineville describes and discusses major battles, small actions and skirmishes of the first three years of the Peninsular War from the perspective of the role and actions of the cavalry. Units of cavalry of French, Polish, German-allied, Spanish, British, King’s German Legion and Portuguese all feature; sometimes in victory, other times in defeat, in advance and retreat, as advance-guard or rear-guard, charging across a battlefield or supporting infantry.

The book begins with an overview of the cavalry of the Peninsular war, both French-allied and their opponents. Subsequent chapters are divided into campaigns and/or theatres of the war between 1808 and 1810, viz.: Vimeiro; Cabezon and Medina de Rioseco; Gamonal and Somosierra; Sahagun; Mayorga, Benavente, Mansilla de las Mulas; Ciudad Real and Medellin; Talavera; the bridge at Arzobispo and Almonacid; Tamames, Ontigola, Ocaña and Alba de Tormes; Gallegos and Barquilla. Each chapter covers the battles and actions of its title as well as other, smaller actions in the same period/theatre of the war.

The text of each chapter is supported by copious illustrations (the majority in full-colour), maps, photos, side-bars and orders of battle. The former are quite glorious and include both older and more contemporary prints by the likes of Bucquoy, Rousselot, Detaille, Dighton, Kossak, Job, Wollen, Gros, Philippoteaux, Knötel, Martinet, Girbal, Courcelle, Churms, Rocco, Hook, Jouineau as well as loads of assorted prints and artists from the Anne S.K. Brown collection. Many of the prints that are reproduced are now in the public domain, but I always appreciate quality, printed versions over digital. A real treat for me are the sections of a diorama of Somosierra by Wojciech Kossak that I have never seen before and are present as two-page spreads.

Above and below: examples of the copious illustrations in the book


Best of all for me are two reproductions of sections of a diorama of Somosierra by Wojciech Kossak.***

The maps in the book are numerous and clearly reproduced. These good aspects are completely undermined by the lack of a scale on most of them. This is despite the original maps having one. Why, oh why do books so often stuff up with the maps? It is so frustrating!


Above and below: some of the maps presented in the book. Clear reprints, but sadly most of them lacking a scale, despite one being present on the original! 


Each chapter includes several of the author’s excellent photographs of the battlefields today. These are interesting, edifying and really useful if one wishes to reproduce the terrain on the tabletop. Fortunately, they show sections of battlefields that are relatively intact, so one can translate them to the early nineteenth century, rather than of modern forests, roads or other constructions that leave it all to the imagination.

Two examples of the author's photos of battlefields that are included.


Side-bars about personalities, units and actions are dotted throughout the text. I enjoy these as they provide the sense of ‘bonus’ content!

One of several side-bars; and related illustration.

Each chapter also includes orders of battle for the cavalry formations involved in the actions described. Again, these are really useful for wargame purposes since they are at unit level and include numbers of combatants.

A sample of the orders of battle included in the book.

Since opening the package earlier yesterday, I have leafed through the book, back and forth, reading captions of images and a paragraph here and there. I also read one of the chapters, in order to give this mini-review more ‘meat’ and to avoid it being focussed entirely on the ‘pretty pictures’ and look and feel of the book.

I selected the chapter entitled ‘Talavera Juillet 1809’, since the battle and campaign of Talavera is one of several in the Iberian Peninsula that I have a strong background knowledge about. I have read about it in numerous books about the war overall, relatively recently read and reviewed Andrew Field’s excellent book on the subject and have designed and helped to design scenarios so as to play it out on the tabletop twice.

If this chapter is indicative of the rest of the book, then I am in for a treat when I read it in its entirety. Griffon de Pleineville’s tells the story of the battle (and more besides) with engaging, detailed and eminently readable prose. Quotes from the memoirs of participants form both sides are weaved in beautifully with her text. While the focus is on the cavalry, she describes the battle in its entirety, including the French night attack of 27th July on Cerro de Medellin. The cavalry actions of the battle (which were few in number) form the bulk of the chapter, beginning with the skirmish between Milhaud’s dragoons and the Spanish in Talavera on the 27th, moving to the 28th with the charge of the Spanish Rey Cavalry Regiment “…often cited as the best exploit of Spanish cavalry in the entire war” (p. 215, my translation) and the charge of the British/KGL light dragoons against the French outflanking manoeuvre in the north. Dr Griffon de Pleineville includes details of regiments, numbers of troopers, movements, casualties and results—all excellent grist for a wargamer’s mill. Similar detail is provided earlier in the chapter, which begins with the second French invasion of Portugal under Soult. In describing their ejection by Wellesley’s army Griffon de Pleineville includes quite detailed descriptions of the rearguard/vanguard actions around Grijo and Tage before telling of subsequent events leading to the battle of Talavera.

One pre-orders a book based on the description provided at the time, but not actually knowing the content. Such was the case with this book which experienced a few delays in publication and some changes to the content.

I pre-ordered my copy in August 2021. At that stage publication was scheduled for the end of the year. It was initially delayed until January and then eventually completed in February 2022, with printing in March. Of course, changes from projected to actual publication are not surprising, and additional factors in recent years have only added to likely delays. This was of no matter to me, as I was confident of delivery and of the quality of the final product.

