A Family Row 1812

A Family Row 1812 follows on closely from the previous post. In a Redoubtable Citadel,  Paul and Anne have had a wonderful time with the children but relationships among the adults are becoming strained…

 

Lisbon, March 1812

They met the following day in the dining room with Patience included. Her taut hostility told Anne that Joshua had shared Paul’s conversation with her and she wished he had not. Seated around the long table Paul took his family through the arrangements he had put in place should he be killed. It was hard not to be sombre. He and Anne had talked it through months ago and then set it aside, refusing to let thoughts of potential disaster ruin the pleasure of their days together. They revisited it now.

When he had finished, Paul closed the file of documents. “I’ve sent copies of everything to More and also to Sir Matthew Howard’s lawyers. A third copy will be held by the firm of Blundell and Merchison in London who represent Lord Wellington. They drew up the will and the trusts and they’ll represent Nan if she needs anything.  One of their junior partners is currently attached to Wellington’s staff and knows her well.”

Anne glanced covertly at her brother-in-law who was staring at his father. There was a veiled warning in Paul’s words and she knew Joshua would have understood it. Franz was looking at Anne. “This is a huge amount of responsibility for a girl of your age,” he said.

Anne studied him, weighing up her reply. “Sir, I know it seems that way to you.  And I’d much rather not have to take it on, since that would mean the man I love is dead in some Spanish grave. But I’m capable of it. They send boys of my age out to lead men. Paul was younger than I am now, I believe, when he led his company at Assaye and nobody told him that was too much responsibility.”

“That’s different. He’s a man.”

“Why is it different?”

“Anne, I am aware that you are a very unusual young woman. And believe me, when I tell you that I have nothing but admiration for what you have done for my son. You’ve made him happier than I have ever seen him. But…”

“He’s made me happy too, sir. But that’s not our job. That’s not what we do, that’s just a consequence of two people in love being together. In addition to that we have other lives, other things that we do which matter. I…”

“My dear, while I think you are very noble to help with the nursing you can hardly equate that with what my brother-in-law does,” Patience said with biting sarcasm. “Nor can I see how that is likely to help with managing four children, at least two of whom can be very difficult. Besides which, you are very young. Forgive me, but I would not wish to see Paul’s children – or his fortune – fall into the hands of some ne’er-do-well whom you might decide to take up with after his death.”

Anne shot a glance at her husband. He was keeping his temper surprisingly well, but she wished Patience would temper her remarks. “Well I would not wish to see that either, Patience, so let us not speak of it further,” she said calmly. “I am hoping that none of this will ever be needed. We just want to be sure that if the worst did happen, my position with the children is very clear.”

“My dear Anne, like you I hope it will never come to that,” Patience said smoothly. “But if it did, I suspect in a court of law, the judge would consider everything, including moral character.”

There was a frozen silence around the table. Joshua said mildly:

“Patience, I know you’re upset, but that was uncalled for.”

“Uncalled for?” Paul said, and Anne looked quickly at his expression, seeing that his father was doing the same.

“No!” she said firmly. “Do not say any of the things you want to say just now, Paul, it will not help. And you can’t hit her, she’s a female.”

“I’m rethinking my position on that one, girl of my heart. Patience, did I just hear you suggest that if I am killed in battle, my family would consider attacking my wife’s good name in court in order to take my children from her?”

“I am simply pointing out…”

“We wouldn’t, Paul,” Franz said softly. “Christ, you must know that.”

“I hope I do, sir, but it’s an interesting light on the character of my sister-in-law. I am definitely beginning to think I want her influence on my children kept to a minimum if that’s how her mind works.”

He was visibly furious and Anne put her hand firmly on his arm. “Enough, love. We need to solve this.” She looked at Patience. “For the sake of the children, who are genuinely attached to both of us, I am hoping we can put this to one side,” she said quietly. “But please understand that if you were ever to impugn my virtue or attack my reputation in any way, the first person to stand up in court to defend me would be Lord Wellington. I would probably follow with Marshal Beresford and General Sir Charles Stewart. But I could choose any one of the senior staff. You would lose and you would look like a spiteful, vengeful female jealous of a younger sister-in-law. So let us put that idea away and focus on…”

There were sounds from the hallway and Paul looked around. Mario appeared in the doorway.

“My apologies for disturbing you, Colonel, but there is a messenger for you. It is apparently urgent.”

Paul looked over at Anne and gave a rueful smile. Anne felt her heart sink. “Well you did better than you thought you’d do,” she said gently.

“I know, girl of my heart. Who is it, Mario?”

“It’s me, sir. Sorry.”

Paul got up and Anne did the same. “It’s good to see you, Sergeant, although I wish you’d managed to lose that on the way. Everything all right?”

Hammond came fully into the room and saluted. “Fine, sir. I’ve got letters from Colonel Wheeler and Major Swanson. And one for you, ma’am, from Keren.”

“How is she, Jamie, I’m missing her?”

“She’s missing you too, ma’am, we all are. Place isn’t the same without you.”

Paul observed with some amusement the consternation among his family at the sight of his wife embracing a sergeant. “At ease, Sergeant and hand it over. Is he yelling yet?”

“He’s been pretty good, sir, but he had a letter from General Alten yesterday. It seems his return has been delayed and his Lordship is ready to move out to Badajoz. All of a sudden he’s marching in on Colonel Wheeler demanding to know where you are and why you’re not back, as if he’d no idea how it had happened.”

He handed Paul a letter in Wellington’s familiar scrawl and Paul glanced at his father. “I’m sorry, I need to read this.”

“Of course.”

Paul opened it and skimmed it quickly, his lips quirking into a smile.  “Grumpy,” he said mildly. “He seems to have forgotten he gave me leave at all. He thinks we’ll breach Badajoz before Alten gets here in which case he wants me in temporary command.”

“Of the Light Division?” Franz said, shocked.

“Well, he’s not going to put me in charge of the cavalry, that’s for sure. Barnard and Vandeleur are going to yell at this and quite rightly. I’m going to have to get back there and fast, girl of my heart, before he stamps all over their pride. He’s not noted for his tact when he’s in this mood.”

“I know, love.”

Paul came forward and lifted her hand to his lips. “I’m sorry. Look, why don’t you stay a few days longer? I’ll move faster on my own and you can come up with the supply column as we originally planned. It will give you a chance to say goodbye to the children properly, and you can make sure everything is in order with the column.”

Anne smiled. “And it means you can ride through the night and sleep rough and not have to think about my delicate sensibilities along the way.”

“You have none, bonny lass. It’s up to you…”

“It’s all right, Colonel, I know you need to get going. Stay tonight though and let Jamie get some rest since it’s unlikely he’ll get much for a few days.”

Paul laughed and bent to kiss her very gently. Behind him, his brother said:

“Paul, are you mad? She can’t do that journey without you or any respectable female to chaperone her.”

Sergeant Hammond gave a splutter of laughter which he hastily turned into a cough and Paul grinned. “Bad cough that, Hammond. Josh, she’ll be fine. There’ll be an escort with the supply column, they’ll probably pull together a few men returning from sick leave. And if they get lost, she’ll tell them which way to go.”

Anne glanced at Hammond. “Jamie, go with Mario and get something to eat.  We need to finish here and then go and tell the children. Which I am going to find very hard.”

When he had gone Anne turned back and looked at them. “I’m going to find the children,” she said. “I don’t need to be here. What you all need to do now is mend some bridges. He’s going tomorrow and you don’t need me to tell you…anyway, talk for a bit and then let’s move on. I am sorry that you don’t really approve of me yet. Perhaps you never will. But what is more important just now is that you make your peace, you don’t need me here, I’m the outsider.”

“No you’re not,” Paul said quickly and Anne smiled and went to kiss him.

“Not with you, idiot. But we’re asking too much of them in a short time, Paul. I understand you had to tell them how we’re arranging things, but they don’t have to like it. Just talk to them.”

She left and there was silence. Into it, Franz said:

“It’s gone too quickly.”

“I know.” Paul turned and studied his family. “She’s right,” he said.

“According to you she’s always right, Paul,” Joshua said.

“Josh, she’s my wife and I love her. I also love you. But when it comes to the future of my children, I’m putting them first. I really hope you don’t have to cope with this before you’ve had a chance to get used to the idea. Let’s not fight any more.”

Paul was exhausted by the time he was ready to set off the following morning, worn out by the tears of his children and the restrained unhappiness of his father and brother. Hammond waited impassively with Jenson and the horses and Paul knelt and kissed Grace, Francis and Rowena then took Will from Anne’s arms and kissed his sleeping son very gently. He handed him to the nurse and turned back to his wife.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes. I’ll be seeing you very soon, Colonel, don’t worry.”

“I won’t, bonny lass.” Paul turned to his father. “Father, it’s been good to see you. Thank you for coming – you too, Josh. And for bringing the children. I can’t tell you what it’s meant to me. Will you tell Patience the same?”

His brother nodded and hugged him. Paul had the odd impression that they had never before really thought about the possibility of his death in battle and he supposed that talking through practical arrangements had made it real to them. He turned to embrace Franz and his father hugged him hard.

“Take care, Paul. Not that you will.”

“I will. I always do as far as I can, sir.”

“Listen to me, boy, because I know you’ve no time. You shouldn’t have to go off without being sure. Whatever you want, whatever you’ve set up for her, I’ll see it done. No question.”  Franz glanced over at his daughter-in-law with a slight smile. “You’re wrong to think I don’t approve of her. I do, very much. It’s just not what I’m used to. But I promise it will be done the way you want. And I’ll take care of her.”

“Thank you,” Paul said softly. “It means so much…look I need to get out of here before I embarrass myself. I love you.”

“I love you too, lad. Goodbye.”

A Family Reunion 1812

A family reunion, 1812 is an excerpt from A Redoubtable Citadel, book four of the Peninsular War Saga. I was asked as part of #HistFicXmas 2023 to describe my happiest family scene in the books. There a few lovely scenes between Paul and his family but this one is probably my favourite. It’s the first time Anne has met her older step-children and her in-laws and I think it gives an interesting picture of what kind of relationship they’re all going to have. It is also a lovely moment between Paul and his father.

 

 

 

Lisbon,  February 1812

They arrived at the villa shortly after noon. They had travelled at an easy pace, giving Paul’s wound a chance to heal and were greeted at the door by Mario who ran the household and who emerged shouting orders in Portuguese about luggage and horses.

“Mario, it’s good to see you. It’s been a while.”

“Too long, Colonel. You look well and your lady is as beautiful as ever. And a new little one.”

“This is William, Mario, and be thankful he’s asleep because he is very noisy.”

“He looks like his father, Señora.”

“Is my family here, Mario?” Paul asked.

“They are, Colonel. Señor van Daan is in the courtyard.”

“We’ll go straight through and then Nan can take Will up and get him settled with his nurse.”

“Yes, Colonel. I will make sure they are unpacking.”

Paul walked through into the courtyard with Anne beside him. There was a man sitting at the table reading. He looked up and then rose and Paul stopped very suddenly.

“Father. Oh Christ, I’d no idea you were coming.”

“Paul.”

Anne shot a glance at her husband and saw that there was an unexpected shine to his eyes. She looked across at her father-in-law and realised that he was equally affected. It was not surprising. They must have been angry with each other for so much of their lives, these two towering personalities. But since they had last met, Paul had almost died at Talavera, had lost a wife and married another and had risen to the rank of brigade commander at a very young age. His communication with his father had been limited to writing letters during that time and Anne wondered suddenly how much Franz van Daan worried. She stepped forward. 

