Thursday, 17 May 2018

Why are you still here?

It's not that you aren't dear to me, but darling we can't go on meeting like this.

At the beginning of the year I started blogging on my new website tomwilliamsauthor.com and it has gone from strength to strength. That's where people now read my blog posts, while very few people still visit here (and I have a suspicion that many of those who do are robots). That's why I am not posting everything on this blog. This week you've missed a book review The Gilded Shroud by Elizabeth Bailey and, more importantly, a discussion of the role of historians in planning the urban environment as the controversy about Marble Hill Park raises its ugly head again. I'm not posting that here because I'm hoping it may generate some discussion and I don't want that spread across two sites.

As of now, I'm moderating comments too, as I want to actively discourage comments here. You are all being gently but firmly moved to the new site. It's much easier to contact me or comment on posts there and it's a good place to find news about my latest books – or latest anything else that might be of interest. More importantly, spreading readership across two sites means the both of them become relatively difficult for search engines to pick up. So if everybody uses the new site, it will be easier for people to find in the future and you'll be part of a growing community (as all these social media gurus say). And it really will make my life easier.

As far as I can see, there is absolutely no downside to visiting the new site. When I refer back to old blogs, links on the new site just come through here the same way as they do at the moment. And any improvements that I make in the way stuff is laid out or bonus bits and pieces (like the newsletter I'm trying to start) will only be working on the new site. Why not click through and have a look at it today?

Thank you.

Friday, 4 May 2018

The Hundred Days

Fans of Napoleonic history (and my blog readership statistics show that there are a lot of you out there) will be very familiar with the term “The Hundred Days”. But what does it actually mean, and what did Napoleon achieve during these hundred days?
It’s an odd idea, really. In the same way as presidents and prime ministers are increasingly rated at the end of their first hundred days in power, so Napoleon’s return to France is also talked about in terms of this magic number. The ‘Hundred Days’ are regarded as starting on Napoleon’s return to Paris on 20 March, 1815 and ending with the restoration of King Louis on 8 July. Constitutionally, it’s important, because it marks the period while France was, yet again, without a king, though if you count it up it adds to 110 days. In reality, though, it’s a fairly arbitrary slice of the calendar. It doesn’t mark the period of Napoleon’s ascendancy. The failure of Louis’ men to stop Napoleon on his march north marked the end of any real power for the king, and Waterloo, though not technically the end of Napoleon’s rule, was the end of his control of France.
For students of Napoleon’s life, though, the Hundred Days are interesting because they showed the way that Napoleon had to adapt his once absolute rule to take account of the changed circumstances in which he found himself.

 Napoleon (right) was often compared favourably with the obese King Louis (left)
Despite the astonishing success of his march from the south coast to Paris, France was far from united in supporting his return. The somewhat meandering route that he took carefully avoided those areas – especially in the south and west of the country – where the population remained loyal to Louis. The king had been seen as weak and ineffective and some of the measures he’d taken to restore aristocratic privilege had caused resentment amongst the people, but this did not mean that they were necessarily going to support Napoleon. The French army had relied on conscription and hundreds of thousands of young Frenchman had been taken from their homes and families and led to their deaths, especially during the Russian campaign. This alone meant that many people were unhappy to see the Emperor back in charge.

Army reform

Professional soldiers (as opposed to conscripts) were the backbone of Napoleon’s support. He had led them, they believed, to victory (the dead of the Russia campaign were, after all, not there to argue) and he could restore French glory again.
Napoleon was well aware of the importance of the army and took care to keep the favour of the soldiery. He reinstituted the Legion of Honour and frequently inspected troops at the Tuileries, taking the opportunity to speak to the men and ensure their loyalty. At the same time, he instituted military reforms, for he recognised that he would need active military support to put down revolt at home and to protect himself against enemies abroad.
Louis XVIII had left him with few resources. The Chamber of Representatives refused to allow him to reintroduce conscription, but he was able to recall those conscripted in 1814. Officers who had served under him in the past had been stood down on half pay under Louis and they flocked to return. National Guardsmen, who were not technically available for regular military service, were swallowed up.  Estimates of how many troops were recruited during the Hundred Days are unreliable. Chesney, whose Waterloo Lectures are widely regarded as an important source, considers that some of the very high estimates given are essentially propaganda by partisan Bonapartists and that, for example, they include many men who were in no fit state to be deployed. He considered that by the beginning of June Napoleon could deploy fewer than 200,000 men – a significant achievement but much less than the 560,000 that Napoleon claimed.

