Friday, December 16, 2011

Military Dress of the Peninsular War by Martin Windrow & Gerry Embleton

A very well chosen gift from an old friend

This is a very handsome book and representative of a type that seems to have been relatively common in the 1970s, a glossy, well researched military hardback. Lawford's "The Cavalry" or "Last Campaigns of Napoleon" would be good examples of the breed. The above was published in 1974 by Martin Windrow & Gerry Embleton, men with distinguished pedigrees in the field.

I've been meaning to blog again for a while, but simply haven't had a chance in the Christmas rush.

There is something of a story behind this book as I had intended to buy it some months ago when an old friend and I traveled to Hay on Wye for a book buying trip. I had admired it, but thought better of it, thinking that I had much the same information spread across Ospreys and a dozen other books. I had seconds thoughts after leaving and when that same old friend found himself in Hay again, I commissioned him to pick it up for me. He claimed that he couldn't find it and I believe him, but whatever happened - I was handed this book on Monday and I've been dipping into it ever since.

The book itself is broken up into eight chapters, which comprise a potted history of the Peninsular War, but the real meat of the work is taken up with the one hundred illustrated figures and the selection of period illustrations. The figures are wonderful and are drawn with verve. I have a large collection of Osprey's, but these are a cut above.

The period illustrations are a mixture of old reliables and some that I have never seen before, particularly the work of the Dighton brothers. They were cartoonists who I hadn't heard of before, but their portraits and sketches are full of character.

Gary Embleton's work is the main draw of course and I shall look at some of those figures in a little more detail.

No. 35 - Trooper, Spanish Line Cavalry, "Del Rey" 1809

I love this picture, there's something wonderfully composed about it. The Spanish cavalry did not often cover themselves in glory, but this chap has a nonchalance that I find charming. He's probably incompetant, but I'd imagine he's good company.

For an explanation as to the unusual head gear, I think I shall turn to the text.

"The bicorne with the usual red bow shaped cockade was normal dress, but the mitre shaped forage cap illustrated here is taken from a contemporary print.. So, indeed is the unusual manner of wearing it! The head is pushed into the soft crown of the cap, so that the rear of the front flap becomes a long peak shading the eyes; the normal opening is at the back."

I think modelling that particular 19th century baseball cap in 1/72 is beyond my skills.

No 34. - Capitaine, French 5ieme Dragons 1809

What a shocking set of bags. This French dragoon is a far cry from the modestly accoutred fellows available in plastic. Dragoons made up the majority of the French cavalry in Spain.

Apparently saroual trousers (a sort of a wide baggy trouser of North African extraction) were popular. I think mucking about with a spot of green stuff may be in order.

No 77. - Dragoon, French 17ieme Dragons, 1812

I actually have only one unit of dragoons in my French army and I couldn't tell you what regiment they represent, mainly because I painted them following the instructions on the back of the Italeri box and not considering that more research might be required.

One of the baffling things about Italeri's French dragoons is that there are a number of troopers who wear fringed epaulettes. I have come across reference to certain elite companies wearing epaulettes, but they were usually worn with a bearskin or colpak. This left me with several dozen troopers that I didn't know what to do with, but Windrow swept in to the rescue.

"The only controversial point about this uniform is the illustration of white fringed epaulettes. Most dragoons wore plain green bastion shaped shoulder straps piped in the regimental distinctive, but in 1807/08 some regiments adopted the epaulettes shown here and various sources maintain that the 17ieme was one of these."

So there!

A very interesting book that has rekindled my interest, ground down by work, household chores and all the other mundanities of life.


  1. It is indeed a very fine book. It, and Haythornthwaite's uniform books, were a sort of new wave of the day. Prior to that there had only been Rene North and other things which, though invaluable, had focused on official uniforms and parade dress.

    This presentation of the troops in their campaigning rags was new and interesting but for a while it backfired. Minifigs and Hinchliffe started producing campaign dress figures, and the enthusiastic masses of the day often painted up units all identically dressed in bandages and matching flour sacks!

    The book is one of an exclusive few which I once owned, sold during an awkward period when I was between lives, and then had to buy again because I missed it.

    Epaulettes - fringed eps are correct for the elite company, and I think bearskins were kept for Sunday parades. Also there is something odd about the 17eme - I have a tatty old 1960s uniform booklet by Richard Riehn (Imrie-Risley) which states that the 17th dragoons were unusual in having white eps for all companies. So you can field "provisional" dragoon regiments which include men from the 17th!

  2. A friend from the club found this book in a country opportunity (opp) shop, or thrift shop as I believe it's called your way, for a couple of $A. Very jealous I was too!

    I can't say I noticed the details you've pointed out, so I'll have to see if he can bring it again some day.

  3. I found An Illustrated Encyclopedia: Uniforms of the Napoleonic Wars by
    Digby Smith very good

  4. This does look like a delightful book. Enjoy!

    I tend to associate the 70's with the Funckens, Almark paperbacks and with (my favorites) the little Blandford gems.

    Odd that I didn't realize that Cavalry, with its tattered cover and well thumbed pages had been edited by Col. Lawford. I probably made note of it in passing years ago but it would have come during the time when Charge! was just a delightful book to be picked up occasionally and thumbed through before digging back into WRG for a "real" wargame (OH the sad folly and ignorance of youth! ) . Wish I could read the faded price sticker, I seem to recall picking it up from a remainder bin.


  5. Thanks for sharing this, Conrad. I must in future avoid posts like this because they always make me want to start collecting Nap figures, especially as the Penn. War seems somehow doable.

    I do like your comment on the Spanish trooper with the ball cap. The cigarette and the jaunty plume of exhaled smoke does suggest nonchalance and charm.

    Ross - thanks for reminding me about Funckens. I uses to have a 2 volume Funcken on the Great War. Lots of fun but not much use for painting figures.

  6. I have the paperback version of this book which I bought new - I thought it was only a couple of years ago but actually it must have been more like fifteen! I also have a second hand copy of the Blandford "Uniforms of the Peninsular War" bought at - you guessed it - Hay-on-Wye... Both great books!


  7. I bought the first edition when it came out in '75 or '76 and thirty odd years later I still dip into it - I just like it. I've hung on to it through thick and thin and I hope you get as much pleasure from it as i still do. An excellent book!