The Autobiography or Narrative of a Soldier

The Peninsular War Memoirs of William Brown of the 45th Foot

William Brown

A memoir from the ranks of the 45th Regiment of Foot for the period of the Peninsula War.
Date Published :
October 2017
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Editor :
Steve Brown
Series :
From Reason to Revolution
Illustration :
6 maps
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781911512943
Pages : 188
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : Available


William Brown’s autobiography is a unique historical document, since he is the only memoirist to have come to light from the ranks of the 45th (1st Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot for the period of the Peninsula War – a regiment that was one of Wellington’s longest-serving and most valiant in that turbulent era, a proud member of Sir Thomas Picton’s ‘Fighting’ Third Division.

William was born in Kilmarnock in 1788, the son of a poor cobbler, but seems to have been given a good education since the narrative is clear and lively, with many learned literary references. Like many young men, William Brown originally volunteered into the militia, Britain’s second-line army intended for home defence only. And like a goodly percentage of these young men, he found that the life more-or-less agreed with him, and willingly took the bounty on offer to volunteer into the regular army a few weeks after Wellington’s victory at Talavera.

In the next five years he served at Busaco, Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Salamanca, Madrid, Vittoria, Orthez, and Toulouse, and his descriptions of these actions provide worthy additions to our knowledge of these great battles.

William seems to have been generally a reliable soldier, often ‘on command’ doing ancillary regimental service involving a degree of trust, including service as an officer’s batman. His outrage at the antics of his fellow-soldiers in the sack of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz is palpable. Nonetheless, he occasionally seems to have slipped into questionable behaviour and comes across in the text as a bit of a ‘likeable rogue’. His romantic pursuits also get plenty of coverage in the text.

William’s pen-portraits of commanders such as Picton, Kempt, Pakenham, and Brisbane are revealing, and he was not slow in criticizing his senior battalion officers or their actions; nor indeed is the Duke of Wellington above William’s barbed criticism.

Maps are provided to allow the reader to understand the route traveled within Portugal and Spain by William and the 45th Regiment in those turbulent years, and the whole text is annotated by historian Steve Brown, an expert on the 45th and its deeds in the Napoleonic era.

About The Author

William Brown served in the 45th Regiment of Foot from 1809 until 1816 - including most of the Peninsula War (1809-1814). Later a pauper living in Kilmarnock, Scotland, he is the only known memoirist within the 45th Foot - one of a handful of regiments to have served for the entire duration of the Peninsula War.

Author STEVE BROWN has an interest in Napoleonic studies dating back to his teenage years; he has amassed a collection of about 2,000 volumes on the subject, with a particular focus on the British Army. Since 2009 has been a frequent contributor to the Napoleon Series, his main contribution being the highly-regarded British Regiments and the Men Who Led Them series, as well as a book reviewer. In 2015 he presented at the Waterloo 200 conference of the Royal Australian Historical Society.


“I would suspect that fans of Bernard Cornwall’s Sharpe series might find the book a very interesting companion to their heroes adventures. A wonderful little gem of a book.”

- Army Rumour Service

"If you collect memoirs of British officers and men who served in Portugal and Spain, you simply MUST purchase this book!" - Winner of the April 2018 'Miniature Wargames Recommends' award.”

- Miniature Wargames

“I recommend this book to any history fan, and for gamers especially. If you are ever looking for some inspiration for small-unit actions for your French and English, this book will be that inspiration!”

- Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy

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