“You two need some time alone,” she said quietly. “Let’s do the introductions later. I’m going to take Will up and get him settled with Gwen and I’ll change into something that doesn’t look as though I’ve been on the road for a week.” She looked over at her father-in-law, who tore his eyes away from his son to return her regard. “It is good to meet you, sir, although we’ve not properly met yet. But we’ll do that later.”

She touched Paul’s arm and made to go, but he caught her about the waist and drew her back. “Just a moment, girl of my heart. Father, have a quick look at my latest.”

His father came forward and Anne held out the sleeping child for inspection. “I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you meant your latest offspring,” she said and Paul gave a choke of laughter and kissed her.

“I did. Go on then, go and get him fed and settled.”

***

When Anne had left Paul looked at his father. Franz stepped forward and embraced him.

“Christ, Paul, I know it’s not possible, but I’d swear you’ve grown. Perhaps I’m shrinking.”

Paul laughed and released him, blinking back the tears. “You’re not, I promise you. It’s the uniform, it makes us all look bigger. I wonder if that’s why they chose it?  Something about scaring off the enemy. I’m sorry about this, you caught me by surprise.”

“I’m sorry, I should have written to tell you. It was a sudden decision. I thought about it and realised it had been too long, and there isn’t much chance you’re coming home any time soon, is there?”

“No. I’m so glad you came. Where are Josh and Patience?”

“Out sightseeing. And that was your wife.”

“Yes. Now that you’ve seen her…”

“Now that I’ve seen her, boy, it’s very clear to me how you came to marry her so damned quickly. You could hardly let her sit and wait; I presume there was a queue?”

Paul laughed, going to pour wine. “There would have been, but I was very fast,” he said, handing a glass to his father. “Sir, thank you for coming, I’m so glad I made it down with Nan, now.”

He held out a chair for Franz and sat down opposite. “So were you hoping to see me and or were you curious to meet Nan?”

Franz laughed. “Both. Brigade commander, Paul – how old are you now?”

“You’re my father, you’re supposed to know that. I’m thirty one.”

“Christ, you really took this seriously, didn’t you?”

“Very. Although I’m well aware you never expected me to.”

Franz gave a wry smile. “No. I thought you were doing it to snap your fingers at me because I suggested the law. I gave it a couple of years and thought you’d be back at home and ready to fall into line.”

“When did you stop thinking that Father?”

“After Assaye. I was privileged to watch you those first weeks at Melton and I spoke to Colonel Dixon. It was obvious you’d found where you wanted to be.” Franz glanced at him and smiled slightly. “And I’m guessing you found something else as well.”

“My lady? Yes. I’m still getting used to it, I suppose. Although I’m not sure I’m ever going to learn to take her for granted.”

“I was sorry about Rowena, Paul.”

“It still hurts,” Paul admitted. “She was so much a part of my life, it was as if there was a hole left that nothing else could fill. I have Nan, and had from the first, and I love her in a way I never did Rowena. But I don’t think I ever knew what Rowena meant to me until she’d gone. She stood by me through so much. It’s been hard at times, so much has happened in the past couple of years.”

“It is difficult to keep up by letter,” his father said dryly.

Paul accepted the implied reproof with a rueful smile. “It’s impossible, and I’m not a very reliable correspondent, I know. Once you’ve got to know Nan properly you’ll do better, she’s very good. And you can read her handwriting which is more than you can say for mine.”

“I’m looking forward to getting to know her. How long can you stay?”

“Probably not long. Wellington treats requests for leave like being bled by an over-enthusiastic junior surgeon. And he’s especially bad with me, God knows why.  Bloody Craufurd got three months in England last year and I couldn’t manage a week to get married. I’m here and I’m hoping for a couple of weeks but if one of my ensigns walks through that door in a week’s time telling me that Wellington is screaming for me, I won’t be a bit surprised. If that does happen, I may leave Nan for a bit longer if you’re happy with that. There are always supply columns coming north, she can get an escort back when she’s ready. And the way the commissariat feel about her, they’ll move a lot faster with our rations if she’s with them.”

“What on earth does the commissariat have to do with your wife, Paul?”

“More than they’d like, she’s my unofficial quartermaster. As well as my unofficial regimental surgeon. You ought to hear the medical board on the subject.”

Franz was laughing. “I am more and more glad I came. She’s got you somewhere I never thought you’d be, Paul, you can’t keep the smile off your face when you talk about her, can you? How long have you been married?”

“About a year and a half. It doesn’t seem that long, and yet it’s hard to remember life without her.”

“How old is she?”

“She’s twenty-two. She married for the first time very young, he was killed just before Bussaco and we married soon after that.”

“And how long had you known her, Paul?”

Paul could hear the suspicion in his father’s voice. He considered for a moment then decided to tell the truth. “I met her in ’08 in Yorkshire.”

“I see. You’ve been surprisingly constant then.”

Paul looked down at the wrought iron table for a moment, then up into his father’s eyes. “You mean given that I was unfaithful to Rowena? Yes, sir. If I could go back, I’d change what I did back then, but I can’t. I intend to keep my marriage vows this time around.”

Franz gave a faint smile. “This wife of yours seems to have thoroughly tamed you, my boy.”

“I don’t see that as an insult, sir.”

“It was not intended as one. Is there anything she can’t do?”

“Well I’ve yet to see her cook a meal, and if you hand her a shirt that needs mending she’s likely to tear it up for bandages. She isn’t much like other women, sir.  Although she has proved surprisingly adept at motherhood which is a bit of a surprise to both of us. I missed the birth completely but she seemed to sail through it without a hitch, and she’s proved astonishingly competent with Will. It’s going to be hard for her, he’s very young.”

“Is he weaned?”

“We’ve brought a wet nurse. She’s an Englishwoman who lost her man at Fuentes de Oñoro and she has a young daughter. She’s from London and wants to go home. Once Will is properly weaned, which won’t be long, it’s up to you if she stays on as his nurse or goes home – just make sure she gets there if that’s what she wants. Her name’s Gwen and she’s a good girl, you’ll have no trouble with her.”

“We still have Mary who came home with Rowena,” Franz said with a smile.  “She’s proved herself very useful and she married a few months ago, one of our grooms.  Paul, there’s something I’ve not told you yet.”

“Go on.”

“When we decided to come out to collect William and meet your wife, we…”

There were sounds of arrival in the hallway and Paul heard his sister-in-law’s gentle tones admonishing. The door to the courtyard burst open and a child entered.  He was wearing a white shirt and breeches with a loose jacket, open and with two buttons missing. He looked at least nine or ten from his height and manner, but Paul knew it was deceptive, knew he was not quite eight.

“Papa!”

“Francis.” Paul moved forward uncertainly and then the child ran. Paul caught him up into his arms and held him tight, the boy’s arms wrapped around his neck in a stranglehold. Paul buried his face in his son’s hair, fairer than his, almost white like Rowena’s and inhaled the scent of him. Beyond him he saw his brother coming forward, smiling, and then his sister-in-law holding the hand of a girl of around ten, dainty and fair in a pink dress with a white pinafore over it. Paul dropped to his knees, still holding his son with one arm and held out his other arm to his daughter.

“Grace. Oh lass, come here. You’re as pretty as your mother.”

Grace ran forward and joined the embrace and Paul knelt holding them and kissing them. Finally he looked up at Patience.

“Thank you,” he said softly. “You’ve no idea. I’m revising my plans, if Wellington wants me out of here before two weeks, he can either come and get me himself or cashier me. I can take the loss.”

“Oh, Good Heavens.”

Paul looked up. His wife was coming into the courtyard from the inner door, laughing. She had changed out of her travelling clothes into a sprigged muslin gown trimmed with blue and she looked very young and very beautiful. “You kept this very quiet, Paul.”

“Love, I didn’t know.”

Anne smiled at her sister-in-law and Joshua, both of whom were staring at her in considerable astonishment. “But there’s one missing, and she’s the only one I’ve met before.”

“She’s here, but she’s a little shy,” Patience said, lifting the smallest child from her skirts. She was not yet two, as fair as the others. Anne came forward.

“My poor Will is going to look like a changeling in this family if he keeps that dark hair. Although he’s got the eyes and the attitude already.”

“And what makes you think that attitude comes from me?” her husband said, laughing up at her. Anne thought, her heart unexpectedly full, that she had never seen him look quite so carefree. Reaching out she took Rowena from Patience and settled her on one hip.

“You were very tiny the last time I held you,” she said, studying the child. Blue Van Daan eyes looked back at her.  Anne kissed the soft cheek. “When he’s stopped feeding, which might be a while, you shall all come up and meet your new brother.”

“Half-brother,” Grace said. She was staring at Anne as if she could not tear her eyes away.

“Grace!” Patience said, horrified. Anne laughed. 

“No, she’s completely right. There are a lot of half relationships in this family, aren’t there? I’m going to sit over here with Rowena because she’s heavy, come and sit by me, Grace, you need to help me work all this out. You’re the eldest, aren’t you, which makes you how old?”

“I’m nine. My mother is dead.”

“I know, Grace, and I’m sorry. She died of fever in India, didn’t she? Your father has told me about her.”

Paul was watching the two of them, fascinated at seeing them together for the first time. His daughter went slowly to the chair beside Anne. Rowena was fidgeting, and without hesitation, Anne took the two combs out of her hair and gave them to the toddler, showing her how to lock them together and slide them apart again. Enchanted, Rowena began to play with the combs.

“Anne, let me take her up for you,” Patience said, and Anne looked up with a quick smile.

“Oh not yet, please? I’ve waited so long to meet them all.”

“Father told you about my mother?” Grace said, sounding incredulous, and Paul felt guilt twist like a knife. 

“Of course he did,” Anne said without a moment’s hesitation. “He didn’t need to tell me about Rowena because she was my best friend. I never met Nell but your father told me she was very pretty. And looking at you, Grace, I can believe it.”

Francis was watching Anne as well. Paul set him down and got up, his eyes on the children. Francis went to stand on the other side of Anne.

“My mother was pretty as well. I’ve seen a portrait.”

“I don’t know what my mother looked like, I’ve never seen a portrait of her,” Grace said wistfully.

“No there wasn’t much opportunity going to India,” Paul said lightly. “But if you want a fairly good idea, Grace, find a mirror. Your eyes are my colour but the shape of your face is Nell’s and no mistake.”

“Did you really know my mother?” Francis asked, and the wistful tone of his voice made Paul want to cry. He had not expected to see his children this week and he realised he had given no thought to how he would explain Rowena’s death, his marriage to Anne and their complicated relationship. He realised abruptly that Anne had already thought about this and knew exactly what she wanted to say.

“I knew her very well, Francis,” she said. “She was the best friend I ever had.”

“And was she really pretty?”

“She was lovely.”

“I look like my father,” Francis said, and Anne studied him and laughed. 

“You really do,” she said. “But you have one little thing that reminds me so much of Rowena that I want to cry.”

“What’s that?” Francis said eagerly.

Anne reached out and ran her finger lightly over the bridge of his nose. “You have her freckles,” she said softly. “Each one of them stamps her name all over you, Francis van Daan. And there are other things about her I’m hoping you have too.”

“What?”

“Her goodness. Her kindness. Her sense of right and wrong. If you keep hold of those as well as your father’s stubbornness you could be prime minister one day.”

