Book Review: British Liberators in the Age of Napoleon: Volunteering under the Spanish Flag in the Peninsular War


by Graciela Iglesias Rogers

New York & London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. Pp. x, 338. Illus., tables, notes, biblio., index. $130.00. ISBN: 1441135650

British Volunteers in the Spanish Ranks During the Peninsular War

That Britons under Wellington fought in the Peninsular War against Napoleon is well known.  Much less well known is that a number of Britons actually took service in the Spanish Army to battle the French.  This is the tale that Dr. Rogers, a lecturer at Oxford, tells in British Liberators in the Age of Napoleon.  She gives us a study of some 42 Britons, mostly Catholic Scots or Irish with military backgrounds, who served in the Spanish ranks during the Peninsular War.  But she also make a case that, beyond their service in the ranks, these men had an unusual influence on the course of events. 

Rogers opens with some background on the military service of Catholic Britons with foreign powers, mostly Catholic France or Spain, which was technically treason to Protestant Britain.  But when, in 1808, the nationalist uprising sparked by the Napoleonic invasion spread across Spain, word of the movement sparked surprising sympathy in Britain for the “Spanish Cause,” despite deep rooted traditional animosities to both Spain and Catholicism  So supporting Catholic Spain was suddenly popular, and these men volunteered.  Most of these men quickly rose to substantial rank on the strength of battlefield prowess, several becoming generals, and while there could be more about their military service, that's not the point of the book.  These volunteers did more than just lend their martial talents to Spain, for they helped transmit innovative, liberal, and even revolutionary ideas about politics, social mobility, and culture.  Thus, Rogers argues, they helped shape the reformist movement that emerged in Spain during the war leading to the Liberal Constitution of 1812. 

By shedding new light on a neglected aspect of the war makes Rogers’ work important reading for those interested in the Napoleonic era.

Note: British Liberators in the Age of Napoleon is also available in paperback, $49.95, ISBN 978-1-4725-7533-3; as a PDF, $49.99, ISBN 978-1-4411-0374-1; and as an e-Pub, $49.99, ISBN 978-1-4411-9327-6


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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