The original book was expected to cover the years 1808–13, but was later contracted to 1808–10. A second volume, is planned covering the years 1811, 1812 and 1813 with “..des grandes batailles de Fuentes de Oñoro, d’Albuera, des Arapiles [Salamanca] et de Vitoria…” (translated from the precis on the back cover). This is only good news to me as I expect a more detailed coverage of the subject over the two volumes—a conclusion supported by what I have before me and the fact that this book increased from the 240 pages originally planned to the 290 pages of the published item.

If, like me, collecting, owning, reading and enjoying books is a big part of the hobby for you, then you’ll get a real joy from this book. It’s is a top quality, dense, beautifully printed and presented tome. Having had my high expectations exceeded by this book, I will be watching excitedly for the second volume and will have no hesitation in pre-ordering it when the time comes!

(***Follow-up note:

I found a website (http://www.pinakoteka.zascianek.pl/Kossak_W/Kossak_W_2.htm) with all of the sections of the panorama reproduced and there it notes (Google translate version):

Panorama of "Somosierra" (sketches) The panorama was never painted due to the lack of consent of tsarist officials to exhibit the work in Warsaw. He created 4 large oil sketches, painted together with Michał Wywiórski (he painted the landscape) and several paintings inspired by the theme of the battle.

From the citations on the website it seems that they are now held in the Muzeum Ziemi Przemyskiej, Przemyśl.)

 
Rating



Breakdown
First impressions 10/10 (weighting 0.1)
Presentation 10/10 (weighting 0.1)
Content 9/10 (weighting 0.3)
Supporting content—pictures, maps, appendices 7/10 (weighting 0.2)
Sources 10/10 (weighting 0.2)
Value for money 10/10 (weighting 0.1)

References

Field, AW (2006) Talavera: Wellington's First Victory in Spain. Pen & Sword, Barnsley, South Yorkshire UK. 184 pp.

Griffon de Pleineville, N (2022) Chargez! La cavalerie au combat en Espagne, Première époque, 1808-1810. L'Esprit du Temps, Paris. 290 pp.



Griffon de Pleineville, N and Vincent, F (2012) Chiclana-Barrosa 5 March 1811: The Eagles in Andalusia. The Forgotten Battles Historic'One, Fontaine-L'Évêque, Belgique. 111 pp.

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

200 Years 200 Objects

J'étais soldat de Napoléon!, the latest publication from Éditions Soixante, is a beautifully produced, lavish publication to round off the Napoleonic bicentennial. This hard-cover book, with its a gorgeously tactile, pseudo-leather wrap, 255 pages—heavy, glossy-stock—of exquisite, full-colour photographs is a collectors' edition at an affordable price. I pre-ordered my copy in October and took delivery last week. I have been drooling over it ever since!

Organised into 13 thematic chapters, each page is a photograph of an item of uniform, arms, equipment or other fascinating object from the soldiers of Napoleon's Grande Armée. Presentation of these 200 objects is grouped according to 'Napoléon et Bonaparte', 'Officers généreaux',  'Aides de camp', 'Service de sante', 'Infanterie de la Garde impériale', 'Cavalerie de la Garde impériale', 'Armes savantes Gardes impériale' (covering artillery, engineers, train), 'Infanterie de ligne', 'Cavalerie de ligne', 'Armes savantes de ligne' (from artillery, sappers, engineers), 'Troupes étrangères et corps spéciaux', 'Marine' and 'Demi-solde' (covering keep-sakes, mementos, the King of Rome's toy soldiers).

Many of these items will be familiar to readers from photographs in other books, on websites, or perhaps visits to the museums and collections in which they are held. What makes this so marvellous is the vast array of items that are gathered into one publication but, most importantly, the quality of the photography.

The photographs are so clear that you feel that you can almost touch the items; the worn shoes with their hob-nail soles, the texture of the shako badge, the braid on the dolman or the plume on the helmet. You could put on the coat and cuirass or roll the dice!

It is truly like having a museum in your own house (hands).

Also, being in book form, brings the items so much closer than the same photographs on the web.

Just one of the photos of uniform items that are included; a dolman, pelisse and bicorne (shown on a separate page) of an officer of the light cavalry (from Musée de l'armée in Paris).

The items of uniform and equipment included in the book are numerous and truly magnificent, but it is some of the 'other items of interest' that really grabbed my attention on first looking through the book. The lottery for selecting conscripts, the dice used by soldiers in their games, the toy soldiers of the King of Rome and, a base representing 36 men, a planning piece used by Napoleon, at the camp of Boulogne in 1805, atop a map —the original Kriegsspiel!

Lottery to select conscripts. From Carnavalet Museum, Paris

Dice used by soldiers (from Ligny Museum).

Lead soldiers of the King of Rome. As the notes say, looking very much like tirailleurs of the guard in 1814-15 (from a private collection).

A block (base or unit in our terms!) representing 36 soldiers. As used by Napoleon in planning while at Boulogne. The inscription underneath, which is shown in a separate photo, reads 'This piece comes from a wargame made for Napoleon at the Camp of Boulogne and was used extensively to study manoeuvres' (my translation).

