Wellington’s Favourite Engineer?

Since we announced our latest book, several people, have questioned the choice of title. Can we truly say that John Fox Burgoyne was Wellington’s favourite? If so, why him and not other deserving Royal Engineer officers such as Richard Fletcher? Author Mark Thompson explains why he believes Burgoyne to have had pride of place in Wellington’s esteem.

Of course, no-one will ever know for certain. Wellington did not say it, but a look at Burgoyne’s service with the Duke will make such a claim reasonable and explain why I have said this about him and not the senior engineer for most of the war, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Fletcher. Apart from one brief absence, Richard Fletcher was the Commanding Royal Engineer under Wellington from 1809 until his death in September 1813. From reading the correspondence over the period, I would describe Fletcher’s relationship with Wellington as professional rather than warm. Over the duration of the war, Wellington came to respect Fletcher’s advice even when he did not follow it. Fletcher was probably one of the few officers who could ‘speak truth unto power’ to their leader and stay in his role.  As the war continued the relationship appeared to become strained, particularly after the difficulties in the sieges of 1811 and 1812. One scurrilous account suggested that Wellington left Fletcher at Badajoz to make the repairs in 1812 because he blamed him for the high casualties (I do not believe it).  Similarly, Fletcher did not appear to have a friendly relationship with his engineer subordinates. He was a great organiser rather than a great leader.

Burgoyne, on the other hand, was generally well liked and had built close and friendly relationships with most of his fellow engineers who served with him in the Peninsula. Burgoyne had also met several Peninsular generals including John Moore and Thomas Graham and was well respected by them. When Burgoyne first came into contact with Wellington he would have come with positive reviews.  In 1809 Burgoyne was ordered by Wellington to carry out comprehensive surveys of the Douro river and the northern border which.  Later in the year he was the only engineer who was with the army for several months when all others were ordered to Lisbon to start work on the Lines of Torres Vedras. This remained the case until mid-1810 when Fletcher re-joined headquarters. Burgoyne would have seen Wellington regularly through this period and was heavily involved in the preparations for the French invasion, surveying potential routes, mining bridges, preparing fort conception and identifying defensive positions all of which would have required close liaison with his commander.

The incident during the action at El Bodon in 1811 where Burgoyne was ordered to stay with a threatened Portuguese regiment (described in detail in the book) showed Wellington’s confidence in Burgoyne, and willingness to use him in non-engineering roles.

Burgoyne then took senior roles at the sieges of Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo but avoided the flak that the chief engineer received. When Fletcher remained at Badajoz in 1812, Burgoyne commanded the engineers with the army even though there was another senior engineer in the Peninsula. He carried out another detailed survey of the Douro which would have been in preparation for the advance in 1813 although he would not have known that at the time. The challenges of the Salamanca forts and the failed siege at Burgos did not appear to impact Wellington’s view of Burgoyne.

On the death of Fletcher at San Sebastian in 1813, Burgoyne took over temporary command again. There were two senior engineer officers in the Peninsula at the time and Wellington did not order either up to the army (one was only 40 miles away).  It was almost certain that Wellington was involved in the decision to appoint Burgoyne to the American expedition of 1814.

Burgoyne’s relationship with Wellington did not finish with the end of the war. Wellington was Master General of the Ordnance from 1819-1827 and is likely to have had direct contact with Burgoyne who was commanding engineer for the Medway District, based at Chatham. Burgoyne was selected to be chief engineer of the expedition to Portugal in 1826 and Wellington would have approved this appointment. In 1831 Burgoyne was appointed to the Board of Public Works in Ireland and his work in that country will not have escaped the attention of the Duke.  Burgoyne’s later civil duties across the nation meant he would have been in contact with ministers during the period that Wellington was in the government. One wonders if Wellington had a hand in some of these appointments.

The claim that Burgoyne was (possibly) Wellingtons Favourite Engineer is based on his regular use of this officer when others could have been used. Wellington clearly had great confidence in him and was happy to use him in the absence of senior engineer officers and sometimes over other army officers. No other senior engineer officer served as long under Wellington during the Peninsular War and survived. This relationship built in war would endure for another thirty years in peace.

