Was the Duke of Wellington Multilingual?

Waterloo Dispatch, Wilkie, (c) Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Waterloo Dispatch, Wilkie, (c) Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Duke of Wellington was famed for being able to assimilate and process large amounts of complex information in a relatively short space of time. His ability to communicate clear, concise orders based thereon were key to his effectiveness as a commander in chief. However a little investigated facet of his communication skills has been taken for granted.

It is a given that because the Duke was part of the Anglo-Irish Aristocracy; lived in Brussels for a few years and attended the military college at Angers, he could speak French. And indeed he could, though one critic commented that he spoke French like he fought them, Wellington could read, write, speak and understand the language of his enemy. He could do this because French was an international second language for most European nations. It was a language of refinement, art and breeding, and up to a point was practically a necessity for aristocrats to know.

Ironically, because most gentlemen could speak French, and at this point in history most officers were always gentlemen, his knowledge of the language would prove an effective conduit for Wellington to communicate with foreign allies. Essentially making the very language of the Napoleonic empire a weapon of its destruction. No one can doubt the Duke’s fluency in Europe’s most fashionable common language. What has been doubted by many respected biographers is his familiarity with the Spanish language.

Even the most accomplished biographies of the last century have paid scant attention to his language skills, dismissing it with the sure knowledge that he merely spoke a French to his Spanish allies. And it is true he preferred to use his second language to convey ideas and important decisions to allies and diplomats who spoke no English. At the battle of Salamanca he even spoke to his good friend General Miguel Alava in French before racing off to set the army in motion.

However recent evidence shows that Wellington had been applying himself since 1808, and at a stretch possibly beforehand, to learning Spanish. To begin with he had originally been slated for the command of an expeditionary force to South America and had therefore been in contact with the fiery expatriate, General Miranda, who was negotiating for military aid against Spain. With the prospect of becoming immersed in the Hispanic speaking hinterland of Venezuela, it would be entirely fitting if the young General had begun to acquire a base in Spanish.

Certainly by the time he was redirected towards Portugal in 1808, a parting gift from the Ladies of Llangollen had afforded him the means to achieve an understanding of the Spanish language. (Why he did not choose Portuguese is anyone’s guess.) The two spinsters presented Sir Arthur with a Spanish translation of the prayer book published in 1707. The inscription in the book, which survives in the family archive of Baron de Ross, reads:

“This book was given to Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Wellesley, before he went to command the Armies in the Peninsula in 1808, by Lady Elinor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, better known as the Ladies of Llangollen. He had it in his possession and with him during the whole of the war; and learnt from the perusal thereof what he knows of the Spanish language.”

The book itself was given as a gift to Lady Georgiana de Ross who recounted the story in her memoirs:

“One day, when we were at Stathfieldsaye, the Duke of Wellington was alluding to having learnt Spanish from a Spanish translation of the English Prayer-book, which was given to him when he was going to take command in Spain, by Lady Elinor Butler, the Duke, then Sir Arthur Wellesley, having visited her and Miss Ponsonby at their cottage at Llangollen, as he went through from Wales to Ireland. On my asking what had become of the Prayer-book, “Oh, it’s somewhere in the library here,” was the answer. Whereupon I searched until I found it, with no name, or anything to tell its history. He was very much pleased to see it again, and said he would give it to me as I had taken such pains to find it. I carried it off at once.”

The Duke remarked that it was such a faithful translation that he had been able to understand a speech made in his honour by a local official soon after arriving in Spain. Nevertheless hiw was a Yeoman’s Spanish and seemingly not at all reliable for important discussion. For when meeting General Cuesta in 1809 he had to rely on the English skills of Spanish General O’Donjou, who was a descendant of an Irish family, for Cuesta refused to speak the language of the French invaders on principle. Yet according to, Gonzalo Serrat, a relative of Geberal Alava, in other matters, such as correspondence with his friend, Alava, later in the war, Wellington was quite comfortable in his facility in Spanish to write at least 50 letters to him in that tongue.

All of which together gives a very different impression of how Wellington communicated to his allies. But then the Duke had a history of being able to pick up languages. He used Sea voyages to indulge in voracious reading, when he travelled to India as Colonel of the 33rd, he had taken witt him over 200 books, some of which were Persian Dictionaries and grammar books. Given this choice of reading it is impossible not to conclude that he did what other British officers did after arriving in India, hiring a Munshi to teach him the language; most likely Persian, which he could certainly converse in by the time of the Battle of Assaye, (if not before when he was commander at Seringapatam).