The text on each page briefly describes the object and then, in the first person, the object tells the reader a little about itself. Included (in the majority of cases, but unfortunately not all) is a note of the location/origin of the item. At the end of the book, a thematic table/glossary groups the items according to several categories: diverse souvenirs, awards and decorations, equipment of a soldier, items on campaign, kits and portfolios, boots and shoes, harness and saddlery, fanions and emblems, headress, portraits, drawings and prints, busts and statues, blade weapons, firearms, infantry equipment, cavalry equipment, badges, epaulettes, and, the largest category, uniforms.

This wonderful book has been nominated as the book of the month by la Fondation Napoléon. I am not surprised. It deserves to be book of the year.

Rating


Breakdown

    First impressions 10/10 (weighting 0.1)
    Presentation 10/10 (weighting 0.1)
    Content 10/10 (weighting 0.3)
    Supporting content—pictures, maps, appendices 10/10 (weighting 0.2)
    Sources 9/10 (weighting 0.2)—a few of these are missing
    Value for money 10/10 (weighting 0.1)

Total 9.8/10 rounds to 10!

Reference

Bourgeot, V and Aiolfi, X (2021) J'étais soldat de Napoléon! L'Esprit du Temps, Paris. 272 pp.

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Book Review: God's playground : a history of Poland. Volume 1: The origins to 1795 by Norman Davies

Written in 1979, published in 1981, reprinted (with corrections) 1982, as many of you will recall, the time of the workers protest in Gdansk (Danzig) and of the rise to prominence of Lech Wałęsa. Davies history of Poland was the first comprehensive study in the English language and is yet to be surpassed today (as far as I am aware).

(***I was much taken by this book, so this is a long review from my copious notes. Hopefully it will be of enough interest to some to read, but I understand entirely if you merely look at the piccies and move on!***)

Davies’ detailed and comprehensive study is a social, political, economic history of Poland, The book includes numerous supporting maps, diagrams and tables as well as several quotes as examples and ‘illustrations’.

Norman Davies brings a huge breadth and depth of research to his book. This can sometimes make for ‘heavy’ reading as his prose at times reads like a series of statements of names, dates, places. At other times it is quite eloquent, especially when re-telling an anecdote or expanding on a point. This was put brilliantly by the reviewer from the Times Literary Supplement who is quoted on the back cover of the edition that I read; “Dr Davies writes interestingly and well. His moods vary between cool detachment, passionate involvement, and ironic comment.” Overall, the reader is rewarded with a thoughtful, thought-provoking and wide-ranging description of the history of Poland that I’d happily recommend.

In his interesting preface, Davies sets out the challenge of writing a history of another’s country, which is added to the challenges of inherent bias and point of view carried by any historian, as well as the specific challenge of Poland, a country that has not had a continued existence, but existed in several forms. He states that he does not have a theory, cannot provide simple answers to questions like ‘what is Poland?”, “Who is a Pole?”, but instead offer some facts and observations.

First chapter discusses when Polish history began and historical accounts from first century AD. Davies explains how he will divide Polish history into styles of government/political periods in subsequent chapters.

This is followed by a description of the lands comprising and around Poland, geographic and agronomic attributes related to capacity for settlement and agriculture (a lá the Köppen climatic classes). He touches on ethnic migrations, and settlements of pre-written history. “People who imagine that the Poles or Polish culture are somehow ‘indigenous‘ to the Polish lands are as mistaken as those who believe that Europe is the original home of the Europeans. They are looking for full-grown, modern blooms in unlabelled packets of prehistoric mixed seeds. … In the last resort, all our ancestors were alien mongrel immigrants” (p. 47). Once areas settled more permanently (~tenth century) the pockets or more cultivatable land resulted in “…the typical Polish pattern clearly observable in historic times, of deeply-rooted, self-sufficient but widely scattered localities” (p. 50).

Over the course of the book (recalling that this is only volume one), Norman Davies relates or puts forward ideas/theories/possible reasons for the historical observations that he describes. For example, in the area of historical geography. The idea that the land maketh the people in terms of society, social structure and national psyche. [I see the effect of these factors in Australia, particularly in the culture of the longest-lasting and oldest surviving culture in the world, but also in various generations of immigrants—especially those living or working beyond the urban areas]. So “Polish locality combined the economic self-sufficiency of European settlements with a degree of isolation comparable to that of Russia”, leading to “…inhabitants of the localities [who] could well afford to resist the advances of outside authorities as unwarranted interference in their private affairs” (p. 51). So, “the Polish-Lithuanian state was as completely decentralised as the Russian state was centralised. Its regions were as wayward… one has , the idea that Poland’s history of invasion and partition is driven by it’s lack of natural defensive frontiers, while the same geography also contributes to the inability of invaders to conquer the territory “…the only effective way of controlling Poland for any length of time, once it was overrun, has been by indirect rule and local autonomy” (p. 57). In the same chapter he presents an alternative idea, that the timing and degree of the rise in size, power and sophistication of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, long ahead of its immediate neighbours—and perhaps the ease with which it occurred—lead to “the decentralised traditions of defence, finance, and executive power… It could be argued that Poland developed too soon, or too easily” (p. 58). He dismisses these as providing “…the variable constituents of social and economic life… [but] political affairs are conducted by men whose perception of the objective realities of their predicament is rarely confident and never exact… decisions were taken or avoided which could have been different, and which could have led to different results… it is Man, not Geography, that is the villain” (p. 60).