Liberal Reform

An Englishwoman, Helen Maria Williams, living in Paris at the time described how Napoleon had to adapt to the new situation. Her account is partisan, but accurate.
Bonaparte, conscious that his enchanter’s rod was now broken, that he was no longer believed to be invincible … had recourse to new arts. He deemed it necessary to propose a voluntary decent from the height of his ancient dictatorship, and to declare himself the patron and popular chieftain of a free government.
Bonaparte decided that his new rule would be based on a more liberal constitution that would, amongst other things, guarantee press and religious freedom and allow the possibility of an extension of the franchise. Other liberal measures were to be implemented immediately (for example, slavery was abolished on 29 March) but the Constitution was to be put to the people of France in a plebiscite.
Voting was organised throughout the areas of France where Bonaparte exercised control. The plan was that representatives would travel from all over France to Paris where twenty or thirty thousand would meet at a great festival to be held in May. This “Field of May” was supposed to reflect a feudal assembly of ancient French history, where the monarch met with representatives of the nobility and the church, which was as close to a parliament as would have been known in those days. No such assemblies, though, had been held for a thousand years. Essentially, Napoleon (as he had often done in the past) was inventing a ritual to legitimise his status.
There were obvious dangers in having so many “electors” in Paris at a time when much of the country was still in turmoil. Measures were therefore taken to reduce the number who might turn up. They were to receive no money toward travelling expenses or accommodation. It was explained that when they did arrive there was to be no discussion of the new constitution but their role would be limited to verifying the registers and counting the votes.
Even with the best will in the world, the circumstances prevailing at the time would have made a plebiscite difficult. As it was, the electoral registers were drawn up locally and included only “active citizens” the definition of which was largely down to the officials. Obviously, prior to the election, Bonaparte expelled from office all those officials who were known to be favourable to the Bourbon regime. It probably goes without saying that it was not a secret ballot.
By now, Bonaparte felt that he needed the support of the people. He had been used to ruling autocratically, but now he found that the ministers he appointed would argue with him, insisting that their views be taken into account. The Chamber of Representatives (one of his liberal reforms, which he was probably already regretting) even elected a president who was known to oppose him.
In the end only 1,532,527 people voted in the plebiscite, about a fifth of those eligible, and far fewer than in plebiscites organised under the Republic, but Napoleon claimed he had the majority he needed and was, once again, the legitimate Emperor of France.

The Field of May

No one was quite sure what the ‘Champ de Mai’ would entail. The feudal ceremony was lost in the mists of history, but Parisians were promised a spectacle.
“What is the Field of May?” exclaimed the Parisians; at once something antique, and something new; when much was to be done for their liberties, and, what was not indifferent, an unknown ceremonial would be performed for their amusement. It may be observed, that one effect of twenty-five years’ of revolution is to have given the French such restless habits, that they require continually something new or strange to occupy their minds… All Paris flocked in multitudes to see what was to be seen at the Field of May.
Williams
The one thing that everybody seemed sure of was that the ceremony would be held in May, but repeated delays meant that it eventually took place on 1 June.
Helen Maria Williams described the scene in a letter home:
A spacious temporary amphitheatre had been erected for this purpose in the Champs de Mars, connected with the facade of the military school, and containing about fifteen thousand persons, seated, and covered by an awning; these were the electors, and the military deputations. The sloping banks which arise round the Champs de Mars, were crowded with people, and its immense plain was filled with cavalry. Here an altar was placed, opposite the throne, which was erected within the amphitheatre.
Napoleon arrived at ceremony dressed in Roman costume. The Mass was celebrated at the altar and then came speeches and a declaration that the new constitution had been accepted by “an almost unanimity of votes”. Then came a military parade of nearly 50,000 troops.
The spectacle was magnificent… The inspiring sounds of music, the blaze of military decoration, the glittering of innumerable arms, the countless concourse of spectators, their prolonged vociferations, the occasion, the man, the mighty events that hung in suspense, all concurred to excite feelings and reflections which only such a scene could have produced.
William Mudford
Two weeks later, Napoleon was to lead these troops north into Belgium and the start of the road to Waterloo.

References

Chesney, Charles Cornwallis (1868). Waterloo Lectures: a study of the Campaign of 1815.
Mudford, William (1817) An Historical Account of the Battle of Waterloo
Williams, Helen Maria (1815) A narrative of the events which have taken place in France : from the landing of Napoleon Bonaparte, on the 1st of March, 1815, till the restoration of Louis XVIII : with an account of the present state of society and public opinion
Cartoon of Louis and Napoleon is an anonymous print from 1797 held in the Bodleian library, Oxford.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Wow!

