‘Enemy Women’

By David Clammer, author of Ladies, Wives and Women: British Army Wives in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815

Ladies, Wives and Women, as the subtitle indicates, is about the British army wives who accompanied their husbands’ regiments during the Napoleonic Wars. In the course of my research into the primary sources – the letters, diaries and memoirs of the eyewitnesses to these events – I came across a number of references to the women attached in one capacity or another to the French armies. Some of these were wives, although this appears to have been in the case of officers rather than the other ranks. Others were mistresses or lovers, but most seem to have simply been camp followers of various nationalities. I began to keep notes about these ladies under the shorthand heading of ‘enemy women’, which, if somewhat inaccurate, at least ensured that they did not get into the wrong slot in the filing cabinet.

There were of course the vivandières, the women who accompanied the French armies in the capacity of sutlers, selling a variety of small luxuries and comforts to the troops, and who had no counterpart in the British army. Few of the British eyewitness accounts mention them, perhaps because their presence was recognized as being officially sanctioned and hardly worth a comment. One who did, however, was Sir Richard Henegan of the Field Train, who noticed their presence during the fighting in the Pyrenees, but whose observation was far from complimentary, describing them as ‘that most unfeminine of the female gender yclep’d vivandière’.[1]

The presence of other women in the ranks of the French regiments became apparent quite early on in the war in Spain and Portugal. During Sir John Moore’s campaign, a sharp and successful cavalry action took place at Sahagún on 21 December 1808. As was usual, the dead were quickly stripped by the local peasantry, their naked bodies left in the gathering snow. Sir Robert Ker Porter was a civilian artist who had managed to attach himself to Moore’s army, and he took a walk to examine the battlefield. He described what he found in a letter to a friend. ‘I was surprised to discover a female amongst the groupe; how she became thus situated it is not easy to guess, unless we may suppose that she was some love-impelled damsel, and followed her soldier to the field; or, being enamoured like many an Amazon of war for its own sake, she became an appendage of the camp: and here, by some accidental shot, was deprived at once of life and her military ardour’.[2]

This unfortunate girl had presumably been in the ranks of the French cavalry and wearing uniform, and had not been recognized by the British troopers who cut her down. Other eyewitness accounts mention French troops accompanied by women either dressed in male costume or actual uniform. This would certainly have made riding astride easier, and was perhaps a security measure. Captain Kincaid of the 95th saw just such a woman on 19 March 1811, shortly after the army had crossed the Mondego river and he recorded the fact in a typically sardonic manner. ‘We, this day, captured the aide-de-camp of General Loison, together with his wife who was dressed in a splendid hussar uniform. He was a Portuguese, and a traitor, and looked very like a man who would be hanged. She was a Spaniard, and very handsome, and looked very like a woman who would be married again.’ [3] She was not the only woman Kincaid came across in the course of the fighting. Later in the war, there was a sharp encounter battle at San Milan on 18 June 1813. ‘Their general’s aide-de-camp, amongst others, was mortally wounded; and a lady, on a white horse, who probably was his wife, remained beside him, until we came very near. She appeared to be in great distress; but, though we called to her to remain, and not to be alarmed, yet she galloped off as soon as a decided step became necessary.’ [4] The Frenchman died shortly afterwards, and the lady on the white horse was not seen again.

Léon Schnug, ‘Madame Thérèse, cantinière’ (Anne S.K. Brown Collection)

Captain MacCarthy of the 50th came across something similar at the storming of Fort Napoleon at Almarez on 19 May 1812. ‘In the Fort was a French artillery officer’s wife; she was dressed in a kind of male attire, (as a personal security it was supposed,) but which was her equestrian costume, a travelling cap, pelisse, and Turkish trowsers, adapted for her mode of riding on horseback, (like a man,) to whom the British officers instantly gave protection.’ They could not, however, prevent the looting which was in full swing, and the lady lost all her baggage before order could be restored. Some of her wardrobe was recovered, ‘and she quitted the Fort in grief, leaning on the arms of her husband and Captain Stapleton, 50th regiment.’ [5] Someone found her a horse, and she rode off with her husband who was presumably now a prisoner of war.

Some of the most senior French generals also appear to have had a penchant for female company. When the French under the command of Marshal Massena arrived before Wellington’s army positioned along the ridge of Busaco, in September 1810, Ney urged Massena to attack at once. According to historian Michael Glover, however, Massena was otherwise engaged: ‘The prince was travelling with a Mme Henriette Leberton, and, according to one account, Ney’s ADC had to shout his message through the bedroom door. Certainly he had to wait two hours before Massena would see him’. [6] The attack was postponed until the next day.

Mme Leberton was not the only lady present with Massena’s army at that time. Lieutenant Colonel Leach, as he later became, who was present at Busaco with the 95th, later recalled that the French general Simon, who commanded a brigade in the 3rd Division of the French army, was captured ‘and a flag of truce came in, bringing General Simon’s baggage, and with it a pretty little Spanish woman, part of his establishment’. And he added, ‘The fair one was in tears, and appeared much agitated’,[7] as well she might have been. Leach was not the only eyewitness to this incident. Captain William Stothert of the 3rd Foot Guards noted some extra details. Simon, he wrote, was wounded and captured along with his aide-de camp. ‘A short time afterwards a young Spanish lady, whom the General had carried off from Madrid, and his baggage, were sent to the British head-quarters with a flag of truce’. [8] What became of these ladies captured with their husbands or lovers we are unfortunately not told. The wife of the officer taken prisoner at the storming of Fort Napoleon at Almarez, who was presumably French, may well have gone into captivity with the husband, but it seems unlikely that a Spanish woman who had been ‘carried off’ as Stothert put it, would have had that degree of loyalty.

An officer who had a rather unexpected encounter with a lady in the French ranks was Captain Thomas Dyneley of E Troop, Royal Horse Artillery. Dyneley was captured during the action at Majalahonda on 11 August 1812, and endured an exhausting forced march with his captors. On the 15th, he was accosted by General Chassé, who demanded to know ‘Are you the Englishman?’ On agreeing that he was, Dyneley was told ‘I marry one English lady … She wishes to speak to you’. He climbed off the baggage waggon on which he was riding, and was presented to the lady, and there followed a conversation as bizarre as it was unexpected.

  ‘Have I the pleasure to address a countryman of my own? ‘

  ‘Yes, you have certainly. ‘

  ‘From what part of England are you? ‘

  ‘London. ‘

  ‘Oh dear London, I should be the most miserable creature in the world if I did not feel certain I should die there. I am so very partial to everything that is English – look here. ‘

She pulled out a Twining’s tea-canister, which, as Dyneley said in a letter to his family (he later escaped) ‘certainly did cut me up a good deal’. [9] She did however give him some bread and meat, while continuing to talk. She was from Kent – as was Dyneley – and claimed to be the daughter of Admiral Drake. She had married General Chassé in Holland, where he had been forced into service by Bonaparte, which was how she came to be in Spain and on the wrong side. A strange encounter indeed.