Following this, the remainder Part A of the book is a more ‘standard’ history, from the first century to 1572. Each chapter covers the rulers, lands, conflicts and other interactions with neighbours and touches on key people in the arts, sciences and other areas of endeavour. The chapters end with a summary of the success or otherwise of that period of rule and its legacy for modern Poland.

The first two of these chapters were of least interest to me* but, once the story moved to the beginnings of what became the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, I became more engaged. This was fascinating from the start. A union by marriage of the young Lithuanian king Jogaila and the even younger, 11-year old(!), Polish princess Jadwiga, orchestrated by the Polish and Lithuanian barons. Davies tells us that Jadwiga was not happy about the marriage (which occurred instead of her marrying the Austrian Wilhelm von Hapsburg) and concludes “Thus were the fortunes of two countries served by the tears and humility of an unhappy girl” (p. 118). Nevertheless, the Polish-Lithuanian state was ahead of its time. A union of two nations, acting as one but maintaining their independent identity—similar to the later relationship between England and Scotland in their union and eventual United Kingdom, as Davies adds to assist his English-speaking readers.
*The middle ages (broadly) is a period of history that does not grab me (with the exception of Crusades (from a Ayyubid perspective), Mongols and Mamluks—the first two appear as ‘cameos’ in this book). I have ‘dipped my toe’ in many times, but it does not excite the interest and passion that other periods do. For me its Classical/Greco-Roman to around the second century, then pike and shot, horse and musket and early modern.

The union, under King Jogaila and his heirs, was orchestrated, perhaps manipulated by the barons. They took control of legislation, land and economy. “The Jagiellonian period witnessed the emergence of five separate and exclusive estates – the clergy, the nobility, the burghers, the Jews, and the peasantry” (p. 126). Nevertheless, it saw an expansion of Polish-Lithuanian lands, the defeat of the rival Teutonic Order (aided greatly by the Reformation^), some conflict with the expanding Ottoman Empire, increasing conflict with Muskovy and the “…multilateral conflict involving the Swedes, the Danes, the Poles, and the Muscovites, which contested the dominion of the whole Baltic area and was not finally resolved until 1721” (p. 147).
^Davies tells us that their ranks were decimated by mass conversions to Lutheranism. He also adds a interesting note about the continuation of the order, to the present day, after its ‘dissolution’ in 1525 but as one that “…confined.itself to practical religious and charitable work” (p. 143).

Nicolaus Copernicus, Tornaeus Borussus Mathemat, 1597. Source: Wikimedia Commons

There was also continued economic progress in artistic and scientific endeavours. The University of Cracow, initially founded in 1364, “second place only to Prague in the seniority of Central Europe’s seats of learning” (p. 99), was re-established in 1400 as Jagiellonian University. In the “world of ideas… in science, literature and learning, the Polish talent was astonishingly rich and profound” (p. 148). Graduates of Cracow and of Padua included such esteemed people as Nicholas Copernicus, Jan Kochanowski and Jan Zamoyski. Copernicus, most famous as the astronomer who proposed the sun-centred solar system, “…was also a qualified doctor of medicine and of canon law; Kochanowski, the poet, studied politics; Zamoyski, the politician, studied poetry…[they all studied the classics] …they were all pubic figures, with a strong sense of civic duty…all striving towards conscious ideals of beauty and harmony” (p. 151). “Humanist learning, reverence for antiquity, individualism and the quest for complete knowledge, an interest in public affairs and in the harmonious purpose of human life - these which are generally understood to have constituted ‘Renaissance Man’ (p. 151).

The first part of the book ends with the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, spurred by the lack of an heir to Sigismund II August. “One indivisible body politik, one king, elected not born; one Sejm; one currency. The Lithuanians were to keep their own law, their own administration, their own army, and the titles of their princely families” (p. 153).

It is Part B, “The Life and Death of the Polish-Lithuanian Republic 1596–1795”, which constitutes 3/4 of the book’s length, that encompasses the period in this first volume of Davies’ Polish History that most interests me. He begins this section with thematic chapters describing the structure and changes in the Polish-Lithuanian Republic from in the areas of religion, social structure, economy and trade, towns and cities, structure of government/constitution and foreign affairs.

Davies builds a detailed picture of the society and economy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The burgeoning noble class (around 10% of the population) and peasants, with smaller groupings of Jews and Church. The vibrant grain trade, down the Vistula River to Danzig, disrupted by the wars of the mid 17th to mid 18th centuries, not recovering from the disruption, declining and bringing with it lower standards of living, increased poverty and a state ‘ripe for the plucking'; “…the decline of the Vistula trade, and the decay of economic life in general, must be seen as a necessary prelude to the Partitions” (p. 291).

Davies reminds us that cities were originally defined by their municipal status and legal privileges, so quite different from our modern perception of dense, urbanised areas, “…only the cluster of houses, churches, streets and municipal buildings in the city centre possessed a distinctly urban character…” (p. 293). Polish cities of the period were multicultural in character, with autonomy of municipal government, but also for communes, such as the Jews (specifically) but also the Armenians, for example, in Wilno. The cities of the Commonwealth did not expand as others in Europe did, however, as the Polish Sejm passed a law in 1595 to protect the rights of the nobles “…which forbade native burghers to engage in foreign trade. […] Henceforth, the more profitable branches of trade were increasingly taken over either by agents of the nobility or by foreigners” (p. 306). Warsaw was an exception to this, it’s growth attributed largely to it becoming the seat of court and government. Overall though, “attempts at reform had to wait till the second half of the eighteenth century. By that time, the vast majority of the Republic’s 1 400 cities were tiny private administrative centres whose average population of 750 persons lived largely from agriculture” (p. 320).

