The Napoleon Options
by Jonathan North
have always been of two minds when it comes to books such as this,
that look at alternate scenarios/speculative history/what-ifs,
depending on how you like to describe such work.
type of historical study consists of historians examining the
facts and then writing a scenario based upon the protagonists
taking a different course of action than they actually did.
is fiction based upon fact, but for all that, such a book can
provide food for thought and make for an interesting and entertaining
read, which is how I came to view this book.
Napoleon Options is a collection of 10 scenarios from the
period 1796-1815, each written by a different author.
Griffith examines a victorious French expedition to Ireland in
1796 and the subsequent peace that it brought to Europe.
S. Grant further studies the 1790s with a look at Bonaparte's
campaign in Egypt, in which the French fleet manages to return
to Toulon and not suffer defeat in Aboukir Bay. This led to a
successful French conquest of Egypt and Syria, and the defeat
of Turkey. These countries then remained colonies of France!
Haythornthwaite describes Junot's victory in Portugal in 1808,
where the French are victorious at the Battle of Vimeiro, after
which Dalrymple agrees the Convention of Maceira whereby the British
troops would be evacuated from Portugal. Junot received a Marshal's
baton for this victory and the British then had to find another
way of helping Portugal and Spain.
most of the authors change history somewhat drastically to present
their alternate options, John Gill's scenario is not so radical.
His section entitled Decision in Bavaria: The Austrian Invasion
of 1809 looks at the manner in which the Austrians were defeated
and how Napoleon came to dictate peace in Vienna.
of the most entertaining 'alternate options' is written by Digby
Smith. The Russians at Borodino manage a narrow victory over the
French, with Napoleon retreating towards Smolensk, where he is
captured by Cossacks and taken to Moscow.
first, the Russians think they have a powerful bargaining chip
with France, but the new Government in Paris does not want the
Emperor back. France negotiates peace with her enemies and stages
talks about a Bourbon restoration. Napoleon is eventually held
by the British at Warwick Castle where he writes his memoirs and
corresponds with Wellington. Indeed, the ex-Emperor was to give
'...advice to the Duke [that] helped to ensure that his terms
as Prime Minister (1828-30 and 1833-46) were two of the most constructive,
best organised and most beneficial periods of British history'!!!!!
text contains some wry humour, especially the mention of a slightly
unbalanced Bonapartist, Pierre d'Offshrueure, who claimed that
Napoleon had been 'poisoned by the Duke of Wellington, who had
supplied him with snuff laced with arsenic. These accusations
were based on the tenuous evidence of a series of receipts missing
from the records of poisons sold to the Duke by his pharmacist'.
think this is evidence that the book is based upon recent research
and debate in the Napoleonic world!
Race for the Borisov Bridge by Jonathan North describes the action
on the road to Minsk where the French are victorious over the
Russians. Order is restored in the retreating French army, Napoleon's
political machinations wins over Austria, isolates Russia and
restores Poland as a kingdom. Things go well for Napoleon. Russian
units mutiny with civil unrest in Russia and the French are victorious
in Spain! The Austrians establish themselves in the Ukraine, although
this victory is marred by the Archduke Ferdinand being hit by
a sniper's bullet just outside Sarajavo in August 1814! This is
a particularly interesting 'what if'.
Russian Campaign is followed by Napoleon being victorious in the
1813 campaign and re-establishing his control of Europe in Victory
at Kulm: The 1813 Campaign written by John Gallaher.
the Waterloo campaign the question of what would have happened
if Constant Rebecque had obeyed Wellington's order of 7.00pm 15th
June and abandoned Quatre Bras is one of the great 'what ifs'
of history, and this question is ably examined by Peter Hofschroer.
this scenario, Ney takes the crossroads, Wellington retreats and
makes a stand at Brussels. The author asserts that Wellington
was trying to deceive the Prussians into bearing the brunt of
the French attack and allowing the British to slip away to Antwerp.
Wellington actually did this and Blucher retreated towards the
this defeat the British Government made it quite clear to her
allies that no more troops and no more gold would be sent to the
continent. With their financial backing gone, the allies made
peace with Napoleon, Louis XVIII did not regain the French throne;
instead he retired to his country estate of Stratfield Saye, with
a town residence of Apsley House!! Writing alternate history does
allow the author free rein for a mischievous poke at historical
Uffindell continues the Waterloo theme in the chapter entitled
Napoleon and Waterloo, where Wellington is defeated and forced
to retire to the Forest of Soignes. The battle continues on 19th
June when napoleon continues the fight against the Prussians.
Wellington is shot through the heart and the command of what is
left of his army devolves upon Sir Rowland Hill. The Allies counterattack,
the French crumble and Napoleon is killed.
so in Ambush at Quatre Bras by the late Colonel John Elting! Here,
Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo but finds fresh troops at Quatre
Bras, with which he organises an ambush of the pursuing Prussians.
This action results in the death of Blucher at Genappe, and the
rallying of more French troops around the crossroads. Wellington
retires to Antwerp (he seems to do a lot of this in The Napoleon
Options), and the Emperor has a continuing and successful career
book is certainly food for thought and each chapter will make
you think about the events as they really happened. To assist
with the truth, each author includes some notes about the reality
of each event they describe.
I do not think this sort of book would have worked as well if
one author had written all the chapters. As it is, we are treated
to a work of fiction based very heavily on fact (another way of
writing 'alternate scenario'!) that makes for an entertaining
and thought-provoking read.
authors have obviously given great thought to the different paths
that the protagonists could have taken, and related these stories
in a well-written manner, interlaced with some mischievous humour
(Wellington, Napoleon and Blucher get killed quite a lot in this
book that makes for a good read.