Writers are constantly being told not to look at their Amazon sales rankings, because it will only depress them. It’s advice I generally take, but yesterday I was on the site to see if I had any new reviews. Some people say you should not read reviews either, but I always do and I’m always interested in seeing what people have said about my books, even if they didn’t like them. (Side note: if you have read any of my books, it’s really appreciated if you review on Amazon, even if it’s only a few words.) Anyway, while I was there I thought it couldn’t do any harm to look at my ranking and this is what I found for The White Rajah:
I was stunned. Only later did I remember that my new publishers, Endeavour, had told me that they were going to promote The White Rajah through Bookbub this month and that I should tell everybody about it on social media. Unfortunately, they told me a while ago and by now I had completely forgotten it. But it turns out that Endeavour’s efforts had done the business even without me. (If you’re reading this on Tuesday morning, The White Rajah is still being promoted at 99p, so buy it while it’s still cheap.)
Yes, this does show how much promotion can do and how important if it is to have the right publisher. (And I am so, so grateful I am to Endeavour for putting some effort behind this book.) But this means that The White Rajah was the second most downloaded work of biographical fiction on UK Kindle yesterday morning. Surely that must say something about the book? I certainly hope so, and I can’t begin to describe how fantastic it makes me feel.
Of course, Kindle rankings change very quickly and I didn’t expect to stay #2 for more than an hour or two. In the end, though, The White Rajah stayed there all morning and by evening had slipped only to #3. 
After years of seeing my books struggle to find readers, you cannot imagine how amazing this is. It’s particularly gratifying, because The White Rajah was the first book I wrote and still has a special place in my heart. I am very, very grateful to all of you who bought it and especially those who made an effort to buy it as soon as they heard it was charting. Sales when a book is already rating well are particularly valuable in terms of visibility and marketing through Amazon. (Hint, hint!)
This news comes just as the figures for April showed that my new website (tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk) had its most ever visitors since it launched in January. It’s nice to know that people are reading my blog posts and enjoying the photos (go and have a look if you haven’t seen them already), but it also suggests that I may be doing something right as far as my personal marketing is concerned. And the sudden unexpected success of The White Rajah shows that this can eventually pay off. (The other books are suddenly doing rather better, too.)
The first few months of this year (when I’ve not been off on holiday) have been spent more on blogging and marketing than on writing, but this seems to have been the right thing to do. After all, there’s no point in writing books if nobody ever reads them. It does show the reality of being a writer nowadays, though.
So yesterday was rather a special day for me. Time for a little celebration. (I went dancing, but those of you who know me will hardly be surprised at that.) Today is back to selling, and maybe even researching and writing a little bit. But first of all I need to say a great big thank you to everybody who has bought my books, supported me on Facebook, or re-tweeted my interminable history and book-related Twitter rubbish. Thank you all so very much.


