Friday, 4 September 2020

The Forgotten War Against Napoleon, Conflict in the Mediterranean 1793 - 1815 - Gareth Glover


It was three years ago at Crusade 2017 that I reported Gareth Glover's presentation about his then newly published book 'The Forgotten War Against Napoleon' entitled 'A Great Variety of Scenarios for Wargamers'.

Crusade 2017

It's taken me until now to get around to getting a copy and having a read, remembering well Gareth Glover regaling his audience with tails of daring do by characters such as Captain William Hoste and his activities in the Adriatic in the latter half of the Napoleonic Wars and Island Hopping campaign conducted by detachments of the 35th Foot and Royal Marines as Hoste together with his Austrian and Russian allies mopped up stranded French garrisons.

I would recommend taking a look at my review of his presentation in the link above to Crusade 2017 to get a flavour of what this book has to offer, the naval and land wargamer of the Napoleonic era with plenty of combined operations and small scale 'Sharp Practice' sized encounters for the enthusiast of the period to get stuck into.

That said, and having looked back on my account of Gareth's enthusiastic and well researched presentation, I also appreciate the other aspects that this book offers that I didn't fully grasp at that time, principally, as he himself explains in the preface to the book, that this book fills a gap as a complete history of the wars in the Mediterranean between 1793 - 1815, which is an astonishing gap considering the pivotal role this area played throughout the war with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. 

I have read several of the theatre and arm of service accounts of war in the Mediterranean by the likes of William James (Naval History) and Sir John Fortescue (Army) and I reviewed the excellent book by Nick Lipscombe, Wellington's Eastern Front covering the war in eastern Spain during the Peninsular conflict, but as Glover rightly points out, none of these excellent accounts deals wholly with the political or military events outside of their very specific focus thus making it difficult to get that greater oversight of the theatre as a whole and for me really started to help me join the dots when it came to understanding why certain actions that I had read about were fought in the first place or why Sicily was the seeming drain on British focus for the campaign on the east coast of Spain or its importance in the ever present threat of a Napoleonic campaign in Egypt long after Abercrombie's successful campaign to clear the French from the region.

Around these key strategic priorities Glover weaves the stories of the personalities involved in shaping the outcome of the conflict together with the inclusion of the role and activities played by some of the smaller parties, such as the American conflict with the Barbary Corsairs and the Neapolitan, Montenegran and Ragusan partisans in conflicts I had little or no knowledge of before reading this account.

I have to say that two personalities stand out in this book, for the incredible seemingly determined path to self destruction that they pursued right to the last and the damage they were able to cause to their respective sides in the conflict.

Queen Maria Carolina of Naples and Sicily

On the Allied side it has to be Queen Maria Carolina wife to King Ferdinand III of Sicily, sister to the former French Queen Marie Antoinette and a character who constantly appears throughout the war in the Mediterranean bringing her undoubted ability to bear on issues that she obviously had little understanding of and making a difficult situation much worse.

The Machiavellian intrigues at the Neapolitan court described by Glover generally have a trail leading right to Queen Carolina's door and all the time she was present, happy to have her position subsidised and assured by the presence of British troops was constantly scheming to assert her control on them, their commanders and the ejection of French forces from Naples, under the command of their King, Joachim Murat.

In the end, she and her husband had to be sidelined to allow the British to control the defence of the Island kingdom and prevent anymore mindless meddling that constantly threatened to allow a French invasion and the possible overthrowing of their monarchy, which wouldn't have been so bad had it not have had a disastrous impact on the war as a whole.

The simple fact that realigned my whole understanding of the Mediterranean theatre was that the British hold on the area was very much determined by their holding of Malta, controlling access into the eastern Mediterranean and any potential threat to British India via Egypt and the Red Sea, and to hold Malta, Sicily could not be allowed to fall in to French hands. 

Of course this prioritising of Sicily had to be constantly weighed against other key British priorities such as Wellington's war in Spain and the defence of Gibraltar and Glover's account illustrates well the different agendas by the various commanders, demanding appropriate force allocations having to be weighed at a governmental level.

Joachim Murat, King of Naples

The other key personality that stands out in this account is French, and that would be the mercurial King of Naples, Joachim Murat who displayed great brilliance and crass stupidity and duplicity whilst seemingly bent on a determined course of personal self destruction.

Neither he or Queen Carolina seemed to understand the limitations of the quality of the soldiers that served them, and the limits that imposed on their strategic aims, failing to appreciate them again and again.

Murat's impetuosity reached its zenith with the return of his former Emperor in 1815 with a Napoleon Bonaparte somewhat reserved about accepting an alliance with Murat after his deceit and double dealing attempts to hold on to his kingdom as the French cause collapsed in 1814.

Bonaparte's attempts to negotiate his peaceful return from Elba were utterly scuppered when Murat, declaring support for his old friend and mentor, took his Neapolitan army into Italy to attack the Austrians, convincing the Allies that to secure European peace required the crushing of all Napoleonic forces including those of Napoleon and forcing the commencement of the Hundred Days Campaign.

Offered a way out by the Austrians, even at the last moment, he stared a gift horse in the mouth and tried to start a coup in his former kingdom against them and finding no support was captured and executed by firing squad, a pitiful end to an eventful life.

Gareth Glover's book pulls together all the strands of the political, military and naval war that characterised the struggle to control this vital theatre that makes for a very readable account of a huge subject, capturing the details in fifty-six chapters, some only two to three pages in length and reading rather like individual essays, but brought together to give a very vivid account of the swings of fortune.

