On the morning of the battle of Waterloo, the Emperor Napoleon declared that the Duke of Wellington was a bad general, the British were bad soldiers and that France could not fail to win an easy victory. Forever afterwards historians have accused him of gross overconfidence, and massively underestimating the calibre of the British commander opposed to him. Andrew Roberts presents an original, highly revisionist view of the relationship between the two greatest captains of their age. Napoleon, who was born in the same year as Wellington - 1769 - fought Wellington by proxy years earlier in the Peninsula War, praising his ruthlessness in private while publicly deriding him as a mere 'sepoy general'. In contrast, Wellington publicly lauded Napoleon, saying that his presence on a battlefield was worth forty thousand men, but privately wrote long memoranda lambasting Napoleon's campaigning techniques. Although Wellington saved Napoleon from execution after Waterloo, Napoleon left money in his will to the man who had tried to assassinate Wellington. Wellington in turn amassed a series of Napoleonic trophies of his great victory, even sleeping with two of the Emperor's mistresses. The constantly changing relationship between these two nineteenth-century giants forms the basis of Andrew Roberts' compelling study in pride, rivalry, propaganda, nostalgia, and posthumous revenge.
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Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, spent a lot of time worrying about whether Napoleon Bonaparte, the emperor of France, was a gentleman. Napoleon accused his English foe of being a coward. Yet, Andrew Roberts shows in this dual biography, each accorded the other an odd respect, and, like wrestlers in a ring, studied his foe's moves intently all the way to their fateful encounter at Waterloo.
Publicly, Bonaparte and Wellington professed to despise each other. "Even in the boldest things he did there was always a measure of ... meanness," said Wellington of the French emperor, adding later, "Bonaparte's whole life, civil, political, and military, was a fraud." Napoleon said that Wellington "has no courage. He acted out of fear. He had one stroke of fortune, and he knows that such fortune never comes twice." Yet the two, writes Roberts, were very much alike: social outsiders who found their greatness in the army, scholars of a sort, who brought scientific rigor to the study of topography and logistics, and men capable of inspiring great heroism in their soldiers.
In the end, Roberts suggests, Wellington won his battle, but Napoleon won the war. This intriguing study shows how, and it affords much insight into the workings of these great rivals' minds. --Gregory McNameeAbout the Author:
Andrew Roberts took a first in Modern History at Cambridge. He has been a professional historian since the publication of his life of Lord Halifax , The Holy Fox, in 1991. He contributes regularly to the Sunday Telegraph. Lives in Chelsea, London, and has two children. His Salisbury won the Wolfson History Prize in 2000.
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