“I want to be a soldier one day,” Francis said.

“Do you? Wherever did you get that idea from? Anyway, you can be a soldier and a politician, Lord Wellington has done both. Perhaps he’ll be prime minister one day, who knows?”

Grace had reached out and was touching the silky strands of Anne’s hair, which was coming loose without the tortoiseshell combs.

“Your hair is so beautiful.”

“Thank you, Grace. Although I admit I always used to want fair hair like yours.  I was envious of Rowena for that.”

“I think you’re prettier than my mother,” Francis said quietly, and Anne reached out and caressed his face gently.

“No, you’ve just forgotten how lovely she was. You can’t see it in a portrait. In the story books they gave me as a child, the prettiest princesses were always fair haired and blue eyed, like both of your mothers. What your father was thinking when he chose me as number three, we’ll never know.”

“I know,” Francis said firmly. “I think you’re beautiful. I think you’re the most beautiful lady I have ever seen.”

Anne was smiling. “There are an awful lot of beautiful ladies out there, Francis.  But thank you.”

“Number three?” Grace said, and there was an odd tone to her voice as though it had never occurred to her to place her long dead mother on the same footing as her two stepmothers. Paul felt guilt again and opened his mouth to speak then stopped as his wife reached out and put her arm around his daughter.

“Number three,” she said firmly. “Your mother was the first, Grace, then Rowena and now me. I know I can’t replace either of them with you, how could I? But I hope you’ll get used to me. I’ve heard so much about you all. Now who is going to come up and see Will? He can’t still be eating or he’ll explode like a shell.”

“And that one is going to haunt nursery teas for a while,” Paul said, beginning to laugh. Anne smiled up at him. 

“What is the point of nursery teas if you can’t have unsuitable conversations?  You should have heard some of the things my brothers used to say around the table, Nurse used to cover her ears.”

“If your brothers were the most badly behaved at your nursery tea table, I would be very surprised, girl of my heart. Hand over my youngest daughter, you’ve had her long enough.”

“Is that what he calls you?” Grace said, wide-eyed.

“He calls me a lot worse than that. Get those combs off her before she eats one of them, Paul, she can’t be hungry it’s not close to tea time.”

Francis began to laugh. “Combs for tea!”

“Only if you don’t behave, Master van Daan. Patience, I am so sorry, I’ve not even said how-do-you-do yet. And you as well, Joshua. Let me go and introduce Will, and when we’ve all driven him mad and he’s howling through over-excitement I’ll give him back to Gwen and come down for sherry and civilised conversation, I promise you. And I’ll dump this lot off in the nursery on the way to wash themselves, Francis looks as though he’s been through a battle on a wet day his face is so dirty.”

“It is not! I do not!”

“You absolutely do, and don’t argue with me, I’ve seen a lot of battles.”

“Have you? I didn’t know girls went near battles.”

Paul was laughing so hard he could not stop. “They’re not supposed to, Francis, but try telling your stepmother that, she hasn’t the least sense of propriety.”

His wife regarded him severely. “You’re becoming as over-excited as the children, Colonel. Give me Rowena and put those combs on the table before you break them, I’m serving them to Francis for tea later. Don’t come up, stay and be civil to your brother and Patience, I’m not sure you’ve even had a chance to speak to them yet. I’ll see you later.”

She left, and they could hear her progress with Francis and Grace suggesting a collection of bizarre items which could be served for tea.

The Van Daan Family

It has never occurred to me before to write a brief history of the Van Daan family for my readers. It occurred to me today when I was trying to catch up with the #HistFicXmas fun prompts on social media. I love doing those things, they’re a great was for an author to connect with readers, but sometimes the question is just too big for a Twitter post.

Prompt number 11 was Christmas = Family. Tell us about your MC’s (main character’s) family.

Well. Where do I start?

Funnily enough I’ve just posted this year’s free Christmas story which tells for the first time, the story of how Paul van Daan’s parents first met. Through casual mentions through the book we’ve learned that Franz van Daan was a wealthy merchant and businessman from Antwerp who made a fortune in India then another in the City and married a Viscount’s daughter. When I originally sketched out Paul’s background I hadn’t really thought in any detail about when or how an upstart Dutchman from new money came to marry into the English aristocracy. The Yule Log explains all of that.

I’m going to base this post firmly in 1813 which is where I’m up to in the Peninsular War Saga. At this point, the Van Daan family is separated by war. There are also internal tensions which will presumably have to be worked out once the war is over and Paul returns home. In the meantime, for #HistFicXmas this is a brief introduction to the family so far.

Franz van Daan is Paul’s father. He’s now in his seventies and still actively involved in running his business empire although Paul is beginning to think it’s time he slowed down a bit, especially after he recently broke his leg in a fall on the hunting field. Franz has been a widower for twenty years and has never shown any interest in marrying again. He lost his beloved Georgiana along with his young daughter Emily to smallpox when his younger son Paul was only ten. Since then he’s divided his time between his London house and his estate in Leicestershire and is gradually leaving more of the business to his older son Joshua to run.

Joshua van Daan is ten years older than Paul which makes him around forty. He’s been married to Patience for eighteen years. Until recently, they had no children though Patience had a series of miscarriages, but she recently gave birth to a daughter, named Emily after Georgiana’s mother and Paul’s sister. Joshua is a much loved older brother to Paul, a great support when he first came home after his enforced service in the Royal Navy. Their good relationship has been strained recently however, due to Patience’s disapproval of Paul’s unconventional second wife.

Patience van Daan is in her thirties and is described as a pleasant woman. She came from a good family and there’s an implication that her marriage to Joshua was arranged in a very traditional way. Even so, the couple seem happy and she and Paul had a good relationship until she was introduced to Anne. The two women seemed friendly enough at first but Anne’s determination to make her own decisions about the raising of her step-children caused things to cool and a furious family argument about the provisions in Paul’s will made tensions worse. In book eight Patience tries to stop the children travelling to Portugal during winter quarters.

An Unconventional OfficerAnne van Daan is Paul’s second wife and my female MC. She’s nine years younger than him and when they met he was already married. He married Rowena, his first wife, because he had seduced her and she was carrying his child. He had an affectionate relationship with Rowena, who bore him two children but he was unfaithful more than once. Anne was also previously married to Lieutenant Robert Carlyon who treated her appallingly. Paul and Anne were finally free to marry after Rowena died in childbirth and Robert was shot while trying to murder Anne. Since then, Anne has travelled with the army, putting up with the terrible hardships of campaign life to be with Paul. She is described more than once as the heart and soul of the regiment. Formidably intelligent, she is willing to turn her hand to doctoring, nursing, administration and diplomacy – anything in fact that doesn’t involve housekeeping.

Paul currently has five children living at Southwinds under the care of their Aunt Patience. There is an older girl who may or may not be his daughter from a brief affair when he was a student at Oxford. We know little about her apart from the fact that Paul chose to take financial responsibility for her and that her mother has since married. As far as we’re aware, he has never met her.

His eldest daughter Grace arrived in his life when she was a toddler. She was the result of another of Paul’s casual liaisons, this time with Nell Kemp, the wife and then widow of a soldier. Nell remarried to a sergeant of the Highland regiment and Paul had no idea she had borne him a child until Sergeant Fraser was killed at Assaye and Nell died of fever soon afterwards. She asked one of the women to take Grace to the 110th to find her father. Paul, newly made captain and badly wounded during the battle, was about to sail home to recover. He chose to take Grace with him and developed a close and loving relationship with her. Grace is now eleven, a strong-minded child who is only too aware of the disadvantages of being born out of wedlock. She loved Rowena as the only mother she had ever known but it is Anne who really seems to understand her and there’s a suggestion that these two are going to make a formidable team as Grace grows up.

Francis is Paul’s oldest son with Rowena, named for his grandfather Franz. He almost two years younger than Grace and the pair are inseparable. Francis seems to have inherited his father’s temper and passion for justice as well as his irrepressible high spirits and he and Grace are constantly in mischief. He’s fiercely protective of her and has been known to punch other children who tease her about her illegitimacy. Both his uncle and his grandfather think he should be sent to school but Paul is adamant that he’s still too young. Francis is desperate to go into the army and follow in Paul’s footsteps. Anne thinks that two of them might be a bit tough on the army.

Rowena is three, the image of her dead mother and was inclined to be shy and very clingy with Patience. Since travelling to meet Anne however, she seems to be developing more confidence. She is particularly devoted to her younger brother William and keeps a protective eye on him even at such a young age. She doesn’t remember her mother and both Anne and Paul are determined to make sure that Rowena’s children know all about her.

William is two, Anne’s first child and has his mother’s dark hair though he still has the Van Daan blue eyes. It’s too early to know much about his personality. The same can be said for Anne’s latest child, little Georgiana who is not yet a year old. She was born prematurely after the appalling retreat from Madrid and Burgos and her birth was difficult enough for both Paul and Anne to hope that there won’t be any more too soon.

That brings me to the end of the current members of Paul’s family. Other family members are mentioned from time to time. We know that Franz had an older brother Andries who was also in trade divided his time between Antwerp and Cape Town and there is a brief mention in book one of his daughter Christina. Paul’s mother was an only child but we know that her father’s title was inherited by her cousin Edward and his family are presumably still neighbours of the Van Daans in Leicestershire. Anne also has a big family living in the industrial town of Thorndale in Yorkshire and it’s possible we’ll see more of some of them in future books.

After a shaky start and far too many youthful wild oats, Paul van Daan has proved to be a devoted husband and father and very much a family man. I’ve enjoyed getting to know his father and mother in this latest story and if all goes well I’m hoping you’ll get to know his children better in future books. I’m not convinced that the Van Daans history with the army is going to end in 1815…

Fur and Feathers at War

The idea for Fur and Feathers at War came to me when the Historical Writers Forum announced that their April monthly theme would be Animals. When I began writing the Peninsular War Saga many years ago, I will freely admit I didn’t really think much about animals. I knew there would be some of course. Horses and pack animals were essential for early nineteenth century logistics and even though I wasn’t writing about the cavalry it was obvious they would feature.

As the books moved on, gained readers and then fans, it was clear however that animals were destined to play an important part in both series and the associated short stories. Apart from the transport and riding animals, we’ve had dogs, cats and even a budgie. Animals also feature as essential food and occasionally simply as comic relief. During the early nineteenth century, vegetarianism and veganism wasn’t generally an option.

Anybody who follows me on social media will know me as an animal lover. On Napoleonic Twitter, I’m sometimes referred to as the Mad Labrador Woman but there are also a variety of cats, birds and goldfish in my past. I’m unashamedly sentimental about animals while recognising that my officers and men cannot often afford to be. The horrors of war, particularly on horses, are very well documented elsewhere.

My animals tell my readers a great deal about my characters but by now, they are also characters in their own right. In honour of ‘Animals Month’ therefore, I thought I’d share some of my favourite fictional creatures. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Horses

Horses and carriages were an essential form of transport in the early nineteenth century and most officers had several horses with them. Paul van Daan’s favourite horse is Rufus, a roan gelding he bought in Ireland before he went to Copenhagen in 1807. Right from the start, it’s clear that he is very attached to Rufus and although he is generally his first choice on a long march, Paul prefers not to take him into battle. On at least one occasion when he does, Rufus is injured when a bullet grazes his side and Paul’s reaction is a good indication of why he’d never have joined the cavalry.

