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Tag Archives: Peninsular War

For the very last leg of our big European trip this summer, we went to Spain. When I’d originally envisioned this trip, many years ago, I’d thought of myself starting in Portugal and Spain and carefully tracing the Peninsular War path of Wellington’s army before finally ending up at Waterloo just in time for the bicentennial. But this trip couldn’t be ALL about me, and saving Waterloo for last wasn’t an option given my daughter’s school schedule–Seattle Public Schools don’t start till after Labor Day and run fairly deep into June, so as-is she had to miss the last two days.

So the only other of Wellington’s battlefields we made it to was Salamanca, which we chose because we were told it was the best-preserved of the lot (and also because the city of Salamanca itself is well worth visiting). We hired a guide to give us a private tour of the battlefield, almost a necessity because “best-preserved” in this case means “still open farmland and fields.” Unlike any other battlefield I’ve visited (Waterloo, Culloden, Gettysburg), you could easily drive by it without ever knowing two armies had clashed there. Incidentally, I’m not sure the guide EVER fully adjusted to the fact that I rather than my husband was the Wellington geek and military history buff of the family–he kept turning to him to point out some feature or landmark, only to have Mr. Fraser direct him back to me.

(I apologize in advance for the somewhat blurry quality of some of these pictures–this part of the trip was after I shattered the screen of my iPhone and was left taking pictures with my iPad, which being larger was much tougher to hold steady.)

Salamanca

Salamanca is unusual among Wellington’s Peninsular battles in that he took the offense instead of occupying a position and defending it, as at Waterloo. This had more to do with the circumstances than his personality or abilities, IMHO–he recognized that since the French were the invaders and the British were supporting the invaded Portuguese and Spanish, his objective wasn’t so much total victory as forcing the French to keep pouring resources into the Peninsula. Also, he was leading the only army of any size Britain had available, so he was careful to avoid the risks a commander with a larger population base and the power to conscript from it (like, oh, say, Napoleon) might run.

In fact, the Battle of Salamanca began as a British retreat. The British had occupied the town, but were blocked to the north by French Marshal Marmont, who kept getting reinforcements and started to threaten Wellington’s supply lines. He decided to return to Portugal, so his army marched out, shadowed by Marmont’s men marching in parallel. But when he saw that Marmont had overextended his lines, leaving his army vulnerable, he pounced.

In the picture above, the initial British position (the Lesser Arapile) is the hill to the left, while the French occupied the Greater Arapile to the right. Cavalry played a more important role in this battle than in most Peninsular conflicts, and looking at all that wide, grassy country you can see why.

Here we’re standing atop the Greater Arapile, Marmont’s position, looking toward the Lesser Arapile where the British artillery was posted:

Lesser Arapile

And here we’re at the base of the Lesser Arapile, looking up toward the French position:

Greater Arapile

Somehow the fact that the ground is still so open and empty, not clustered with monuments and interpretive information, made it all the easier to imagine scenes like this:

Not only was our visit to Salamanca fascinating, we loved Spain. The week we spent in Madrid and Salamanca was our favorite part of the whole trip. Possibly because we were there in the heat of July, everything was less crowded than in London, Brussels, Paris, or Southwest France. We were able to walk straight into great museums like the Prado and the Reina Sofia without having to wait in line. Everyone was friendly and helpful–though I kept getting in trouble by speaking Spanish just well enough that people expected me to understand it well, too! And the food was amazing.

Churros con chocolate for breakfast:

Churros

For dinner we’d go down to the Plaza Mayor, pick one of the outdoor cafes, and have a nice leisurely dinner listening to strolling musicians and watching the world go by. Around 9:30 or 10:00, it got dark enough that the lights came on to cheers from the crowd:

Plaza Mayor

All around that plaza and Salamanca, there are reliefs of various royal and otherwise important figures from Spanish history. There’s just one Englishman–and possibly just one foreigner–Wellington.

Wellington

If you ever get a chance to go to Spain, jump at it, and make sure you go to Salamanca!

As I think I’ve mentioned here on several occasions, this summer Mr Fraser, our daughter (who turns 11 in two months), and I will be going to Europe this summer, among other things to attend the bicentennial reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo.

We’re going to be there for nearly four weeks, so there will be far more to our trip than just Waterloo. While some of the trip has nothing to do with my Regency research interests–e.g. the five nights we’ll be spending in a cottage in the Dordogne River valley near Sarlat–we’re planning a week in Spain that’s turning into The Frasers’ Excellent Roman Ruins and Peninsular War Battlefield Road Trip Adventure.