All of these women were individual wives or mistresses, but the French forces also acquired numbers of camp followers. So had the British army, but Napoleon’s men appear to have operated on a somewhat grander scale, as became apparent towards the end of the war in the Peninsula, in the chaotic aftermath of the battle of Vitoria which took place on 21 June 1813. It was the sheer number of women attached to the French army which it impressed itself on a number of the British eyewitnesses. John Aitchison, an ensign in the 3rd Foot Guards, in a letter to his father, stated that ‘The [French] generals, about 500 of their ladies, the military chest (with much treasure) and the whole baggage of the army fell into our hands …’[10] This may have been an underestimate. When Captain Bowles of the Coldstream Guards sat down to write to Lord Malmsbury on 28 June, he had this to say: ‘Nearly the whole of the female establishment of the French army was captured, which rather overstocked us with that article. Upwards of 3,000 Mademoiselles of various descriptions were left behind by the beaten army in Vittoria’.[11]

Several of the British officers who wrote accounts of the war mentioned the presence of the Countess Gazan, wife of the commander of the French Armée du Midi. Thomas Browne described how she screamed for help as he passed, and how he recommended that she get back into her carriage, but that when he had gone, she got out and managed to lose her child in the chaos.[12] Francis Larpent, the army’s Judge-Advocate, also encountered the Countess: ‘In the midst of this, a lady in great distress, well dressed and elegant, with her carriage in the ditch, and she herself standing by, appealed to me, and, asking if I could speak French, said she was the Countess de Gazan, wife of the French General, and said that she wished to get back to the town, and, if possible, save her horses, mules and carriage’. [13] Larpent, with the assistance of two hussars, was happy to oblige. The lost child was discovered a week later, having been found amidst the wreckage by a British soldier.

Some of the French camp followers were dressed in hussar-style uniforms, but according to August Schaumann, one of the Deputy Assistant Commissary-Generals in the allied army, they got short shrift: ‘The unmarried ladies belonging to the French army, most of whom were young and good-looking Spanish women, dressed in fancy hussar uniforms and mounted on pretty ponies, or else conveyed in carriages, were first robbed of their mounts, their carriages and jewels, and then most ungallantly allowed to go’. They were however quick to change their allegiance. ‘But as all they wanted was protection and a new lover, both of which they soon obtained, they were to be had for the asking’.[14]

Schaumann’s view of the situation was corroborated by Captain Thomas Browne of the Adjutant General’s staff: ‘A friend of mine, Captn. During of the Adjt. Genl. Department seeing what he thought a smart young French Officer riding off, galloped after him, to stay his flight, when on getting alongside, it proved to be a beautiful Catalonian girl, who had been Mistress of a French Colonel, for two years – She implored our Captain’s mercy who sent her to his baggage – She changed Masters with admirable & cheerful composure, & remained attached to the Captns. Suite, until the entry of the British Army into France the following year’. This, recorded Browne, was by no means an unusual situation, and it was not long after the battle before ‘Spanish guitars were gaily sounding in the English Camp, & Spanish girls singing extempore praises of the immortal Wellington, with the same zeal & energy, as had no doubt so lately called forth similar strains, in honour of the great Napoleon – oh! Human nature what a Weathercock thou art!’[15]

Finally, there are the words of Wellington himself. Years later, in 1839, in conversation with Lord Stanhope, he recalled the aftermath of the Vitoria with some amusement: ‘The baggage and encumbrances of the French army were immense at Vittoria. A great many ladies too! One of their prisoners said to me after the battle, Le fait est, Monseigneur, que vous avez une armée, mais nous sommes un bordel ambulant [The fact is, my lord, you have an army, but we are a walking brothel]’.[16]


[1] Richard Henegan, Seven Years Campaigning in the Peninsula and the Netherlands 1808 – 1815 (Stroud: Nonsuch, 2005), vol.2, p.73.

[2] Robert Ker Porter, Letters from Portugal and Spain written during the March of the British Troops under Sir John Moore (London: Longman, 1809), pp.228–229.

[3] John Kincaid, Adventures in the Rifle Brigade (London: Maclaren, 1911), p.31.

[4] Kincaid, Adventures,p.104.

[5] Janes McCarthy, Recollections of the Storming of the Castle of Badajos (London: Clowes, 1836), pp.77–78.

[6] Michael Glover, The Peninsular War 1807 – 1814 A Concise Military History (London: Penguin, 2001) p.136.

[7] J. Leach, Rough Sketches of the Life of an Old Soldier (London: Longman, 1831), p.167.

[8] William Stothert, A Narrative of the Principal Events of the Campaigns of 1808, 1810 and 1811 in Spain and Portugal (London: Martin, 1812), p.192.

[9] Thomas Dyneley, Letters Written by Lieut.-General Thomas Dyneley CB. RA., while on Active Service Between the Years 1806 and 1815 (London: Royal Artillery Institution, 1896) p.47

[10] W.F.K. Thompson, (ed.) An Ensign in the Peninsular War. The Letters of John Aitchison (London: Michael Joseph, 1981), p.246.

[11] Earl of Malmesbury (ed.) A Series of Letters of the First Lord Malmesbury His Family and Friends from  1745 to 1820 (London: Richard Bentley, 1870), vol.II, p.359.

[12] R.N. Buckley (ed.) The Napoleonic War Journal of Captain Thomas Henry Browne 1807 – 1816 (London: Bodley Head, 1987), p.218.

[13] George Larpent (ed.), The Private Journal of Judge Advocate Larpent attached to the Head-Quarters of Lord Wellington during the Peninsular War from 1812 to its close 3rd ed. (London: Bentley, 1854), p.160.

[14] August Schaumann, On the Road with Wellington (London: Heinemann, 1824), p.380.

[15] Buckley (ed.), Napoleonic War Journal,p.214.

[16] Philip Henry Lord Stanhope, Notes of Conversations with the Duke of Wellington 1831 – 1851 (London: Prion, 1998) pp.107–108.

More Furies Than Men’, The Irish Brigade in the service of France (1690-1792)

By Pierre-Louis Coudray

My interest for the military presence of Irishmen within the French army started when I was a freshman studying Irish culture and history at the University of Rennes in the late 1990s. Because of the imminent Good Friday Agreement, the lectures covered in great depths the Troubles and contemporary Ireland. Yet in most of the documents used, martial aspects of the Irish experience were reduced to mere footnotes. Such a situation always bothered me since Ireland had constantly been the focus of Britain’s military preoccupations until 1922 and also because I started reading Irish authors who offered glimpses of a fascinating belligerent past largely ignored in French academic circles. I just wanted to know more.  

Besides, being Breton made me aware from an early age of the special relationship established between Ireland and western France, but the local archives of my hometown lacked documents illustrating that supposed centuries-old friendship often saluted in books devoted to Franco-Irish links. To my surprise, letters and manuscripts held in western France depicted the Irish landing there in the late seventeenth century in derogatory terms. This discrepancy between historical facts and the received narrative of the Irish diaspora in France inspired me to confront the lore of the Irish Brigade in national and international archives. This book is a synthesis of this work and gives a more realistic image of the Irishmen who fought under the golden lilies. 

First, I focused on French local records before travelling to both Britain and Ireland to gather elements from the viewpoint of British authorities and personalities of the time. Since the Brigade’s past is full of repetitions, factual errors, exaggerations and omissions, it took me years to sift through the many primary and secondary sources available to make a new story emerge. The battles of Cremona and Fontenoy, two critical events in the life of these Irish units, obviously appeared as major stopping points that also had to be re-examined in this renewed military history of the Brigade. But beyond the day-to-day lives of Irish soldiers and officers fighting for France, I also wanted to show how the story of the Brigade itself came into being.

