Napoleon as King of Italy
The Napoleonic Wars tore Europe apart. The map was completely re-written time and again as Napoleon Bonaparte drew older countries under the auspices of France, handing sundry crowns to his brothers and sisters, who served as figureheads for the Emperor. There was no real question in anyone’s mind who was truly the ruler of those territories, and for over a decade, most power in Europe led back to France.
The French Empire in Europe in 1811
The only country that stood firm in the midst of this chaos was Great Britain. For almost two decades, England and its empire funneled troops into the war against Napoleon and his generals, finally conquering the French for the last time at Waterloo.
Wellington at Waterloo by Robert Alexander Hillingford
Though the Duke of Wellington is deservedly given credit for this victory, many men, both cavalry and infantry, both officers and soldiers, bought that final victory with their skill and their lives. This post is meant to honor them, while also briefly exploring the question of the fate of those who lived.
Some men returned to jobs and families at home. Some took up farming if they were fortunate enough to either own their own land or were able to regain tenancy on lands held by a gentleman. Some men went to the cities to seek work in industry, but the British economy suffered a post-war slump, which left many veterans out of work. Officers were able to return to England on half pay, but noncommissioned officers were left with little or nothing.
In my upcoming Regency romance novel, HOW TO TAME A WILLFUL WIFE, Caroline Montague is sold in marriage because her father, an officer in the British cavalry, is in debt. Baron Montague did not go into debt because of his lifestyle, however but because any veteran who served under him could, upon returning to England, come to his estate in Yorkshire and be given employment. As Baroness Montague says, “Honor costs money,” and their daughter marries well in order to pay for this extravagance.
Of course, my novel is fiction. No doubt some wealthy men did what they could for the veterans returning from the Napoleonic wars. But more did not. Most veterans were left to shift for themselves. Those wounded and maimed had the worst time of it, often becoming beggars in the street when there was no other option.
The Regency period was a time of opulence and rebuilding, a time of innovation and industrial growth. But it was also a time when the men who had won the Napoleonic wars came home to fight a different battle altogether, a battle for their dignity and their survival.
After years of acting in Shakespeare’s plays, Christy is excited to bring the Bard to Regency England. She can often be found hunched over her computer, immersed in the past. Her latest novel is HOW TO TAME A WILLFUL WIFE, a re-telling of The Taming of the Shrew. She is also the author of the historical novels TO BE QUEEN and THE QUEEN’S PAWN. Please join her on her website http://www.ChristyEnglish.com