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Posted on Jun 19, 2008 in Books and Movies

The Wars Against Napoleon – Book Review

By John Tarttelin

The Wars Against Napoleon: Debunking the Myth of the Napoleonic Wars, by General Michel Franceschi and Ben Weider. Savas Beatie, 2008. 264 pages, 32 color photos, illustrations & maps. Hardback. $32.95.

Especially telling are the references to the British press and Opposition in 1815 who said then that the war of that year against Napoleon was totally unjustified.

Napoleon was a despot whose megalomania triggered wars that filled Europe’s cemeteries and reduced towns to ashes across the continent.

That’s the popular and rarely contested view of the most famous conqueror of his era, but a new book re-examines the evidence and comes to very different conclusions. John Tarttelin’s review of that book, The Wars Against Napoleon: Debunking the myth of the Napoleonic Wars, appears below.


The greatest threat to peace in Europe in the early nineteenth century was the British Cabinet. With its millions in subsidies it fought a mainly proxy war against France before Napoleon, and France under Napoleon. It was other countries that basically did the dying for British ends. England had been fighting France for decades and, still smarting over the loss of the American colonies, who won their freedom with crucial French backing, the last thing it wanted was for ideas of freedom and equality to spread amongst its own down-trodden people. The British population was held in contempt by its autocratic, aristocratic, oligarchic masters. The French Revolution was a match hovering over the keg of liberty and the British Cabinet was determined to put it out.

Napoleon solidified the gains of the Revolution. He was the only one strong enough and pragmatic enough to heal the wounds of French society and under him France became a serious player in the field of international relations once again. The ancient monarchies were terrified that under his leadership, the liberalisation fostered by revolutionary ideas would spread to their own realms. Hence they pocketed the English bribes and fostered a series of coalitions that were to expunge the French leader and all he stood for from the map of Europe.

In their excellent book Michel Franceschi and Ben Weider raise dozens of points, particularly in regard to the diplomacy of the time, that will be a real eye-opener to British readers. Especially telling are the references to the British press and Opposition in 1815 who said then that the war of that year against Napoleon was totally unjustified. And Marie-Louise’s letter to her father, expressing her anguish that he could be contemplating war against his own son-in-law is very revealing – especially as she says the English were probably behind it.

One reviewer has stated sneeringly that the authors blame the loss at Waterloo on a bad thunderstorm. They do not say that: they rightly comment that the French were outnumbered. In fact, although Wellington hung on grimly, it was the arrival of 45,000 Prussians, 7,000 of whom died at the hands of the Young Guard at Placenoit, that sealed the Emperor’s fate. Not many of those Prussians went to Eton, by the way.

As a reader of dozens of books on this period, I can honestly say that this is the first one I have come across that looks at things from Napoleon’s perspective. Far from being called The Napoleonic Wars, the period 1799-1815 would be better dubbed, The English Mercenary Wars. Five stars!

1 Comment

  1. hi there i would like to purchase the book

    naoleons book of fate.could you please inform me if you have in stock and how much?