An Uncommon Campaign, 110th at the Battle of Fuentes d'OnoroPaul hung on grimly, hearing the shouts of the men around him, and a furious volley of fire back at the enemy. Bringing Rufus finally under control he slid from the saddle feeling physically sick and ran his hand down the animal’s sweating neck.

“Good lad. Settle down and let’s look at you.”

“Sir.” One of the German captains had reached his side. “Are you hurt?”

“No, but he is, I felt him flinch. Hold him, would you? Christ, he’s shaking.”

Paul gave the reins to the German and moved around to study Rufus, quickly seeing the dark stain on his right shoulder.  Talking soothingly to his horse he moved closer and very gently examined the wound.  The horse tried to pull away and Paul held on and put his face against the smooth neck, whispering to Rufus as he checked the wound.

“I don’t think it’s too deep – a bad graze. He’s a bloody bad shot.”

“Nein, Colonel. He aimed at the horse, I was watching him,” the German said. Paul turned to look at him.  Around him he was aware that the sound of firing was dying away, only the shots of the rifles ringing out as they fired after the retreating cavalry.

“It’s Captain Steiger, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir. I was looking directly at him. As you turned away, he lifted his pistol and aimed it at you. And then he lowered it and pointed it at the horse.”

Paul was holding Rufus’ head close to him. He kissed the horse very gently on the nose and smiled as his mount nuzzled him. “Bastard.  He probably couldn’t see to aim at me in this light, so he went for the bigger target. If I see him on the field this week, I am going to blow his bloody head off. All right, boy, calm down. If you’re snuffling for treats, you’re not that bad.”

There are too many other horses involved in the Peninsular War Saga to list them all, but one of the most popular appeared in the Manxman series, when Paul’s battalion were sent to Denmark. For such a short campaign he chose not to subject his horses to the misery of a sea voyage, but managed to hire two horses from a local inn. One of them was a young horse called Felix. The other was Luna, an overweight piebald mare. I found it very entertaining to send my gallant hero trotting around Denmark on the equivalent of a Thelwell pony and my readers absolutely loved the story of Luna, especially how it ended. It’s probably the first time in the books that we glimpse just how sentimental Major van Daan really can be about animals.

“Captain, do you think you could spare Mr Durrell for an hour tomorrow to show me the way? After that, I promise I’ll be out of your hair, my wife will have forgotten what I look like.”

“Willingly,” Hugh said. “As long as he doesn’t come back telling me he’s accepted a commission in the army, I’d be less than pleased to lose him now that I’ve grown accustomed to a first lieutenant who knows what he’s doing.”

He saw the surprise in Durrell’s eyes and he avoided looking at Paul van Daan. The Major was already arrogant enough.

“Are you travelling post?” he asked.

“I am, although I’m taking it slowly as I’ve a horse to take with me. I bought the young black from Hr Lund. He’s a beauty, Lund had no idea what he’d got there.”

“Really? How the hell did you get him back?”

Paul laughed. “I paid an extortionate bribe to the captain in charge of one of the troop ships to find them a berth; it’s why I’ve taken a while to set off home, I’ve been waiting for them to arrive.”

“Them?” Roseen said.

Hugh saw the Major flush slightly. He met Roseen’s amused gaze and then laughed aloud. “I didn’t mean to admit that,” he said.

Hugh stared at him in astonishment. “Major, you aren’t telling me you bought that fat, ugly mare and paid to have her shipped to England?”

Paul was laughing. “I’ve two children, Captain, and she’s such a gentle soul.”

“And you could buy something similar at any horse fair in England for half the price. That animal is one step away from the slaughterhouse…”

He broke off, understanding, and then started to laugh. “Nobody could believe you were that soft,” he said.

“I would,” his wife said. “Does Sir Arthur Wellesley know?”

“No, thank God. And I am not telling him, he will roast me for years. I paid very little for her; Lund couldn’t believe I’d offered anything.”

“He’s not alone in that,” Hugh said.

“With proper care she’s got a good few years left in her and she will be good for the children, she’s got the sweetest nature.” Paul shrugged. “I got attached to her.”

“Christ, fella, how do you bring yourself to kill the French?” Hugh said.

“Oh, I’m very good at that. I hate killing their horses though.”

The other horse to play a very significant role in the books doesn’t arrive until book six and makes an immediate impact. I didn’t have to invent a name or description for Lord Wellington’s favourite mount, since Copenhagen was real. This is one horse that Paul is not particularly fond of.

“As it happens, I have several new horses I am trying out. One of them looks particularly promising, I’d like you to see him.”

Jenson led Rufus back into the square and Pearl followed Lord Wellington, frisking excitedly around him, knowing that she was going out. After a few minutes, one of the grooms appeared from the stable, leading a horse that Paul did not recognise.

He was a stallion, not particularly tall but with a strong muscular frame, a very dark chestnut with two white heels. Wellington came forward and patted the horse’s neck. Pearl jumped around and the horse sidestepped a little to avoid her. Paul came forward as his chief put a hand into his pocket and withdrew a treat. He fed the horse as his groom still held the reins, bent to check the girth then put one foot into the stirrup and mounted.

Unexpectedly, the horse pulled away from the grooms, backing up fast, his teeth bared in a grimace. Wellington hung on and the groom reached for the bridle. The horse bucked and then reared up with a squeal, his hooves lashing out. One caught the groom on the shoulder, and he fell back with a cry of pain. Wellington clung to the reins, displaying impressive reactions, fighting to bring the animal under control, while Jenson turned Rufus away and led him out of range before the horse’s panic affected him.

As Paul tried to grasp the bridle, the horse kicked out hard with his back legs and Paul dodged, then moved in fast, and reached the horse, grabbing the bridle while taking care to avoid the animal’s flying hooves. Wellington had regained his composure immediately and took a firm hold, pulling the horse in, talking to it in low tones. Paul met his chief’s eyes and stepped back, releasing the horse. With another man he might have held on until he was certain that the horse was calm, but he was not afraid for Wellington, who was a superb rider and more than capable of managing the most difficult mount. Paul stood watching for a moment, to be sure, but Wellington had the animal well under control. Paul turned to the groom, who was being helped to his feet by Wellington’s orderly.

“Are you all right, Brett?”

“I think so, sir.” Brett was cautiously moving his arm. “Winded me a bit.”

“You should see the surgeon, just to get him to have a look at that, it was a hell of a kick.”

“I’ll be all right, sir. I’m sorry, my Lord, he caught me off guard. Shall I take him…?”

“Do not be stupid, Brett, if you are injured, you may not be able to control him, and besides he will settle down now that he knows who is in charge. Morrison, escort Brett to see a surgeon. General van Daan, stop fussing over the poor man like a mother hen, you are making him uncomfortable.”

“I think it was the kick in the shoulder from that ungainly brute that has made him uncomfortable, sir. Where in God’s name did you get him from?”

“He has recently arrived from Lisbon. I am in need of one or two new mounts and Gordon heard that Charles Stewart had two to sell prior to his departure.”

“Charles Stewart sold you that horse? I’d ask for my money back, sir, you’ve been robbed.”

“Nonsense,” Wellington said. He was stroking the smooth chestnut coat. “He rides well, he is very strong and he doesn’t seem to tire easily. He is a little testy, it is true…”

“A little testy?” Paul surveyed the horse in disgust. The horse returned his stare with a baleful eye. “If you want my opinion, he’s a cross-gained, bad-tempered brute who is likely to throw you in the middle of a battle.”

“He will settle down once he is accustomed to me, and understands that I will brook no defiance, General,” Wellington said, watching as Paul retrieved his own horse and swung himself into the saddle.

“Like the rest of the army then, sir.”

“With one notable exception. Brett, why are you standing with your mouth hanging open, when I am sure I instructed you to visit the surgeon?”

“Yes, my Lord. Very sorry.”

Paul eyed the horse as they rode out of the village. “What’s his name?”

“Copenhagen.”

“He’s Danish?”

“No, but he was foaled in ’07. Probably just about the time you were getting yourself court-martialled for insubordination towards senior officers of the Royal Navy. It is a pity he is already named, I would have liked to have come up with something in memory of such a significant event.”

“What an excellent idea, sir. You could have called him Popham, he’s got that smug expression, with a strong look of being up to no good behind the eyes. I just hope that when he throws you, it’s not in the middle of a fight. I’ll tell Fitzroy to look out for the eye-rolling and bared teeth just in case.”

“If he proves too troublesome, General, you could take him off my hands. Perhaps you would like to exchange him for that black you bought in Denmark? I have always liked the look of him, he is far too good a horse for your orderly to be riding.”

“Felix? Not a chance. If you think I’d put Jenson up on this bad-tempered bastard, sir, you must be all about in your head. Send him back to Stewart and ask for your money back.”

“Knowing Charles Stewart, I imagine that the money has already been spent on expensive Madeira and port for the voyage home. Besides, I have no desire to send Copenhagen back. I will offer you a wager, if you like, that within the year, he will have proved his worth. I am tired of horses blowing up halfway through a fast journey. I think I may have found the mount I have been looking for.”

“If you like, sir. I’ll happily stake a case of good port that you’ll be looking to get rid of him in a year. What’s your stake?”

Wellington touched his white neckcloth. “A broken neck, if you prove to be right, General.”

“That’s not funny, sir.”

Dogs

A Briard, giving a good idea of how I visualise Craufurd.

In addition to the equine population, my books host a fine collection of dogs. Dogs are my passion and you can reliably assume that if a character in my books is a dog lover, they’re going to be one of the good guys.

The first and most famous dog to be introduced belongs to Anne van Daan, who somewhat irreverently named him after Major-General Robert Craufurd. Paul found the puppy amidst the horrors of the sacking of Badajoz and presented him to Anne. Since then, Craufurd has grown into an enormous shaggy hound who is frequently a menace to his surroundings. He provides a lot of comic moments with his tendency to chew up Paul’s paperwork and Anne’s hats but he proved his worth during the miserable retreat from Madrid and Burgos when he attacked a French dragoon to save Anne’s life.

Paul grumbles incessantly about Craufurd but obviously adores him. In An Indomitable Brigade however, there is trouble at headquarters during a briefing meeting.

“General Victor Alten, you will take your brigade directly through Salamanca via the old bridge. General Fane, you will cross by the fords below Santa Marta. I imagine you are right, General van Daan, they will have retreated before we arrive, they must have reports of our approach by now. I believe that is everything. Unless there are any questions…what the devil is that?”

There was a scrabbling sound from outside, and then a crash as the door was flung open against the wall. All the men turned to face the intruder, and both Lord March and General Fane went so far as to draw their swords, while General Alava stepped between Wellington and the door. Paul did not move. He knew it was unnecessary, as the would-be assassin would come to him. He stood braced.

Something large and hairy bounded across the room and hurled itself at Paul. Standing on its hind legs, it placed huge paws on his shoulders and managed one enthusiastic lick across his face before Paul caught its legs and placed it firmly back on the ground with a sharp command.

“Craufurd, down.”

Anne’s large shaggy grey dog obeyed immediately, his tail wagging excitedly. He looked remarkably pleased with himself, and Paul wondered if there was any possibility that Craufurd had found his way to the kitchen and the leftovers. He loved food and had an astonishing appetite.

“For God’s sake, what is that dog doing here?” Wellington exploded. “This is supposed to be a military headquarters, not a menagerie. Did you bring him here, Van Daan?”