Havildar Syud Hussein of the 4th Native Cavalry had been right marker for his regiment during the first cavalry charge at Assaye, during the engagement he had observed an enemy standard escaping, accordingly he:

“dashed into the centre of a party of the enemies horse, and bore off their standard.”

After the battle his Colonel brought Hussein and the colour to the then Sir Arthur Wellesley. The weary commander heard the story, patted Hussein on the back and, so wrote Sir John Malcolm in 1818:

“eloquent and correct in the Native language for which you were celebrated, said ‘Acha havildar; Jemadar.”

Though it is hard to say if Sir John was being anything but overly flattering, there is little reason to think him completely wrong. To my mind it makes perfect sense that the Duke would have gained a working knowledge of at least one Indian language in the 8 years he spent in the country, where his French would get him nowhere.

Over the last few years, neglected evidence has been rediscovered that points to this hitherto overlooked facet of Wellington’s approach to command and communication. With three languages under his belt we can see that learning the tongue of the country he was going to fight in, was a top priority for Wellington and formed an important part of his preparation for a campaign.

Read more things you never knew about Wellington here.

The Duke. Phillip Guedella.
Wellington: The Years of the Sword. Elizabeth Longford.
Wellington: The Iron Duke. Richard Holmes.
Wellington: The Path to Victory. Rory Muir.
Wellington’s Dearest Georgy. Alice Marie Crossland.
Wellington in India. Jac Weller.
Talavera: Rene Chartrande.
Assaye 1803. Simon Millar.
http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/13th-december-1856/23/books https://www.wadham.ox.ac.uk/news/2016/july/wellington-letter-discovered

Josh.

Book Review: Forgotten by Linda Harvieux

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Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Amberley (15 Nov 2016)
Language: English.
ISBN: 9781445663487
https://www.amberley-books.com/forgotten.html

The sceptics might have been right when they told Linda Harvieux that there wasn’t enough information available to tell the story of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion at D-Day. But they were dead wrong if they thought there wasn’t a story to tell, and if I’m honest, although only the last few chapters concern themselves with Omaha Beach, there are testimonies in this book that have never seen the light of day, and thus add another element to the drama of the story. Continue reading

Book Review: Lost Voices of the Nile by Charlotte Booth.

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Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (15 Aug. 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445642859

Ancient history has its mysteries. Not your average ones either. Whereas in modern history your mysteries tend to be based around motive, with ancient history it’s a case of identity, time and place and sometimes indeed, what! Yet while many complain about what has been lost and what is missing, it’s also good to be grateful about what we can read about. With ancient Egypt, details of the lives of high officials from the New Kingdom onwards tend to be the most common, and everyone else is usually anonymous, but when you collect it all together and do a bit of sifting a general picture appears that isn’t too shabby at all.

Charlotte Booth has thrown her hat into the “How did ordinary people live” ring. It’s one of the most popular ways to write about history, and it also allows an author to create a polyglot of experiences to find commonality and so reveal glimpses of life in a distant time. A thorough and thoughtful look into a world; often as clear as the pyramids and yet at the same time full of phantoms. Well constructed and very useful it clarified a number of things I had wondered about in my haphazard Egyptological enquieries in 2016. Objective but with a firm opinion when it comes to a fork in the road, Lost Voices of the Nile looks back, hoping to find familiarity in the alien world of the distant past.

In the Forefront of Lost Voices is the concept that an ancient Egyptian would be able to understand allot of what we experience today, and especially that we, with the benefit of hindsight can identify common ground with these long ago people. And it’s true. If anything ,ancient history, from the Egyptians to the Romans has definitely taught us that allot about the human experience doesn’t really change. People still looked for ways to enjoy themselves, worked to make a good living, pondered many of the same big questions, and suffered some of the same setbacks.

Of course I’m talking generally, because many of the specific scenarios don’t really apply to modern life, but at their core can still speak to people. As for me I tend to enjoy seeing how different people where as much as what hasn’t changed. Some people take an obtuse pleasure in seeing what is and is not different about the world. Others marvel at how far we’ve come or regressed or whatever.

But what about those who are just curious about how people, who were not pharaoh’s or viziers etc got along in Ancient Egypt? Many repeat the quote about the past being a foreign country where things are done differently, how do you learn about a different country? Usually people start with books. (Or internet searches). You could in a way see this book as a huge postcard written by an experienced traveller. The author has been there (or has been as close as she can get) and now is allowing us the benefit of her experience.

