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The Last Ironsides

Jonathon Riley
The author, Jonathon Riley, had a distinguished military career rising to the rank of Lt General and holding various command appointments in every theatre that the British Army has recently operated in. In addition to his military career he has had 15 books published, is a visiting Professor in War Studies at King's College London, he frequently contributes articles to various periodicals and compilations and regularly teaches in NATO and US Military Schools and Colleges.

It's clear from the brief precis above that the author himself is well acquainted with both the operational and strategic aspects of any campaign, here he has explained both in a clear and simple style. There is no patronising or talking down to the reader, just a clear explanation of how these affected the campaigns and decisions of various commanders.

After the restoration, the English crown was left with the sensitive problem of how to deal with the soldiers of the New Model Army and those Royalist officers and soldiers who had accompanied Charles II into exile and now followed him back to England expecting reward for their loyalty. This book details one of the solutions found and how the new King used these soldiers to advance his foreign policy.

The book is logically laid out, starting with the situation within England in the immediate aftermath of the restoration, and the strategic situation facing the new King both at home and abroad. The normal methods of recruiting in this time frame are explored with a clear explanation of the methods used by military entrepreneurs to raise units for service abroad, and explains how this was beginning to change as the need for more permanent military structures, establishments and formations was realised. The strategic reasons for employing an English Brigade in the service of a foreign Royal, and a Catholic as well, are clearly laid out.

Once the force is assembled and transported to the Iberian peninsula the author then covers the campaigns they were involved in, describing the strategic limitations placed upon both sets of protagonists by both the climate and the logistic situation. The descriptions of the basic logistical considerations faced by all commanders in this period with regards to both supplying their manpower and securing adequate forage for their animals is excellent, and underscores why logistics are always at the forefront of successful commander's thoughts.

It is an excellent description of a much neglected period in the early history of the British Army, it has been exhaustively researched and is well illustrated with contemporary illustrations, and maps as well as photographs with which to compare the ground now. There is a wealth of detail in here, both of the force raised and used and of other incidental matters, for example I know now exactly what the phrase “hoist by his own Petard“ really means.

For those looking for further reading, there is an excellent bibliography detailing both primary and secondary sources. In case you're looking for any family connection there is an Annex with the Army Lists of the Brigade in Portugal, however looking at the various pay scales, and remembering on average pay was in arrears by six months, I'm just glad that my old pay office was never that bad. Overall it's an excellent and well-written description of a small minor campaign, which clearly and concisely describes how the English Brigade played an integral part in securing Portuguese independence from Spain.
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A well deserved four out of five mushroom heads, if the illustrations had been in colour I'd have given it five out of five.
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