Friday, January 30, 2015

Why Are We Fighting? the Napoleonic Wars

by Naomi Rawlings

War. For as long as people have inhabited the earth, war has existed. While war is always tragic and costly in many ways, there has been so much war scattered throughout history that reading through a list of them is, sadly, exhausting.

England and France were two of the two most prominently warring countries during the 18th and 19th Centuries. Like with most wars throughout history, greed, land acquisition, and strengthening the monarchy were the usual catalysts and goals. But with the advent of the French Revolution (and the American Revolution preceding it), a new mentality regarding war arose among the common people.

Before the American and French Revolutions, commoners fought in wars that served to benefit the aristocracy or monarchy. With these new revolutions, regular citizens and common people had a better reason to fight: themselves. Each man standing in France’s army believed he would have a better life if he was allowed to choose who governed his country rather than be subject to a hereditary monarch.

One thing that the British initially failed to understand about the French and Americans was WHY they wanted to fight. If you study the French Revolution, American Revolution, Napoleonic War and then the War of 1812, you’ll find this misunderstanding for every single war. With the changes in the French and American governments came a type of energy and belief that the mass of the population could fight for freedom, or for a government they wanted rather than one handed to them by a monarch. And Britain failed to grasp these ideals.

If you were to ask a Frenchman in 1793 and 1803 why he fought, he would have given an answer that involved something about freedom and thwarting tyranny. Even if you were to ask this question a decade later in 1813, after twenty years of war, the answer may well have been the same. “We want freedom. We don’t want another Bourbon king.”

Interestingly enough, if you were to ask a British subject in 1793 why he fought, he likely would have answered “because the king wants us to fight.” If you were to ask the same British soldier that question in 1803, his answer might well be the same, or he might say something to the effect of “because I don’t trust that French Consulate and Napoleon.” If you were to ask the same question again in 1813, the answer would likely be, “Because that Corsican Monster Napoleon is trying to take over Europe, and he’ll take England if we don’t stop him.”

For the first decade of war between France and England, the average British sailor and soldier didn’t have a reason to fight beyond “the government wants us to.” The average Englishman had nothing to gain by fighting against France until the English populace began to believe Napoleon Bonaparte a threat to England (part of which was came about as a result of printing intentionally untrue propaganda against Napoleon).

When I wrote my most recent novel, Falling for the Enemy, I paired a French heroine with a British hero. It was essential that I understand the conflicting mentalities toward the Napoleonic Wars so that I could accurately write both characters. This also lead to a lot of fun scenes such as:

If England won this war, France would go back to how it had been before the Révolution. No more liberty or equality for the masses. Peasants heavily taxed while aristocrats lived in excess. 

Commoners starved for bread and clamoring after only a handful of jobs while the queen ate cakes at Versailles. Papa’s first wife had taken ill and died, half from starving and half from illness, during those days. Many others would die of disease or starvation once more if King George had his way. 

’Twas why England’s tyranny had to be stopped. 

’Twas why she never should have agreed to aid Gregory.

Falling for the Enemy

Betrayed and stranded in France at the height of war, Lord Gregory Halston has few options. After rescuing his ailing brother from jail, they struggle to survive in hostile territory without outing themselves as Englishmen. Gregory hopes the feisty French peasant woman he meets is willing to guide them to safety.

Danielle Belanger doesn't wish to protect any man from the same country responsible for her brother's demise. But there's something about the determined Englishman that makes her willing to try. Though a match between Danielle and Gregory is impossible, their attraction can't be denied. The only thing more dangerous than aiding the enemy…is falling in love with him.

For more information about Naomi Rawlings and her novels, visit


  1. I know very little about these wars and found it very interesting. Sm Wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  2. Awesome post, Naomi. Sounds like you really studied up on your history of the Napoleonic Wars and the viewpoints about the reason to fight. Love the title of your novel. Is there anything you learned that really shocked you during your research that you haven't mentioned here?

    1. I was really shocked by how forward thinking Napoleon was in the area of civil liberties. Lot's of people call him a tyrant, and by today's standard, he probably is. He certainly had no qualms about attempting to take over Europe. But at the same time, his view of and treatment of the commoners (or citizens, as they were called during this era of French history) was a lot more humane than that of any monarch in England at the time.Some historians use this to explain why Napoleon's army was able to take over so much of Europe. He awarded officer positions to soldiers who earned them, while Britain gave officer positions to aristocrats and people who bought them. Napoleon's method of choosing military leadership certainly seemed to give him a more effective army.

    2. I never realized he awarded positions to those who earned them. That is a far cry from buying an officer position. Thanks Naomi.

    3. I am afraid that I must express disagreement with this assessment of the French Revolution. It may have began with noble ideals, but, as even a quick reading of a Wikipedia article reveals, within a year or two France was in the grip of dictators, and countless thousands were summarily executed because they were perceived as 'counter-revolutionaries' in the Reign of Terror- in which many thousands- maybe tends of thousands were killed in less than two years.

      According to said article, 72% of those sent to the guillotine or murdered by their countrymen were 'workers and peasants'. Many members of the clergy also died- priests,nuns and others, because some of the early Revolutionary leaders were atheists and determined to de-Christianize society. This culminated in an act of Sacriege or 'goddess worship' in Notre Dame Cathedral.

      In other words, in the years following the Revolution, far from being some haven of liberty, equality and freedom, the streets of Paris literally ran red with blood, and even to this day, there is supposed to be a wall made of the skulls of many who lost their lives at this time- likely for no other reason that that a dictator perceived them to be the enemies of their ideology.
      I don't know if things had changed by the time of Napoleon what, 15 years later, but I do not blame the people of Britain for not wanting that to happen over here.

      Also, I think this article is misinformed. It makes 19th century Britain sound as if it was some of of feudal state in the grip of Absolute monarchy. It was not. We had our owv revolution of sorts in the time of Cromwell and the aftermath of the English Civil War, in which parliament fought against a King who overreached his constitutional and customary powers and authority- and parliament won. By the 1800s, the direct role of the Monarch in the government of the British Isles was hugely reduced- negligible even.

      Furthermore, the House of Commons includes a number representatives, usually elected from various areas of Britain- as it has done since its inception in the 13th century. The government of my country is not appointed by the monarch, nor is in 'inherited' from the monarch. To say so is a gross misunderstanding.

    4. Hi Medieval Girl, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share your opinion. The French Revolution is certainly one of the more controversial wars of the past 250 years.

    5. Indeed, its not a period I know a lot about, but I tend to think it fell far short of the ideals, and I felt that this assessment was oversimplifying things. One of the main reasons we did not have a Revolution in Britain I think was because we did not have an Absolute Monarchy like France or Russia- we had not for centuries. Ours is known as a 'Constitutional' or 'Parliamentary' monarchy, in which the monarch ruled alongside Parliament who could for advice, counsel and consent- but by the 1800s, the monarch had almost no Political Power- I think I am correct in asserting the King certainly did not have the power to require any of his subjects to go to war.

      This article provides a useful overview

    6. Hey Medieval Girl, Thanks for sharing with us. Could you email me privately? I have a question for you. It isn't about this particular post but I'd really like to ask you something. debbielynnecostello (at) hotmail (dot) com