The Book is separated into sections that try to cover as much of the ancient experience as possible, it is an objective narrative, in that quotes are used to support the text rather than it being a book of writings with a historical commentary/analysis. Through it we find many personal stories, and many collages that make up a bigger picture, which is fitting because that is reminiscent Grand Temple reliefs, that require many pictures to tell the whole story.

You’ll see the name Deir el-Medina, appear quite allot. This was a village that was built for the many generations of artisans and labourers toiling in the valley of the Kings. Its archeology is one of the greatest resources for ancient life in the near east, and it crops up so often because, in fragments and shards it tells the “small” stories that are central to the focus of this book. The people who didn’t make it to the valley of the Kings, but rather the people who built it.

Josh.

Shhhh, Ninja Secrets! By Adrian Burrows.

The Ninja really hoped no one noticed that he'd forgotten one of his swords...

The Ninja really hoped no one noticed that he’d forgotten one of his swords…

Everyone loves a Ninja! I know that I, Captain Max Virtus, and the rest of planet Earth certainly do. But what do we really know about those Shinobi?

Not a lot. And what we do know is usually wrong. And what we don’t know is mostly right. Continue reading

Book Review, Exclusive Excerpt and Discount Code. Historic Heston Blumenthal.

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Published: 10-10-2013
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 432
ISBN: 9781408804414
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing
Illustrations: Colour images throughout.

Please note the Giveaway portion of this promotion has  is ended.

Chances are you’ve not seen many cookery books like this. As a unique blend of art, history and practical cooking it covers many bases. The idea behind it is Chef Heston Blumenthal’s predication that the British have lost touch with their culinary heritage. He’s not just talking about meat pies and fish and chips, he’s talking about the stuff continental people might actually consider haute cuisine, while retaining the essence of what we islanders appreciate in food.

To be honest the British can no longer really use the excuse that we don’t eat what up until now would have been considered “Funny Food”. Just look at the crazy mix of restaurants and eateries that populate what used to be called food courts, just see what people are cooking on TV and what fills the isles of even our most budget supermarkets and it will dawn on you, we’ve become a nation of foodies.

To say that this folio, which drips extravagance from its elegant slip cover to every stitch of its binding, is a special edition is to try the limits of British understatement. It’s a gorgeous production, as lavish as a prime time period drama and in a way just as epic. From a historical point of view it’s sweeping as well, covering within its image laden pages a span from the 15th to the 19th century, cherry picking curious and probably unheard of recipies for iconic dishes that capture the flavour and spirit of the age in question for a modern audience. Thus we are treated to a rich blend of culinary as well as General history, which prefaces each dish.

As a work of bookbinding it already qualifies as art, which should please booklovers no end and will undoubtedly not only show off both shelf and coffee table to its best advantage but also truly show your love of fine cooking. Open the cover and you will find that the art doesn’t end at the spine, as a whole gallery of specially commissioned artwork by David McKean is spread across its luxuriant length. These are quirky, almost otherworldly illustrations, they are full of whimsy and sometimes seem a little unsettling. Colourful and eye catching, undeniable in their ability to hold attention, they could have come out of a fantasy story.

Alongside these pieces of artwork are numerous photographs of different food so crisp that they make your eyes ache. Still Life comes to mind, adding contrast to the often highly dynamic paintings, these shots of overflowing tables and ingredients could have come off the easel of a Dutch master, and the pictures of the finished product. The ones that dare you to try and recreate the recipe. Could have come from the menu of a restaurant without a sign over the door. It is art for arts sake, but also for the sake of food. Unapologetically lavish and a tome of ideas and inspiration.

What of the food itself? I hear you cry. The proof is in the pudding as they say. Not being a great cook myself I wouldn’t be able to tell you how well these recipes turn out. I can say though, that I would not turn down a bite of some of the deserts if one of my more culinarily gifted friends offered it. If I were you I’d not stick this on a stand and cook from the book, however. This is a book that will require you to write the recipe down if you want to keep it nice, (but that goes for all Cook books now I think of it). Though the contents are ideally suited to the tastiest room in the house, I can assure you this special edition won’t handle the heat, and as the old adage goes, that means it shouldn’t be in the kitchen.