I really enjoyed the read and the pleasure of ranging over several years of conflict in different parts of this very large and varied theatre by reading a few chapters in an evening, and coming away from this book with a much clearer understanding of why military events I had read about previously were fought when and where they were and how they fitted in to the great scheme of things.

The Forgotten War Against Napoleon has the following contents:

List of Plates:
Toulon Harbour
The Tower at Mortella, 1793
Napoleon at Malta, June 1798
The Battle of the Pyramids, 21 July 1798
The Battle of the Nile, 1 August 1798
Port Mahon, Minorca
The Battle of Alexandria, 21 March 1801
The Battle of Algeciras, 6 July 1801
The burning of the USS Philadelphia in Tripoli Harbour, 1804
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805
The Battle of Maida, 4 July 1806
Admiral Sir John Duckworth forcing a pass through the Dardanelles
The Battle of Athos, 1807
The Battle of Castalla, 13 April 1813
Napoleon leaves Elba, 1815
The bombardment of Algiers, 1816

List of Maps:
The Mediterranean, 1810
The Central Mediterranean,1810
The Siege of Toulon, 1793
The Island of Corsica, 1801
The Straits of Gibraltar, 1801
Plan of the Battle of Cape St Vincent, 14 February 1797
Napoleon's Campaign in Egypt, 1798
Plan of the Battle of the Nile, 1 August 1798
Malta, 1801
The Balearic Islands, 1800
Northern Italy, 1800
Cadiz, 1801
Plan of the Battle of Alexandria, 21 March 1801
Elba 1801
Plan of the Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805
The Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, 1810
The Environs of Maida, 1806
The Dardanelles, 1807
Egypt, 1807
Sicily and the Straits of Messina
Portugal and Spain
The French Assault on Capri, 4 October 1808
Eastern Spain
Naples Bay, 1801
The Adriatic Sea
The Ionian Islands
Santa Maura (Lefkada)
The Dalmatian Coastline
The French Siege of Tarragona, 1811
The Danubian Provinces
The Battle of Castalla, 13 April 1813
The Island of Corfu, 1801
The Environs of Marseille 1801


1. Storm Clouds Gather
2. Opening Shots (1793)
3. The Siege of Toulon (1793)
4. Supporting the Allies (1793)
5. Corsica (1794)
6. Admiral Hotham (1795-95)
7. Sir John Jervis (1796)
8. Abandoning the Mediterranean (1796-97)
9. The Great Expedition (1798)
10. Egypt Succumbs (1798)
11. The Blockade of Malta (1799)
12. The Contest for Egypt (1799)
13. All Change (1799)
14. The British Confusion (1800)
15. The Convention of El Arish (1800)
16. The British Land in Egypt (1801)
17. Algeciras (1801)
18. The Peace of Amiens (1802)
19. Mutiny and War during Peace (1802)
20. War Resumes (1803-04)
21. Trafalgar (1805)
22. Naples (1805)
23. Maida and Beyond (1806)
24. The Fox (1806)
25. The Dardanelles (1807)
26. Egypt Again (1807)
27. Change Again (1807)
28. The French Set Sail (1808)
29. Spain (1808)
30. Capri (1808)
31. Rescuing the Pope (1808)
32. The Eastern Coast of Spain (1808)
33. Ischia and Procida (1809)
34. Gerona (1809)
35. The Adriatic (1808-09)
36. Sicily (1810)
37. Santa Maura (1810)
38. Collingwood Passes (1810)
39. Murat Attacks (1810)
40. Tortosa (1810)
41. An Adriatic Base (1810)
42. Tarragona (1811)
43. Lord William Bentinck (1811)
44. Fleet Actions (1811)
45. The Russo-Turkish War (1811)
46. Alicante (1812)
47. The Rivoli and Lagosta (1812)
48. Sicily and Ponza (1813)
49. Castalla (1813)
50. Cattaro and Ragusa (1813)
51. The French Abandon Spain (1813)
52. Italy and the End Game (1814-15)
53. Elba (1814-15)
54. The War Resumes (1815)
55. North Africa (1815-16)
56 Aftermath


The book has 251 pages covering the various chapters together with a very useful selection of maps that I found myself referring to regularly as often chapters will cover off in more detail a subject highlighted in a previous chapter as events cross each other in the time line.

With an avid interest in understanding the naval war as it related to events on land in this theatre, I can see myself using this book as a ready reference to remind myself exactly what was going on at any given time and the influences created.

So if it is Sharp Practice scenarios, big battles at land and sea or the background information for running campaigns set in the Mediterranean this book has a lot to offer the historical wargamer and makes for a very good read in its own right.

The Forgotten War Against Napoleon has a list price of £25 in hardback but I have seen new copies retailing for as little as just under £7 which is a bargain.

Next Up, the Spanish Frigate Ninfa, walks on Dartmoor and exploring gun batteries on the south Devon coast and yet more adventures in the world of Vassal as Steve and I completed a third game of Washington's War, reacquainted ourselves with Band of Heroes from Lock n Load and really enjoyed our first game of Mr Madison's War of 1812. 


  1. Great recommendation - I like the smaller "forgotten" type of actions as they make really interesting scenarios.

    1. Thanks Gregg, yes me too, and some of the characters described make for some interesting leaders to include in them.

      I found the time line of events and various factions in the Mediterranean outside of the well known headline grabbers somewhat confusing, especially when looking at the naval events, very much aligned with what was happening on land, and Glover's account gives a very cogent picture that makes it easier to see why decisions were taken when they were and the events that pertained to drive them.