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 ( 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.)


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)


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.