Napoleon's Marshals: Boney's Boys in Spain. In the first of two episodes looking at Napoleon's most senior commanders who served during the Peninsular War, I speak to Josh Provan from Adventures In Historyland about the careers of Soult, Massena, Victor and Ney. https://anchor.fm/the-napoleonicist/episodes/Napoleons-Marshals-Boneys-Boys-in-Spain---Part-1-emt3ck
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As this was the first episode of the podcast I really listened to, I had wanted to give a detailled comment on the podcast in general, but I realized it would not be fair. The way I see it, the aim of the podcast was to discuss the military merit of these four marshals during their time in Spain, and to rate their actions in some of the battles. Which is fine I guess, it's just not my thing.
It was my impression that the podcast (or at least this episode) is directed at an audience that already knows a whole lot about the war on the Iberian Peninsula, and particularly about the British troops there, as names of people and places are often dropped in passing. And I'm sorry, I really do not know who that one guy is who told his men to regain those heights so the rest of the troops could retreat into some city...
In fact, I was a little disappointed that so much time of a podcast that supposedly should introduce the feats of French marshals was spent on discussing the feats and respective merit of British troops. And when, in discussing a battle, there's a phrase like "oh, I believe Jourdan was there, too, wasn't he chief-of-staff or something", then this just does not reflect well on the podcast as such because it makes me think that there just is not much interest in what went on on the French side (that actually should have been the focus of the episode).
Also, I could have done without generalising and derogatory comments like "scoundrel" for Masséna and "looter" for Soult, at least not without anything to back it up. However, I would have loved to learn more about what they actually did in Spain (except inevitably loosing to the oh-so-glorified British army, that much was made abundantly clear). Like, I know Soult governed Andalusia for two years? As a matter of facts, he barely spent any time in France ever since he had marched out of the camp de Boulogne in 1805. He also had governed one of the Prussian provinces after the Fourth Coalition War. And by the way, no, Soult was not "the son of the village baker". His father had been a notary and had died while Soult was still a child. (There is an anecdote that Soult at some point had wanted to become a baker though.) As to him being especially ready to "switch coats" with regards to different governments, that's equally wrong. And why ishe singled out like that?
In general I would have loved to learn more about the marshals' personality. Who were these men? Were they talkative, taciturn, sociable, friends with their subordinates etc.? What’s their background? What features did they have off the battlefield? What was their political attitude? What about their families? And how do we know all this? - But I understand that's just not the focus of the podcast.
Looking back: I guess this comment has gotten rather detailed after all. 😁 Sorry about that.
Back to Ney again, he was much more than an ex cavalryman, his handling of his corps in the 1805 campaign was superb and along with Dupont, they were the only ones who blocked a possible brake out of the Austrians at the left bank of the Danube, while Nabulieone (mis)judged them to do that at the Lech area.
Also his instructions - look at his military studies written for the use of his officers - available on google and you will see an officer who knows about what he was speaking about.
Now - did Ney change over the years, most likely - yes - his initiative as well as independent thinking was curbed by Nabulieone.
About Ney at Belle Alliance, remember he did not know about the Prussians, in case they would not have turned up - or turned up 3 hours later, all praise would have been heaped upon how the battle was fought, despite only a frontal one.
Breaking square with cavalry, happened numerous times, it was not a rarity - it all depended on timing and in what state of morale the infantry was.
Just also read Andrew W. Field, the French perspective, at least some of the French cavalrymen regarded their attacks not without any success.
Again another very worthwhile effort and I admit I became a committed fan of the Napoleonicist - to obtain an insight of the views of a lot of historians.
Warning - nit picking
I would appreciate at least some effort to pronounce foreign names, like Friedland, pronounced Frideland instead of Freedland, a German ie - is pronounced like an ee like in Greek and an ei is like as in I so Freedland.
The Duke of Elchingen, was Ney, and not of 1809 fame but of 1805 - most likely it was Masséna the Prince de Essling, Duke de Rivoli.
As to Victor, very difficult to access, he took over of Bernadotte's corps when Bernadotte was wounded in 1807, in case that wouldn't have happened - would he ever become a corps commander or a marshal?
And again to be a nit pick - the French fighting the British in the Peninsula - really, I always thought they were fighting the Portuguese and Spanish - who were helped by the British - without those the Brits would not even had a chance to survive a month against the French and her Allies.
Even in case Wellington's Peninsular Army was beaten - the French and Allies would have had the difficult task to occupy a completely hostile Spain - unless you take the way of Suchet.