by Steve Brown
London: Frontline Books / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2018. Pp. xxiv, 382+.
Illus., map, tables, appends, notes., biblio., index. $42.95. ISBN: 1526742691
When “The Grand Old Duke of York” Went to War
In his first book Brown, an independent researcher who maintains the excellent website “British Regiments and the Men Who Led Them, 1793-1815”, takes a deep look at perhaps the most ignored campaign of the “French Wars”, the unsuccessful Anglo-Allied campaign in Flanders during the War of the First Coalition.
Brown marshals the evidence to explain the Coalition failure, against the supposedly motley armies of Revolutionary France, to conquer Flanders. Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany commanded a corps composed of troops from Britain, Hanover, and Hesse-Cassel, in a coalition army that also included Dutch, Austrian, and Prussian contingents, plus forces from several realms of the Holy Roman Empire, all under an Austrian commander. This “army” lacked unity of organization, discipline, tactics, equipment, and specific objectives, not to mention language; inter-allied business had to be conducted in French! Initially rather successful, a combination of innovative French tactics, political in-fighting, logistical mis-management, and personality clashes, led to a humiliating allied defeat.
For the British, the long term result was reform. These reforms, overseen by the Duke, what was soon named Commander-in-Chief, helped create the army that the later Duke of Wellington would lead, though they could not erase the Duke’s reputation for ineptitude embodied in the humiliating poem “The Grand Old Duke of York”. The other Allied powers proved less willing to learn, requiring several more beatings in the field before adopting reforms.
While telling this story, Brown sets the events firmly within the history of the period, gives us an education in the military practice and institutions of the day, and offers mini-biographies of many people who were famous at the time or later played important roles in the wars.
The Duke of York’s Flanders Campaign is a valuable read for anyone interested in the French Wars.
Note: The Duke of York’s Flanders Campaign is also available in several e-editions.
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