What’s Forthcoming in our From Reason to Revolution series

By Series Editor Dr Andrew Bamford

The year 2020 sees a number of new developments as the From Reason to Revolution series continues to grow. Some of our new releases follow on from themes already developed within the series and will complement existing titles on such topics as the Seven Years War, American War of Independence, French Revolutionary Wars, and Napoleonic Wars. We are also continuing our expansion into maritime history with several titles focusing on naval actions across the era. Fans of uniform books will welcome a new study of Austrian cavalry 1792-1815 by Enrico Acerbi and Andras Molnar, sumptuously illustrated by Bruno Mugnai, as well as the second volume of David Wilson’s heavily-illustrated trilogy on the Danish army in the Napoleonic Wars.

2020 also marks the 275th anniversary of the tumultuous events of 1745 which saw the last pitched battles fought on British soil, and we will be marking this with a number of titles and events. The French victory at Fontenoy in May 1745 helped set the scene for the Jacobite Rising that began in the autumn and will be covered in the first volume of Mike McNally’s two-part study of Maurice de Saxe’s conquest of the Netherlands; the second volume, due for 2021, will cover the lesser-known battles of Rocoux and Lauffeld. Moving on to the Jacobite Rising itself, the prolific Jonathan Oates takes a look at the sieges of the ’45, an aspect often forgotten in favour of the dramatic battles, but of crucial importance. In the past, we have published several titles looking at aspects of the Jacobite forces so we now look to redress the balance by looking at the soldiers who opposed them. Peter Brown’s general study of the Army of George II, beautifully illustrated by Patrice Courcelle, covers the whole of that monarch’s reign, from 1727 to 1760, whilst series editor Andrew Bamford has brought together a team of contributors to take a more focused look at the forces who opposed the Jacobites, and, in particular, on the troops raised in both England and Scotland specifically to combat the Rising. All of these books will be launched in time for our extra series conference on the ’45 organised in conjunction with the Battle of Prestonpans (1745) Heritage Trust, the British Commission for Military History, and the Society of Army Historical Research. This will take place at Prestonpans itself as part of the 275th commemorations of the Jacobite victory, and will address all aspects of the campaigns of 1745 and 1746. All being well, we hope to have the proceedings of the conference ready to launch in time for the commemorations at Culloden in April 2021.

Moving on to later topics, the end of the year will also see us launch a fascinating study of the Damas Legion, one of the émigré units that fought on in exile against the reign of Terror; co-authored by Alistair Nichols and Hughes de Bazouges, the book’s title, For God and King, sums up the motivation of these men. Moving into the Napoleonic era, we will be using our illustrated Falconet format to take a more focussed look at some of the smaller actions of the Peninsular War, beginning with a study by Garry Wills of the 1812 Battle of Villamuriel. Garry is a veteran wargamer, and his book includes details of how this important rear-guard action can be recreated on the tabletop. Finally, we also continue to cater for naval enthusiasts, with Quintin Barry writing on the 1781 Battle of the Chesapeake and Paul Martinovich delivering a biography of Sir Pulteney Malcolm.

And the War Goes On: William III’s Ongoing War with Louis XIV of France

By Mark Shearwood

Following the events of the Glorious Revolution and the departure of King James II to France (22 December 1688), William’s obligations between the governance of England and his commitments on the continent became increasingly complex. The League of Augsburg was signed in August 1685 between the Prince of Orange, the Elector of Brandenburg, German Southern Princes, The Holy Roman Emperor and Spain, with Charles XI of Sweden becoming a signatory in 1686.[1] The invasion force assembled by William during autumn of 1688 necessitated the movement of troops within Europe and the withdrawal of regiments to support William’s attempt on the throne.[2] These arrangements including the transfer of 6,000 Swedish troops to replace troops being withdrawn from Germany for the invasion in line with the trinational treaty of 1683.[3] By early 1689 the pressures both diplomatic, and militarily on William to increase his forces in Flanders was yielding results. The following regiments from the English establishment were ordered to sail for Holland, the figures are for private soldiers and were the establishment strength and not the actual strength of each regiment:[4]

Second Troop of Horse Guards & Horse Grenadiers                          256 men

Royal Regiment of Horse                                                                               450 men

Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards                                                      1360 men

Royal Regiment of Foot                                                                                 1360 men

Regiment of Scott’s Guards                                                                          1106 men

Royal Regiment of Fusiliers                                                                          780 men

Prince George of Denmark’s Regiment of Foot                                    780 men