Officer, Dillon’s Regiment, c.1724 (NYPL Vinkhuizen Collection)

Years down the line, I can now assert that what we know about the Irish regiments in the service of France is obviously based on the brave actions of generations of fighters, but also rests on what was carefully crafted by legions of writers. First, people directly connected to the Brigade itself in the eighteenth century wrote to remind French people of the sacrifices made by the Irish Jacobites in the service of both the Bourbons and the Stuarts. Their version of events both corrected French misconceptions about the Irish regiments and produced a new narrative attached to these units and their connection to the Stuart family. Then, nineteenth-century Irish authors cemented that same narrative, rendering it almost immutable, but this time to create a distinctive Irish military history. They wanted to prove that the island and its inhabitants were strong enough to exist outside of Britain’s sphere of influence. Meanwhile, London also appropriated this military story for its own purposes by enrolling the experience of Irish soldiers abroad within the global and loose concept of ‘Britishness’. 

This book illustrates the idea that the pen is truly mightier than the sword by showing the reader how these different storylines were slowly merged into a single narrative that transformed the Irish Brigade serving France into a military legend.

The Tudor Art of War

By Jonathan Davies the author of ‘The art of shooting the great ordnance’ and ‘The Tudor Art of War, Volume One’. His new book the second volume of ‘The Tudor Art of War’ is going to be published in the spring of next year.

Incompetent and often absent officers, indifferent to their men and their suffering.

Inadequate and aged equipment, poorly maintained. 

Units manned by ‘paper soldiers’ while their officers enjoyed their pay and unearned privileges.

Casualties caused by carelessness, stupidity and tactical ineptitude.

Cruel and barbaric behaviour towards a civil population.

Endemic corruption from the very top to the very bottom, crippling the operational capacity of an entire army 

This is certainly a valid description of the abysmal performance of the Russian armed forces in their shocking invasion of Ukraine.  The headlines above could equally well apply to the conduct of the war by the army of Queen Elizabeth, which I have been studying and writing about for the past fifteen months. 

Why on earth would anyone bother reading about such a subject, let alone committing a quarter of a million words to paper?  The answer is quite simple, because it is both absolutely fascinating and very important.  The Elizabethan Army has been shockingly ignored.  There are only three substantial books on the subject, only one of which is remotely modern.  Quite frankly it is perceived by most as an embarrassment, better forgotten, so that we can concentrate on the naval side of things.  That is if we are interested in the part that war played at all.  Elizabeth’s reign has been characterised by the Armada, courtly caperings, religious turmoil, mob caps & pomanders.  In fact, war on land, if fought overseas, was the preoccupation of Queen, Court, Council and country and I hope my book demonstrates this. 

With reference to the Armada.  Firstly, it is questionable whether the Armada was defeated by anything other than its own fundamental weaknesses and an unfavourable wind.  Secondly far more men served and died in her army than ever served aboard royal ships.  Between 1585 and 1602, 95,000 men were sent to serve abroad, the equivalent these days of 1.5 million, or nineteen times the size of the current British army.  It was the army that emptied Elizabeth’s coffers and it was her army that she used brutally and effectively to support her, somewhat dubious, allies and needle her implacable enemies.   

There may not be a Bosworth or Boulogne, no Pinkie Cleugh or Flodden but there was plenty to engage the military historian.   This was an extraordinary period where equipment and tactics were developing at a remarkable rate.  Maurice of Nassau was only one of a number of Generals and captains who were experimenting with the combinations of weapons that could give them victory on the field.  

This was an age of innovation in equipment and tactics.  The arquebus gave way to the caliver and musket, the man-at-arms to the demi-lancer, the carbineer and the pistoleer.   The military literature of the time is stuffed with advice on how to wage war and quite often included increasingly complex and unlikely tactical formations.  These were designed to make the best use of the weapons and soldiers now to be found on the battlefield.   There is also a splendid and I think unique account of ‘basic drill’, with commands and detailed explanation that I have found and used extensively.  After writing the book on the history of artillery for Helion this year, I was disappointed that it played only a very small part in Elizabeth’s land forces.  I have, on the other hand, had the opportunity to dispel some of the myths surrounding what has been considered as a ‘supergun’, the cast iron ordnance manufactured in the Weald.  It is a tale that is far more complicated and darker than one might have thought.

The period is full of splendid characters.  Sir Roger Williams, the fluellen of William Shakespeare’s Henry V, a man who possessed the heart of a lion and the hearts of the common soldiers, offered a commission by Parma for his stout defence of Sluys.  There is the odious Earl of Essex who if you cannot admire, you have at least to try to understand the grand parts that he played in the world that he considered his stage.  Maurice Kyffin is my favourite, an intemperate Welsh civil servant who was almost unique in that self-serving age as actually working for the interests of the crown and its soldiers. He tried to convince captains that they should perhaps take some care of the men in their company!  He faced the hostility, contempt and threats from his superiors and his subordinates, for trying to stop the most blatant corruption.

It is easy to sympathise with Maurice.  It is more difficult and as important to comprehend the mindset of those whose conduct he found so repellent.  The outlook of the ‘swordsman’, his relationship to the classical past and the modern world and above all his concept of ‘honour’ have all been a real challenge to appreciate.  Why was it that heroes of the age, Drake, Ralegh, Essex and Vere, who commanded the ships entering Cadiz harbour, behaved like spoiled schoolboys?  They argued, cajoled and railed at each other.  They all sought to be the first to enter the harbour and brave the roundshot with the sang froid expected of them.  They got in each other’s way, on purpose, and even cut mooring ropes to discommode their rivals.  In the meantime, the greatest monetary prize that Elizabeth could have gained was allowed to escape from them.  What was it that made them behave so badly and still be considered worthy of command?  

The tales of George Silver and his fellow Masters of Defence taking on and trouncing the Italian masters of the rapier, who were poaching their most aristocratic and profitable clientele, is one worthy of retelling.  As is the sad account of the death of Sir Philip Sidney, from the gross negligence and cowardice of his medical ‘team’.  I have found many stories that have diverted and engaged me and which I hope will do the same for the reader.

I’ve been very fortunate in having the assistance of the well-known and well-respected Tudor Group in preparing the colour section of the next volume of the Tudor Arte of Warre.  They provide a superb representation of  a late Elizabethan trained band.   They are an extraordinarily knowledgeable and helpful bunch of people and I had a great day out in the Autumn sunshine at the beginning of October taking the photos for the book.

At present I am checking the formatting of my 979 footnotes, which I assure you will take several days of patient toil.  Please, dear reader, if you find an error in them be forgiving of this poor soul.  I hope all will be completed before Christmas and ready for publication in the Spring.  If you do buy the book, I hope that it will give you as much pleasure in reading as it has given me in writing (a lot).

Supplying the New Model Army

By Century of the Soldier author Andrew Abram

On 10 September 1645, less than a week after the bloody storming of Bristol by the new Model Army, Harcourt Leighton and Thomas Herbert, two Commissaries residing with the Army reported to William Lenthall, Speaker of the House of Commons, ‘The General has desired Colonel Pindar [Quartermaster General of the City of London] to speed to Lyme, Taunton and Bridgewater to furnish us here with what powder and other ammunition their magazines can spare for the dispatch of this business. Pray hasten money to pay the army’.