The make up and operation of the Polish-Lithuanian noble democracy makes for fascinating reading. Unlike anything else in Europe at the time and in many ways ahead of its time. Operating partly like a debating club and partly like rival gangs.

“A Royal election in Poland was something rather special. In theory, every nobleman of the Republic was entitled to attend, and in practice, anything between ten and fifteen thousand usually did. […] the process whereby this horde of armed horsemen reached a unanimous decision from dozens of candidates and viewpoints can only be described as one of collective intuition” (p. 331–332).

It was not entirely ordered nor civil either, with “scenes of unutterable confusion, pitched battles and private fights…” (p. 332). Ahead of its time, as I noted above. It was a state that was run more akin to a modern board than to any system of government then (or now).

“No proposal could become law, and no decision was binding, unless it received the full assent of all those persons who were competent to consider it. A single voice of dissent was equivalent to total rejection” (p. 339).

Yet, in the main, it worked.

Where it fell down was in allowing disputes to become civil wars. These distracted and weakened the state, leaving it open to external forces. This quote from Rousseau sums it up brilliantly; “Think very carefully before you disturb that which has made you what you are. […] If you cannot prevent your enemies from swallowing you whole, at least you must do what you can to prevent them from digesting you” (p. 369).

The role of the king in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had nothing of the divine right of other nations, instead performing more like a chairman. The king did however have latitude in foreign diplomacy and was able to pursue individual or dynastic aims. He could not make agreements that the Sejm did not approve, but could pursue his own aims provided they did not conflict with the interests of the state.

The last seven chapters of the book cover key events in the history of Poland from 1569–1795, separated chronologically into chapters related each of the rulers or ‘houses’ who held the position of elected king (Valois, Bathory, Vasa, Michal, Sobieski, Saxony, Russian Protectorate). As with the first part, the reader comes to this chronology far better informed and hence develops a richer understanding of the ‘what’ due to the broader thematic background which preceded it.

The examples of the election of each king are more relatable and understandable having read of the structure and process of the ‘noble democracy’. The developments in war, trade, society and areas under the rule of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Republic) during each period are present in the readers’ mind within a larger framework of the whole.

For me, coming from a key interest in the military history, these chapters were the icing on the cake. I not only found out where a list of named conflicts fits in the timeline, but also have begun to get a picture of how they lead to or influenced one another. Not that Norman Davies makes the mistake of relating history as a simple timeline of cause and effect one on the other, but he does eloquently indicate how past times relate to future actions and events.

Take for example the confusing mix the Khmelnytsky Uprising, Thirteen Years’ War and The Deluge (Potop). Davies discusses details of each in turn—actually out of chronological order, since it is within the chapter of the Vasas as kings, beginning with the Deluge, related to the Thirteen Years’ War and back to Khmelnytsky. Having related the events of Khmelnytsky’s (Chmielnicki) uprising he ties them together in a masterful way:

“The rebellion of Bodgan Chmielnicki produced effects far exceeding its original aims. […] …the ungoverned Ukrainian  provinces were ravaged by rampant peasant bands and by the savage reprisals of the magnates headed by Wiśniowiecki. These killings closed the door to compromise. […] That same Spring, the armies of the Tsar invaded the Republic on two fronts. In turn, the Muscovite invasion alarmed the Swedes. In 1655, the Swedish King, Charles X, descended on the Republic from Pomerania and Livonia. His operations provoked the intervention in 1656 of the Great Elector of Brandenburg-Prussia, followed in 1657 by George Rakocsi, Prince of Transylvania. These were the years of The Deluge” (p. 465–466).

Again, earlier in the same chapter:

“This situation [the Baltic power struggle] lasted from the start of the Livonian war in 1558 until the Treaty of Oliwa in 1660. After that, when the Polish side of the triangle had collapsed, Sweden was left facing Muscovy alone, and did so until the defeat of Charles XII by Peter the Great at Poltava in 1709” (p. 454–455).

In no way is this presented as a linear timeline, but a series of reactions to events, mixed with a whole lot of self-interest and opportunism.

Jan Sobieski, most famous of all the kings of Poland, is described in all his glory and his flaws.

Sobieski at Vienna by Juliusz Kossak. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Early in his reign Sobieski expanded the army but, interestingly and contrary to the earlier changes implemented by Sigismund III (Zygmunt III)—who had reformed the army after the Swedish model—he focussed on mobility, especially the cavalry arm. This included providing Cossack regiments with chain-mail armour, thereby creating the pancerni, issuing short lances to the Tartar light horse and increasing the number of dragoons all aimed “…to provide fuller support for the strike force of heavy Hussars—Sobieski’s favourite department…” (p. 478)—to the delight of wargamers recreating the battles of the period! (Interestingly, I stumbled across a boardgame, inspired by Davies’ book, see References below).

