Spying for the Crown – Part 4: Civilian Spies for Wellington




“Tell me Mr. Robertson, are you a man of courage?”  “Try me Sir Arthur.”  “That, is what we mean to do”  –  Conversation between Sir Arthur Wellesley and Father James Robertson  (Longford, 1969)

“The French armies have no communications and one army has no knowledge of the position or of the circumstances in which the others are placed, whereas I have knowledge of all that passes on all sides.” – Sir Arthur Wellesley  (Esdaile, 2004)

Civilian Sources of Military Intelligence

During the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic period, there were a number of churchmen who served as agents for the British military.  During the Revolution, the French Republicans adopted policies, targeting the Church, attempting to de-Christianize the country.  These included:

  • Confiscation of Church lands, which were to be the security for the new Assignat currency
  • Destruction of statues, plates and other iconography from places of worship
  • Destruction of crosses, bells and other external signs of worship
  • Institution of revolutionary and civic cults, including the Cult of Reason and later the Cult of the Supreme Being
  • Enactment of a law, on October 21, 1793, making all nonjuring priests and all persons who harbored them liable to death on sight
  • Celebration of the goddess “Reason” in Notre Dame Cathedral on 10 November 1793

On the surface, Napoleon appeared to restore the Church to France through the Concordat of 1801, which established complete reorganization of the dioceses and declared Roman Catholicism France’s chief religion.  At the same time, the Church renounced their claim to the previously confiscated Church lands, and asked surviving bishops to resign their French sees. However, in 1802, Continue reading

Considering origins, causes, and ways to approach the American revolutionary period

As someone who writes on all things occurring in the Georgian Era, I follow many history blogs; particularly the more academic ones.  One of the blogs that I follow is The Junto.  This blog is a group blog made up of junior early Americanists—graduate students and junior faculty—dedicated to providing content of general interest to other early Americanists and those interested in early American history, as well as a forum for discussion of relevant historical and academic topics.

Last week (Aug 10 – 15, 2015), they published a series of articles, essentially and online round-table, discussing different approaches to the study of the American Revolution and understanding how the break between England and her American Colonies came about with what seems to be exceptional rapidity.  I highly recommend these posts to those interested in understanding the American drive for independence that culminated in the American War for Independence as they may give you some more avenues to explore.

The posts were:

Aug 10:  The Origins of the American Revolution: A Roundtable

Aug 11:  The Origins of the American Revolution: Religion

Aug 12:  The Origins of the American Revolution: Social Experience and Revolutionary Politics

Aug 13:  The Origins of the American Revolution: Definition, Periodization, and Complexity

Aug 14:  The Origins of the American Revolution: Politics and Politicized Societies

Aug 15:  The Origins of the American Revolution: Empire

All of these are rather short posts but the footnotes point to a lot of good sources to dig deeper into each subject and help to further understand the author’s point.

© Chuck Hudson

Spying for the Crown: Part 3 – Military Intelligence During the Peninsula Campaign




“A great part of the information obtained in war is contradictory, a still greater part is false and by far the greatest part is of doubtful character.” – Carl von Clausewitz  (Clausewitz, 1908)

“All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know from what you do.” – Sir Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington  (The Quarterly Review, 1877)


Exploring Officers

When Napoleon named his brother Joseph as the ruler of Spain he created the impossible alliance; a  British, Spanish  and Portuguese coalition that turned into a catastrophe for the French.  For five years, the war in the Iberian Peninsula sapped the strength, resources and morale of the French soldiers and their officers.  The average French conscript saw a posting to Spain as a one-way ticket to hell.  Aside from the British regulars under Wellington’s command, Spanish irregulars, known as ‘guerrillas’ fought what they called Guerra a Cuchillo – ‘war to the knife’, a war of brutality, assassination, torture, and revenge.  (Crowdy, 2006)

When Wellington landed on the peninsula with 30,000 regulars, he found himself outnumbered and, by all accounts, without even a proper map.  He also knew almost nothing about the French forces except that they were more numerous than his forces and were largely undefeated.  He was also unsure about his allies, the Portuguese and Spanish, and had no idea what level of support to expect from them.  Wellington quickly realized that what he needed was accurate intelligence.  With no specialized operational intelligence service, Wellington became his own chief of intelligence.