“Well, I brought him as far as the stable, sir,” Paul admitted. “I didn’t invite him to dinner though. I am sorry, he needed a run. Clearly it wasn’t far enough. Will you excuse me, I’ll just…there you are, Jenson. What on earth happened?”

Paul’s orderly appeared in the doorway, looking harassed and a little dishevelled. “Sorry, sir. Sorry, my Lord. He was locked in one of the stalls, but he must have chewed his way through the latch. I found him in the kitchen with Pearl, but I don’t think he’s done any damage. I don’t know what’s got into him lately. I’ll get him out of here.”

Craufurd rose and trotted politely towards the orderly. He allowed Jenson to attach his lead and followed him out of the room walking perfectly to heel. Paul noticed that the back of Jenson’s uniform was covered in mud which suggested that he had been knocked off his feet by Craufurd at some point during the chase. Jenson closed the door behind him. There was a long, pointed silence. Both March and Fane sheathed their swords, looking rather embarrassed, and Alava moved away from his protective stance in front of Lord Wellington. The officers shuffled silently back to their previous positions around the table.

Paul risked a look at Wellington and was not at all surprised to see that Wellington was glaring at him. When he finally spoke, it was in the voice of a man driven beyond all endurance.

“Somerset, remind me to carry a loaded pistol to all briefing meetings in future.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

Paul was fighting back laughter. “I don’t think my wife would like it if you shot her dog, sir.”

“It was not the dog I was thinking of shooting. Does anybody have any questions about my orders?”

Wellington’s tone suggested that questions would be wholly unnecessary, and none were asked. Outside, the officers collected their horses. Nobody spoke about the incident. Jenson brought Paul’s horse forward, and once the other officers were all mounted, released Craufurd from his prison in the stables. The dog frisked around excitedly. Paul looked down at him.

“My career means nothing to you, does it?” he said.

There was a curious sound behind him. Paul turned to find Charles Alten leaning forward on the neck of his horse. He was laughing so hard that he was almost choking. Beyond him, both Kempt and Vandeleur were helpless with mirth. Paul began to laugh as well.

“This bloody dog. I’m going to get him out of here before his Lordship finds that pistol. Not that he’s likely to hit anything, but I don’t want to take the chance. There’s always a lucky shot.”

This gives an idea of how I visualise Pearl

Craufurd’s impromptu visit to headquarters proved more than a temporary embarrassment for Paul. The previous Christmas, the Van Daans had given Lord Wellington a silvery-grey hunting greyhound called Pearl. His Lordship had grown very attached to her and was not at all amused to discover she was expecting puppies.

Paul took the letter and unfolded it. Johnny watched as he read it with a deepening look of puzzlement.

“What is it, Paul?” Anne asked.

“He’s expecting to be with us the day after tomorrow, and there’ll be orders to march out. But he’s in a bad temper about his hunting bitch.”

“Pearl?” Anne said. “Oh no, is she all right? Has something happened to her?”

“I believe she’s very well, given the circumstances,” Paul said. “It seems she’s expecting a litter of puppies.”

“Puppies?” Johnny said blankly. “What in God’s name does that have to do with you? Even Wellington can’t blame you for…”

There was a sharp bark at the top of the stairs. Anne got up and went to the bottom. “He doesn’t like the polished stairs,” she said. “Come on Craufurd, down boy. Take it slowly and you’ll be all right.”

Both Paul and Johnny turned to watch as Anne coaxed her enormous dog down the slippery stairs. A sudden thought occurred to Johnny, and he turned to look at Paul. Paul was studying his wife with an expression of deep foreboding.

“Nan. Before he turns up here yelling, can you tell me…is there even a remote possibility…?”

Anne turned. Her face was pink with the attempt to stifle her laughter and there were tears in her eyes. “Paul, you know there is. Don’t you remember when you took Craufurd up to Headquarters and then wished you hadn’t because he escaped from the stables and came racing into the room halfway through Lord Wellington’s briefing?”

“Yes,” Paul said in hollow tones. Craufurd had reached the bottom of the stairs. He trotted over to Paul and pushed his shaggy head into his hand. Paul stroked him. “He was wagging his tail as if he’d managed to steal the roast mutton. I wondered what he was so pleased about.”

“Of course, it might not be,” Anne said hopefully.

“It will be,” Paul said morosely. “That bitch is going to give birth, every one of the puppies is going to closely resemble this oversized carpet on legs and I am going to be hearing about this for the rest of my army career. Possibly for the rest of my life.”

Johnny and Anne dissolved into laughter. Paul attempted a glare, but Johnny could see that it was an effort. Eventually, he grinned.

“He is going to be such a pain in the arse about this. Never mind. Go and write to Mary, Johnny. When you’re done, we’ll open a bottle of wine, and we will discuss Ensign Fox and Sergeant Stewart. Let’s get them out of the way before dinner.”

India, the puppy at the centre of Eton Mess

A dog provides a crucial plotline in one of my short stories as well. Eton Mess tells the story of Paul van Daan’s schooldays and introduces young Toby Galloway who is trying to conceal his spaniel crossbreed puppy named India from the school bullies. Galloway is a true dog lover and when we meet him again in a later short story, An Unsuitable Arrangement it’s clear that India was by no means the only dog in his life.

 

 

 

“My mother would like to meet you. I’ve written to her and told her all about you. You’d love it there. They’re good sorts, my family, and the place is full of horses and dogs. Do you like dogs?”

“Yes,” Elinor said. She was beginning to realise that this conversation had nothing to do with travel arrangements and her heart lifted. The Colonel was beginning to describe his favourite spaniel cross-breed and Elinor recognised nervousness. She allowed him to go on for a while because she was enjoying the sound of his voice and the opportunity to study his pleasant face and kind brown eyes. It might be a long time before she saw him again and she wanted to commit them to memory.

She would have been happy for the conversation to continue but the door opened and Beattie’s copper head poked around it, damp with spray.

“Well?” he asked.

“Well what?”

“Have you not done it yet?”

Galloway flushed slightly. “I was just telling Miss Spencer that…”

“Stop telling her things and try asking her something. The boat’s waiting and we can’t miss the tide. My employer has been remarkably patient about all this but he’ll be getting to the stage of pacing the room and remembering why he thought about dismissing me two years ago.”

“Why did he…?”

“Get on with it!” Beattie yelled and closed the door.

Elinor could feel laughter bubbling up, filling her with joy. Galloway looked down at her and seemed to catch both her happiness and her understanding. He reached out and took her hand.

“I always knew if I ever reached the moment of wanting to do this that I’d make an absolute mess of it.”

“You’re not, Tobias.”

“I am. But I don’t have time to tell you the history of every dog I ever owned. I’ll let my mother do that. She’s going to write to your uncle and I promise you he’ll make no objection to you going to stay with her. With Juliet as well, of course. And will you call me Toby? All my friends and family do.”

Cats

Horses and dogs fit well into the action of the Peninsular War Saga but the Manxman series is about the Royal Navy where Captain Hugh Kelly and First Lieutenant Alfred Durrell have the ship’s cats to contend with. In This Blighted Expedition, Durrell finds himself explaining the situation to Miss Faith Collingwood in rather more detail than he had intended.

Molly, the cat on whom I based the ship’s cat of the Iris…

There was a big flat rock, almost dry now, and Durrell took off his coat for her to sit on. She did so, dropping the hat beside it and lifting her face to the sunlight. It brought a sudden image to Durrell, and he laughed aloud.

“What is funny?”

“You reminded me of something, but I’m not sure if I should tell you, you might be offended.”

“Something you like?”

“Yes. Secretly.”

“I am intrigued, Lieutenant. Tell me, it is your duty to entertain me today.”

“It was the way you lifted your face towards the sun and stretched a little. It reminded me of Molly, the ship’s cat aboard the Iris. She likes to sunbathe on the quarterdeck in hot weather. When we were off Gibraltar last year I was forever falling over her.”

Faith gave a broad smile. “I like cats. I wish I could have a pet, but my father will not permit it. He says they track in dirt and leave hairs on the furniture.”

“Well, he’d loathe Molly then, she leaves hairs everywhere.” Durrell grinned. “When I first joined the Iris three years ago, I realised we had a problem with vermin. All ships do, of course, which is why most ships carry a cat. Molly has been there for years. Generally speaking, a cat stays with the ship, but Captain Kelly was so attached to her that he brought her from his previous ship, the Newstead. It didn’t take me long to realise that the reason Molly was such a useless hunter was because the captain lets her sleep on the end of his bunk and feeds her choice scraps from his dinner. She has no need to hunt whatsoever.”

“Oh no.”

“I took my duties very seriously back then and I didn’t really know the Captain. I delivered several rather long lectures to him about the problem and spent a lot of time collecting Molly and dumping her below to do her job. It didn’t improve the situation at all, but that’s because she was sharing the midshipmen’s dinners instead. She’s very fat and very lazy.”

“What did you do?”

“Found another cat when we were in Chatham. I explained to Captain Kelly that I’d found a new home for Molly on shore. Captain Kelly explained to me that if it was such a good home, I could live in it myself. It was fairly clear that given a choice between myself and that cat, I was going to be the loser.”

“So Molly stayed?”

“Molly is probably snoozing on the Captain’s bunk as we speak. I did bring another cat aboard, though. His name is Orry and he’s a very good hunter which is just as well because he very quickly had a family to feed. It didn’t occur to me to find another female.”

Faith was laughing uncontrollably. “Oh, no. How many kittens?”

“Eight survived. We kept four of them, the rest went to other ships and the Captain took Orry to the ship’s surgeon who performed a small operation to ensure there were no more.”

Durrell paused, suddenly appalled. He had completely relaxed into the conversation, and it had not occurred to him that it was not acceptable to be discussing a cat’s sex life with a young lady he hardly knew. He could feel himself flush, but before he could stammer an apology, Faith said:

“My aunt has three cats and had to do the same thing. I am very glad Molly won you over, though.”

Molly and Orry are very well-travelled moggies and are still going strong aboard HMS Iris in the most recent book, This Bloody Shore.

Jannie the Budgerigar.

My decision to introduce a budgie into This Blighted Expedition was prompted by this very beautiful painting which I found in one of the museums in Vlissingen during my research trip. My female main character, Katja de Groot is a prosperous widow raising three children and running her late husband’s textile business. When I saw this portrait it looked so much like the character I visualised that I decided to research whether budgies had been introduced into Europe in 1809. There was no definitive date, but traders definitely started bringing them in around that time so I decided to give Katja a pet bird called Jannie.

A sound caught his attention and he turned. There was a cage on the far side of the room, hanging from a hook in the ceiling before the window. Ross rose and went to look at the bird. It was small and a beautiful shade of blue, like a miniature parrot with black and white markings down its wings. Ross had never seen anything like it before. He touched the bars of the cage and the bird immediately waddled along its perch and nibbled delicately at his finger, surveying him disapprovingly, with a beady eye.

“What kind of bird is it?” he asked.

Katja came to join him. “I do not know the name. Cornelius bought him from an English trader in Vlissingen docks for my birthday. We call him Jannie. He can speak.”

Ross shot her a surprised glance. “Really?”

Katja laughed. She said something in Dutch and the bird mimicked her, managing the odd guttural sound of the language very well. Ross started to laugh.

“I don’t believe it, that’s amazing. What did he say?”

“He said good day to you, Captain,” Katja said mischievously. “I am very fond of him. He was the last gift Cornelius gave to me. The children are very naughty and try to teach him things he should not say.”

