Where Did All Those Young Men Go? British Wars

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A British Officer and Private circa 1812

Why are military men so prevalent in historical fiction, and in the contemporary  fiction of the 18th and 19th centuries. I had the thought of explaining the wars so many of the heroes in romance or historic fiction go off to or come back from from Jane Austen to Eloisa James.  For some reason I imagined I could do this simply.

I was wrong.

I had also wanted to understand how it was that men went to war and returned home with great wealth.  And, how the British military system worked.  Both are topics for another day.

There were a lot of wars or conflicts ¾ mostly complicated; often tied up with a variety of allies and enemies and allies who were enemies and enemies who were once allies.

This vast and rich martial history, as well as second-son syndrome,  certainly explains the prevalence of military in fiction.

Between 1700 and roughly 1816 the British were involved in more than twenty conflicts directly or as allies. internal or external, and spanning the globe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_involving_Great_Britain).

During this period the British were involved in conflicts internally and  in the Americas, the Indian Sub-Continent, Spain, the Baltics and Australia and New Zealand.  In the Seven-Years’ War (1756-1763) the British were involved on several fronts: the Americas (French and Indian War) , India, Sweden, Prussia and Austria.

I’m going to assume we are mostly in the US, and that we all learned a little about the American Revolution and the War of 1812 in school, but you can use the resources below to find out more about them.

It’s not really as easy as explaining that a certain hero returned home to his fiancée  in 1720  from the “War of the Quadruple Alliance “ which arose from the ambitions of Philip V of Spain to retake parts of Italy and capture the French throne in direct  opposition to a treaty negotiated after the War of Spanish Succession when as Duke of Anjou and the named successor to Charles II he was recognized as King of Spain but would never try to unite the  French crown and the Spanish crown. So this war arose from a previous war, which came out of other ambitious empire building attempts. !

Some of the wars you will read about the most involve the British East India Company which was a business concern that became militarized and for a while ran British territories in India. The have their own long and convoluted history here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_India_Company, and somehow going there as a soldier either meant you came home wealthy or you did not come home at all.

Battle_of_Castalla_1813_Print
The Battle of Castalla during the Napoleonic Wars

The Napoleonic Wars, which figure heavily in Thackeray’s VANITY FAIR :
“In 1789, the French Revolution overthrew the French monarchy and executed Louis XVI. Many countries tried to overthrow the French Republic. France suffered defeats, but then one of their generals, Napoleon Bonaparte, turned the tide. Bonaparte seized control of the French government in 1799 and crowned himself Emperor in 1804.” http://gwydir.demon.co.uk/jo/history/napoleon.htm
He was defeated in 1815 at Waterloo by forces lead by the Duke of Wellington.

The Boer Wars occurred from 1880-1881 and 1899-1902 and took place in the southern most portions of Africa; eventually South Africa. In the Second  Boer War the British “pioneered” the use of concentration camps.  I never knew this and it was absolutely shocking.

The Crimean War about the aftermath of which Maire Claremont wrote recently in THE DARK AFFAIR was from 1853 to 1856 and:
“The Crimean War was fought between the Russian Empire on one side and an alliance of the British Empire, France, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia on the other. The war was part of a long-running contest between the major European powers for influence over territories of the declining Ottoman Empire. Most of the conflict took place on the Crimean Peninsula. “(http://gwydir.demon.co.uk/jo/history/crimea.htm   )

To get an idea of what and when you are reading about in fiction here are some resources. I’m sure more are out there but these were the best I found.

This one is handy in that it gives years, allies, enemies and links to pages on the wars. List of wars involving Great Britain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_involving_Great_Britain

According to this page:  “During its history, British forces or forces with a British mandate have invaded, had some control over or fought conflicts in 171 of the world’s 193 countries that are currently UN member states, or nine out of ten of all countries.”

This list is another table where you will find information of a less encyclopedic nature such as the explanation above of Napoleon. http://gwydir.demon.co.uk/jo/history/battles.htm

Use this handy BBC reference timeline for a colorful and interactive view of British History including military.: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/launch_tl_british.shtml

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George Lloyd Hodges – a Military Portrait
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Henry Nelson O’Neil 1857
Soldiers being seen off by their families. This will never change.