It has been suggested by various writers that 17th-century armies relied more upon plunder and free quarter than any organized system of supply. Continental forces usually travelled with large supply trains which permitted them to extend beyond their own central magazines. Even so, more recent research suggests that during the British Civil Wars there were increasing changes to this custom, particularly among some ‘centralized’ Parliamentarian forces. The formation, politics, religion, leadership, and military campaigns of Sir Thomas Fairfax’s army have drawn the attention of various writers. But one crucial area that has received little attention is logistics – the discipline of planning and carrying out the movement, supply, and maintenance of military forces. 

The result has been a lacuna in the understanding of the recruitment, victualling, ordnance, ammunition, clothing, arming, and transportation methods employed by the Committee of the Army in both the initial establishment of the New Model and its subsequent field operations. As events dictated, the methods of sustaining this army of around 17,000 men required the rapid development of a system which operated at an increasingly considerable physical distance from London, and the army’s headquarters and magazine at Reading. The prevailing view is that provisions (for soldiers and horses), for instance, were obtained from local sources (in other words local communities and householders) during 1645 and 1646, but in practice Fairfax’s regiments increasingly relied on an organized system of supply from London by commercial means. 

As the army was too big to rely on the local economy, and no evidence is known that it supplied its own victuals – other than bread/biscuit and cheese (iron rations) – it appears from rather slim evidence that a market followed in its rear. The assumption is that via a system of contractors and victuallers the soldiers obtained much of their foodstuffs.

Some writers have made casual assumptions about the army’s supply. According to Mark Kishlansky, ‘in its composition and organization as much as in its material condition of pay and supply, the New Model Army exhibited few dissimilarities from the old armies’. Similarly, Glenn Foard described Fairfax’s army in Northamptonshire as having been mostly supplied by the county committees from local resources, employing evidence from the Civil War Loss Accounts of parishes, though from early in the Naseby campaign. However, during the New Model’s advance from Oxford to Leicester requisitioning from the countryside proved largely unsuccessful as most provisions from Buckinghamshire had been assigned to the Parliamentarian garrison at Newport Pagnell. 

In sustaining Fairfax’s army, especially at long-distance, the development of a logistical system – established upon civilian transport networks and routes – ensured that supplies of clothing, biscuit, cheese, weapons and ammunition were procured and stored in magazines, such as Reading and Windsor, and transported via internal routes (roads and rivers) and by sea. By the 1640s the term ‘magazine’ was used to describe storage of bulk stores in garrisons. Hence, during the campaign of 1645-6 a series of these was established at key locations such as Portsmouth, Lyme and Bridgewater. These sent out convoys to supply troops at the right place and the right time, sometimes establishing ‘supply dumps’ ahead of the army’s march. Initially this was in support of the relief of Taunton, but it was continued as the New Model Army advanced deep into the Southwest. 

My current research project takes the form of a reassessment of how the New Model Army was provided with the ‘sinews of war, by closely examining the procurement, storage, and distribution of clothing, arms and ammunition, in addition to the recruitment and pay of Sir Thomas Fairfax’s fighting forces, support arms and officials. Via pay warrants and muster lists it is possible to piece together not only some of the details of the system of recruitment operated, with the identities of recruits and their conducting officers, but also which regiments benefitted from batches of soldiers. This is especially important when attempting to evaluate the strengths of the New Model infantry, whose numbers fluctuated in lines with battlefield losses, sickness and desertion. The breadth and detail of the primary source material, much of which remains unpublished, allows for a focused and systematic approach to the topic. Though supply contracts (some of which are haphazard and incomplete), for instance, need to be considered alongside treasury warrants and receipts, which record what the army in fact received from suppliers, in either full or part of contracts, and when they received them. 

Lists of stores, in addition to records detailing the means and destinations of their transport also place the army’s matériel in time and place, whilst providing evidence of the nuts and bolts of its logistical machinery. Pay records in the form of treasury warrants, muster rolls and pay schedules also cast light on the strength, composition and history of regiments, troops, companies and other military units, as well as allowing an understanding of the mechanics of recruitment. These add context and detail to narrative sources such as contemporary newsbooks and letters.

  1. Receipt from the Officers of the Ordnance Office, dated 1 April 1645, ‘into his Majesty’s stores [ …] for the supply of Sir Thomas Fairfax his army’ from John Freeman for 3 tons of English match @ £30 per ton and 1 cwt of Dutch match ‘made up the English way’ (TNA, SP28/29/1, fol. 120r.)
  1. Warrant, dated 21 July 1645, authorizing the payment of £503 17s. 8d. to Colonel Richard Ingoldsby’s regiment, being 14 days’ pay according to a muster of 12 June. (SP28/31/1, fol. 76r.)

Reading Magazine, bundles of clothing, forming a consignment of 3227 pairs of breeches, 3205 soldiers’ coats, 2413 pairs of stockings, 3874½ pairs of shoes and 3512 shirts to be sent from to the army. (SP28/126/1, fols 1r.-5r.) The list allows some insight into the storage and distribution system employed in supplying the NMA. Each pack is numbered: ‘B400’ = 400 pairs of breeches, C280 = 280 coats.

  1. ‘List of impressed soldiers for recruits for Sir Thomas Fairfax’s army under the command of Captain John Andrews, taken at Abingdon 9 April 1645’. (TNA, SP28/123/2, unfol.)

In Memoriam: Christopher Duffy (1936-2022)

Some thoughts from Dr Alexander S. Burns

The community of military historians has lost one of its best. On the morning of 16 November 2022, Christopher Duffy passed away after a short stay in Lewisham Hospital. Despite being active as a military historian for over 60 years, Christopher Duffy’s work still holds a special place of attention. His books have become the natural starting place for Anglophone scholars studying the military history of German Central Europe in the eighteenth century, as well as all scholars interested in the military history of the Jacobite 1745 Rebellion.

What is truly incredible about Christopher’s professional life, however, is not the way that he has connected with fellow scholars, but with the public. Christopher taught generations of British officers during this time at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst from 1961 to 1996. In this period, teaching young officers alongside John Keegan, David Chandler, and Richard Holmes, Christopher thoroughly enjoyed work that he would have happily done for free. He retired as the Senior Lecturer in War Studies and spent the next several years as a research professor at De Montfort University.

Christopher Duffy was many things to many people. As the editor of his festschrift I’ve been asked to reflect on his life in a few places. Here, for Helion & Co, I want to reflect on him in the way that many of us thought of him: a historian for the wargamers. Over the last 60 years, professional academic historians have become increasingly disconnected from public life. Increasingly, historians write monographs, printed in very small numbers, designed to be included in a select few university libraries, and read only by other members of the historical professional. While these books give an ever more detailed and diverse understanding of the human past, the average member of the public may not be interested in a monograph about ‘violence and the image of the human body’ or ‘early modern militaries and the emotive landscape’.

What made Christopher such a popular writer with wargamers, reenactors, and enthusiasts, and a figure of disdain in the elite university system is that he refused to capitulate to trends in academic writing. Christopher’s written work was always penned in a manner that could connect to a general audience. He endeavored to understand the past as it occurred, focusing on military structures that could be analysed, and military narratives that could be shared. Christopher was delighted his books found such a wide readership, which he often attributed to the dual analytical and narrative structure that his books so often employed.

Instead of following academic trends, Christopher immediately seized upon the utility and importance of wargaming as a way of exploring and experiencing the past. As a 12-year-old in the United States, years before I actual read Christopher’s work, I came to be aware of him as a result of repeated references to his scholarship in the book Wargame Tactics written by Charles Grant (Sr.).

