Thursday, 27 May 2021

Book review: La Campagne de France, 1814

When I ordered this book back in February, I thought that it was a history of the campaign of 1814, chiefly from the French side. How mistaken I was. It is quite different and far, far more delightful, useful and insightful for the fact!

Author Gilles Boué describes each arm/formation of the French army in 1814 against the backdrop of the campaign and battles. He provides details of formations, events and actions, interspersed with anecdotes, observations and challenges to myths. The book is 'lusciously' illustrated with some of the well-known paintings of the mid-18th and early 19th centuries, along with some more recent examples, drawings and loads of uniform prints. These are all beautifully, crisply reproduced—the vast majority in colour.

The first two chapters describe, respectively, the lead-up to the campaign (a sort of ‘story so far’) and brief description of its course from February to April 1814. The bulk of the book is dedicated to the troops who made up the French army of 1814, answering Boué’s own question posed in the opening chapter; “Qui étaient-ils?” (Who were they?).

Two examples of the beautifully reproduced paintings that adorn the book. The last halt of the Cossacks before the invasion of France (above) and Charge of the Guard Cossacks at Fère Champenoise (below).
[Note: I didn't twig until adding this caption that I just happened to choose these two, both involving Cossacks!]

Above and below: examples of pictures related to troops and uniforms.

There are chapters about the levée and conscripts, the Imperial Guard, the cavalry, the infantry, the national guard and the free corps (local peasant ‘units’ and those made up of stragglers and other ‘lost’ soldiers). For each of these Boué describes the formation, establishment, regulations, arms and equipment (that there were, particularly for the conscripts and National Guard) as well as examples of their performance in key actions with specific numbers, dates, and names, losses, successes and failures. The specific structure of each chapter is slightly different, but for each the text is rich in detail, examples and anecdotes.

One of the numerous tables in the book. This one the only example that fills two pages!

The numerous ‘sidebars’ and tables presented include a list of the main battles, maps of fifteen of the key ones and detailed orders of battle (for the French). These are complimented by additional information such as a list of revenues, effectives in garrisons, units in reserve camps, table of levees 1804–1814, pay for troops of different ranks and units, along with the cavalry regiments and numbers of men in each joining the army over the course of dates in February—to list about half of it—making for a book packed with excellent content.

Map of the Battle of Champaubert, one of fifteen presented.

The French text is quite easy to read, even for someone like me with only an intermediate grasp of the language. My French vocabulary is quite limited, but I hardly needed to go to the dictionary. I have been reading a bit of French lately, so perhaps have my ‘eye in’ a little, but would certainly not claim any fluency. If you have no knowledge of French I’d still recommend the book as the images need no translation (a picture tells…) and the tables can be comprehended largely without translation, so you’d still get value from the book.

Highly recommended. A most useful, unique, detailed, comprehensive and beautifully produced addition to books about this campaign.



Boué, G (2021) La Campagne de France, 1814. Editions Soixante, Paris. 176 pp.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Napoleon 200 2021: vingt-et-un Napoleons (1) La Mort de Napoleon

For some time I have had in mind to produce a range of representations of Napoleon, some as command bases and others as vignettes. Since we are in 2021, the very last of the Napoleonic bicentennial years, I have the impetus to make it happen.

Each of my representations will be based on or inspired by a famous painting.

On this two hundredth anniversary of the death of the Great Man, I have begun at the end with La Mort de Napoleon. This is inspired by the painting by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse of Napoleon on his death-bed, one hour before his burial.

Napoleon sur son lit de mort une heure avant son ensevelissement, by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse

My version of same.

I am not much of a modeller, but enjoy 'having a go' with the materials that I have to hand. In this case Napoleon's upper body, head and arms are from a Strelets figure (nominally of Joseph, but which, naturally, can easily be either he or Napoleon) while his legs I made from Das modelling clay. Marchand was created using one of the figures from the Imex Stagecoach set and the priest using the body of the lady from the same set (Das clay making up the rest of both of them). The bed was a matchstick and cardboard frame with liberal addition of Das clay.

I am happy enough with how it turned out—although my version of Marchand looks like he belongs on the set of Saturday Night Fever! I considered adding a frame and canopy to the bed, but was not sure how I would do it (and was worried how it might look), plus it meant extra effort for not much benefit and likely detraction. In the end I was swayed by a simpler version which better matched the painting.

So, that's one down and twenty to go.

The next twenty will be in a chronological order, beginning with 1796. Some years will get multiple representations while others won't have any. I want to get them all done this year and with 34 weeks remaining, I can't muck around.

I am pretty confident that I'll get them done as the next three are well underway and four of the later ones are completed or very nearly so.

The next three Napoleons 3/4 done

Once completed these representations will be invaluable for my long-term focus on the quasquibicentennial / vigbicentennial (225th and 220th anniversaries) of campaigns from 1796 to 1815, which began this year.

Sites of interest

1. The wonderful website of the Foundation Napoleon ( has a page entitled La Mort de Napoleon that is packed with links to articles and images (including the painting above).

They also have numerous events and articles for 2021 Année Napoléon.

2. Shannon Selin's blog on her website 'Imaging the bounds of history' is packed with thoughtfully produced articles about the Napoleonic era. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Her 'back catalogue' features several posts related to Napoleon's death including:

What were Napoleon’s last words?

How was Napoleon’s death reported?