Wednesday, July 31, 2019


A few weeks ago Alan Jacobs wrote an appreciation of historian C.V. Wedgwood, "...few historians today, even those rare birds who even make an effort to tell a good story, can hold a candle to Wedgwood." I once owned her A Coffin for King Charles and maybe still do but I can't find it. I enjoyed that but don't recall reading anything else of hers. Today Battlefields in Britain arrived. It was originally published in 1944 near the end of the war in Europe. This is a recent reprint. A description:
Written by the noted historian C.V. Wedgwood, Battlefields in Britain dives deep into the major battles within the British Isles from the Norman Conquest of the eleventh century up to the 1940s. Spanning centuries of tumultuous British history, the accounts of battles are accompanied by a map of each battle area, offering a full scope of the combat. Wedgwood provides wonderfully detailed accounts of conflicts such as the fierce Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066, between the Norman-French and English armies who fought for the throne, and the fifteenth-century battle of Tewkesbury, which effectively wiped out the royal Lancaster family. In her edge-of-your-seat description of the Battle of Culloden, Wedgwood speaks of the palpable impending doom of the invasion, while in the Battle of Britain, fought mostly by plane in British skies, she describes the airmen who "left the quivering air signed with their honor." Wedgwood was famous for visiting the grounds of the original battle sites often during the season or month that the battles took place to pace out the paths of combat, making sure she had a clear vision of the battle scene, and her research is evident in her riveting accounts.

Battlefields in Britain includes battles of the Welsh Wars, Falkirk, Bannockburn, Barnet, Bosworth, Flodden, Edgehill, Marston Moor, Inverlochy, Naseby, Dunbar, Killiecrankie, and Culloden, among many others, making it an indispensable resource for both historians and war buffs.
From her introductory "General Survey":
...who knows what really takes place in battle. Certainly not the combatants: how then the historian? Something more and less than knowledge is needed, something without which knowledge is useless. The sense of the past, the imaginative mind which can think the scene again, call into being the fears and the 'hopes of the brief intensified hour, see that bend of the stream round the willow clump, this gentle dip, that bare hillock as the anxious soldier saw it, feel the sun or the mist of three centuries ago to be the sun and the mist of to-day, let the landscape teem suddenly with its long-buried dead, call up the blood of a hundred humble ancestors and send it racing through twentieth century veins.

See you our stilly woods of oak,
And the dread ditch beside?
O that was where the Saxons broke
On the day that Harold died.

See you the windy levels spread
About the gates of Eye?
  O that was where the Norseman fled,
When Alfred's ships came by.

Trite? Possibly: but how much they miss who lack this sense of place and heritage, who do not see in Maiden estuary the tall black prows of the Danes, or in the Highland glen the crouching clansmen of Montrose? ....
This is going to be good.

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