As early as 1974, Christopher had developed a keen appreciation for wargamers. He was the editor of the ‘Historic Armies and Navies’ Series, whose dust jackets proudly proclaimed:

We have taken into account several important developments in the reading public: the military historian is at least coming to appreciate that he must place his subject in its political and social framework, while the general historian and devotee of “war studies” are less content than before to pile generalization upon generaliztion when they are talking about military affairs; most important at all we have had to recognize that the history of warfare has remained one of the fields where the serious professional researcher has kept contact with the “general public”[.]… Lastly we have borne in mind that the growing band of war gamers represents one of the most discerning and knowledgeable elements of our readership. We refer these individuals in particular to our maps and diagrams, and the lists of units and uniforms.

Even in the early 1970s, then, Christopher realized the importance of wargamers as a body of the reading public. In Fire and Stone, which appeared thin 1975, Christopher actually offered a brief wargame ruleset designed to encapuslate early modern siege warfare.

In addition to his voluminous writings, Christopher also kindly donated his time in the service of the interested public, taking on speaking engagements in the United Kingdom and the United

States for private associations dedicated to the study of military history. His long connection with the Seven Years War Association fostered the study of the European Seven Years War in the United States, and Christopher developed long friendships with many members, such as the late wargame designers Jim Mitchell and Dean West. Many of these interested individuals in the United States and the United Kingdom joined Christopher, as he led tours of eighteenth-century European battlefields. He has never been afraid to devote time to the public, smashing the perception that rigorous researchers are disconnected from ordinary life.

In addition to writing and teaching, Christopher worked extensively in the service of a number of professional and public organizations related to his interests. He has served as a founding member and the Secretary-General of the British Commission for Military History (which he immediately pushed me to join upon our meeting) and served as the vice-president of the Military History Society of Ireland. As befits a scholar with an abiding interest in Jacobite military history, he served as the Chairman of the 1745 Association. Far from providing administration for these societies, Christopher has been at the forefront of the fight in Britain to preserve battlefields. Over the past 20 years, he has worked tirelessly with the National Trust for Scotland in order to preserve the Culloden Battlefield for posterity.

The vision of Christopher that will linger long in my mind is him stalking the wargame hall at the South Bend meetings of the Seven Years War Association. There, he examined the tables set up by Ken Bunger, Tod Kershner, Jim Purky, Dean West, and Dale Wood, all wargame designers influenced by his writings. They brought the world that so captured his imagination to life in ways that inspired him.

Christopher’s unique talents make him difficult to replace. As I have already alluded to, many academics are not writing with the general public specifically in mind. This makes the work of publishing companies like Helion even more important. Christopher was particularly proud to publish with Helion, and of the wide and varied work appearing there on eighteenth-century topics. In 2017, he commented to me, ‘Helion [is] a fast-moving newcomer in the publishing world and [is] snapping up some of the best of the new military historical writing’. Although Christopher is gone, we can be confident that the tradition he pioneered: rigorous academic writing written for a popular audience, will remain secure as we move into the twenty-first century.

Listen to a short audio of an interview that was conducted with Christopher Duffy on the below button:

The Armies & Wars of the Sun King 1643-1715 Volume 5

By Author René Chartrand author of Helion’s ‘Wars and Armies of the Sun King’ books

This latest volume is very different than the previous four in that it concerns men and events in essentially tropical America, namely the West Indies and their adjacent mainland territories with some diversions farther away in Brazil and the Pacific shores of Chile and Peru. The Sun King did not come to America, but his ambitions regarding the ‘New World’ were great. He too wanted sizeable territories in the West Indies and South America, but the field was already largely occupied by the Spanish and the Portuguese since the late 15th century. The Dutch, British and French late comers appeared mainly from the second quarter of the 17th century. The British had successfully occupied Jamaica; Louis XIV was determined that France should have at least the same.

For France, the smaller islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Grenada, St. Kitts and other islands were somewhat settled from the 1630s with even the Order of Malta getting involved in settlement schemes with private monopoly companies that did not contribute enough soldiers to face indigenous and European enemies. In 1665-1666, royal army troops were sent to the West Indies and Guyana to secure them, but most were recalled or disbanded a couple of years later. In 1674, the incredible defence of Martinique where thousands of Dutch troops were routed by a handful of defenders spurred the Sun King to establish permanent garrisons of independent companies, eventually called “Compagnies franches de la Marine”, in the West Indies and Guyana. Details on their hitherto nearly unknown organisation, campaigns and material history is revealed. Thanks to archives documents, acclaimed artist Patrice Courcelle has recreated their dress and appearance, which is the first time such an accurate visual reconstruction has ever been done. 

Soldier, Compagnies franches de la Marine of the Islands, 1675-76

Buccaneers were quickly noticed by the Sun King who, from the late 1660s, even chose to send a buccaneering naval officer as governor of Tortuga as well as furnishing them with weapons. As early as the late 16th century, many French adventurers had ventured into the then unsettled part of what is now Haiti. They were soon hunted down by ruthless Spaniards who applied a near-genocidal policy inspired by the 1494 treaty that divided the  yet unexplored world between Spain and Portugal and a 1556 Spanish law that gave a licence to kill “any stranger of whatever nation” presumed to be a corsair or pirate caught in America in possession of “merchandise”. This was soon extended to anyone as shown in several rather sickening examples of wanton massacres described in the book. 

Soldier, Compagnies franches de la Marine of the Islands, 1678

The main result was to transform the buccaneers from wild hog and beef hunters in the jungles of Haiti into arguably the most fearsome warriors since the Vikings once they went to sea animated by a white-hot desire for revenge on Spaniards. They eventually had their own fleets that soon outclassed the Spanish warships. Their most notable raids are chronicled including those that had substantial help from the Sun’s troops and navy, notably at Cartagena de Indias (now in Columbia). 

Today, buccaneers are seen as being the same as pirates, but this was far from the case in 17th century reality. They were not against all flags and tables showing the nearly continuous European wars from the 16th century makes them out as more like corsairs. We relate their lifestyle, combat practices and armament, which includes their own “buccaneer” type of musket and appearance, which was nothing like what is eternally seen in Pirate movie productions. Actual descriptions and even sketches of buccaneers made by men who knew them are presented. Forget Johnny Debt’s pirate movies and Howard Pyle’s renderings; if you want to see the real thing, look at Patrice Courcelle’s beautifully recreated buccaneers showing for the first time their actual appearance. 

Usually forgotten are the many militiamen of the French Caribbean that were often involved defending their island and also quite active as part of raiding expeditions alongside soldiers and buccaneers. Many were Afro-Caribbean whose services, lauded in contemporary memoirs, have been somewhat forgotten until recently and we cite a few of these accounts. The arms and costumes of all militiamen were varied and there seems to have been no militia uniforms before the early 18th century.

Other topics in the book wondered what did actually happen to “Riches Beyond Comparison” found in America. Not easy to really know since a lot of it remained undeclared, hidden, was smuggled or might be captured. Once captured, there were rules for dividing riches before these golden doubloons vanished. To minimise risks, the Spanish had treasure fleet routes which were not totally safe so, after 1700, the French navy organised some convoys with their own warships. 

European events decided by the Sun King had an important influence in the New World. A sizeable French establishment appeared in Haiti while the other islands and Guyana were secured. The advent Louis XIV’s grandson as King Felipe V of Spain from 1700 totally changed the geo-strategic situation; Spain and France were thereafter allies thus ending the terrible 16th century inhumane policies. Indeed, the alliance heralded Spain’s ‘Age of Enlightenment’. And, even when hard pressed in Europe, the Sun King sent ships, weapons and advisors to secure the Spanish Indies. 