Partying at the Congress of Vienna

The Congress of Vienna was an important political gathering, but there was more to it than politics. As we saw last week, diplomatic progress was slow and most of the negotiating took place in small meetings of representatives of the most important countries. However, almost all the small states whose rulers had been restored to their thrones with Napoleon’s overthrow chose to send people to the Congress. Hundreds of representatives turned up with their entourages, swelling the population of Vienna by more than a third. (August Louis Charles, compte de La Garde-Chambonas writes that “the number of strangers attracted to Vienna by the Congress was estimated at close upon 100,000.”) With Napoleon apparently defeated, all of these people felt they had something to celebrate and it became a matter of pride for the Emperor of Austria to lay on the grandest of entertainments.
Perhaps inevitably, the Congress became as much a grand social occasion as a political summit. Many people believe that Austria owes its reputation as the ballroom dance capital of the world (think Viennese waltzes) to the Congress of Vienna. Talleyrand wrote in November:
The Court of Vienna continues to entertain its noble guests with hospitality, which, considering the state of its finances, must be very onerous to it. Everywhere are to be seen emperors, kings, empresses, queens, hereditary princes, reigning princes, etc, etc; the Court pays everybody’s expenses and the expenditure of each day is estimated at 220,000 paper florins.
The compte de La Garde-Chambonas suggested that the delights offered by Vienna which included “banquets, concerts, shooting parties, masked balls and musical rides” rather took precedence over any actual diplomatic work.
In reality, little or no attention was paid to diplomatic discussions. With the exception of some idlers or journalists … society was engrossed with the pleasures of the fete of the hour, or with preparations for that next day… The sovereigns … foregathered every day for an hour before dinner, and were supposed to discuss the subjects that had occupied the attention of their plenipotentiaries. The carping outside world maintained, however, that politics were the thing least talked of in that august Olympian assembly, and that the announcement of a forthcoming pleasure party more often than not monopolised the conversation.
The festivities were designed to include ordinary people, as well as the monarchs and other dignitaries. In this respect, the most splendid event was the “People’s Fete”. It started with a parade of Austrian veterans of the war. Four thousand had been invited who “afterwards took possession of a number of spacious tents, set apart for their special use.” (Compte de La Garde-Chambonas.) The soldiers had the opportunity to compete in foot races, horse races and archery, professional performers showed off trick riding acrobatics and a display of gymnastics. “Finally an enormous balloon rose in the air…[soaring] majestically above the crowd, waving a number of flags of the various nations whose representatives had foregathered in Vienna.” After the balloon ascent, the 4000 veterans were served a feast at sixteen (presumably very large) tables, while dancers in national dress performed folk dances from their various countries.
The famous portraitist, Isabey (whose picture of delegates to the Congress illustrated last week’s post) had travelled specially to Vienna and was set up in a magnificent studio where many of the delegates and other guests had their portraits painted.
New Year provided an opportunity for the Comtesse Zichy (who had won the heart of the King of Prussia) to give a grand ball for all of the sovereigns, but most lavish entertainment was probably the grand sleighing party thrown in January 1815. The parade of over thirty sleighs was led by “an immense sleigh drawn by six horses and containing an orchestra of kettle drums and trumpets” with another huge sleigh carrying a band dressed in Turkish uniforms and playing “warlike tunes” to bring up the rear. Around a frozen lake the guests paused to watch a display by skaters in “the most elegant costumes of the various countries of Northern Europe”. After yet another ball, the sleighs returned to Vienna by torchlight.
What one participant referred to as “these sovereigns on their holidays” had to be, as the compte de La Garde-Chambonas perceptively wrote, “constantly amused, or at any rate prevented at all cost from being bored.” As 1815 wore on, though, there were signs that the Emperor of Austria was running out of ideas (or the money to pay for them). Delegates began to arrange their own entertainment. The British admiral, Sir Sidney Smith, organised a subscription picnic, with even kings expected to pay for their food – much to the embarrassment of the king of Bavaria, who, like today’s Queen, did not (on this occasion at least) have any money on his person. A waiter stood shaking a large silver bowl in which everybody else’s payments rattled noisily until the king was rescued by the Emperor Alexander who, it turned out, was carrying a full purse.
All too soon the festivities were to end. As word of Napoleon’s return spread, an amateur company was playing Le Calife de Bagdad and Les Rivaux d’eux-memes in Vienna. The compte de La Garde-Chambonas noted that “there was a larger audience than might have been expected.”
It was, however, the final flicker of the expiring lamp; the last feeble sound of the broken instrument. Pleasure took flight. “The Congress is dissolved.”

References


August Louis Charles, compte de La Garde-Chambonas Anecdotal Recollections of the Congress of Vienna
The Correspondence of Prince Talleyrand and King Louis XVIII during the Congress of Vienna published by Harper & Brothers of New York in 1881
Illustration is Redoubt at the Congress of Vienna (1815) by Johann Nepomuk Hoechle

Friday, 20 April 2018

What were the Great Powers of Europe doing while Napoleon was recapturing France?

You may remember, some time back in March, we looked at Napoleon’s successful return to France after his escape from Elba. But what had the victorious Allies been doing all this time. How could they have so catastrophically taken their eyes off the ball?
The Allies had ended (as they thought) the wars with France with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 30 May 1814. That treaty, though, was concerned simply with restoring the Bourbon monarchy and confirming the new borders of France (essentially putting them back to the position they were in in 1792).
Two decades of war in Europe had left the great powers with more to decide than just how to restore Louis to the throne. The last substantive clause of the Treaty of Paris said:
All the powers engaged on either side in the present war shall, within the space of two months, send plenipotentiaries to Vienna, for the purpose of regulating, in general congress, the arrangements which are to complete the provisions of the present treaty.
The Congress of Vienna is often seen as an effort to “carve up” Europe among the great powers. France was included as, now that it was back under the control of the King, the other powers wanted it to be seen as taking its proper place amongst European nations.
While there is no doubt that each of the Powers sought whatever advantage it could gain, the objective of the Congress was to arrange a net of alliances between powers that meant that any future conflict would inevitably draw in the whole of the continent. They believed that, rather than face war on the scale that Europe had just witnessed, states would negotiate peace. It was, if you like, an early form of Mutually Assured Destruction. It worked, maintaining peace in Europe for almost 100 years. When a major conflict did break out, one by one all of the major European powers were drawn in and the result was World War I. That, I can’t help feeling, is the problem with Mutually Assured Destruction. One day, somebody just can’t resist pressing the big red button.


