Redcoat, by Richard Holmes – Book Review

When an author succeeds in creating a page turner from a segment of history beaten thoroughly to death by a thousand other historians and writers of historical fiction there should be some background music and applause.


Richard Holmes has succeeded. 

Redcoat follows the British soldier through the Seven Year War, the Peninsula War, the wars in the Americas, the wars in India through the Sepoy Mutiny and Afghanistan to the Crimea.    And every page contains some new surprise, some fragment of detail the reader won’t have encountered previously. 

Ever wondered where the idea for Hornblower’s fascination with the Lady Barbara Wellesley most likely originated?  Illustrations:  “Below:  The Marquess of Anglesey was a talented cavalry commander who, when Lord Paget, beat the French at Benavente and Sahagun.  Unfortunately he ran off with Wellington’s sister-in-law and could not be re-employed in the Peninsula.  As Lord Uxbridge he lost a leg at Waterloo.”

Or, page 154, Lt. Arthur Moffat Lang, “Many are given to drink and drunkenness like the Germans.  Foreign wines on account of their being accustomed to beer, does not agree with them, and in hot countries over-seas brings on burning fevers . . .”

Holmes has sifted through the chaff of history to cover the subject thoroughly on the outside in a 427 page epidermis, along with constant peeks at the liver, the bladder, the spleen and the dirt under the fingernails of the British soldier:  A man as limited and flawed as the Brown Bess musket he carried into battle, but one who experienced a surprisingly long series of successes where failure would have been far more appropriate.

‘Christopher Duffy suggests of the eighteenth century that:  “The most pronounced moral traits of the English were violence and patriotism.”‘

If that sounds familiar today it might be worth pondering whether it’s part of the package the 20th Century delivered to your own doorstep. 

Excellent work and a worthy read, Redcoat.

Old Jules


12 responses to “Redcoat, by Richard Holmes – Book Review

  1. Couldn’t agree more. I have also had the benefit of watching Richard Holmes TV programmes on military history, which are also excellent.

  2. Thanks for the review… I’m going to read this one!

  3. Will add this to my stacks. When will there be MORE time for reading?

  4. Violence and patriotism and drunkenness.

  5. I had the great honour of working with Richard on a publication about World War One, back in 2007. Aside from being a very intelligent and erudite fellow he was one the nicest people I have ever met. His recent death was a sad loss.

  6. Particularly sad as he was only 65. He was recovering from treatment for cancer when he was struck with pneumonia and with his weakened immune system it carried him off. It was only last April. He had a way about his writing that brought the past to life, I remember the piece he wrote for me about men going over the top at the Somme, the evocation of the men’s quiet bravery and fear, actually brought a tear to my eye

  7. Pingback: Riding into battle – a visual | golpo

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