The Brides of Waterloo

Waterloo brides coversNicola here! Today it is my very great pleasure to welcome to the Word Wenches three fabulous Regency authors who have collaborated on a trilogy to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Louise Allen, Annie Burrows and Sarah Mallory are the best selling authors who have joined together to write linked books to celebrate the heroes who fought and the women they loved. The trilogy is based on the real-life story of the artillery unit led by Captain Mercer who held one of the most hotly contested sections of the British line, and the love stories unfold in the authentic setting of Brussels society and the field of Waterloo before, during and after the battle.

Now it’s over to Annie to tell us about the background to the Waterloo Brides! Welcome to the blog!

Thanks for inviting us to your blog to talk about our brand new mini-series from Harlequin "Waterloo Brides".

When Sarah Mallory and Louise Allen contacted me, asking if I'd like to join in the project they were planning, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of that iconic battle, I barely hesitated before saying Yes!

SharpeFor one thing, I absolutely adore writing military heroes – actually, I have to confess I adore reading them, too.  If a book has a navy SEAL or an ex marine hero, I fancy him straight away.  Even before I learn if his eyes are blue, or brown or anything else about how he looks.  He is obviously going to be a Real Man.  He has sacrificially served his country.  Has probably done brave deeds, possibly suffered injury, and will therefore be that irresistible mix of warrior hero, and tortured soul.  At once brave, yet broken.  Needing the love of just the right woman to make him whole again.

So – did I want to write a military hero?  You bet I did!

We warmed up to the series itself by creating the world of Randall's Rogues.  Sarah saw the hero of her book, Colonel Randall, as the creator of a unit of trained artillerymen – the troublemakers from various regiments who are on their last chance before getting hanged.  Or, as Louise Allen put it – a kind of dirty dozen in breeches.

The artillery were, in fact, answerable to the Board of Ordnance, and frequently annoyed Wellington by Small blue jacketdoing their own thing on the battlefield and on campaign, which was perfect for our purposes!

Before long, Randall's Rogues had not only a motto (Semper Laurifer), a mascot, (a huge, black shaggy dog) and a full complement of men (I could include the spreadsheet here with the names of their staff sargeants, farrier, and smiths!) but also, for aesthetic purposes, a uniform with blue jackets.

And then Louise Allen and I went along to a re-enactors event, to learn as much as we could about camp life (since her heroine is a camp-follower), and because they promised to fire a cannon.

Beaux cannon 7It is one thing reading about the noise of cannon, quite another experiencing it.  The noise of just the one being fired was incredibly loud.  It no longer surprises me that people could hear the cannon fire from Quatre Bras as far away as Antwerp.

 We also saw examples of what a soldier of the time would have carried in his pack. It may surprise you to know (well, it did me, anyway) that soldiers of that time were expected to be clean-shaven, and were supplied with a mirror and razor for the purpose.  You can just see a shaving brush in the picture of kit.

The typical kit for a junior regimental officer would have had to fit into one haversack and two Small kitportmanteaux.  In his haversack were clasp knife, fork, spoon, tin mug, and any provisions he might be carrying.  The rest of his belongings were carried in two small portmanteaux, slung on each side of a mule.  In one of these was a uniform jacket, two pairs of trousers, waistcoats (white, coloured and flannel) a few pairs of flannel drawers and a dozen pairs of stockings.  In the other were shirts, cravats, a fitted dressing case, three pairs of boots, two pairs of shoes and a number of handkerchiefs.

All the men were expected to wash regularly and wear clean shirts.  Between the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo, many took the opportunity to shave and change their shirts.  Last time I met up with Sarah, we had a long discussion about whether this explained the appeal of soldiers over civilians at that time.  The rank and file not only had regular pay, and a pension if they were invalided out, but also washed more often and wore clean linen.

Beaux camp 5Shirts were one thing, the jackets another.  Made of wool, they must have been very hot to wear.  When I asked one of the re-enactors about it, he explained that wool was actually very practical.  It would soak up sweat, and then dry out rapidly when removed and hung out to air.

 In these two pictures you can see two ways the soldiers used to air out their damp Highland regiment jackets – in the first, they've used their stacked weapons as a makeshift clothes horse.  In the second, where the highland regiment are preparing for drill, you can just see, outside each tent, a sort of wooden cross – which had been put up specifically for hanging their jackets on.

Cheap dye could pose a problem, however.  In the rain, it could wash out and stain the trousers, which were often white, so that the unfortunate individual in a cheaply produced uniform would end up wearing shades of pink.

Beaux camp 2Taking care of the uniforms, and keeping their menfolk smartly turned out, in clean linen, provided plenty of work for the camp followers.

 And yet, in spite of learning about the hard work that went into keeping the soldiers looking smart, the perils of wool on a hot day, and cheap dye in the rain, I still think there is something inherently romantic about a Regency soldier's uniform.

Thank you to Annie, Louise and Sarah for giving us such a fascinating insight into their research. Waterloo brides coversThey will be dropping in to chat so if you have any questions for them on the Waterloo Brides series or what it was like to write linked books or anything else, post a comment! To get the (cannon) ball rolling we’re asking you who is your favourite fictional military hero?  One reader who comments will receive a signed copy of "A Mistress for Major Bartlett" by Annie Burrows.