As has been the case with some more recent negotiations between the European powers, this timetable proved rather optimistic and by the end of summer it had been agreed that the Congress should start at the beginning of October.
The French Minister, Talleyrand (who had somehow survived the shift of power from Napoleon to the Bourbons), arrived in Vienna at the end of September to discover that Prussia, Britain, Austria and Russia had agreed amongst themselves how the Congress was to run.
As Talleyrand reported to Louis:
“The visible aim of this plan was to make the four Powers … absolute masters of all the operations of the Congress.”
Letter dated 4 October 1814
This was a somewhat cheeky move by the Powers, as it not only sidelined the French but also several other countries which considered but they were significant enough to be taken account of – notably Spain and Portugal. The many smaller countries (like Poland and some princely states) may not have expected their views to be given much weight, but now discovered that they would have no real influence at all.
Talleyrand knew that France will be negotiating from a position of weakness and that he needed to be able to make all the alliances he caught, so he objected to this arrangement, refusing to accept the outcome of any discussion that had taken place ahead of the official date for the starting of the Congress in October.
“I said… that the idea of arranging everything before convening the Congress was a novel one to me; that they proposed to finish where I had thought it would be necessary to begin.”
Letter dated 4 October 1814
Faced with the prospect of losing control of the Congress, the Powers simply delayed its start date. As Metternich said, “How can the Congress be assembled when nothing is ready to lay before it?”
By 18 November the eight signatories of the Peace of Paris, after repeated delays, finally accepted that the start of the Congress should be postponed indefinitely. After all, there didn’t seem to be any great urgency about matters.
In the end, the Congress never met in plenary session, but the representatives of the great powers continued to cabal amongst themselves, agreeing how to carve up smaller countries like Saxony and Poland.
Negotiations moved on at a snail’s pace for months. Britain was represented by Lord Castlereagh until the beginning of February 1815, when he was replaced by Wellington. Wellington’s life had been threatened in Paris (the assassination attempt in Burke at Waterloo is based on a real event) and the British government was anxious that he should quit, but he refused to do anything that looked like running away, so he was appointed to the Congress of Vienna largely as a face saver. The French, though, were happy to see him there, believing that Wellington would be easier to negotiate with. After his arrival, though, things still moved forward excruciatingly slowly.
Isabay’s picture shows Wellington (far left) arriving at the Congress (© Royal Collection)


By March the monarchs and Emperors were tiring of the interminable negotiations and began to talk of leaving, but they were still there when, on 7 March, Wellington received a dispatch from Lord Burghersh telling him that Napoleon had escaped from Elba.
Although the representatives of all the great powers were still all assembled in one place, they were unable to respond immediately, as no one knew what Napoleon’s plans were. Talleyrand struggled to find out what Napoleon was up to and to prepare a declaration for the nations to agree to as soon as Napoleon’s plans were clear. By 13 March, though there was still uncertainty about where Napoleon was leading his army, there was no doubt that he was back in France at the head of a military force. Encouraged by Talleyrand, the five Great Powers produced a declaration that united the nations of Europe against Napoleon.
The powers consequently declare, that Napoleon Bonaparte has placed himself without the pale of civil and social relations; and that, as an enemy and disturber of the tranquillity of the world, he has rendered himself liable to public vengeance.
By 19 March Talleyrand was able to write to Louis with details of the military preparations against Napoleon.
It is proposed to have two armies in the field and two in reserve.
The line of operations of the one will stem from the sea to the Main; it will be composed of English, Dutch and Hanoverians, with the North German contingents and Prussians. All to be under the command of the Duke of Wellington.
The second will have its line of operations between the Main and the Mediterranean … This army will consist of Austrians, Piedmontese, Swiss, and South German contingents.
On the 25 March the plans became the basis of a formal treaty, the Treaty of the Quadruple Alliance between Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia and on the 29th Talleyrand wrote:
[T]he Duke of Wellington would no longer put off joining his army; he left Vienna this morning at six o’clock.
After years of fighting Napoleon’s generals, Sir Arthur Wellesley was finally on his way to fight the man himself.