Polish winged hussars. The finest cavalry in Europe in their time and ever (for mine). Seen here charging Swedish cavalry in the first half of my a recent game of Klissow 1702.

Davies’ retelling of Sobieski’s key role in the defence of Vienna is fascinating, particularly for the reproduction of two, long letters that the king wrote to his wife; one from Brno (the Czech town nearest to Austerlitz!) the other from the Grand Vizier’s camp after the victory. Yet it was this victory and, most especially, the campaign that followed, that was to prove so costly to the Republic. Initially and overtly, in economic terms, but more importantly in that it diverted attention from the Baltic and the Commonwealth’s eastern border, thus enabling the rise of the influence of the Republic’s three neighbours, Russia, Prussia and Austria, all keen to gain territory and influence.

The Russian influence lead to the election of the Saxon Elector Augustus as Augustus II of Poland—the duplicitous, deceitful and self-serving Augustus, as I know him. Davies’ better informed view is less pointed. Augustus emerges as somewhat shallow and self-serving, having done little for the Republic, an aspect which he shares with most of his predecessors (even the great Sobieski, in the end). He did not have the full support of the nobles, leading to two factions, a division that was exploited during the Great Northern War. The victory of Russia in that war further entrenched that nation’s influence within the Polish Sejm. Having been lead “… into the Russian camp by the nose, and thus to … political bondage from which the Poles have never fully escaped” (p. 502), the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was slowly emasculated and set on the path to the Partitions.

There was a brief respite, of sorts. Augustus' son eventually succeeded him as Augustus III, on the former’s death, after the re-elected Stanislaw Leszczyński (who had become king in place of Augustus II for five years under the support of Charles XII) was rejected by the Czar. This sparked the War of Polish Succession and the election of the young Augustus “…under the safety of Russian bayonets…” (p. 504). “The Republic resigned itself to an extended association with Saxony. Saxony rejoiced in the fact that its ruler’s fortunes in the Republic had been reprieved” (p 505). So began a period of relative quiet in which the Republic stagnated, but, in the background, fields such as the arts and science flourished. Augustus III died in 1763, bringing the Saxon era of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to and end. “This time the Russians had plans of their own. Catherine II was intent on reforming her Polish protectorate in her own image” (p. 510).

So to the final act and terrible climax of Book 1.

“The partitioning of Poland, effected in three stages in 1773, 1793, and 1795, was without precedent in modern European History. Although victorious powers habitually stripped their defeated rivals of territorial possessions and were not averse to dividing the spoils of India, America, or Africa, there is no other instance when they deliberately annihilated one of Europe’s historic states in cold blood” (p. 511).

The Commonwealth had its share of problems, derived from within, from its schizophrenic make up as a Republic of two independent states, to obstructions of reform, to an elected monarchy that made it a plaything of other nations, lack of a central treasury and increasing poverty and servitude. The partitions though, were far from the natural extinguishment of a ‘failed state’. “Poland’s internal troubles were systematically promoted by her more powerful neighbours” (p. 513).

The partitions were not the result of directed policy, but a series of actions and reactions, mixed with plenty of self-interest and opportunism. As with the Deluge, Davies explains these sad and at times horrific events with eloquence, in plenty of detail and with a touch of sarcastic humour.

“The Polish reformers, obstructed in their plans to remedy their country’s ills by legal means, turned to an illegal adventure which had to be forcibly suppressed by Russian arms. On each occasion, in order to avoid the risk of a wider conflagration, and prior to her punishment of the rebellious Poles, the Empress of Russia was obliged to seek the consent and assistance of her Prussian or Austrian rivals. On each occasion, as the price of their consent and assistance, Berlin and Vienna demanded a slice of Polish territory. In this way, each Partition was the logical consequence of an attempt to launch a programme of reform. Once this mechanism is understood, it is clear that the Partitions were not merely unfortunate accidents of foreign policy whose chance occurrence interrupted the progress of internal reform. The Partitions were a necessary part of the process whereby reform had to be obstructed if Russian supremacy was to be maintained. The Republic of Poland-Lithuania was not destroyed because of its internal anarchy. It was destroyed because it repeatedly tried to reform itself” (p. 527).

The Constitution of the 3rd May was developed by the reformers of ‘Four Years’ Sejm’, a gathering called to ratify the proposal by King Stanislaw-August of a Russo-Polish alliance against the Turks, rejected by Catherine who saw no benefit nor need from a Russian perspective. The Constitution lead “to the Confederation of Targowica; the Confederation to the Russo-Polish War of 1791-2; the War to the Second Partition of 1793; the Partition to Kościusko’s National Rising of 1794; the Rising to the Third Partition and the destruction of the state” (p. 530).

Tadeusz Kośiuszko during battle of Racławice. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Tadeusz Kościusko, perhaps the second-most famous Pole in the socio-political arena (Copernicus, surely, is the most famous Pole of all?). A man after whom there are several monuments in Poland and in North America, not to mention in whose honour the highest mountain on the Australian continent was named (by Polish-born explorer and businessman Paul Edmund Strzelecki). In fact, it is thanks to Kościusko that I came across Davies’ book as it was some preliminary searching around the expansion of my Revolutionary-Napoleonic interests to include the Russo-Polish War of 1792 and the Kościusko Uprising that brought me to it.

