Espionage During the Napoleonic Wars and Lauren Willig

In A History on June 27, 2012 at 11:45 am

First of all, readers, I must apologize for the week I let pass between this blog and the last. My stupid laptop (and it is stupid, I’m not just saying that out of the immense frustration I feel towards it) had to be sent in, and even though there are three computers in the house (not including four (well, 3 for now) laptops and two iPads), it is hard to switch to a different format than I’m used to. I received an email this morning that it is being shipped, so hopefully I’ll like it better this time around!

During this short interim, I have read several more books, the most recent being The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig. I am nearly certain it is the 8th in the series. I very much enjoyed it. Not as much as the first two, but more than the previous three. I believe my reservations concerning her latest books in the series is that they do not take place in England, and they do not concern the original characters minus Miss Jane Wooliston. I originaly picked up the series because it was set in England. I am such an anglophile, and since I love history so much, I found the stories fascinating. Are any of you well researched on the Napoleonic Wars? Neither was I, before I read them. In fact, I really wasn’t quite sure what they were about. I originally thought it as simply about bringing Napoleon down, but that’s only the surface of it. After I was nearing the end of her most recent novel, I thought about the war, and how much information I do not know. I decided, therefore, to do some research. I always think that if someone is going to read a novel, he or she should really become familiar with the topic. I’m not suggesting one orders a dozen books, all in hardback and the size of a large laptop, and highlights each page of information. I simply mean that a quick summary of the topic will suffice. How stupid would it be for one to read a book about the Crimean War or botany and have no idea what is going on? It is a readers’ duty to figure that out, in my opinion.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation series is one of my favorites. The first two are my absolute favorite, the third is also a favorite, and then my favoritism sort of dies down….the latest book in the series was published in February, and I couldn’t bring myself to read it until this month (and I was pleasantly surprised, thankfully). It’s not because Willig isn’t a superb writer. She is. A story even better than romance taken place in early 1800s England is a love story in early 1800s England that involves espionage and counterespionage. Seriously, it’s something that can make my blood running. The first novel (mentioned above) starts out the series by laying the foundation of a collection of special spies whose special cover names involve flowers (Pink Carnation, Blood Lilly, Black Tulip, Orchid, Crimson Rose, Night Jasmine, emerald ring…oh wait, that’s not a flower. Why is that a title in her series? Hmm.)


Anyway. The men are dashing, intelligent, witty, seductive, romantic, silly, outrageous, and swoon-worthy. The females are just about the same, but in female-related terms. Even though I openly wish I lived during the Napoleonic Wars (or the Revolutionary Wars in both America and France….) in England, I have never fully researched the Napoleonic Wars, such as what it entailed, why it began, how it ended, and of course….the spying that occured during the war.

Espionage was a given. The Napoleonic Wars, which lasted from 1797-1815, was a major war that involved a ton of countries other than the countries of Great Britain and…France (of course). Even Sweden was somehow involved! Switzerland was a breeding ground of counterespionage, and one of the most famous British spies, William Wickham, conducted most of his work there. Compared to other wars before this period, the Napoleonic Wars saw a high increase in espionage.

Espionage. Isn’t it such a great word? Esssssssspioonnnaaaaaggggeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Anyway, I found relatively little online. I spent a lot of time researching, looking for book excerpts, anything, really, that would account for all of the exceptional information Willig knows. I found one academic book that’s conveniently titled Secret Service: British Agents in France, 1792-1815 by Elizabeth Sparrow. I am debating ordering it, but it is certainly not light reading one generally spends in the summer. No online excerpts were available so I really couldn’t read even the Index. I’m really quite curious where Willig receives her knowledge for writing a book. My own mother orders dozens upon dozens of books, highlights them and stickies them before she writes the first sentence. I can only imagine how much research Willig had to do to be able to write this series.

I suppose, when writing a spy novel, much of it is left to the writer’s interpretation. Not everything is going to be laid out, like “Oh, this is how one spies on one another,” or “this is a how to guide on wearing a black mask and cape and sneaking through a window.” Wouldn’t that be nice, though?

So, I found simply outlines on the wars and skirmishes that involved Napoleon and more about his side of the espionage world. I would encourage all of you, especially ones who have read Willig, to do your own research. It’s really quite fascinating.

And if you haven’t yet read the series, I do encourage you. Perhaps you will like books 4-7 more than  I did!

Word of the Day: Discombobulated: (n.) confused (v.) to confused, frustrate, or or upset.     (Isn’t a spy’s dream to discombobulate his or her opponent? And then oust said opponent, I suppose.)

P.S. The Napoleonic Wars were sparked by the French Revolution (1789). France’s power rose dramatically from 1803 till about 1812, when Napoleon famously invaded Russia in the middle of winter (really?? Who ever thinks that’s a good idea??) and nearly succeeded killing every French soldier there. Finally, however, the Bourbon monarchy was finally restored after his defeat.

The wars resulted in several major outcomes– any semblance of the Holy Roman Empire was destryed, Spain became less powerful, and the British Empire became the most powerful in the world.

As I am sure most of you know, Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo (Waterloo! Couldn’t escape if I wanted too…Waterloo! Knowing my fate is to be with you…) on June 18, 1815 by the Duke of Wellington.


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