Reference

Pallain The Correspondence of Talleyrand and Louis XVIII

Further reading

Mark Jarrett (2013) The Congress of Vienna and Its Legacy: War and Great Power Diplomacy After Napoleon

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Catch up

If you are still following my blog here, rather than at tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk, then you won't have heard anything from me for a while. I've been rushing about at this and that and I haven't had time to post a second copy of my blog here, but here is the latest news.

A few weeks ago Endeavour finished publishing all six of my historical novels. So now you can read the whole of the John Williamson Chronicles and make a start on James Burke's adventures. I've written about the differences between the two series before, so I won't go into that again. The nature of the series about John Williamson makes it very unlikely that there will ever be another book about him (although the odd short story is not impossible) but James Burke has staying power. There are two more already written and now I just have to persuade Endeavour that they want to publish them.

I celebrated by pushing off for eight days on the ski slopes And no sooner did I get back than I was packing to leave again.

However, I do have an excuse and, as writers are always being told that they should open up about their own lives, I’ll tell you all what it was.

For the last couple of years our son has been on a postgraduate course for a professional qualification and a couple of weeks ago he finally completed it. There was a ceremony and presentations and exhibitions of work and proud parents were invited to attend, which meant a couple of days near Warwick. Somewhere during those two years he decided that one of the young women on the course was the love of his life and the two of them left Warwick for a holiday in a house her family owns much, much too close to the north of Scotland. My son had decided that he was going to take the opportunity to propose on her favourite beach near the house, so when we were invited to join the houseparty after his big day, we didn’t have a whole lot of choice. We decided to fill the gap between Warwick and the end of civilisation as we know it by spending a few days on Skye, an island we have long planned to visit but have never got to because, up until a few weeks ago, we had thought it was quite a long way away.
Skye is beautiful – just as beautiful as everybody tells you it is. (Photographs are on the new website – you can link to them HERE.) Before you all rush to see it, I would warn you that the number of tourists on the island has become completely unsustainable and their impact is literally destroying the places that they come to see. We had thought that by visiting at the very beginning of April we would avoid the crowds, but it seems that much of the population of England have made exactly the same calculation. So many people turned up at the petrol station at Dunvegan (where we stayed) that it ran out of fuel and only our landlord’s chainsaw supply saved us from an extended stay because the nearest other garage was at the other end of the island and we didn’t have enough fuel to make it that far. Skye faces the problem of tourist resorts everywhere. The influx of visitors seems to have worn out the already threadbare roads, trampled paths until they lie inches below the local landscape, and tilted the economy from agriculture to tourism. Even the famous Talisker whiskey distillery now employs twice as many people to deal with visitors as are actually needed to make whisky (though it does continue to be very fine whisky indeed). On the other hand, tourism has brought a degree of wealth to a society that was struggling to survive and may be the only way to keep young people on the island as the harsh life offered by crofting becomes increasingly unacceptable to the new generation.
From Skye, we headed on North, through increasingly majestic scenery, until, at the top of one of the scariest roads I have ever driven on, we found our son and his ex-girlfriend, now fiancée, Gilly. Much sparkling wine was drunk.
Any thoughts I might have had of blogging from the North of Scotland died in the absence of mobile signal or broadband. So there we were, forced to sit around the house eating, in between long walks over incredible countryside and boat trips on the local sea loch to admire the seals. Really, I would have kept working if I could. (Actually, I did spend some time reading about the Congress of Vienna, which, in the circumstances, I think showed a commendable commitment to my Napoleonic studies.)
All good things must come to an end and yesterday I made the 600 mile return trip to London. (For American readers – and I know I have a few – I should point out that in the UK 600 miles is regarded as a ridiculously long journey. Seriously, there are very few journeys you can make that are more than 600 miles, unless they involve a ship.)
Well that’s my excuse for no blog (and no writing) for a while. There was a blog by me about the inspiration behind the Burke books, but it was at https://maryanneyarde.blogspot.co.uk/2018/04/authors-inspiration-tom-williams_2.html. And an earlier piece of mine found it into the pages of the Southwark Weekender, which was exciting but I hardly had a chance to mention it to anyone. (You can read it online at https://issuu.com/southwark.news/docs/sw266_-_complete.)

