Friday, 16 April 2010
Book: Where did that regiment go?
First the author's apologies for the delay in adding articles. Initially I hoped to publish two to three articles a week, but due to other commitments I am happy to reach that number each month.
This time the topic will not be an obscure piece of lineage. Instead, a fairly new book will be subject of discussion:
Where did that regiment go? The lineage of British infantry and cavalry regiments at a glance by Gerry Murphy, and published in 2009 by Spellmount.
The title is promising, and the front cover looks impressive with the Household Cavalry. The main reason for buying this book was the author's interest in reading a recent lineage book, and seeing how it was dealt with. And perhaps something new might pop-up of course. The discussion relates of course only to the early part of the British Army, i.e., the period until 1714.
However, the book proved to be a minor disappointment at least. Whereas the title is boasting about the book's contents, and the back covers reads '... one indispensable volume.', the book is certainly not for those who are studying British regimental lineages seriously. (The comment by the regimental secretary of the Royal Irish Regiments make the author think he didn't read the book at all...)
To start with, the serious works are missing from the list of literature! There is no reference to the lineage bible written by Frederick in 1984; other books seem to be of the coffee table variety. They can be nice, no doubt about that, and full of details and anecdotes. But omitting Frederick is very serious.
Then to the contents. First there is the mistake that the future 19th and 20th Foot (Green Howards and Lancashire Fusiliers, respectively) were raised by James II. This mistake is seen often unfortunately. Next the author (Murphy) is wrong about the countries that made up the Grand Alliance against Louis XIV in 1689. Why listing Russia, but omitting such important members as the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the Elector of Brandenburg?
Further the author writes that the British were defeated at Landen, where it was the Allied Army that was defeated, consisting of an amalgam of regiments. Here the author implicitly blames William III for not having Marlborough in command. That Marlborough's loyalties were at least debatable is omitted. Also, there were far more experiences continental generals.
And it goes on. In 1697 Louis XIV accepted William and Mary as rulers of Britain. Didn't Mary die earlier in 1694? About the disbandment of the army after the Treaty of Rijswijk, Murphy omits the debates on the standing army. Also the events surrounding the death of James II, the self-proclamation by James III as king and the support Louis XIV gave the latter is blurred. The Act of Settlement for ensuring a protestant line of succession to the British throne is also forgotten. Finally, the Treaty of Utrecht is apparently from 1715, and not from 1713 as I always thought ...
So, while I only read the parts related to the Stuarts, I cannot feel but irritated because of the many (small) errors made by the author. Errors that were not necessary with a little bit of research. Now, because of these errors the book made a very conservative and insular impression. Must in the same manner other British historians wrote about the War of the Spanish Succession for example, fought by Marlborough himself and British regiments (almost) only. In 2010, I think that this is not how a military historian should treat events. It is perfectly correct to write about a single army alone, but it is very sad that the same insular view is maintained witnessed in so many other books.
As a final judgment, the book might be nice for those with little knowledge about the British Army and its regiments, and the book it quite full of anecdotes and little details. The author certainly deserved credits for that!
But given the pretentious title of the book, and the mistakes I found while reading a small part, I would not recommend this book to anyone studying the British regiments seriously and looking for context, perspective and nuance. On the coffee table the book would do fine, and the tables the author compiled can be very handy. But for the serious library the book is just not good enough in my opinion.