“I’m not surprised,” Ross said, still laughing. “Perhaps I should teach him some English.”

“They would enjoy that very much.”

 

These are just a few of the animals who wander through the pages of my books and short stories. I love writing about them and find them a really useful way to highlight some of the traits of my characters as well as a way of making people laugh. They’ve proved very popular with my readers and people who message me about the books are just as likely to ask about Craufurd and Pearl as they are to ask about Paul and Anne. Sometimes, in moments of high stress it helps to have a dog or cat to stroke and I don’t see why my characters should miss out on that.

I’ll leave you some photos of the real animals who have kept me company over the years here at Writing with Labradors…

 

Joey and Toby
Oscar and Alfie

 

 

Old Kirk Braddan Church and Cemetery

Old Kirk Braddan Church and Cemetery

(Or how I can find a Napoleonic connection literally ANYWHERE)

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I have something of a passion for old churches. One of my favourites is Kirk Braddan; not the newer Victorian building which houses the current congregation although that is very attractive. Inevitably though, I’m drawn to the older church next door. It’s no longer used regularly but services are still held there occasionally. For me, it has the atmosphere of the period I love most. It also has one or two interesting Napoleonic tombs.

I found myself at Old Kirk Braddan earlier this week when I had an hour to kill before meeting my editor and it wasn’t worth going home first. I went initially to explore the ancient churchyard, which I love, especially at this time of year when the snowdrops and crocuses are just coming into bloom. Once there, I couldn’t resist popping into the church. It’s quiet and very lovely, with the slightly musty smell that I associate with old buildings that are seldom used.

 

There has been some form of religious worship on this site for fourteen centuries and stones from the first Celtic Keeill (Chapel) can be dated back to around 400 AD.  Old Kirk Braddan was rebuilt on the site of an older church in 1777 and is dedicated to Saint Brendan or Braddan.  Unlike many other eighteenth century churches, it was never updated during the Victorian era and retains its original box pews, gallery and a three decker pulpit, with a lectern, minister’s pew and pulpit above. It remained the parish church until 1876 when it was replaced by the new church.

The church contains a number of Celtic and Norse crosses from the period 800-1265, which were found around the parish.  Several of these bear a ring chain design which is associated with the sculptor, Gaut, son of Bjorn, who came from the island of Coll in the Hebrides and settled on the Isle of Man. Gaut is considered one of the best carvers of his time which was between 950 and 1040 AD. One of the crosses bearing his designs has been translated as “Gaut created this and all in Mann”. His carvings are of a style seen in many Celtic and later Scandinavian crosses.

Beyond the Manx crosses, towards the altar, there’s an impressive memorial up on the wall, looking surprisingly elaborate for such a simple church.

 

 

 

Sacred to the memory of the Honourable Richard Murray
Son of the late Lord Henry Murray
Nephew to the late John Duke of Atholl
and formerly Lieut. Col. of Her Majesty’s Coldstream Guards.
Having honourably served his country in India
And subsequently on the continent of Europe under
Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington.
He retired to the Isle of Man
where he was elected a Member of the House of Keys,
and in that capacity long and zealously exerted himself
to promote the welfare of the Island.
He departed this life October 16th 1843, aged 55 years.

Also to the memory of his son Richard Green Murray
Who died February 15th 1856 aged 15 years

This monument is erected by his Widow, as a small
but sincere token of regard for the memory
of a most considerate husband, and a most amiable child.

For I know that thou wilt bring me to death;
and to the house appointed for all living.
Job xxx.23

It appears that Richard Murray was first married to Catherine Bacon, the daughter of John Joseph Bacon,  in 1811. After she died in 1817 he remarried in 1819 to Margaret Tenison, daughter of William Barton Tenison of Lough Bawn, Co. Monaghan. Margaret died in 1864 and her monument is on the opposite wall to that of her husband and son.

Naturally the sight of Wellington’s name in a local church was enough to get me excited. I’ve not been able to do much research yet about Richard Murray’s career in the army, but I will get back to you all once I’ve done so. It feels satisfyingly familiar though, to be reading the memorial to one of Wellington’s officers in my home town, where if there is a memorial at all, it tends to be for the navy rather than the army. Hugh Kelly would fit in here whereas Paul van Daan would be a bit of an anomaly.

I was aware of another memorial in the churchyard which is known locally as the Atholl monument. Since Murray was the name of the local Dukes of Atholl I went scrambling around among the overgrown graves. It took some time because the place is beautiful; a tangle of greenery dotted with moss covered stones. This is no modern, neatly laid out graveyard, but a piece of history. Many of the graves are sadly difficult to read but one or two are clear enough to give an indication of the long history of Kirk Braddan. 

 

The Atholl monument turned out to be a large obelisk in the centre of the churchyard in honour of Lord Henry Murray, fourth son of John 3rd Duke of Atholl who was born in 1767 and died in the December of 1805. Lord Henry was the Lieutenant-Colone Commandant of His Majesty’s Regiment of Royal Manx Fencibles.

Henry Murray was appointed Colonel of the newly formed Royal Manx Fencibles in September 1795. In 1786 he married Eliza Kent and they had one son and five daughters. In 1796 the regiment was deployed to Derry because of unrest which led to the the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and in June of that year Murray ordered the burning of Ballymoney in reprisal for the rebellion. In February 1802 he went to Bath to recover from an attack of gout and later that year, following the Peace of Amiens, his regiment was disbanded. From 1804 Murray acted as Lieutenant-Governor and Deputy to his brother, John Murray, 4th Duke of Atholl, in his role as Governor of the Isle of Man.

Henry Murray died only a year later. His monument in Kirk Braddan Churchyard bears the inscription “This sincere testimonial of affection and deep regret for their commander and their friend is erected by the officers of the Regiment.” It was an age when tombs were expected to express sentimental feelings, but there is something rather touching about that very simple sentiment. Henry Murray was only thirty-eight when he died and may well have been a popular commander of the short-lived Fencibles, however unpopular he made himself in Ireland. Richard, his son, would have been seventeen when his father died and it is probable that an army career felt inevitable for him.

In researching this post I discovered that one of Henry Murray’s daughters made a marriage that really brought me close to my comfort zone in the Peninsular War of the early nineteenth century. In 1829 Amelia Jane Murray (usually known as Emily) married General Sir John Oswald. She was twenty-nine and he was a widower of fifty-eight who had previously been married to her cousin.

I’m very familiar with Oswald from the Peninsular War Saga. Oswald was born in Fife and educated in France, which meant he spoke good French and had close connections with the French aristocracy. Understandably he loathed the excesses of the French Revolution and wasn’t much keener on Bonaparte’s Empire. He served in the West Indies, the Netherlands, Malta, Italy, Egypt, the Adriatic and finally the Peninsular War under Wellington. He had a distinguished military career and his two marriages into the family of the Duke of Atholl clearly gave him a long connection to the Isle of Man.

In book eight of the Peninsular War Saga which I’m currently writing, Oswald is about to have a difficult time at the siege of San Sebastian. I’m delighted I’ve found out about this now as it will give me a different sense of connection to the man. Incidentally, his second wife had a distinguished career of her own as a Victorian artist who specialised in fairies – a terribly Manx thing to do. I’d heard of her many times and seen her work but I had no idea she was married to one of Wellington’s generals. It’s like discovering that two old friends know each other.

Back out in the churchyard, I wandered around admiring the snowdrops and making up stories in my head about some of the older graves. I wish more of them were legible.  There are no neat paths laid out between the stones in this graveyard. It’s a little sad but also very beautiful compared to the neat rows of stones in a modern cemetery. As I was on a historic tour there was one more grave I wanted to see, also from my era but very different. Fortunately this one is well labelled now and the inscription very plainly copied.

“An African slave of St Helena died the 28th of May 1822 aged 18 years. Born a  slave and exposed in early life to the corrupt influence of that unhappy state, he became a model of truth and probity for the more fortunate of any country or condition. This stone erected by a grateful Master to the memory of a faithful servant who repaid the boon of Liberty with unbounded attachment.”

I know no more than that about Samuel Ally and his master and thus far I’ve not made an attempt to dig any further. Perhaps there is nothing more to find. I like the fact that this grave is marked and easy to find in Kirk Braddan Churchyard though. One one level it’s a rather lovely tribute from a master to a young servant. On another, it’s an important reminder of the significant involvement of the Isle of Man in the slave trade. There are probably a lot more such reminders scattered around the island. I’m fascinated by the topic and if I ever managed to drag myself to the other side of my two Napoleonic war sagas I’d like to find out more about it. There’s one book that I’ve found so far, which is informative but a bit dry and I know the museum has produced some material but I have a feeling there’s a lot more to be discovered.

With time running out, I made my way back to the car, careful not to trip over a fallen gravestone in the tangle of grass and plants. I love ancient churches and graveyards and I’ve a feeling there are a few more I’ve not yet properly explored on the island so expect further posts. I especially love those which would have been here, an important part of island community life when my Manx sea captain and his wife first met in 1806 or returned to visit in 1811. Standing in these quiet places imagining those people gives me a very real sense of history.

Here Comes 2023 at Writing with Labradors

Here comes 2023 at Writing with Labradors and a very Happy New Year to all my friends, family and readers.

I decided to look back at last year’s opening post to get some ideas about what I wanted to say about the past year and my plans for this one. I’m very glad I did, because it’s really put into perspective how different 2022 was from the previous year. In 2021 I’d really struggled with lockdowns and a variety of family problems and it affected my writing. My post was full of regrets about the things I didn’t manage to achieve along with hopes for the coming year.

Let’s see how that went.

I’d already effectively finished book 7 of the Peninsular War Saga at the end of 2021 and passed it on to my editor. Poor Heather had a somewhat fraught start to 2022 since she knew how desperate I was to get another book out after a year’s gap. She worked very hard despite some health problems of her own and the book was published in April. An Indomitable Brigade, set during the Vitoria campaign of 1813, was a big hit with fans of the series.

With one book under my belt, I went back to book 3 of the Manxman series. I’d started this in 2021 but for some reason I just couldn’t get on with it. I was happy with the storyline and had done loads of research but writing it was like wading through treacle. Eventually, because I had to write something to get myself out of my gloom, I abandoned it and wrote the Vitoria book instead.

I went back to This Bloody Shore with some trepidation in May and much to my surprise I discovered what was wrong with it on the first read through. I cut the first two chapters completely, starting the book at a different place and was pleased to find that most of the rest of what I’d written was completely fine. The writing raced along, I loved seeing more of Captain Bonnet and my two new Spanish characters were immensely satisfying to write.

 

Thanks once again to an end of year sprint by my fantastic editor, This Bloody Shore came out in December and sales and reviews proved it to be a winner. I received my first ever number one bestseller in new releases tag from Amazon. I was delighted, not just for myself but for Hugh Kelly and Alfred Durrell who have earned their place in the hearts of my readers alongside Paul van Daan. The surprise hit of the book, according to reader comments, was Faith Collingwood. The shy girl of book 2 seems to have blossomed in book 3 and my readers love it.

In addition to the two books, I wrote my usual three free short stories this year. Valentine’s Day took us back in time to the winter of 1808-09 and an Unassuming Gentleman, a traditional Regency romance for one of the officers of the 110th. Halloween took us even further back to Paul van Daan’s schooldays at Eton, finally solving the question of why he was expelled for throwing the Greek master into a fountain in Eton Mess. And my Christmas story, The Glassblower’s Daughter, was written during a recent holiday to Mallorca and featured two of the main characters from This Bloody Shore.

