Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The First Carlist War by Conrad Cairns

I was dimly aware of the First Carlist War after reading a little bit about the Portuguese Civil War of the time when it came up in an Allan Mallinson novel, but I'm always interested in what Savage calls "...a funny little war that no-one else has ever heard of..."

If like me, you were a little fuzzy on the ins and outs of it, here is my Cliff notes summation of the conflict.

The First Carlist War is one of a series of Spanish Civil Wars that ended with that one that happened in the 30s that Picasso painted the picture about. The ostensible cause of the whole thing was an 18th century style succession crisis. Ferdinand the VII of Spain died leaving his infant daughter Isabella as his heir with his fourth wife, Christina as Queen regent. Spain had been ruled by salic law (check here for details - but basically no female succession) and the most likely male heir, Juan Carlos took umbrage. 

Ranged on either side were absolutists, traditionalists and reactionaries of various stripes for the Carlists and liberals, centralisers and constitutionalists for the government. There was a strong current of regionalism running throughout the entire conflict, the Carlists were strongest on the periphery (particularly the Basque country, Aragon and Catalonia) and a great deal of opposition to the government forces seems to have been framed in terms of defending regional independence from a centralising middle along with the usual 19th century grab bag of tradition v. modernity, sacred v. secular, centre v. periphery and aristocracy v. bourgeosis. 

Militarily, the government forces held large parts of Spain and the Carlists sallied out of their regional bases on expeditions, but were never able to convert their tactical superiority into strategic victory. Both sides indulged in the sort of beastliness that 18th century wargamers tend to prefer to forget and the main loser was Johnny Spaniard. Cairns doesn't dwell on this, he doesn't really have space to do so, it's a short book after all, but he doesn't gloss over it either. 

Conrad Cairns is a fine writer with an admirable gift of clarity, I recognised his game from his previous "African Knights" book for Foundry and he manages to cover the basics here swiftly and well. There are probably better books on the First Carlist War (though I don't know of any), but this one manages to communicate the broad strokes in little more than a few pages and that is not to be sneezed at.

The book itself is a perfect bound softback from Perry Miniatures and costs £15 plus postage. As can be expected of any book that comes from the Perry's the layout and art are good. The book is broken into several sections, a brief introduction, followed by an outline of the war in the different regions and an assessment of each of the warring armies. This is followed by a section of uniforms, quite detailed in the case of the government forces and understandably woolly in the case of the insurgents. The book is rounded off with some tactical analysis and case studies examining some of the more interesting battles. I haven't quite finished it yet, but I feel confident enough to recommend it on what I've read so far.

You're paying about as much for an Osprey campaign title with a lot more uniform detail that one would expect. A book aimed solidly at wargamers and one that hits its mark.


  1. One of the characters of the war, Ramon Cabrera, came from poverty to become a Carlist general, was exiled, ended his days as an English country squire after marrying an heiress and is buried in a Surrey churchyard. His house is now the club-house of the Wentworth golf club in Virginia Water.

  2. It's a corker of a book, but unfortunately basking on the 'stalled projects' shelf. :O(