Book Review:
Wellington Against Junot

The First Invasion of Portugal, 1807-1808

By David Buttery

I'll say it from the start ... this book is a magnificent study of the French invasion of Portugal in 1807.

The two protagonists are - on the British side - General Sir Arthur Wellesley and - on the French - Jean-Andoche Junot.

The former a careful, brilliant commander while the latter was a complex beau sabreur with as many faults as good points.

In Wellington Against Junot, military historian David Buttery has superbly painted the opposing commanders, giving a lot of attention to their careers, their armies and he details what led to Napoleon Bonaparte's decision to attack Portugal.

This period of the Peninsular War features rarely amid the libraries of books covering the Napoleonic Wars and Buttery has done us all proud with this effort.

The battles of Rolica and Vimeiro are high points for me as they are, to my knowledge, two of the few modern explanations of those clashes of arms.

When I was researching Rolica and Vimeiro for my own novel (yes, yes it is in the final stages) I had to go back through the regimental history of the Worcesters, the 29th, glean snippets out of Sir Charles Oman and whatever else I could locate amid my Napoleonic library.

It was a lengthy task and I wish Wellington Against Junot had been around then - it would have made my life so much easier.

Wellington Against Junot is not only fascinating, it is a very good read.

Buttery's prose explains complex situations simply and well and his battle descriptions are terrific.

He also examines the ludicrous situation where Wellesley was superceded by Sir Harry Burrard as army chief on the day of the battle of Vimeiro, to be followed the next day by Sir Hugh Dalrymple.

Three army commanders in two days has to be a record!

His focus also turns to the controversial Convention of Cintra, which allowed Junot to withdraw his entire army, plus weapons, guns and loot, from Portugal - on board British naval vessels.

It was highly unpopular in both Portgual and Britain and led to the three British generals facing an inquiry. Of those only Wellesley, who had opposed the convention came out successfully, although he did lose his position in the Peninsula to Sir John Moore.

We know that Wellesley's career recovered and he became the best general Britain has produced, becoming the Duke of Wellington and firstly throwing the French out of Portugal and Spain before finally dealing to Bonaparte at Waterloo in 1815.

Junot's life went a very different course. He did return to the Peninsula with Marshal Massena, served on the Rhine and took part in the invasion of Russia.

Severe head wounds and an increasingly unstable mental condition led to Napoleon removing him as Governor of Venice and Junot's death during his convalescence is not pretty reading for so bold a soldier.

In Wellington Against Junot, Buttery also has a very handy section on Touring the Peninsula where he suggests sights of interests and memorials in Portugal to visit.

This is a must-have for anyone interested in the Peninsular War.

- Richard Moore


Pen and Sword



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