I also published the Recruit on St Patrick’s Day. Set during the days of the bloody rebellion of 1798, it tells the story of how one of the major characters of the Peninsular War Saga came into the army and is a taster for a full-length novel I’m planning.

With travel opening up again, I fulfilled a long-held wish and signed up for a Waterloo tour with Number One London Tours, led by Kristine Hughes and Gareth Glover. The tour began in London then moved to Waterloo, taking in all the museums and many of the monuments around the battlefield. Gareth’s knowledge of the battle is remarkable and he’s also a very good storyteller while Kristine’s expertise on the social aspects and personalities involved made the stories even more poignant. I loved every minute of the tour and came home with my brain teeming with ideas about how to write Waterloo when the time comes. For the first time I understand why so many writers get to this point and jump forward to the battle but I’m not going to. My characters need to get there the hard way, just as the men of Wellington’s army did during the war.

Other trips during the year were more about catching up with friends and family after such a long separation during lockdown. I still managed to slip in some historical visits though, with a trip to the Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth, Maritime Greenwich in London and the Military Museums in Winchester, where I acquired a Rifles bear to add to my desk army.

 

The Cathedral in Palma

I wasn’t expecting to find Napoleonic history in Mallorca in October, where I was only there to accompany my husband and a group of cycling friends. I was surprised to discover that in a direct follow-up to This Bloody Shore, the island was overwhelmed by refugees from the fall of Tarragona in 1811. Mallorca is beautiful, with some fascinating history and I wrote this year’s Christmas story sitting by the pool.

I was excited by the prospect of attending my first Napoleonic conference for several years in September. In fact, only the first day happened as planned, a tour of Apsley House. The death of the Queen meant that the National Army Museum was immediately closed and the poor organisers had to move the entire thing online with less than 24 hours notice. They did a remarkable job, and those of us already in London for the event watched the talks online during the day and then met up in a pub near the venue for the evening. Seeing old friends and making new ones was still a highlight despite the disappointment of the conference.

Another thing I’ve been able to tick off my list this year is that all the books are finally available in paperback and I have new covers for both of my Regency romances. My long-suffering editor, Heather Paisley of Dieudonne Editorial Services, is gradually working her way through my back-list to bring all the books up to her rigorous standard. She assures me this would go faster if I would just stop writing new books and short stories which need to take priority. I can’t thank her enough for the hard work she puts in on this. She’s promised to do a blog post with me this year, explaining more about the processing of editing. It should be a fun read and we’re hoping it will be helpful for new writers who might find the process of working with an editor somewhat daunting.

I’ve been a member of the Historical Writers’ Forum on Facebook for some years now and run their Twitter account. They organise regular Zoom panels and I was involved in one last year talking about writing battles. This year’s panel was particularly exciting as we had a special guest in the person of Mr Bernard Cornwell who joined us to talk about creating great characters along with M J Logue and Paula Lofting. It was great fun and the talk is available online for anybody who missed it.

I’m hoping for some more online adventures this year. I’ve also agreed to another short story for an anthology, but this one is right out of my period and my comfort zone, which is why I’ve agreed to do it. I like a challenge.

On a personal level, I’ve mostly recovered from the effects of the various lockdowns. I’ve made a start of book 8 of the Peninsular War Saga. It’s called An Unattainable Stronghold and follows the 110th into the Pyrenees and the storming of San Sebastian. After that, I’ll be going back to the Iris to join Hugh Kelly and Alfred Durrell along the coast of northern Spain where they are joining Sir Home Popham on his campaign to annoy the French and the Spanish equally. I’m very much looking forward to the biography of Popham currently being written by my good friend Dr Jacqueline Reiter. I’m hoping to make good use of it when it’s published.

The year had a sad ending when we heard that my uncle, William ‘Bill’ Bryant had died. Bill was a huge personality, very much part of my childhood and will be very much missed. He raised a family of history lovers and I laughed aloud during one of the eulogies about his passion for watching war films, despite the fact that he must have seen Zulu and the Battle of Britain a thousand times. The final piece of music played at his funeral was chosen by him, and we both laughed and cried as we left the service to the rousing sound of the Great Escape.

 

I’m looking forward to 2023. Last year was all about work and catching up on the time I’d missed. This year I feel confident again in my ability to write. I have also (finally) worked out how I intend to divide up the final books in the Peninsular War Saga. At least I think I have, though you know what I’m like for changing my mind. So for those of you who have been wondering…all titles are provisional by the way.

Book 8: An Unattainable Stronghold (San Sebastian, Vera and San Marcial, July – Sept 1813)

Book 9: An Inexorable Invasion (Bidasoa, Nivelle and Nive plus winter quarters 1813-14)

Book 10: An Improbable Abdication (Feb-April 1814 taking us through to the end of the war and possibly back home)

Book 11: An Insubstantial Peace: (Peacetime in England plus the Congress of Vienna. For those of you howling with laughter, I am not sending Paul to Vienna as a diplomat. Even I couldn’t write that. But somebody will be there with Wellington…)

Book 12: An Implacable Engagement: the Waterloo campaign. (Enough said really)

Book 13: An Amicable Occupation (the Army of Occupation)

And that will be it for the Peninsular War Saga. Some of the dates will probably change as I’m not sure where book 10 will end and book 11 begin. Still, at least I’ve got my head around the Pyrenees now.

As for Hugh and Durrell, I’ve got some interesting new ideas about these two that I’m still considering. Watch this space.

I hope all my readers have a fantastic 2023. Thank you all once again for your support during the past year and for your continuing enthusiasm for the books and for my characters. Please keep in touch. I love hearing from you all.

Happy New Year to all of you from Lynn, Oscar and Alfie at Writing with Labradors.

The Jolabokaflod – an annual tradition

Welcome to the Jolabokaflod- an annual tradition here at Writing With Labradors. Every year since 2017 I’ve offered some of my books for free on Amazon kindle as a Christmas gift to my readers, old and new.

In Iceland there is a tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading which is known as  the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” as the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving.

At this time of year, most households in Iceland receive an annual free book catalogue of new publications called the Bokatidindi.  Icelanders pore over the new releases and choose which ones they want to buy.

The small Nordic island, with a population of only 329,000 people, is extraordinarily literary. They love to read and write. According to a BBC article, “The country has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world.  One in ten Icelanders will publish a book.”

There is more value placed on hardback and paperback books than in other parts of the world where e-books have grown in popularity.  In Iceland most people read, and the book industry is based on many people buying several books each year rather than a few people buying a lot of books.  The vast majority of books are bought at Christmas time, and that is when most books are published.

The idea of families and friends gathering together to read before the fire on Christmas Eve is a winter tradition which appeals to me.  Like the Icelanders, I love physical books although I both read and publish e-books – sometimes they are just more convenient.  Still, the Jolabokaflod would work with any kind of book. They are also easier to give away, and I like to celebrate my own version of the Jolabokaflod with my readers, by giving away the e-book versions of some of my books on kindle for three days, on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

It’s been five years since I first made the decision to independently publish my historical novels, and it has gone better than I ever expected. Sales have risen steadily, I’ve had some great reviews and my latest book This Bloody Shore which is the third in the Manxman Series won me my very first number one in new releases tag on Amazon.

I couldn’t have done it without the loyalty of a very engaged band of readers who read the books, review them and engage in regular discussions about them on social media. I’ve not only become a full-time author, I’ve made friends along the way.

This is my way of saying thank you to all my readers and hello to any new readers out there.

Visit Amazon to download the following books free on 24th, 25th and 26th of December. Please note that The Reluctant Debutante will only be available on 25th and 26th due to problems with Amazon. My apologies for that.

 

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s armyAn Unconventional Officer (Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga)

A Regrettable Reputation (Book 1 of the Regency Romances)

The Reluctant Debutante (Book 2 of the Regency Romances)

A Marcher Lord (a novel of the Anglo-Scottish borders)

A Respectable Woman (a novel of Victorian London)

Don’t forget to try the latest free short story, the Glassblower’s Daughter. 

An Unattainable Stronghold, book 8 of the Peninsular War Saga will be arriving in 2023.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all of you, from Lynn, Oscar and Alfie, the staff at Writing With Labradors.

Waterloo 2022: the Battlefield Tour

Waterloo 2022: the Battlefield Tour

It’s taken me a few weeks to put together a description of the full day’s tour of the Waterloo Battlefield, partly because events rather took over once I got back to the UK but mostly because I needed a bit of distance before trying to describe the day.

Once again I’m not going to attempt to put together a battlefield guide of my own, based on Gareth’s incredible tour. He’s written so much about the battle himself that it would be utterly superfluous. My recommendation is that people who want to know more go away and find his books. I’ve recently read his Waterloo: myth and reality which is a brilliant overview of the campaign, pointing out some of the enduring myths and stories over the years and sifting through the evidence to suggest what the truth might be. It’s very readable and is a great place to start.

Number One London Tours did an excellent job of managing the various walking abilities of its tour members and the bus moved around the battlefield with us to enable those needing a rest to hop on and off. Some of us walked the whole way. One of the first things I really noticed, being on the ground at Waterloo is that the battlefield is far more undulating than it looks from photographs or from the top of the Lion’s Mound. Crossing from the left to the right of Wellington’s lines before walking down to do the same with the French lines, it’s very clear that commanders, officers and men really couldn’t see what was happening in different parts of the battlefield.

Features of the landscape like the covered way which is still partly visible, waist and head-high crops and surprisingly steep ridges help the story of the battle unfold far more easily than looking at maps. Gareth had maps a plenty though, to demonstrate each stage of the fighting as we reached it, starting from Papelotte and moving around the various parts of the field. He had also brought a copy of his fantastic Waterloo Archive Map Book which includes a large collection of contemporary sketches and maps but also artists impressions of the battlefield and surrounding countryside. I probably don’t need to tell you that I’ve already ordered a copy.

Interspersed with clear, easy to understand descriptions of troop movements and the various attacks at different stages of the battle, were the individual stories from both Gareth and Kristine about the men who fought, suffered and died at Waterloo. I’ve seen many of these accounts before but hearing them read out on the ground where the action took place gave them a whole new meaning.

Despite a lot of development on and around the battlefield, Waterloo reminds me of Salamanca in that it’s still very easy to get a sense of the countryside as it must have been on that wet morning in June 1815 when Wellington deployed his mismatched army along the ridge at Mont St Jean and hoped that the Prussians would arrive. We walked over the same fields as the British, the Dutch and Belgian, the French and Prussians.  It was a beautiful sunny day, not at all the right atmosphere for ghosts, but it was surprisingly easy to imagine the crash of guns, the squeal of terrified horses and the tramping of thousands of feet.

It was also horribly easy to imagine the aftermath, with dead and wounded strewn across the field. Injured men staggered towards anywhere they might find help and too many of them fell by the wayside. The memorials to the different armies and regiments as well as to a few individuals which are scattered around the battlefield highlight the poignant truth that most men who died at Waterloo had no marked grave, no memorial and quite possibly may not even have been buried at all.

 

Lieutenant-General Charles Alten

I’ve not reached the Battle of Waterloo with my fictional regiment yet, but throughout this tour names have been mentioned of men I know about, have read about and have written about as real people. Picton’s death, Charles Alten’s serious injuries and poor Juana Smith’s mistaken belief that her beloved Harry lay dead on that grisly field somehow have a new meaning now. Entwined with them will be the fate of my fictional characters, who over the past five years have become utterly real to me. I still don’t know myself what happens to them all on the bloody field of Waterloo but whether they live or die, I don’t suppose any of them will be the same afterwards.

