British Soldiers and the Legend of Napoleon

TitleBritish Soldiers and the Legend of Napoleon
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsDaly, Gavin
JournalHistorical Journal
Pagination131 - 153
Date Published2018/03//

Investigating the letters, diaries, and memoirs of British officers and enlisted men from the Napoleonic Wars, this article explores the hitherto neglected subject of British soldiers’ perceptions of Napoleon. Soldiers often formed mixed and ambivalent views on Napoleon. At one level, this corresponds with a range of attitudes within Britain, highlighting the important connections between soldiers and domestic culture. Yet these views also reveal what soldiers as a distinct cohort prioritized about Napoleon, and how these perceptions evolved over time. They also reveal tensions and divisions within the army itself, and shed light on British soldiers and patriotism. And finally, they add to our understanding of soldiers’ writing practices, especially their cultural context and the differences between wartime writing and memoirs. A diverse and shifting set of cultural frameworks and lived experiences shaped soldiers’ writings on Napoleon – from the Black Legend and Napoleonic Legend, to the Enlightenment and Romanticism; and from Spain and its battlefields to Restoration Paris and post-Waterloo Britain. Tracing the evolution of British soldiers’ perceptions of Napoleon from the outbreak of the Peninsular War in 1808 to the mid-nineteenth century reveals a growing admiration of Napoleon and the increasing hold of the Napoleonic Legend.

Short TitleHistorical Journal