Prince Jozef Poniatowski, Marshal of France. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Kościusko, a man who “combined the idealism of intellectual circles with the practical skills of a soldier” (p. 533). Having trained in France, Kościusko (for lack of funds to buy a commission) travelled to North America and made a name for himself as an artillery commander during the American War of Independence. Returning home to farm, he was recruited by the Four Years’ Sejm to reform the army, along with Prince Poniatowski, the King’s nephew. They were soon tested.

Kościusko inspiring the charge of the scythemen which won the Battle of Racławice. Part of the panorama of the Battle of Racławice. Photo from Discover Poland.

Jan Matejko's painting of the Battle of Raclawice. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


A confederation of Poles loyal to the Czar signed an Act of Confederation at Targowica , thus starting the Polish-Russian War of 1792. It began well for the Poles with victory at Battle of Zieleńce, but the army soon faced being caught between two larger Russian armies. The King “…without warning… announced his adherence to the Confederation of Targowica, and ordered the troops to hold their fire. […] Faced by the Russians’ threefold numerical superiority—96 000 men to 36 000 on the Polish side—he wanted to save his country unnecessary suffering” (p. 536). The Second Partition soon followed. This time though, the Poles did not go quietly.

As with the war of 1792, the uprising began well for the Poles with victories in the field, followed by the slaughter of the Russian garrison of Warsaw and retribution against their countrymen who had been in league with the Czar Catherine’s protectorate. A government was formed, acts passed and “for a few brief months through the summer, the two parts of the old Republic were reunited” (p. 540). It did not last long. The combined Prussian and Russian armies counter-attacked and, when Kościusko faced the reinforced Russians under Suvorov, was defeated after a fierce struggle and captured. Less than a month later the capital was taken and “..the population put to the sword” (p. 541).

Hagen Miniatures' range of Poles for the war of 1792 and the Kościusko uprising. I already have some of their lovely Potemkin Russians and intend to add some of these too.

It was the end of Poland. The Austrians took a large area around Cracow, the Prussians took the area around Warsaw as ‘New South Prussia’ and the Russians took a slice of the eastern borders. The three powers agreed never to use the title ‘Kingdom of Poland’ in their own titles.

I came to this book with fragments of knowledge of the history of Poland, derived from other history; chiefly the French Revolutionary wars into the Napoleonic era and the Great Northern War. It pieced together the huge gaps in the jigsaw in my mind. I had the third partition as a partially formed piece at one end, in the middle an expanding understanding of the Great Northern War and the role of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (or more appropriately the effects of the war on the Commonwealth) and at the other end a list of seemingly disconnected conflicts (Polish-Ottoman War (1620–1621), Khmelnytsky Uprising (Polish-Cossack War 1648–1667), Russo-Polish War (1654–1667, Thirteen Years' War) & Second Northern War (1655–1660, The Deluge/Potop), Polish-Tartar War (1666–1671), Polish-Ottoman War (1672–1676), Great Turkish War). I leave the book with a far more complete picture of the whole and a greatly expanded understanding the ‘what’ but, more importantly, some of the possible ‘whys’. Thank you Norman Davies.

Rating

Breakdown

First impressions 6/10 (weighting 0.1)
Presentation 7/10 (weighting 0.1)
Content 9/10 (weighting 0.3)
Supporting content—pictures, maps, appendices 9/10 (weighting 0.2)
Sources 9/10 (weighting 0.2)
Value for money 8/10 (weighting 0.1)

Reference and related

Davies, N (1982) God's playground : a history of Poland. Volume 1: The origins to 1795. First Published 1981. Reprinted 1982 (with corrections). Clarendon Press, Oxford. 605 pp.

Wallace, M (2009) God's Playground. Warfrog Games (later Treefrog Games). More information: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/38309/gods-playground/credits.


Monday, 25 October 2021

Do yer self a favour

James has updated his blog (generalpicton.blogspot.com) with some photos of the Waterloo diorama at the National Army Museum in London. Check it out if you have not already. It is absolutely superb, outstanding and magnificent.


What's even more amazing, there's more to come. You can see the 'gap' where the Anglo-Allied squares and French cavalry are going to go in the bottom-centre and left of the photo above from my screenshot .

Sunday, 24 October 2021

Re-evaluating 'Miniature Wargaming the Movie'; plus progress

I did not think that I'd be interested in seeing the film Miniature Wargaming—the Movie, but I have gone from 'likely never' to a 'definitely want to see it'. This change came about firstly due to Keith Flint and secondly to LittleWarsTV, Greg Wagman in particular. Thanks Keith and Greg.

A recent post by Keith about the film on his blog led me to look at the review by Greg on LittleWarsTV (from January this year) and then on to the extended interview with Joseph Piddington, the director and producer of the film, in the LittleWarsTV (free) subscriber section.

Greg's frank, detailed and considered review had me interested. He described the quality of the production, the section on the history of wargaming (a recently piqued interest of mine!), which made me think that there would be enough there to interest me. He ended up suggesting to have a look at it, even though he had some reservations about it and felt that it presented a negative image of the hobby as the three/four stories used were not particularly up-beat (to paraphrase). The interview with Joseph, particularly the full-length one, sealed it for me. Here is a genuine and thoughtful person an aspiring young producer-director (no, of course, he is a producer-director) and a passionate wargamer who has produced a thoughtful and interesting film. The target audience is the 'general public' or perhaps, in Joe's words, that friend or relative who wants to know why we do this (seemingly) strange hobby. I reckon that I'll find it interesting too, even if there will be sections that I will not relate to and/or annoy me.

