War and Diplomacy in the Napoleonic Era by Reider Payne: a review

War and Diplomacy in the Napoleonic Era by Reider Payne: a review by Lynn Bryant

War and Diplomacy in the Napoleonic Era is a biography of Sir Charles Stewart who was a soldier, a diplomat and the half-brother of Lord Castlereagh. He was also an exuberant personality and Reider Payne does a fabulous job of bringing to life the man and his era in this book.

I first heard of the book on Twitter, as the author posts regularly on his subject, and his enthusiasm for both his subject and his chosen period shines through in 240 characters at a time, and caused me to put myself out to get hold of a copy. I’m really glad I did.

This is an excellent piece of research as well as a very good book. I read it initially as a research tool for my own historical fiction books, and had expected only to make use of a couple of chapters for this. A week later I emerged, having read it from cover to cover. Sir Charles Stewart is one of those larger-than-life historical characters whose sense of adventure and love of life create hilarious anecdotes. There was a lot more to Stewart however, than a courageous soldier, and Payne’s thorough and meticulous research takes us on a journey through the diplomatic minefield of early-nineteenth century Europe both during and after the Napoleonic Wars.

Stewart’s complex career along with his relationship with his half-brother Castlereagh are very well handled, and the book is written with a light touch. Payne has the enviable gift of a historian who is at ease with his subject but who can write very well, and this book is both scholarly and entertaining. I loved it.

The only complaint I have is the impossible price, which is the fault of the publisher rather than the author. I was able to get it from a library, but I am delighted to see that it is coming out in paperback next year, and I’ve already pre-ordered it, as I’ll want to return to it when I reach the Congress of Vienna.

Charles Stewart leaps out of the pages of this fabulous biography as an intelligent, sensitive and difficult personality, a man very much of his time. I loved this book and would strongly recommend it to both academic readers or those with a more general interest in the period.

An easy five stars.