Book Review: Wellington’s Two-Front War, by Joshua Moon

Wellington’s Two-Front War: The Peninsular Campaigns, at Home and Abroad, 1808–1814, by Joshua Moon, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2011 $34.95

When Sir Arthur Wellesley, future Duke of Wellington, arrived in Portugal as temporary commander of a small British expeditionary force, he knew he would face not only the French army but also the suspicions of his superiors and opposition from the liberal Whigs in Parliament. His origins as a Northern Irish landowner made him an easy target for newspapers such as The Morning Chronicle and The Times. British headquarters dismissed as a minor achievement his victorious command in India.

In Volume 29 of OU Press’ Campaigns and Commanders series, Joshua Moon—U.S. Army major and onetime assistant professor of history at West Point—describes the titanic war within a war that Wellesley waged against British bureaucratic attitudes even while he fought to wrest the Iberian Peninsula from Napoléon. Among the roadblocks he faced: the British army’s seniority system; the less-than-bellicose attitude of the Whig Party, which for a while called for a peace treaty with Napoléon; and his brother Richard, with his own political ambitions. Moreover, in 1812 England faced terrible economic problems. By 1811 the cost of the war had jumped to nearly £11 million, of which 75 percent had been paid for in treasury bills—at a time when revolts in South America were creating a worldwide shortage of gold and silver. To further restrict Britain’s access to precious metals, in the spring of 1810 the French had occupied silver mines in southern Spain. The War of 1812 against the United States and Napoléon’s invasion of Russia also increased the demands on British gold.

Fortunately for Wellesley—by then duke—Chancellor of the Exchequer Nicholas Vansittart and Secretary of State for War and the Colonies Henry Bathurst, with the help of Nathan Mayer Rothschild, solved the currency problem. That meant Wellington could finally pay the debts of his army in Portugal and Spain. He was always embarrassed by the way his soldiers looted and plundered the Spanish cities they liberated, as he knew the real reason for their behavior was the delay in their lawful pay.

—Thomas Zacharis

 


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