Colonel Churchill’s Regiment of Foot                                                       780 men

Colonel John Hales’s Regiment of Foot                                                    780 men

Sir David Colieaves Regiment of Foot                                                       780 men

Colonel Hodges Regiment of Foot                                                             780 men

Colonel Fitzpatrick’s Regiment of Foot                                                    780 men

Colonel O’Farrell’s Regiment of Foot                                                        780 men

William received a letter from the Prince of Waldeck[5] on the 14 April 1689 from the Prince of Waldeck. As well as giving details of the war between Denmark and Sweden and a probable invasion of Prussia by Poland, the Prince inquired as to the names of the English colonels commanding the regiments being sent and the proper strength of each regiment.[6] The letter also contained copes of communications that the Prince of Waldeck had received, these will form the bulk of this post in the hope that they will highlight the pressures on William III to expand his forces in Europe.[7]

[The] Count de Flodrop has notifies that it is impossible to hold Huy[8] with a less force that a corps d’armeé, which cannot be spared. The Marquis de Castanaga asks for aid and would dispose of the States’ forces, more according to his own theories than to reason. Count de Horn was ordered to concert with him to form a small company of cavalry and some of the States’ infantry for the protection of Ghent. Meanwhile, two battalions have been sent to Bruges. General Schoning desires to strengthen his forces by detaching troops from the regiments at Nimuegen [Nijmegen] sent from Zauten. This is contrary to a previous agreement. On both sides. There seems to be a desire to make the Prince [King William III] responsible for any mishap that may be experienced. The Prince has left the battalions for the security of Cologne. He has joined to general Schoning six battalions, with seven regiments of cavalry belonging to the troops in the States’ pay, under the command of Mons. de Schlangenberg, and three regiments of cavalry and one of dragoons under Mons. de Alva, and has also formed a corps d’armeé of the troops of Erffa, Wurtemburg, Bouregard, and Baye, with Colonel Franck’s dragoons and those of Hesse, to hold the line of the Demer against the enemy until a plan of attack can be found. It is therefore possible for the Prince to let General Schoning have his way. The panic before the fort of the bridge of Bonne seems to show that matters are badly managed at Cologne as elsewhere. Pensioner Heinsius has done his best to assist the Prince, who, without his prudent conduct, would have been left without artillery.[9] The Prince did not find at Breda the artillery waggons, horses and stores, &c expected. He s also in great want of money; he has only received half od the 10,000 livres promised him by the King for secret correspondence, and that is already expended.

The arrival of further troops from England is awaited with anxiety, the numbers of these already arrived is very small, with Mr Douglas’ Regiment (600 men) Lord Churchill’s (400 men) Mr Le Tolmisch’s, commanded by Count Silvins (400 men)  and Holschers (400 men) are arrived, and no more. The Prince would like to know by whom the muster of these troops should be made, as he has no exact list. To Mons. Hopp, the Prince replied that the King of England is readier to act for the public weal than it is though at Vienna.

The numbers of men quoted as arrived on the continent shows the disparity between the paper strength of a regiment and the actual strength. Colonel Churchill’s regiment has a theoretical paper strength of 780 private soldiers, arrived in Europe at just over half strength. The Scottish Regiment of Foot Guards commanded by Lt-General Douglass should have had arrived with 1,106 private soldiers instead of the 600 that actually arrived. Mr le Tolmisch is referring to Brigadier Thomas Talmash [Tollemache] who was the colonel of the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards. [10]

The following is an extract from a letter from the Marquis de Castanaga to the Prince of Waldeck sent from Brussels and dated 21 April 1689 [11 April according to the English calendar]:[11]

… Hostilities may begin at once. It is of the utmost importance that all the troops of the States should advance at once on Liège, where the Marquis d’Humieres is collecting a corps d’armeé. I am much vexed to hear that your troops have abandoned Huy, which is the proper place at which to await the enemy. The King informed me that bodies of troops would be sent to Ghent and Bruges to protect those places and Dutch Flanders. You will have had like instructions and I trust will carry them out speedily.

The Prince of Waldeck received a communication from Mons. Hopp in Vienna on the 1 April, giving a account of conditions within the Habsburg Empire.