Anyway, I’m back now and will soon be busy encouraging you to buy my books – or even borrow them from your local library. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many libraries now stock at least some of my work, often as e-books. My Public Lending Rights cheque isn’t going to pay for Mike’s wedding, but it may let me toast him with a slightly better bottle of bubbly. I suppose I have to worry about that sort of thing now.
That's brought you pretty well up to date. You've only missed one post. If you want to read my blog as soon as it comes out, complete with links to photos and suchlike, I do urge you to switch to tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk. It's a better way to read and having everybody in one place makes my life significantly easier. Thank you.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

'The Darkness'

Yet another Tuesday book review. I never set out for this to be a book blog, but there seem to be so many books worth talking about.
This week’s review is The Darkness by Ragner Jonasson. I’m reviewing it because I got a free copy from NetGalley and my feeling is that if publishers give you books for free in the hope of seeing them reviewed, then it’s only polite to blog about them.

I asked for a copy of The Darkness because I’m a big Scandi-noir fan on TV and I’ve visited Iceland and know people from there.
From the beginning, I knew that my taste for noir was going to be well catered for. We have the weary police officer – a woman, as seems so often the case in Scandi-noir.
As was her habit, she spoke a little too fast, her voice friendly and upbeat, part of the positive persona she had adopted in her professional life… Alone at home in the evenings, she could be the complete opposite of this person, all her reserves of energy depleted, leaving her prey to tiredness and depression, the visions of the past haunting her, the fear of the future looming over her.
Our heroine, Hulda, reports to a barely competent boss. (Are there no competent senior male officers in Scandinavia? Not to judge from their detective fiction anyway.) She is coming up to retirement and her boss, anxious to sideline her, tells her to investigate an old case. So she ends up looking into the unexplained death of a woman found drowned by the shore more than a year earlier.
So far, so unremarkable. Hulda is a fully realised character with a complex back story which emerges as the book continues. You get quite a nice sense of Icelandic society – the long summer evenings, the isolation of everywhere outside Reykjavik, the continual worrying about money since the economic collapse, the beauty of the countryside and the ambivalent attitude to refugees. Much coffee is drunk.
As the story continues, though, the noir becomes rather dark, even for this genre. [SPOLERS IN NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS]
There’s been some controversy lately about the Staunch award for fiction which does not feature any acts of violence against women. This book would not qualify, even if the initial murder victim did not count. By the end, there is only one incidental female character who is not dead or in prison for a long time. I won’t tell you who that is, just so as not to spoil the suspense. Men get off comparatively lightly, although one minor character is also murdered. People are hit with rocks, an ice axe, and a car, or buried alive. Iceland has one of the lowest murder rates in the world. Two murders in a year would usually be considered a lot but Hulda’s case is looking to bust every record.
Basically, in this story every time somebody receives good news, it seems a prelude to a nasty death. Although the pace is lively and the story is involving, it gets a bit depressing after a while. I quite enjoyed it, but it won’t be to everybody’s taste.
As a mystery, it is reasonably satisfying. There are clues (I missed them all, but they were definitely there) and you might be able to work out whodunnit before Hulda does.
The story was written in Icelandic and translated into English and this has led to the odd infelicitous choice of words. I’m not sure that I really approve of “pale white” whatever Procul Harum said, and “leafy suburbs” have very different connotations in England from in Iceland. Generally, though, the book reads well. But if this were a coffee, it would be a triple-shot espresso without sugar. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The March on Paris

DID YOU MISS ME?

Wondering why you haven't seen a post here for a couple of weeks? It's because I've been on holiday and while I still posted to my blog on its new site (http://tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk/blog/), I didn't post here on the archive site. This is going to happen more and more often as time goes on. Why don't you switch to http://tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk with all the other goodies you can see there? It's the best way to keep up with my latest blog posts and news about my books.

Meanwhile, here is what you missed:


THE MARCH ON PARIS


Napoleon’s landing generated more surprised than alarm in Paris. Nobody thought that he was heading toward the capital. It had always been assumed that if Napoleon had escaped from Elba he would have moved against Italy and now people said that his plan was to move through Piedmont to attack Italy from the North, intending to join his brother-in-law, the King of Naples.
Had they been able to hear the declarations that were being made on the south coast, they would have been less sanguine. Bonaparte was promising that he had returned to rouse the country to a due sense of its inglorious sufferings and to avenge its wrongs. He promised to restore the French border to the Rhine (regaining land lost to Prussia) and to reverse the laws that the Bourbons had introduced.
Bonaparte moved fast, skirting any areas where he feared he might face opposition. He led his small force from the coast towards Grenoble. This was a bold move, as Grenoble was the main depot for French troops in the area and the commander, General Marchand, was loyal to the new regime. It is possible, though, that Napoleon knew that he had supporters amongst the Grenoble garrison.
Marchand sent troops to detain Napoleon and the little band of exiles found themselves stopped by a vastly superior force. Napoleon is said to have gone on foot to the head of his men and stepped forward towards Marchand’s troops. Opening his coat, he said, “Behold me: if there be one among you who would kill his Emperor, let him fire.” The troops, rather than open fire, called “Vive l’Empereur,” and promptly switched sides. Marchand fled with the keys to the city, and in response the townspeople pulled down the city gate, surrendering Grenoble to Napoleon’s troops.
Only when news of the defection of the Grenoble garrison reached Paris did the Bourbon government take Napoleon seriously. The garrison at Lyons was prepared to stop Napoleon, with two thousand troops ready to defend the city. On 10 March, the mayor  issued a proclamation ordering citizens to stay indoors and trust in the law. Again, though, the troops proved disloyal.
[Napoleon’s] appearance before Lyons awakened the cries of ” Vive l’Empereur!” from the soldiers, in which they were joined by the populace, and he entered without resistance.
Williams
By the 11 March, the mayor was proclaiming his loyalty to Napoleon.
Up until the fall of Lyons, Napoleon had styled himself Lieutenant-General. He had always wanted to see his son succeed him as ruler of France and so he maintained the fiction that he was simply a general in his son’s army. After Lyons, though, this pretence was dropped and he began to style himself ‘Emperor’ again and issue imperial decrees.
Marshal Ney, who had been one of Napoleon’s most trusted generals, was now in Paris where he had sworn his allegiance to Louis. He asked  the king to put him in command of a force to stop Napoleon. Louis promptly made him a field marshal and gave him command of the troops in the area of Lons-le-Saulnier on Napoleon’s line of march sending him on his way with a substantial amount of gold to pay his men. Ney is widely said to have promised Louis that he would bring Napoleon back to Paris “in an iron cage” Instead, Ney, too, defected, taking with him all the troops under his command, as well as the cash.
Napoleon now commanded a force of around 15,000 well-armed men. More importantly, the repeated desertion of soldiers sent to stop him made the government believe that sending any other forces south from Paris would simply add to the number of men deserting to Napoleon’s banners. The government decided to make a last stand just south of Paris, with ten thousand men of the new National Guard (which, unlike the army, owed no allegiance to Napoleon).
Suddenly, a single open carriage appeared from the woods in front of the National Guard, coming toward them at full speed. It was Napoleon, waving his hand and opening his arms to the troops. With cries of “Vive l’Empereur” discipline in the royal army collapsed.
Louis was finally forced to admit that he had lost the country and he fled Paris at one in the morning on 20 March 1815.
Throughout the following day, the people of Paris waited, uncertain of what was to come. Crowds of Royalists, crying “Vive le Roi” faced off against crowds of Bonaparte’s supporters with their own cries of “Vive l’Empereur”. Bloodshed was only avoided by the intervention of National Guardsmen who preserved an uneasy peace. By afternoon, with Napoleon’s advance guard already arriving, people had, as people do, decided to welcome their new master. Napoleon requisitioned all the wine and Paris was soon partying.
The health of the Emperor, General Bertrand, and of the Old Guard, was toasted with an enthusiasm that can only be perfectly understood by those who were present, while the most lively imagination is quite inadequate to furnish a picture of the exhilarating scene that Paris presented on this occasion; tricoloured ribbons and bunches of violets decorated almost every bosom.
Hodgson
Napoleon waited until after dark to arrive at the Tuileries, perhaps uncertain of the reception he would be offered in Paris. He arrived without ceremony, still in his travelling coach, at nine that night. A huge crowd, though, waited to welcome him to the Tuileries and he was carried up the great staircase into the king’s apartments on the shoulders of his officers.
Napoleon was back in control of France and the countdown to Waterloo had begun.

FURTHER READING

Helen Maria Williams: A narrative of the events which have taken place in France, from the landing of Napoleon Bonaparte on 1 March, 1815, till the restoration of Louis XVIII, with an account of the present state of society and public opinion at that period. Although this was published in 1895, it consists of letters written from France at the time.
William Mudford (1817) An Historical Account of the Campaign in the Netherlands in 1815
William Hodgson (1841) The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, Once Emperor of the French, who Died in Exile, at St. Helena, After a Captivity of Six Years’ duration

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