Insofar as the author is concerned, it was an amazing tale to relate with many unsuspected twists. Enjoy.


The Armies & Wars of the Sun King 1643-1715 Volume 5

Muehlhausen Exhibition in Germany

By Doug Millar the author of ‘The Army of The Swabian League, 1525’

I’m off to Muehlhausen in Thuringia in a month’s time for the opening of an exhibition organised by the Association of German Peasants’ War Museums. This is a touring exhibition which by the time it has done the rounds of the member museums (some 10 in all) should see the start of the 500-year anniversary of the war which was fought between 1524 to 1526 across most of Southern and Central Germany, the Rhineland and in the Tyrol.

The exhibition will consist of a series of beautifully designed information boards interspersed with a number of my dioramas and hopefully other (flat figure) models which have been drawn together from those museums which still commemorate one of the most momentous popular uprisings of the early modern era.

I have been making dioramas for the Association for over ten years now – mainly on commission – taken together with some new additions of mine they can tell the story in visual form of the way in which this conflict played out. I hope to make this available to Helion readers in the coming months as a downloadable file that will accompany my existing book (the Army of the Swabian League) and my forthcoming title the German Peasants’ War.

My interest in the War stems from my initial interest in the Landsknechts (See Osprey title of the same name) which was sparked when I engineered a placement at a German toy firm during my studies. The company famous for its Elastolin brand of plastic figures had some of these mercenaries in their range which was brought to life in dioramas by the late Josef Tonn – the in-house designer with whom I became a close friend. As they say, the rest is history. His best work in my opinion was his showpiece dioramas using 40mm scale Elastolin figures – something which has inspired me ever since. I began to create my own figures back in 2002 around about the time Osprey published my first book on the Peasants War and have become obsessed with the period ever since. The early modern era in the Holy Roman Empire is pictorially a very rich one – archive material unfortunately has remained somewhat one-sided since contemporary accounts were written by or on behalf of the nobility. Prisoner testimony – often extracted under torture – is the only record we have from the peasant side so there is much we still do not know. I’m hoping with the forthcoming book to plug some more gaps in the English reader’s understanding of this forlorn ‘revolution of the common man’.

Doug Miller 

October 22

The Challenge of Carolean Uniforms

By Author Michael Glaeser who is the Assistant Dean of the School of Arts, Sciences, and Education at Southern New Hampshire University. His book By Defeating My Enemies- Charles XII of Sweden and the Great Northern War 1682-1721 was published by Helion & Co in 2020.

Ask an enthusiast of the Great Northern War to describe the appearance of a Carolean soldier and you will get a distinct image- a man wearing a black three-sided hat laced with white, a blue coat with yellow facings, buff belts and straps, and yellow stockings. This is the classic uniform that has over the centuries seen service in paintings, statues, films, miniature models, reenactments, and books. However, if we travelled back in time to the start of the war in 1700, the Swedes charging through the snow storm at Narva would have seemed like an entirely different army with their lack of turnbacks, double vertical pockets, and karpus headwear. Many of Sweden’s early victories- Narva, Düna, Klissow, and Fraustadt- were fought in these older style uniforms. Why then was the classic uniform model embraced by posterity? * This question, among many others, reveals that the passage of time has a created a unique challenge in understanding the evolution and implementation of the Swedish uniform in the Great Northern War.

Using a macro view and subscribing to Höglund’s and Skallnäs’s assertion, there are three distinctive uniform models: older (1680s-1692), transitional (1694-1706), and younger (1706 onwards, the classic look)[1]. On paper this appears straightforward and tidy. In practice, however, there is no clear linear progression. As uniforms wore down due to the rigors of campaigning they had to be replaced, but as the war progressed and costs began to bite, kit was shipped piecemeal, some clothing kept its homespun grey color, older reserves were emptied, and new upgrades were delayed. The result was an incoherent look from one regiment to the next. One could thus be forgiven for making a mistake:

“Artillery should be in grey!”

“No, they wore blue at Gadebusch, look at this painting!”

“Where is the collar?”

“There should be 26 buttons!”

“No, 36 buttons!”

A booklet from 1990 entitled Swedish and Russian Armies of the Great Northern War starts with the author declaring that his first edition needed revision after a reader from California pointed out anachronistic illustrations and flawed details. Anyone, however well intentioned, can be susceptible.

A personal perusal of the internet revealed images of Carolean uniforms that span the decades and even centuries. Each focused on the classic model and each presented its own errors.

Bringing Home the Body of King Karl XII. Painting by Gustaf Cederström, original 1877/78, copy 1884 (Source: Swedish Nationalmuseum, public domain)

Cederström’s painting is romantic and anachronistic. Its ubiquitous nature has likely contributed to the spread of misinformation pertaining to uniforms (see image three below). The yellow plastrons of the two leading stretcher bearers were not yet the military fashion being far more notable in the mid and late 18th century. There is a surviving example of a model 1765 coat in the Swedish Army Museum’s collection which, among others, may have served as Cederström’s inspiration. The colors and turnbacks clearly show a lineage with the earlier Carolean coat albeit with nearly fifty years of separation.

Infantry coat, 1765. Armémuseum.

In this early photograph of a reenactment, the yellow plastrons make another appearance. Additionally, two of the coats and some of the riding boots appear shorter than usual.

Reenactment near Karlstad, 1912 (Source: Tailor and Arms Facebook)

These artillerymen look more like cavalry/ dragoons and are neither fully blue nor grey.

Carolean Artillery painted by Emil Åberg, pre 1940 (Source: wiki, public domain)

Getting closer! The cartridge boxes are slightly larger and the turnbacks overlap for a different look.

These artillerymen look more like cavalry/ dragoons and are neither fully blue nor grey.

There have been many noteworthy attempts at cataloging Swedish uniforms for the interested reader. Alf Åberg’s venerable Karoliner from 1976 should have a spot on any shelf even if one cannot read Swedish. The Great Northern War 1700-1721 Colours and Uniforms by Lars-Eric Höglund and Åke Sallnäs provides a chronological uniform guide for each regiment both horse and foot. A recent work, Karolinska Uniformer Och Munderingar Åren 1700-1721, by Anders Larsson has been met with acclaim. Sergey Shamenkov’s new release, Charles XII’s Karoliners, launches a special series for Helion’s “Century of the Soldier”. His illustrations have graced numerous publications and his book promises to be a wealth of knowledge for the enthusiast and reenactor alike.

* As to the original question regarding the popularity of the classic model, I present one of a few suggestions.  Only three Swedish uniforms from the Great Northern War survive: those of King Charles XII, Prince Fredrik, and Lieutenant Drakenhielm. All of them come from the waning years of the conflict with two belonging to men who both died at the siege of Fredriksten Fortress in 1718. By this point the younger model was in use and distinguished by the pleats on both sides of the coat and the turnbacks. A surviving uniform gives artists and researchers something to physically observe and reproduce and so these articles of clothing served as a model for later generations.