I’m so grateful to the generous people at Bloomsbury, not only for sending me this book to review and share with you all, but they have also given buyers who are reading this a generous discount code which can be used on the publisher’s website. Historyland Readers can enjoy this generous offer until the 1st of February 2017 by using this code: Heston17 , In conjuction with this link http://bloomsbury.com/uk/historic-heston-9781408804414/

But wait! There’s more. If this review has whetted your appetite and you want to see more, please be my guest and have a perusal of this exclusive extract of the fabulous named and looking Taffety Tart, straight from the pages of Historic Heston Blumenthal, with the compliments of Bloomsbury and Historyland. taffety-tart-extract

For a sneak peek please watch and like my video.

Josh.

Book Review: Operation Big Colin Brown.

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Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (15 April 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 144565184X

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Operation-Big-Race-Hitlers-Bomb/dp/144565184X

Science, bombs & intrigue? Sounds like a party to me. Written with the feel of an intellectual thriller Colin Brown tells the story of the race to stop Hitler’s A bomb during WW2.
It starts at the very beginning, with the Discovery of nuclear fission, here even those to whom Physics is a foreign language will recognise some of the names, if only from knowledge accrued from the Big Bang Theory. The military applications of splitting the atom became apparent very soon after the discovery of sub atomic power as a series of scientists started adding up the theoretical power of the discovery, with ever growing results. The idea of a super bomb became a reality for both sides almost from the get go, even before the true capabilities of such a weapon were properly understood. The science that preceded the declaration of war was then focused on by the European intelligence communities, who then began a race to gather supplies of heavy water. As they rushed to secure the birthing fluid of the atom bomb, the conventional shooting war broke out, and due to the circumstances of the fall of France etc, Brown is able to weave into his main narrative sub stories worthy of their own books. The image of the Earl of Suffolk, bearded and tattooed handing out champaign on his commandeered ship, hobbling around with his secretaries, determined to get France’s store of heavy water to British soil, and his stash of diamonds will stay with me for a long time.
Some of the story will be familiar, such as when it comes to the race to slow down or stop the enemy. After securing heavy water and all that could be salvaged in terms of mind power, for scientists were as valuable as technology, the two sides then did their best to discover and destroy what the other was doing. For the allies this culminated most dramatically with the destruction of the German Heavy Water plant at Telemark in Norway. The famous SOE operation will be familiar to many, but the importance undiminished for the retelling.
Most critical to this book is the kidnapping of German scientists and throwing them into a country house that served as a giant listening device, which the British used to learn their secrets. We see the listeners like flies on a wall recording every word the Germans said, and then passed them on to the operators of the Manhattan project. The information they unwittingly gave would prove vital to beating the Germans to the bomb.

Because everyone knows about Hiroshima and it’s legacy, it’s good to know that we can track back to the nuts and bolts of the Atomic race, something to plug the gaps as it where. And this book offers an interesting and not often observed part of that race. This book is also an exciting and engaging read that will not fail to appeal to people in search of real life cloak and dagger. The element of real science allows readers to peek a little into the practical world of 20th century physics. Given the ingredients it would have been easy for the author to trip and stumble, presenting stories that are ready made, much like cooking ready meals can all too often end up just a sad mess on a plate, but Brown has handled it well.
A steady pace is maintained, and an intellectual, gripping tone reminiscent of the thriller genre risked from the pages. From what I can detect this is not a controversial book, it is instead trading to tell a story, wether died in the wool enthusiasts and experts will be pleased with the depth of the text I cannot say, but from my point of view it was a very satisfying read.

Josh.

Book Review: Escapades in Bizzarcheology by Adrian Burrows.

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Length: 168 pages
Publisher: Williams & Whiting
ISBN: 9781911266280

http://williamsandwhiting.com/books/escapades-in-bizarrchaeology-by-adrian-burrows/

Hemingway, (or was it Chandler?) used to wrestle with his opening sentence and would not continue until he got it perfect. Given their respective brevity I can therefore imagine that Adrian Burrows must have toiled long and hard with his opener. Man that’s an introduction! It’s long and perfectly describes what I tend to do when I wander thoughtfully through a bookshop. My eyes scan, scorching each shelf with a critical glare, my head turns methodically, often with a birdlike twitch as I go. If he hasn’t captured my personal bibliophilic quirks, then he has certainly got what I do when I open a book. The item in question has a sort of fantasy, steam punk, adventure feel to the cover, it’s small and is littered with accompanying images.

The question remains however, does this book live up to the grand promises the introduction… not least the vow of the Bizzarchaeologist! As a fellow adventurer/escapadist in the past, and someone with a similarly glued together title, Adventures in Historyland, (FYI we both independently thought words like Adventures and Escapades was a really cool words to begin a title,) I began with high hopes.