It is to be feared that the Elector of Bavaria may take amiss the appointment of the Duke of Lorrain to the command of the Imperial army, as he has written to the Emperor saying that he would not be employed to look after the baggage, and desired employment worthy of his reputation. The Pope has given King James a pension of 100,000 crowns. Everyoe here is very eager to hear that King William has declared war against France; this court will not formally recognise his title until that is done, and should “Milord Paget” arrive here earlier he may meet with some coolness.

Lord Paget was William’s ambassador to the Habsburg Empire. Despite the seeming frosty relationship between William III and the Habsburg Empire, William had been in constant communication with Emperor Leopold I since before the events of 1688. He had arranged for 1,500 troops to be transferred from the English establishment to the Imperial army. These troops were the remnants of the four Irish battalions brought over to England by James II in September 1688 and were currently being held on the Isle of Wight. The contract had originally stated 2,00 troops but due to desertion and illness, only some 1,500 were ready for transport at the beginning of April 1689.[12]

Inmane van Huy 1694 [Taking Huy, 1694]
Anonymous print published by Laurens Scherm. Amsterdam 1695 © Rijksmuseum NL
Gevechten bij Walcourt, 1689 [Fight at Walcourts, 1689]
Image of the bloody battle on 25 August 1689, between the Prince of Waldek, and the Marshal de Humiers, by the village of Walcourt, in the province of Naamen
Anonymous print published by Jacobus Robijn, Amsterdam 1689 © Rijksmuseum NL

About the Author

Mark Shearwood is a second year PhD Researcher at the University of Leeds, whose research is on ‘The Catholic ‘other’ in the army of James II and William III’ and is looking at the English army’s transition from the pseudo ‘Catholic’ army of James II to the ‘Protestant’ army of William III. He hols a Masters’ degree in War and Strategy from the University of Leeds and a Bachelors in Leadership and Management from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

The Author’s first book, The Perfection of Military Discipline: The Plug Bayonet and the English Army 1660-1705 has just been published by Helion. The book looks at the implementation of the plug bayonet within the English army and the effect that it had on infantry tactics. During the period that the work covers 1660-1705, there were a number of significant advances in military equipment and the author places these within their historical context. The book exposes some of the myths surrounding the replacement of matchlock muskets with flintlocks, as well the use of pikes during the late 17th century.

The author is currently working on his second book for Helion, The Great Northern War 1700-1721: A Wargamer’s Guide, for Helion’s new Wargames series, which should be out before the end of the year.


[1] B Cox, King William’s European Joint Venture. Assen: Van Gorcum & Co. and Lynn, J. 1999. The Wars of Louis XIV 1667-1714. London: Longman, 1995)

[2] This article does not intend to look at the validity or otherwise of the Glorious Revolution, for a fuller account of the coalition that William built to facilitate the Glorious Revolution see Shearwood, M, ‘William of Orange and the Glorious Revolution’ Arquebusier, Journal of the Pike and Shot Society, 35.6 (2018) 26-35.

[3] The trinational treaty between the Habsburg Empire, Sweden and the United Provences of 1683 included a condition that each party pledged 6,000 troops for their mutual defence against France. S Oakley, William III and the Northern Crowns During the Nine Years War 1689-1697. (London: Garland Publishing, 1987). p.31. and Robert Hall, Uniforms and Flags of the Armies of Hanover, Celle and Brunswick 1670-1715. (Romford: pike and Shot Society, 2016) p.7

[4] British Library, Add MS 15897 Hyde Papers, Pensions and Establishment, fol. 88.

[5] The Principality of Waldeck was a state of the Holy Roman Empire and is today within the German territory of Hesse and Lower Saxony.

[6] William, Hardy, ed. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of William and Mary: 1689-1690 (London: HMSO, 1895) p.62.

[7] National Archives, SP8/5 King William’s Chest, fols. 18-20.

[8] Huy is in the Walloon region of Belgium.

[9] Anthonie Heinsius, was a councillor pensionary of Holland was one of William III’s leading Dutch advisors, E, Mijers and D, Onnekink, ed, Redefining William III: The Impact of the King-Stadholder in International Context (London: Routledge, 2016) pp. 4, 31-34.

[10] J, Childs, The Nine Years’ war and the British Army 1688-97: The Operations in the Low Countries (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991) p.122.

[11] N.A, SP8/5 King William’s Chest, fols. 18-20

[12] The study of these troops forms a major part of my PhD research.