While there is much written about wars, battles, tactics and fighting in this period, there is relatively little serious research on the nature of everyday military life. This new series aims to publish a range of interesting new books which explore a variety of questions about soldiering in this period. Subjects covered will include who were the soldiers and the officers?; how did their careers develop?; their cultural attitudes, including the changing nature of masculinity; the growth of professionalism; how soldiers related to their families and wider society; changing approaches to military discipline and organisation; and much more.
The series will cover all the different forces of the British crown – the regular army, militia, home defence forces, part-time soldiers, auxiliaries; and officers, NCOs, rank and file, camp followers and military families. Besides studying the forces raised in Britain and Ireland, the series will also examine troops raised overseas including “foreign” units and forces recruited in the colonies and the Empire. Soldiering had a lifecycle – from recruit, to life as a soldier, then discharge and returning to the community, all of which could be repeated – the series overall aims to provide rich detail on exactly what this life was like.
These should be sent in the first instance to the series editor, Kevin Linch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Royal Navy’s Blockades of the United States, 1812-1815
The War of 1812 between Britain and the United States was fought on many fronts: single ship actions in the Atlantic; a US invasion of Canada, which the Canadians heroically resisted; the burning of the new US capital, Washington, by the British, the President’s house subsequently painted white to hide the fire damage; and an unsuccessful attack by the British on New Orleans. The war is usually seen as a draw. However, as this book demonstrates, it was in fact a British victory.
Britain’s naval victories in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars succeeded in protecting Britain from French invasion, but they could not of themselves defeat France. How did Britain manage the transportation of large numbers of troops to French controlled territory during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and successfully land them?
Who were the men who officered the Royal Navy in Nelson’s day? This book explores the world of British naval officers at the height of the Royal Navy’s power in the age of sail. The demands of life at sea conflicted with the expectations of genteel behaviour and background in eighteenth-century Britain, and the ways officers grappled with this challenge forms a key theme.
The Royal Marines come from a long and proud tradition dating back to 1664. However, the first incarnation of the service, the Marine Regiments, was plagued by structural and operational difficulties. This book traces the origins and early development of the Royal Marines, outlining their organisational structures, their recruitment and social background, the activities in which they were engaged, and how their distinctive identity was forged.
I was delighted to see the recent appearance of the paperback edition of The Art of Swordsmanship by Hans Lecküchner. The hardbound edition of my translation of Lecküchner’s 1482 treatise came out three years ago. I had chosen to translate this work among the many dozens of surviving medieval combat treatises because of its importance to the burgeoning academic and athletic domains of historical combat. Although the one-handed sword is a staple in modern reimaginings of medieval swordplay—as indeed it must have been in the Middle Ages, given the ubiquity of the weapon in contexts plebeian and aristocratic, military and civilian—written sources on its use are astonishingly rare before 1500. This is in dramatic contrast to the plethora of texts on wrestling, dagger-play, combat with the “hand-and-a-half” sword, and various forms of armored and mounted combat.
Lecküchner’s treatise might easily be overlooked as representing a marginal weapon-form: the langes Messer is chiefly found in the German-speaking areas, though weapons related to this single-edged, lightly curved utility sword were in use elsewhere. I agonized for a long time over a suitable translation. The closest modern equivalents are the machete and saber, the closest medieval English terms are wood-knife or hanger. In the end I settled on “falchion” as being relatively ergonomic and rare enough that it might be plausibly repurposed. But I also toyed with simply “sword,” and I did use this word for rendering the customary title of the work (Messerfechtkunst). While the treatise ostensibly focuses on a relatively obscure weapon, the techniques actually apply to any weapon that handles like a one-handed sword—single vs. double edge notwithstanding, since Lecküchner uses both sides of the weapon. Lecküchner must be regarded as our chief surviving source on the use of the one-handed sword in the Middle Ages: this fully illustrated manuscript of 400+ pages has no competitor. To judge by the reviews I have seen, the importance of Lecküchner’s work has not been lost on its readers.
Aside from being an important document for the fast-growing community of modern practitioners of historical combat arts, I find Lecküchner’s treatise a fascinating glimpse into the medieval world more broadly. The fact that the author was a parish priest suggests that the medieval clergy were more engaged in the culture of arms than is often assumed—and he is not the only German master who was in Holy Orders. The charming Nuremberg-school illustrations (almost certainly produced by an artist acquainted with Albrecht Dürer) offer insights into the representation of complex physical and physiological realities in European art at a time when the artist’s craft was undergoing some very dramatic transformations. Along these lines, I recommend the trailer by Alex Kiermayer and Hans Heim, which envisions the process by which the manuscript may have been composed.
(One of quite a few videos on Lecküchner that have been produced in the past few years)
All in all, it’s a pleasure to see the book made more accessible with the release of a paperback edition. Translating these texts has been a labor of love, and the most important moment is when I know that the effort has made it possible for others to build on my work.