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© 2019 by Zack White and the NapoleonicWars.net team.

October 4, 2019

The Horrible Histories franchise has always been a masterclass in how to engage people with the past, and inspire them to learn more. The unashamedly tongue-in-cheek approach, and the fixation on the gory and disgusting truths of history has made it an enormously popular book and TV franchise. It’s strong basis in historical fact, and inspired, subtle ways of imparting knowledge through cartoons, staged scenes, songs, and above all comedy, have made it a favourite with the young (and not so young) generations.

Rotten Romans demonstrates much of the brilliance that underpins the phenomenon. Despite being targeted at young children, the film resists the temptation to oversimplify the past, openly confessing that there are disputes between...

January 30, 2019

Gillray’s caricature ‘Whitlock the Second, or another tarnish for British Valour’ has long been recognised as reflecting the distaste of the British public towards the Convention of Cintra, which in many respects dampened civilian excitement with the early phase of the Peninsular War. However, such attitudes were by no means limited to the public. Whilst the letters and diaries of officers show clear engagement with the public mood, the attitudes of the British ranker during the conflict were equally as important, and as inclined to fluctuate.

Bringing together desertion data and primary accounts, this paper seeks to assess the factors influencing the morale of British soldiers during the Peninsular War. It will examine their physical a...

January 15, 2019

In April 2019, I will have the privilege of speaking for the third time at the 7th Wellington Congress at the University of Southampton. As a taster of what is to come, and an update on a topic which continues to fascinate me, take a look at the abstract for my paper below.

The Curious Case of Badajoz: The aftermath of British sieges in the Peninsular War

Attention on the aftermath of the British sieges of the Peninsular War has generally focused upon explaining why the British troops plundered and maltreated the civilian inhabitants of towns which essentially belonged to their Spanish ally. In the process, however, an important question about these episodes remains unanswered, namely what, if anything, was done about this behaviour in o...

September 24, 2018

Spoiler Alert. Warning: This post contains detailed descriptions of parts of ITV’s Vanity Fair Episode 5 focusing on the Battle of Waterloo.

There was considerable excitement on social media as ITV’s hit show Vanity Fair tackled the Battle of Waterloo. A lot was made of the efforts that had gone into ensuring that the depiction was realistic. The extras had apparently gone through rigorous bootcamps to move and march like Napoleonic soldiers, and great attention had been paid to the accuracy of the uniforms. The effect was visually impressive – the drill was crisp, and it would have taken an eagle-eyed attention to detail to identify problems with these elements

The issues instead lay in the fundamentals – places where the drama had been...

September 22, 2018

Hougoumont, The Battlefield of Waterloo

Hougoumont sits 1.2km from the Butte de Lion down an atmospheric sunken lane (though not the lane that existed down to Waterloo). It is possibly the most evocative site on the battlefield.

Considering that just a few years ago the place was a crumbling ruin, the restoration work carried out by Project Hougoumont is spectacular. The barn has been rebuilt, the walls strengthened, and a new gate hung at the site where McDonnell and his men famously closed the gate to cut off the French who had gained access to the courtyard. A fitting and visually impressive memorial to this event, (depicting men in the act of closing the gate) stands opposite it.

Very little of the old chateau itself remains. Only the...

September 20, 2018

This post is based on notes made during my recent visit to the Waterloo battlefields. Amongst my notes were a series of reflections on the various museums dedicated to the events of the Waterloo campaign. This post represents a synthesis on the most well known of those museums: Memorial 1815.

The Memorial 1815 Museum, The Battlefield of Waterloo

This museum was not what I expected. An entirely new underground complex was built for the bi-centenary (discovering in the process the skeleton of a Hanoverian soldier buried alone). For those with little knowledge of the Napoleonic era, the museum is extremely effective at setting Waterloo in context (both historically and in terms of legacy). To a large extent, this centres around an audio gui...

September 19, 2018

This post was written on the final morning of my recent 4 day tour of the battlefields of the Waterloo campaign, as I reflected on the enormity of what unfolded in the landscape around me.

Friday 7th September 2018. Dawn.

The Battlefield of Waterloo

It is a grey dawn.

As I sit beside Picton’s memorial, by the Mont St Jean crossroads, a thin grey mist envelopes the landscape. Plancenoit and Papelotte are vague smudges of grey and white, barely discernible in the distance.

It is cold. Behind me, the Brussels highway bustles with activity, but is a different sound to the one that filled this place at dawn on the 18th June 1815. It is a mechanical sound, of motors  and hurrying traffic, not the organic one of crackling fires, and muttered conve...

September 17, 2018

The following post was written on the third day of my recent tour of the battlefields of Waterloo, and marks a point, towards the end of my tour, when I paused to remember the Waterloo dead.

Thursday 6th September 2018, 18:55.

The Battlefield of Waterloo

I am sat about 400 yards North West of La Haye Sainte, on what was once the edge of the sunken road which marked the front of the Allied right flank. This part of the battlefield is the most changed since 1815, with the soil having been scooped from the fields to my front in order to form the Butte de Lion which towers over me on my right hand side.

I have just come from Plancenoit Church, where I have lit a candle to the dead of the Waterloo campaign. Although I had initially planned to d...

July 16, 2018

There has been controversy recently in the world of military history.

A well-known, and respected, commentator on military history (who I won’t name out of courtesy) has remarked that military history is being colonised by young researchers who have no experience of conflict.

It is easy for young researchers to be annoyed at what is essentially a deeply patronising slur against their collective intelligence and competence. Truth be told though, being upset by such a remark is as unhelpful as the comment itself.

The suggestion is, of course, deeply flawed. The implication is that only those who have experienced military training, and served in the armed forces, have the necessary qualifications to comment on military history. By extension...

June 14, 2018

It is often the case in research that important clues about a system are found in unremarkable places. Below is an edited version of a court martial proceedings for a Regimental Court Martial. On the face of things this all seems pretty mundane. It is a relatively straightforward case, in which a sergeant is tried for behaving disrespectfully towards an officer.

There are however, a number of things here which shed light onto how the military-legal process worked during the Napoleonic era. Firstly, this is a copy of the proceedings of a regimental court martial, which in itself is rare. I found it tucked away inside the proceedings of a General Court Martial, as it formed a piece of evidence for a different trial.

More crucially though t...

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Zack White

PhD History Researcher and Teacher


Zack is PhD History student and Masters Graduate, working at the University of Southampton.

His experience as a successful and respected secondary school history teacher has made him a passionate advocate of making the past accessible and engaging to the public.

Zack's special area of expertise is the Peninsular War (1808-14), and he is particularly enthusiastic about impact of war on both soldiers and civilians. He is currently writing his first book on Discipline and Punishment of soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars.

Find out more about Zack's work by exploring his blog, and clicking the 'ABOUT' link.


September 24, 2018

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