By Defeating My Enemies By Michael Glaeser

Europeanisation of the Sikh Army

By Author Gurinder Singh Mann tieing into his book The Rise of the Sikh Soldier

The Sikh army had developed through various centuries and in the eighteenth century had proved its mettle under strong leaders like Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1718 – 1783) and the development of the Sikh Confederacy or Misls. The fight for survival in the Panjab of the Sikh faith and subsequent conquests around Hindustan showed the warriors of Guru Gobind Singh were equipped to deal with larger and more powerful armies. The Afghan contingents which had desecrated large parts of India under Ahmed Shah Abdali (c.1722-1772) were sent marching back to Kabul. The once mighty Mughal Empire was vanquished in 1783 under the military leader and statesman Baghel Singh of the Karorasinghia Misl leading to taxation rights with the Mahrattas, Rohillas, and left the East India Company (EIC) watching in awe. Female leaders also played their part wielding the Khalsa axe, with notable woman like Sahib Kaur (1771–1801) of Patiala and Sada Kaur (1762–1832) of the Kanhaiya Misl demonstrating their military prowess.

The Sikhs reliance on cavalry as their primary mode of battle exposed their need for better military tactics and improvement in weaponry. With the advent of Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Empire there was a movement towards the greater employment of infantry and artillery. Whilst researching for the book, I consulted the Khalsa Durbar Records (KDR), some of which had been compiled a century earlier. Initially, Purbias, a small number of deserters from the EIC, as well as Sikhs formed this branch. Examining the payrolls of the KDR from 1813 the bulk of the infantry consisted of Hindustanis, Gurkhas, and Afghans. This changed by the year 1818 when the Sikh recruitment expanded amongst this branch and became predominant. In a similar manner the main recruits were Purbias and Muslims to the artillery. The Sikhs took to and adopted the new measures relatively easily, and the introduction of matchlocks proved popular.

Ranjit Singh still felt the need of various military improvements within the empire. At the same time the reports of his conquests were now becoming known throughout the world.  This led to many Europeans looking for employment in his every expanding Panjab.  In 1822, after passing various tests and providing letters, Generals Jean-Francois Allard (1785–1839) and Jean-Baptiste Ventura (1794–1858) entered the service of the Sikh Empire. In 1827 there was the employment of Claude Auguste Court (1793–1880), and then Paolo Di Avitabile (1791–1850). Overall, there was in excess of 60 foreigners, or Ferengi, who would provide military service for Ranjit Singh. This resulted in a host of various military innovations including the raising of regiments of Dragoons, improvements in cannon technology, the import of weaponry (cuirass and guns) from France, and overall improvements in the drills of the soldiers. Allard and Ventura had military manuals translated from French into Persian and commands were ushered in French also. A tri-colour flag added to these changes together with the adoption of European uniforms.

Ranjit Singh and his courtiers (left), the Ferengi contingent (right). G.W. Osbourne, The Court and Camp of Runjeet Singh (London: Henry Colburn, Publisher, 1840).

By 1825, the Fauj-i-Khas (infantry, cavalry, and artillery) based in Anarkali, Lahore had reached the number of between 5,000-6,000 strong. This elite force of soldiers became pivotal in many campaigns at Peshawar, Derajat, quelling the jihad of Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi (1786–1831), and securing the border of Jamrud. The elite force was also responsible for the Anglo-Sikh border along the Sutlej, and the  Fauj-i-Khas undertook patrols from the Himalayas down to Hari-ka-Pattan. This was an important job ensuring border security, not only from infringement by the Akali Nihangs but also from the threat of the British.

One of the important aspects which came out whilst writing the book was the genius of Maharajah Ranjit Singh with regards to how he absorbed their service into the burgeoning Sikh Empire and, if anything, the innovations of military expertise were synthesised with the traditional Sikh soldiery from the Misl period. This is why the old methods of warfare were not dispensed with and instead the European trained units were added on. The notable hardened Sikh warriors like Akali Phula Singh (1761 –1823) and Hari Singh Nalwa (1791–1837) were synonymous with the major conquests around the Afghan regions.  Military and technological innovations by Lehna Singh Majithia (d.1854) surprised the Europeans. Yet the disciplined system of the Ferengi proved pivotal in many campaigns in which they all participated.

Military drill from The Military Manual of Maharajah Ranjit Singh. (1822-30). Maharajah Ranjit Singh Museum, Amritsar: Acc.No:1035. Photo courtesy of Jean Marie Lafont

After the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839, and the army imploding, most Europeans left the service of the empire, yet their tactics were still deployed, often to the surprise of their adversaries. The Fauj-I-Khas general Shaikh Basawan was praised when he unfurled the Khalsa Flag in Kabul whilst supporting the EIC in restoring Shah Shuja to the throne in 1839. More importantly the European drills and infantry and artillery innovations proved their worth in the Anglo Sikh Wars of 1845-1846 and 1848-1849. With a handful of Europeans remaining the Sikh tactics of defence and using their guns effectively gave a bloody nose to the EIC but the treacherous miliary leadership exhibited during this time let the Sikh Empire down.

To this day the contribution of the Ferengi is recognised all round the world not just by the Sikhs but also by the descendants of the European soldiers.  In 2016 Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s Fauj-i-Khas received renewed recognition in the fashionable resort of St Tropez on the French Riviera. A bust of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, General Allard, and his wife Pan Dei was unveiled. This was undertaken by the great-grandson of Allard, Henri Prevost-Allard, the Mayor of the City.

The Rise of the Sikh Soldier

The Sikh Warrior through the ages, c1700-1900

Richard Knötel, The Father of Uniformology and Grosse Uniformenkunde

By Author Stephen Ede-Borrett

Richard Knötel was not the first uniformologist.  Before he began his publication at the end of the Nineteenth Century there had been a great many artists who had produced and published plates of military uniforms.  These artists had customarily painted uniforms that were contemporary, or near contemporary, to them and had most commonly restricted their subjects to the uniforms either of their own Nation or those that they had personally seen.  This is certainly true of a large number of manuscripts of uniforms of the Eighteenth Century and Napoleonic Wars, but none of the plate series were truly a systematic study of the subject.  What put Richard Knötel (1857-1914) into a category of his own is that he was the first to begin to systematically illustrate the uniforms of all European Armies (there were very few non-European studies in his publication) since the general introduction of military uniforms in the latter part of the 17th Century.  His groundbreaking series has since his death been copied or imitated only a handful of times; even with today’s Internet it would be a mammoth task!

Plate No.60 from volume XVIII of Grosse Uniformenkunde, the last plate of the original series.

Richard Knötel was born in Glogau, then in Germany, in 1857, and is known to have taken lessons in drawing and painting from his art teacher father, August.  In 1880 Richard entered the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts, and it was around this time that he appears to have begun collecting works on European Military History and uniforms and began to establish a network of correspondents with similar interests.  At the time of his death, Knötel is reputed to have amassed a library of between seven and nine thousand works.

1806 – The Death of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia at the Battle of Saalfeld, 10th October 1806.  From Die Königin Luise in 50 Bildern für Jung und Alt.

Glogau is one of those towns that seem to wander from Country to Country without itself moving.  In 1506 it was in Bohemia, during the Thirty Years War it was held for a while by Sweden before returning to Habsburg control in 1648.  In 1871 it became part of the new German Empire, until 1919 when it became part of Poland.  In 1939 it went back to Germany and then in 1945 back to Poland again.  At the time of writing (August 2022) it is still in Poland – in Polish the city is Głogów.