I am sure that the insights from 'industry insiders' about the nature of the business, especially the cottage-industry nature of it, will have much that will be new/news to me. Further to this I look forward to Joseph's next project which will be aimed more at wargaming enthusiasts and which I, as one who generally avoids kickstarter and the like, can see myself chucking in a few dollars to help get off the ground (and paying to view it once it does). I'll keep my eyes out for further news about it.

In the meantime, I'll have to find out how I can see the film. Part of Keith's post was about his annoyance at not being able to view it yet in the UK. Sadly, there was no mention in Greg's interview with Joe about a release in Australia—nor Europe for that matter. Hopefully it will be a matter of time.

Ah time. That limited 'resource' that seems to evaporate when we are doing things hobby.

The two videos mentioned above were really interesting, but were great from another perspective. The videos being chiefly about the words, as opposed to the visual, and those words being in English, meant that I was able to get some basing of my early Austrians done while 'watching' them! Here are a few photos.

No, not Brunswickers in kasketts, but early Austrians by Italeri. Undercoated some time ago, now most of the fiddly bits done and basing material added. Ready for a few more details and then white.

When I first got a box of these "Austrian Infantry 1798-1805" by Italeri, I thought that they were far to big. They are more like true 25 mm figs than 1/72. I then hit on the idea of basing them on really thin plastic card (the sort that comes as a base in those re-useable, material shopping bags). This is sufficiently thin to make them about the same height as 1/72 figures when the latter are based on my usual 1 mm ABS sheet.
As I have painted them I have liked the figures more and more. The detail is excellent, poses are good to excellent and flags and drummers are plentiful. They are fine
from 1792–1798 and I'll be using them for the Austro-Turkish War of 1788–1791 too. I have also recently found out that many units still wore kasketts in the Marengo campaign, so I'll  be using a lot of them for that too.
All this is just as well since I sought them out from several suppliers when I thought that they were difficult to get and have ended up with twelve boxes so far and another eight to come! Of the fifty figures per box, thirty-five are in kaskett, nine in helmets (including the officers above) and six
grenadiers (seen at the back of the photo above this one).

My basing material (green): PVA glue, acrylic paint, sand, old, dried coffee grounds and old tea leaves. Needs to be stirred often as the heavier materials sink to the bottom.
The latter are two materials that come from a beaut idea of Iain Dickie's in his "Wargaming on a Budget".
I like using this mixture as it is easy to mix, reasonably easy to apply and adds weight to the plastic figures without making them too heavy, plus aids binding them to the base.


Below are some more photos of my recent hobby 'travail'. It will not look much compared to posts of past progress, but there are some changes: adding 'fiddly bits' like facing colours, and metal for muskets, but also in converting figures to use for Grenz hussars, early uhlans and Polish-Italian legion uhlans.

Austrian Grenz hussars with Mézáros uhlans behind. In process of having more 'red bits' done. Also need some colour on the horses, of course!

As above, but with 'red bits' done, plus some artillery—the gunners in greatcoats are the only figures that I have at present. Nothing else is produced in plastic so I intend, later, to supplement these with some from Irregular and Newline.

Polish-Italian legion uhlans. Blue and crimson needed to make these look like something, plus some colour on the horses too.

French infantry, also with some of 'fiddly bits' done. A splash of red added to some of the grenadiers when I have had some 'decanted' paint to use up. Plenty of blue and white, plus some more red needed. Strelets "French Line Infantry in Egypt" with a few head swaps.

More French infantry, plus Napoleon at Marengo as one of my vignt-et-un Napoleons.

More French infantry, Strelets "French Line Infantry in Egypt" again, with some converted to flag-bearers using flags made from tin foil from Milo lids or from around wine bottles. The flags will be shaped once painted.

Consular guard (for 1800), three more of my vignt-et-un Napoleons and Napoleon's guides for 1796 (and I'll use the same figs for Egypt). A mix of many figures and conversions there.

Austrian grenz. I started these some time ago, then put them to the back while other figures (those above and my First World War figures) took precedence. The grenz units in Italy in 1796 (and in 1809) had white coats. I'd like to get all the Austrians to the stage of the white-coated grenz here by the 4th. Figures are Hat grenz and I'll use as is for 1796, despite the backpacks and blanket rolls being worn over each shoulder rather than slung. I considered some 'cutting and trusting' to convert them, but decided against it!

Most of the 2 mm Austrians. I'm doing them as circa 1809 (much as you can tell) and they have had yellow added, hence that colour standing out!


Julian and I are catching up for a session on the 4th. I want to have a go at the Battle of Voltri using a my first pass/adaptation of Kriegsspiel. It has been twice delayed due to 'other things' cropping up. I have been happy about that as it has given me more prep. time. I'd like to have the above figures looking a good deal like they are meant to, so at least have the base-coat done. Some more of the 'fiddly bits', some more basing and then I'll be applying white, white and more white;