Those Wellington employed for secret service work were people he personally trusted, an assorted bunch of British officers, Spanish irregulars, and clergymen.  Continue reading

How the British won the American Revolutionary War




Gene Procknow published an article last week on the Journal of the American Revolution blog arguing that British gains from the global conflict that was the American Revolution outweighed their loss of the 13 American Colonies and thus the American Revolution was a win for the British.

What are your thoughts on Eugene’s idea? Let me know in the comments below.


Spying for the Crown: Part 2 – French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era




“What enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is FOREKNOWLEDGE.”  –  Sun Tzu, ‘The Art of War, Chapter 13″

British National Intelligence Effort

Today we define Strategic National Intelligence as the collection, analysis, processing, and dissemination of information aimed primarily to support the national command authorities.  In the period 1793 – 1815, secret intelligence of this nature would have been for consumption by the Prime Minister, secretary of state for the Foreign Office, secretary of state for the Home Office, secretary of state for War and the Colonies, the first lord of the Admiralty, and the King.  (Maffeo, 2000)

As the end of the 18th century approached, Britain faced serious problems.  At home, times were hard, harvests failed due to poor weather and, as a result, food costs rose, sometimes resulting in food riots.  The living and working conditions of the lower classes showed little or no improvement, due to wartime inflation, even as a greater proportion of the nation’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of large merchants, bankers and the gentry.  Too often, political corruption determined who went to parliament; and political patronage, rather than ability or merit, determined most civil and military appointments.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, the Society of United Irishmen, spurred on by the example of the American Revolution, and the writings of the likes of Thomas Paine, increasingly challenged British government authority in Ireland.  Continue reading

Spying for the Crown: British intelligence in the Georgian era


“It is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for the purposes of spying, and thereby they achieve great results.  Spies are a most important element in war, because on them depends an army’s ability to move.”  – Sun Tzu

No war can be conducted successfully without early and good intelligence.” – John Churchill, The first Duke of Marlborough


Intelligence activities at the national level first developed during the middle ages in diplomatic circles, with espionage being one of the fundamental duties of ambassadors and envoys.  The first English monarch known to place a heavy emphasis on espionage was Henry VII, who in the late fifteenth century employed agents to track the activities of his enemies both domestically and abroad.  Prior to assuming the throne, it was only through employment of personal agents that Henry avoided death or capture by his rival, Richard III.  Once on the throne, he remained vigilant and kept to a small group of trusted advisers for security and information.

His son, Henry VIII, was less concerned about his own safety and left the duties of espionage to his ministers of state Thomas Wolsey, and later, Thomas Cromwell.  Cromwell in particular was adept at coordinating the various existing espionage entities, and primarily used them as an internal security force to root out opposition and combat the Catholic Church’s influence in England.

Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I's "Spymaster"

Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I’s “Spymaster”

Many historians consider Sir Francis Walsingham, principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I, as the founder of the British Secret Service.  Walsingham had many of the qualities associated with today’s professional intelligence officers. He limited his reporting to the facts at hand, with limited personal opinions and biases. He devoted his time almost solely to gathering intelligence in support of the queen, keeping his personal feelings and ambitions in check, and pursuing what he perceived as good for the country and the queen. Continue reading

War on the Home Front: living in a wartime economy 1792-1815


The Morning After the Battle of Waterloo by John Heaviside Clark, 1816

On 18 June 1815, a coalition under Wellington, consisting of troops from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Hanover, Brunswick, and Nassau, combined with a Prussian army under Blücher to meet and defeat Napoleon’s army at Waterloo.  This victory, while not immediately ending the war, effectively put an end to almost a quarter of a century of continuous warfare between England and France.  By the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the national debt of England stood at £848,000,000, almost 240% of GDP.  How, with a population only about half that of France, was the United Kingdom able to finance 23 years of worldwide war and how did it affect the British economy and the average citizen?

Financing the Wars

As 1792 ended, the British economy already was responding to the challenges caused by previous war spending.  Unlike America, where the printing of large quantities of paper money during the Revolutionary War led to hyperinflation, an undermining of public confidence, and almost brought the American war effort to a halt, Continue reading