Now, in the beginning Burrows lays out some pretty high falluting vows, essentially boiling down to the fact that he tries to make history fun. Well Historyland has some rules about this: Most importantly, all fun history must also be good, (IE accurate) and actually be funny (IE with believable similes and parallels, preferably not relating to modern day equivalents) otherwise it is nauseating. Secondly all history that wishes to be regarded as fun, must include at least a few if not all of the following, Ninjas (and or samurai) Pirates, Knights, cowboys and Gladiators or some kind of hybrid Transformer made up of them all.

The book takes a light hearted tour of a magical warehouse, endowed with the properties of time travel. It’s witty, sharp and in some places a little goofy. As one would expect from a book about random and bizarre history, it begins with Ninjas. But there is a doorstep that is dangerously placed to trip the author up. Can he deliver the real ninja experience, which he writes is elusive, in such a small chapter? Probably not. Yet does it bust some myths? For some people, most probably! The most impressive one being that Ninjas would only wear black when they needed to. I’ll tell you what else is surprising, the interruption between this chapter and the next as Burrows’ alter ego Max Virtus butts in to tell us about how Ancient Egyptian’s and his mother would embalm a corpse. That was a weird sentence to write.

Leaving the Ninja dojo, we are taken to the Ludas, no it’s not a version of the game Ludo, the Roman gladiator school. This section is vaguely familiar to me, for a really top secret reason (Spoiler alert! It’s because it’s based on a guest blog the captain wrote for Historyland). And yet again Burrows begins by telling us this is a world full of misnomers that he will answer in a really short time. Mind the step Captain? But yet again we are saved from the fake, the glib and the trite by the author’s affecting charm and humour, and his choice of facts to highlight. Even though he did wander into a dark and dangerous place called parallel-land by likening Gladiators to big brother contestants! Grr.

We then move on with another sudden departure explaining the British system of electing Prime Ministers and follow through with the author’s top 3 worst Roman Emperor’s. (One wonder’s if there is something subliminal about this sequence). This ends up in a brief examination of how Rome got to the top, and attributing Rome’s successful conquest to their road network. Now this is big statement! And I partially agree, but I’d say that Conquest was dependent on firstly the will of the emperor or senate (depending if you’re in the republic or not), then the ability of the army and then the roads, in my opinion allowed the empire to endure, rather than conquer.

Amid the avalanche of puns you will find some delightful quirky objects to admire, this is especially true of the section called the Zoo, which deals with crazy animal facts. How Ancient Egypt’s love of cats brought the country under Persian control. Really happened. How Emus won a war against the Australian army. Yep that too! And the old favourite, beloved of the Internet. Excuse me while I adopt my Pigs in Space epic voice “Pigs vs war Elephants!”

The Last of the big sections is weapons, which highlights such things as a top 4 most awesome swords gallery. Top 4 most awesome guns gallery, and… you get the idea. Some fun and very true remarks follow about how not to fight a duel, and in fact if I was to go on about all the random, cool and downright loony stuff in this book, some of which I feel in no way qualified to comment on, I’d end up writing one myself. Let’s leave it then with the Pirates before we sum up. Pirates are one of the big elements of fun history… though the weird thing is that even though in reality they were a bunch of dirtbags, we kinda like them. Here we get the facts about setting your beard on fire, (which I must sadly inform readers, Blackbeard only appeared to do). And the more conventional myth busts about pirates not burying treasure and jolly Rogers being extensions of buccaneer personality, rather than the national pirate flag. After a thoughtful retrospective about things always looking greener next door which really puts the whole “2016 worst year ever” fad into the shameful corner it deserves, (applause to the author), we get more pirate stuff. Making fun of Johnny Depp, then saying pirates wore earrings to improve eyesight (I’d heard it was to prevent drowning, but maybe accessorising like this served a duel purpose?), and a bunch of stuff about peg legs and eye patches etc.

So what’s the verdict? Well although there weren’t any sections on cowboys or knights. Some criteria was met, after all we did get pirates, ninjas and Gladiators and though some of those parallels were worth a cringe, and I would like a recount on a few assertions, this is a fun book. We can all overdo the serious aspect of history. Everyone wants their subject to be the one that matters most, all too often we forget how fun it can be just to forget the significance and enjoy the madness, or the story for what it is. And for this I salute the author, and the mysterious and fearless captain Virtus… who is nonetheless scared of Emus.

Josh.