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Napier, Sir William


Subject History » Military History

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631168485.1994.x


(1785–1860) Napier can claim to be the father of British military history, the six volumes of his History of the War in the Peninsula (1828–40) being not only of profound historiographical importance but also a foundation for professional self-regard in the British army. Napier came from an Anglo-Irish family. He served first in the 52nd Light Infantry and, throughout the Peninsular War, with the 43rd Light Infantry. These were the regiments whose tactical role made them a model for the army as a whole, and whose discipline was based on emulation rather than repression. Napier was particularly influenced by Sir John Moore, their mentor. A wound received in the Peninsula effectively ended Napier's active career, although he reached the rank of major-general and was Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey from 1841 to 1847. Napier's account of the Peninsular War shows an indebtedness to Jomini, although it does not itself explicitly set out any military theory. It condemns the guerillas specifically and the Spanish in general, and it glorifies the deeds of the British infantry. Its focus is on battles and tactics. A staunch Whig and an admirer of Napoleon, his history aroused considerable controversy, a debate Napier entered with vehemence. He proved similarly trenchant in his defence of his brother, Charles, the conqueror of Sind in 1843 and commander-in-chief in India (1849–50). Despite ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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