military, Jonathon Riley

Review - The Last Ironsides by Jonathon Riley

The English Expedition To Portugal, 1662 - 1668


Jonathon Riley ( Amazon)

Review by MALCOLM WANKLYN - University of Wolverhampton

The Last Ironsides by Jonathon Riley Solihill: Helion & Company, 2014. ISBN: 9781090982208, pp. 192 £25.00.

This book fills an important gap in the history of the British Army in the seventeenth century by providing a narrative over 12 chapters of the campaigns of the English brigade in Portugal. Consisting of two infantry regiments and one cavalry regiment, it was the most effective unit in General Schomerg's polyglot army that brought the long war of independence from Spain to a successful conclusion. Much of the infantry consisted of volunteers from former New Model Army regiments that had been on garrison duty in Scotland and Flanders.

The descriptions of the complex battles of Ameixial (May 1663) and Montes Claros (June 1665) are the best of their type. They use the full range of written and non-written sources, while acknowledging their shortcomings, and the author avoids the temptation of filling in the gaps with padding or flights or fancy. Both were complex encounter battles lasting several hours and fought by armies almost 20,000 strong, but the ebb ad flow in the fighting is easy to follow thanks to the clarity of the exposition ad a number of well-drawn maps.

The reader’s attention can quite easily be gripped by battlefield narratives. This is not generally so when it comes to the campaigns, and especially those that are confined to quite small areas with unfamiliar place names. However, the author presents the marching to and fro of the armies and the capture of strongpoints in a clear and straightforward matter, illustrated by anecdotes drawn from contemporary sources, which serve to light up and also to lighten the test. What emerges throughout is the resilience of the English veterans of the New Model Army in the face of the heat and the lack of pay, and the excellence of the tactical training they had acquired while serving in the New Model Army.

The introductory material provided in chapters one to three is perhaps a little too lengthy, but it certainly achieves its purpose of contextualising the campaign. The quality of the chapter descripting the origins of the men who fought in the English brigade is what one would have expected from the author's previous research and publications, but the account of how England became involved in the affairs of Portugal, which is political rather than military history, is equally thorough and based on a wide range of primary and secondary sources. There are inevitably a small number of errors and omissions, none of which are of any real significance. It would, however, have been worth mentioning that Lord Inchiquin, the first commander of the English brigade, had won a major victory in Ireland over the Confederates at Knocknanuss in 1647 at which the great Gaelic commander Alastair Mac Colla met his death.

I do, however, have one slight caveat and that relates to the title rather than the content, namely the claim that the Portuguese campaigns mark the end of the New Model Army. Although most of the rand and file in the infantry regiments, and probably the sergeants and corporals, were from former Cromwellian units, the lists provided in Appendix One suggest very strongly that they were not led by their former captains and more senior officers. What brings this home is the fact that Henry Pearson, colonel of one of the regiments, had been merely lieutenant to his brother John in 1659, though unlike his brother John he seems to have kept on the right side of General Monck. There is no doubt that the legacy of New Model Army discipline and training lived on in Portugal, but Appendix One points more emphatically towards the future than the past, with as many as 40 commissioned officers who had fought in Portugal serving in the army post-1668. This was possibly one way in which the expertise of the New Model Army was passed on. I have, though, no doubt from the author's work ad that of others that many of the ordinary soldiers were treated abominably when the fighting was over. The final chapter therefore makes for somewhat disturbing reading.

MALCOLM WANKLYN
University of Wolverhampton


 

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