Revolution was on everyone’s lips. The ancien régime had been cast aside and King Louis XVI had been executed in front of a mocking crowd. Every crowned head in Europe trembled with fear — ideas knew no frontier. The monarchies of Europe had to act swiftly to crush the Revolution, and a coalition of the great powers of Britain, Austria, Prussia and Spain was formed to restore the natural order.
The armies of the First Coalition gathered round France’s borders, the largest of which was assembled in Flanders. Composed of Anglo-Hanoverian, Dutch, Hessian, Prussian and Imperial Austrian troops, its aim was to invade France and restore the nobility to what was considered their rightful place. Opposing them was the French Armée du Nord.
In command of the Anglo-Hanoverian contingent was the son of George III, the Duke of York. The campaign was a disaster for the Coalition forces, particularly during the severe winter of 1794/5 when the troops were forced into a terrible and humiliating retreat. Britain’s reputation and that of its military leaders was severely diminished, with the forces of the Revolution sweeping all before them on a tide of popularism.
Yet, from this defeat grew an army that under the Duke of Wellington would eventually crush the Revolution’s greatest general, Napoleon Bonaparte. Of the Flanders Campaign, Wellington, who fought as a junior officer under the Duke of York, remarked that the experience had at least taught him what not to do!
Renowned historian Steve Brown has produced one of the most insightful, and much-needed studies of this disastrous but intriguing campaign. He concludes this important work with an analysis that draws striking, and significant comparisons with the Flanders campaigns of 1914 and 1940. How history repeats itself!