Book Review: Wellington's History of the Peninsular War: Battling Napoleon in Iberia 1808-1814


by Stuart Reid

Barnsley, Eng.: Frontline Books / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2019. Pp. xx, 304+. Illus., maps, tables, appends., notes, biblio. $39.95. ISBN: 1526737639

Wellington’s Reports from the Peninsula

This book has an interesting genealogy. The Duke of Wellington never actually wrote a history of the Peninsular War, indeed he refused to do so. But during the war churned out a lot what we today call “after-action reports” and several campaign summaries. Reid, who has written a good many works on military history from the seventeenth through the early nineteenth centuries, has taken these, edited them together with additional material to cover gaps in the ducal reports, added annotations and commentary, and in effect produced what is essentially Wellington’s view of the war in Spain and Portugal.

Wellington writes in a very clear, analytical style, albeit within the framework of the usage of the times. In reading this, we get an interesting look at the war as it unfolded, by the British theatre commander, who not only had to cope with his enemies, the French, but also with his Portuguese and Spanish allies, and his friends, foes, and rivals back home in Britain.

There’s perhaps less battle in this than some readers may desire. But there’s a great deal that reveals Wellington as strategist, at times giving a summary the state of the war in a few brief paragraphs, often revealing the considerable skills of his intelligence service and his own analytical abilities. We see the reasoning behind many of his decisions, his suggestions to his superiors about the conduct of the war, future operations or contingencies and so forth.

Naturally, since these writings were for his political and military bosses, we probably don’t get Wellington’s innermost opinions about some matters. However, he is quite fair in his treatment of the often denigrated Portuguese and Spanish forces, recognizing the limitations under which they had to operate, which are rarely mentioned in most books about the war.

The principal flaw in the work is that Reid should have included some material that reveals Wellington’s great skill at logistics, perhaps his greatest advantage in a campaign that saw his troops almost always well-fed, while the French were often on short rations. Despite that, Wellington’s History of the Peninsular War is a valuable read for anyone interested in the Peninsular War or the era of the “French Wars”.


Note: Battling Napoleon in Iberia is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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