In 1890 Knötel began to publish the work with which he will be forever identified – Grosse Uniformenkunde.  This is not, and was never intended to be, a book; instead, each ‘volume’ of Grosse Uniformenkunde is a collection of plates accompanied, from Volume 3 (published in 1892) onwards, by sheets of notes on uniforms, usually of four pages – unusually for the period these notes often included colour sections. Volumes 1 and 2 of the series each contain fifty plates, thereafter the volumes contained sixty plates.  Each volume came in a solid folder with the plates themselves measuring approx 17 cm x 25.5 cm. Approximately is the right term here since individual plates, even within a volume, could vary in size by up to 1.5 cm, both in height and width – in no examples that I have seen are all of the plates in a volume exactly the same size, and today it is impossible to tell how many surviving examples have been trimmed.

The notes accompanying the plates are interesting in their own right.  They do not always reflect the information or even the subjects on the plates in that particular volume but list facing colours and details that are not included when that uniform does appear on a later plate, even if that is in a later volume.  Some folders of notes refer to uniforms for which there never was a plate – although whether such plates were intended is unknown.  These notes were, I understand, although I cannot state this for certain, available without the plates.

Glogau is one of those towns that seem to wander from Country to Country without itself moving.  In 1506 it was in Bohemia, during the Thirty Years War it was held for a while by Sweden before returning to Habsburg control in 1648.  In 1871 it became part of the new German Empire, until 1919 when it became part of Poland.  In 1939 it went back to Germany and then in 1945 back to Poland again.  At the time of writing (August 2022) it is still in Poland - in Polish the city is Głogów. 
Folder – At left is an original folder from 1890.  The 1990s reprint folder is at right, an excellent facsimile.

Perhaps quite naturally the majority of these plates, there are 1,060 in all, are of German subjects although the percentage of German, especially Prussian, subjects in each volume decreased as the series progressed.  Although very few plates illustrated a single figure the vast majority shows anything up to six figures, each clearly identified and with the briefest of notes below. 

The last volume of the series, XVIII, appeared in the Spring of 1914 around the time of Richard’s death; he was then living at Luitpoldstrasse 27, Berlin.  He is buried in St Matthew’s Cemetery in the City.

Although Grosse Uniformenkunde is primarily the work of Richard’s own researches he corresponded widely with others throughout Europe and beyond.  Sometimes there are small mentions of help given, sometimes even the source can be seen and you can judge the meticulousness of his work – as is the case for the Battaglione Guardia Alla Città di Milano (The City if Milan Guard Battalion) which appears on plate III/45.

Grosse Uniformenkunde is, without exaggeration, a masterpiece.  There are very few studies of uniforms since that do not either draw upon Knötel’s work and / or reproduce one or more of his plates, and that includes my own books for Helion & Co.  You can also see a lot of Knotel’s work reflected in the books by the Funckens (which is in no way to cast any aspersions or to attempt to downgrade their magnificent volumes).   One of the reasons for their common use though is that many of the plates (although far from all) are available free of charge from the New York Public Library, and are online if you want to check.

I 01 – Plate No.1 from the first volume of Grosse Uniformenkunde, the very first plate of the series.

The plates have been reprinted, in part or in full at least four times; a facsimile set in the 1950s, an A4 reprint with translations of the text in English and French on the back in the 1970s, and a full reprint again with translations in English and French on the back in the 1980s (not the same translations I would add, there are numerous differences from the 1970s set’s translation) in facsimile and available only in the same sets/volumes as the original, sadly the notes were not produced in any of these reprints.  Finally there was a reprint that began in the early 2000s when the plates, again without the text booklets, were produced in book form – publication only got as far as volume 4.

Original plates from the series, that is not the reprints, can fetch up to £25 each and complete sets commensurately more.  As mentioned it is rare to find the booklet of notes but if you do manage to get hold of a booklet you will find the information as fascinating as the plates themselves.  I believe that these notes are, however, now being reprinted in Germany, in booklets separate from the plates.

XIX 35
Plate 35 from Herbert Knötel’s ‘Neue Folge’ relaunch.  The difference in quality of artwork from Richard Knötel’s original series is obvious.

Whilst working on Grosse Uniformenkunde Knötel also collaborated with Carl Röchling to produce, in 1895, Der Alte Fritz in 50 Bildern fur Jung und Alt (The Old Fritz in 50 pictures for young and old) Paul Kittel, Berlin, 1895.  This must have been a commercial success since in the following year they collaborated on a follow-up Die Königin Luise in 50 Bildern für Jung und Alt. (Queen Louise in 50 pictures for young and old), Paul Kittel, Berlin 1896.  This latter is attributed to Carl Röchling alone although many plates are by Knötel.  Reprints of both of these are again widely available although originals can fetch up to £700!  Throughout the period he also produced several other studies of uniforms of Germany, Prussia and the German states pre 1871 as well as battle scenes.

For more on this one see The Army of the Kingdom of Italy 1805-1814: Stephen Ede-Borrett.  Helion & Co, Warwick 2022, pp 42-43, 113, 142-144. Click Here

There is a great deal of confusion between the work of Richard and his son Herbert; Herbert is frequently credited with Richard’s work and Richard is sometimes credited with Herbert’s.  To compound the confusion, it is worth noting that the famous Handbuch Der Uniformenkunde was originally published by Richard in 1896 but an ‘updated’ edition was published by Herbert in 1937.  Handbuch…, or Uniforms of the World as the English translation is titled, is a ‘must’ for anyone interested in military uniforms and has gone through a number of reprints (not editions since there have been no changes) and still remains widely available.  The reprints incidentally are always of the 1937 Edition not of Richard’s 1896 original.
IX 26 – Plate No.26 from volume IX of Grosse Uniformenkunde

Footnote, Herbert Knötel:

In 1936 Richard’s son Herbert (1893-1963) attempted to continue Grosse Uniformenkunde with the subtitle ‘Neue Folge’ and a Volume 19 appeared, based at least partly, on Richard’s researches and again containing sixty plates.  Probably as much from war weariness as anything else, although see below regarding artists, this ‘relaunch’ did not succeed; when Volume 20 was published in 1937 it contained only eighteen plates and no further volumes ever appeared.  These latter two volumes are, probably because of the lack of uptake, the rarest of the volumes to find plates from and, oddly, have never been reprinted. 

It is worth noting that whereas the first eighteen volumes were drawn and painted exclusively by Richard Knötel, the Neue Folge had plates by Herbert Knötel and no less than ten other artists including Henri Boisselier and Fritz Kredel.  The quality of artwork in the Neue Folge is, with some exceptions, not of the quality of Richard Knötel’s original volumes (Herbert himself is, imo, nowhere near as good an artist as his father), and this may also have contributed to the relaunch’s failure. 

Example of the notes published from Volume 3 – these rarely survive. At least partly because the sets are often broken up and sold individually (For what it is worth this is similar to the reason that the notes to Rene North’s sets of ‘Paint Your Own Cards’ are even rarer that the cards themselves – see Blog entry for ‘Rene North’)

It is worth noting that whereas the first eighteen volumes were drawn and painted exclusively by Richard Knötel, the Neue Folge had plates by Herbert Knötel and no less than ten other artists including Henri Boisselier and Fritz Kredel.  The quality of artwork in the Neue Folge is, with some exceptions, not of the quality of Richard Knötel’s original volumes (Herbert himself is, imo, nowhere near as good an artist as his father), and this may also have contributed to the relaunch’s failure. 

Richard Knötel’s signature from a letter of 1912
For those interested here is a complete listing of all of the first XVIII volumes of plates.  The list is in English but, of course, the plates themselves are titled in German.