I’m still researching the details, but at this point it looks like I’ll get to feed my Wellington obsession at the following sites:

Vitoria, where in June 1813 Wellington trounced Jourdan and the British army captured the French baggage train, laden with treasure Joseph Bonaparte and his courtiers had seized from Madrid–the incident that opens my 2013 novella, A Dream Defiant.

Salamanca, where Wellington, who is primarily regarded as a brilliant defensive general, proved himself pretty damn capable on the attack as well. As Maximilien Foy, one of the French generals there, put it:

“This battle is the most cleverly fought, the largest in scale, the most important in results, of any that the English have won in recent times. It brings up Lord Wellington’s reputation almost to the level of that of Marlborough. Up to this day we knew his prudence, his eye for choosing good positions, and the skill with which he used them. But at Salamanca he has shown himself a great and able master of manoeuvring. He kept his dispositions hidden nearly the whole day: he allowed us to develop our movement before he pronounced his own: he played a close game: he utilized the oblique order in the style of Frederick the Great.”

Badajoz, site of a bloody siege and storming followed by brutal and shameful pillaging in April 1812–and another battled that’s shown up in my writing, in my 2010 debut, The Sergeant’s Lady.

Talavera, the 1809 victory that first raised Wellington to the nobility as a viscount.

And last but very far from least, we’ll end up in Madrid, where we’ll visit the Prado and I’ll be able to see many of Goya’s works, including ones like the above illustrating the horror and brutality of war–something I try my best never to forget even as I write adventurous romances with soldier heroes.

I’m more thrilled than I can say that this trip I’ve been planning and dreaming of for a decade is now just a few short months away, and I can hardly wait to come back with pictures and stories to fill months of blog posts!


Oh, happy days! Sharpe has come to BBC America, Saturday nights at 9 pm, right after one of my favorite shows, Cash in the Attic.

Richard Sharpe, for those of you who may not know, is a fictional soldier in the Napoleonic War, created by Bernard Cornwell in a wonderful series of books, now spanning his early years with Wellington (then Wellesley) in India to beyond Waterloo. Sharpe is a marvelous character and Cornwell does a masterful job of giving us such rich detail about the war, so that you actually feel as if you are there, experiencing it with Sharpe.

The BBC Sharpe is played by Sean Bean, a very sigh-worthy choice.

Here is what Sean Bean’s Sharpe website http://www.shipofdreams.net/seanbean/sharpe/index.htm
says about the BBC series:

“The films are based on the Napoleonic campaign novels, and follow Sharpe and his “Chosen Men” (riflemen who are trusted crack shots). Sharpe has been promoted from the ranks, very unusual in its day, so he has the resentment of the “gentlemen” officers, and also that of the men, who assume he is no better than them. He is promoted after saving Wellington’s life, and is often sent on dangerous missions, along with the Chosen Men, due to his skills and bravery.

In the first film, Sharpe’s Rifles, we are introduced to the Riflemen who will become the Chosen Men, and Sharpe has to forge both respect and friendship with their soon-to-be Sergeant, Patrick Harper. The later films show how cohesive a fighting force these few men become, they think and act as one. The last film to be made was Sharpe’s Waterloo, depicting the great battle.”

I was first introduced to Sharpe through the Chivers Audiobook versions. William Gaminara narrated, and his deep, sexy voice truly enhanced the experience. I can still him say, “Sharpe swore.”

Sean Bean is not the Sharpe I visualized while listening to the audiobooks. In fact, almost all the cast of the BBC version are not the people Cornwall gave to my imagination. Furthermore, I think of the BBC shows as “Sharpe Lite.” The shows meld elements of several of the books into one story, but cannot give the richness of detail that is in the books. Another point–these were not high budget productions, so rather than a cast of thousands, you get a cast of….dozens.

Cornwell also is no romance novelist. His Sharpe is actually quite stupid in love, which is quite frustrating, but even unsatisfying romance elements were not enough to keep me from loving the books, the character, the life of the Napoleonic soldier.

And the Sharpe films, for all their not being the Sharpe of my imagination, are still wonderful. If you don’t get BBC America, you can also rent the Sharpe films from Netflix or purchase them online.

Enjoy!
Diane

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