The Prussian Memorial

We ended our tour of the battlefield with a walk up to the Prussian memorial at Plancenoit and with a drink at Le Gros Velo, sitting in the sunshine opposite the church. It isn’t the same church that was there in 1815. That one was destroyed during the battle but it has been rebuilt on the same site and there are several memorial plaques on the walls. I can remember going to Badajoz back in 2017 and discovering that sometimes, in a place where great tragedy and suffering occurred, it’s what isn’t left behind that affects me more powerfully than what is.

 

For our last evening we had a farewell dinner at Les Deux Sil, the Italian restaurant on the edge of the battlefield. It was a lovely meal and a lovely evening with a real sense of camaraderie. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know these people and hope to meet some of them on future trips.

When we emerged, it was dark. Kristine had bought some flowers and a few of us walked up towards the Lion’s Mound which is lit up at night. It looked spectacular and despite all the jokes about it spoiling the battlefield, it felt like a fitting memorial that night, not to the Prince of Orange or Wellington or to any of the other individual commanders but to the thousands of anonymous men and animals who died on that field two hundred and seven years ago.

We placed the flowers on the edge of the field, not on any particular monument but just on a spot where any man might have fallen and stood quietly, listening on a phone to John Tams singing Spanish Ladies, a haunting folk song. A version of that song existed in 1815 and might have been sung by the campfires by men who did not survive that day. It seemed an appropriate memorial to the ordinary soldiers and the perfect way to end Waterloo 2022: the Battlefield Tour.

 

The house used by the Duke of Wellington in Brussels in the run up to the Battle of Waterloo

I’d like to thank Gareth Glover and Kristine Hughes Patrone from Number One London Tours as well as all my fellow tourists for making this a fascinating but also very moving experience. I’ve come home with pages of notes and loads of ideas about how the 110th infantry might fit in to the battle on the day. It would be so tempting to jump ahead, but I’m not going to. My lads had to go all the way through that war, so I’m going with them every step of the way.

Waterloo 2022: Wellington Napoleon and Mont Saint Jean

The Wellington Museum

Waterloo 2022: Wellington Napoleon and Mont St Jean

 

Today’s tour started at the Wellington Museum which is housed in Wellington’s Headquarters in Waterloo itself. I’m going to digress from being a tour guide here now and mention the fact that having been round the various museums here, I am quite grateful that there is in fact a Wellington Museum at all.

I’ve seen various commentaries online about the huge local concentration here on Napoleon rather than the Allied commanders. People who complain about this are generally mocked for being Wellington groupies and undoubtedly in some cases that’s true, but it is striking, particularly in the various gift shops. I think it might have improved very slightly since I came four years ago in that it is now possible to buy one Wellington item in the main gift shop but that is completely overwhelmed by the vast amount of Napoleon memorabilia. Personally I don’t really need any more souvenirs but the difference is striking.

I have no idea whether there’s something political about this, whether it’s considered Napoleon was the most important person at Waterloo given that he was an Emperor or whether they just don’t think Wellington or Blucher memorabilia will sell.  I do think it should probably be redressed, but if it’s a marketing decision then I guess that’s a good enough reason. All the same, Napoleon as a dog was a bit much for me.

 

Not the best likeness, but it gets the point across…

The Wellington museum is a poignant reminder of the human cost of battle. Wellington’s staff had done surprisingly well through the long years of the Peninsular War but his luck ran out at Waterloo. This was where Kristine’s knowledge of the people came into its own and the excerpts from Wellington’s letters were very emotional. During the years I’ve been writing the Peninsular War Saga, I’ve got to know some of these young men as if they were my own fictional characters and it was surprisingly painful to think of Alexander Gordon’s death and Fitzroy Somerset’s agonising operation to amputate his arm. There’s a lot of information about Wellington through the various sites, but in this house I found it much easier to imagine Wellington the man, struggling to write the early part of his Waterloo dispatch while receiving news of the death and wounding of his friends.

Across the busy road from the Wellington Museum is the elaborate church which was there at the time of the battle and used, like many churches, as a hospital to receive wounded men. Those of you who have followed me for a while know that I have a thing about old churches and this one was particularly peaceful, with a number of memorials to the men who fought and died during the Waterloo campaign. Memorials at this time tended to be paid for either by the family of the dead man or by subscription through the various battalions and regiments, so not surprisingly more of them relate to the wealthier regiments. Very few of the memorials even mention the NCOs and enlisted men apart from this one in the church, which may well be the first of its kind.

 

After lunch we moved on to Napoleon’s Headquarters in the farmhouse of Le Caillou, where Napoleon and his staff spent the night of June 17, 1815. The museum collection is spread over five rooms  and tells the story of the Emperor’s actions in the hours before Waterloo. There are a number of artefacts relating to Napoleon, though Gareth queried whether some of the furniture was authentic given that the Prussians reputedly set fire to everything on their way through after Napoleon’s departure. Still, it gives a good sense of how the farm might have looked at the time.

In the garden outside the farmhouse are one or two memorials. There is also an ossuary, which is a small building intended to serve as the final resting place of human bones. Ossuaries are often used where burial space is scarce but in this case it has become a depository for bones found on the battlefield over the years. I’ve seen photos of this but found the real thing unexpectedly moving.

 

Mont Saint Jean today

The final stop of the day was the medical museum, located at Mont Saint Jean, which was situated at the back of Wellington’s lines and became the main field hospital. We hit a slight problem here as it turned out the museum and attached bar had just moved over to winter opening hours and were closed. Fortunately Gareth’s local knowledge saved the day and after a short wait we were allowed to go in to the museum for a brief tour.

 

 

Mont Saint Jean is not for the faint hearted. The suffering of the wounded of both armies must have been indescribable, and Gareth read a distressing description of bloody bodies and severed limbs covering the ground outside the farm. There are vivid descriptions of the various wounds and operations performed and information about individual surgeons and their experience of the campaign. 

There are also exhibits of medicine and surgical kits from the era and the uniforms worn by the medical staff. One or two models give an idea of the state of Mont Saint Jean as the wounded continued to pour in. I’ve always thought that the astonishing thing about surgery and medicine in the army at this time is how many of the operations actually succeeded and how many men survived their wounds. Survival would not have been improved by the invariable practice of bleeding a wounded man. It has sometimes occurred to me that once the initial operation was over, a shortage of surgeons might well have meant that a man would be bled less often which could improve his chances of survival…

After one of the shorter days with Waterloo 2022: Wellington Napoleon and Mont Saint Jean we went back to the hotel early for dinner and drinks, as we needed to get ready for the next day and our battlefield tour. For me this was going to be the highlight of the week and the main reason I came on this tour. This week has gone so quickly and I’ve learned so much, it’s been a joy. I should also mention that the group were fantastic and really good company.

Waterloo 2022 – Quatre Bras and Ligny

Waterloo 2022 – Quatre Bras and Ligny was one of the days I was most looking forward to. I’ve previously done a whistle stop tour of some of the Waterloo museums, but I’ve never been to either of these sites. I’ve also read nothing about them other than a brief mention at the beginning of many books on Waterloo. I was well aware of the significance of both of these actions in the rest of the campaign but other than that, I knew very little.

At some later stage, when I get to it, I’ll do a proper post on the whole campaign. These posts aren’t designed to tell you what happened on those days in 1815 but to describe my own experience of touring the battle sites with Number One London Tours led by Gareth Glover and Kristine Hughes Patrone.

The windmill at Fleurus

Our tour today began in Fleurus, a town to the south-west of Ligny.  Napoleon arrived at Fleurus with his staff and escort on the morning of the battle and reached the Fleurus windmill. He apparently ordered his engineers to build an observation platform by knocking out part of the roof and climbed up to survey the situation for himself. Throughout the tour, Gareth returned regularly to the issue of how much of the battlefields could actually be seen by the various army commanders. Napoleon remained well-back from the fighting for most of the day, while Wellington was positioned further forward, and in his usual manner, moved around the battlefield at different times.

Chateau de la Paix

We next moved on to the Chateau de la Paix, which is now used as local government offices. After his victory over the Prussians at Ligny on 16th June, Napoleon retired that evening to the Chateau in Fleurus, while his troops camped in the surrounding area. During the night Napoleon shut himself off from the outside world for as long as he could. He was inactive for almost eleven hours while the Prussians escaped. They were bloodied and much depleted but still effective enough to march to support Wellington at Waterloo.

The Napoleon room in the Chateau de la Paix

The room occupied by Napoleon in the Chateau has been reconstructed with period furniture. Our local guide Laurent was an excellent storyteller with a great sense of humour and he talked about the battle, the aftermath and what might have gone wrong for Napoleon. He and Gareth agreed with the possibility that treatment for a severe case of haemorrhoids might well have affected Napoleon’s behaviour that night and could possibly have affected some of his decisions. For anybody wanting to visit the Chateau, you have to book in advance and details are on their website. If all the guides are this good, I strongly recommend it.

Our next visit was to the small but very good museum in Ligny. It covers both Ligny and Quatre Bras and gave a very good sense of what happened on 16th June in these small villages and towns as the French inflicted a bloody defeat on Blucher’s Prussians and fought to a stalemate against Wellington’s Allied army. I was shocked at the extent of the casualties at both battles. Somehow I’d always had the vague impression that these were just skirmishes ahead of the main battle, but they clearly weren’t. All three armies were weakened by what happened on this day and it must have had an effect on what happened at Waterloo.

French ambulance wagon, much coveted by Anne van Daan…

From my own perspective, I was delighted to find a French flying ambulance wagon in the courtyard outside the museum. Anybody who has read the Peninsular War Saga will know that Anne van Daan has been persecuting Wellington about ambulance provision for three books now and if he wasn’t so fond of her he’d probably have strangled her. I’ve read about these and seen pictures but it was great to meet the real thing.

Memorial to the Duke of Brunswick, killed at Quatre Bras

We made our way up to Quatre Bras. There’s very little to see there, as the original farmhouse has been pulled down and there’s a lot of building in the area. Gareth did a good job, pointing out those sites and memorials around both battlefields which can still be seen. Even with limited access he managed to give a clear picture of what happened in both battles and had a wealth of personal accounts to read of what happened to individuals on the day.

 

 

 

Auberge du Roy d’Espagne, Genappe

We drove through Genappe, looking at the routes taken by the various armies and stopped for a photo opportunity at the Auberge du Roy d’Espagne. This former inn was used at different times by the Duke of Wellington, Prince Jérôme Bonaparte and Marshal Blücher, who stayed at the inn after Waterloo and reputedly left it in Napoleon’s sedan. There is a picture of the Prussian generals celebrating their victory at Waterloo, but the inn also housed the wounded French General Guillaume Philibert Duhesme who died there on June 20, two days after the battle, probably while the Prussians were still celebrating in the next room.

Blucher’s window at the Auberge du Roy d’Espagne from the outside…
And a painting of the same window from the inside. Though it doesn’t look the same, I suspect some artist’s license here…

Another long day on the tour, with moving accounts from both Gareth and Kristine about the battles and their aftermath. Tomorrow is museum day, with visits to the Wellington and Napoleon museums, the church in Waterloo and the Mont St Jean medical museum.

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