Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Book review - Legacy of Glory

This book is an oldie (published in 1971, when M.Rosbif was but a tiny tot), but is a fairly good summation of the whole Iberian Peninsula debacle from the French point of view. Nowhere near as in depth an investigation as those by Esdaile or Fraser, this book is a narrative history of the short but fruitless reign of Napoleon's older brother Joseph as 'El Rey Intruso' between the years of 1808 to 1813.

The author describes well the strained relations between the Bonaparte brothers and the total imperviousness to reality that Napoleon displayed to all complaints and requests for help from Joseph. As to why Joseph let himself be trapped in this no-win situation where his imperial brother undermined him and his subordinates ignored him and treated him with contempt, it is hard to understand. The author contends that Joseph sincerely wanted to do the right thing by 'his' people and that even when it was obvious he was impotent to change anything, his loyalty to the Bonaparte 'firm' prevented him from picking up his bat and ball and going home.

Joseph comes across as a well-meaning, but incompetent and impotent dupe, trying his best under impossible circumstances to do the right thing. The author contends that Napoleon originally thought that replacing the Bourbons with his brother would be a walk in the park akin to placing his other brothers on the thrones of the Netherlands or Westphalia, or indeed Naples, where Joseph had been happily ensconced as king before being summoned to the throne in Madrid. If this had been the case, Joseph would have been the perfect candidate as he was a benign, urbane and liberal kind of chap, although a bit lazy and indolent; a step up from the inbred reactionaries who previously had the gig! However, Spain and the Spanish people had other ideas and Napoleon never got to grips with the reality that his brother faced and his meddling from afar just made Joseph's lot ten times worse.

An entertaining read but only a cursory telling of the story. I wait for someone like Esdaile to really flesh out the story from the French point of view.


  1. Your view on Legacy of Glory is very similar to my own. I also have The Reluctant King by Michael Ross, which is roughly contemporary with Glover's book, though it also covers Joseph's time in Naples and America. I always found these books to be somehow typical of their day. Probably unfairly, I assume that neither author spent a great deal of time in (for example) Spain during their research - Michael Glover's bibliography lists any amount of things like Rifleman Harris and a Life of Colborne, but precious little in the way of non-British stuff. Foy is there (mais naturellement!) and the translations of the Bonaparte brothers' correspondence, but otherwise you could write a book like this in your local public library, without the Internet, as long as they had Oman.

    What was this? I guess Messrs Glover and Ross were writing that most uncomfortable of mongrels, so-called popular history, but in the 1970s that's all you could expect.

    This whole area needs a heavy duty revisit from Esdaile, as you say, or Rory Muir or some of the present-day American specialists. Fashions come and go - it seems paradoxical that there should be fashions in writing history, but obviously it is so. In 1970-something us Brits had certain received views on warfare and foreigners, and it is probably harsh to judge this book by present day attitudes - I bought a number of books by Michael Glover at that time - I really felt he was one of our very best Napoleonic historians, and he probably was, but his books, though engaging and a decent general introduction, are partial and a bit bland.

    It's largely down to Mr Glover and to Jac Weller (and Don Featherstone - let's be honest) that it took me until about 1990 to realise fully that the Spaniards played a significant part in the Peninsular War, rather than just being a bit of a nuisance!

    Nice job - I enjoy these reviews


  2. Thanks to both for the reviews. This is an area of great interest to any Spanish person with interest in history. As always happens in emotionally tense periods, the figure of Jose Napoleón has been strongly ridiculed and despised by the local historians, depicting the guy as useless and a heavy drunker (he is popularly better known as "Pepe Botella") , with no interest on the Spanish people. The trith seems very different as he tried to introduce deep social reforms in education and the evonomy. But his situation was unsustainable with his brother looking to make Spain just a protectorate and the fierce opposition of the church controlling a mostly ignorant and impoverished population.

  3. An interesting review - I think a book like this generally has to be judged for what it is and I think you've managed that admirably.


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