Saturday, July 06, 2013

The Battle of Vittoria

My July 29 release, A Dream Defiant, takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Vittoria during the Peninsular War (i.e. the main British land campaign of the Napoleonic Wars, during which an Anglo-Portuguese force under Wellington's command gradually drove the French from the Iberian Peninsula.

Vittoria took place late in the war, on June 21, 1813. Prior to 1813, while Wellington's forces won practically every battle they fought, they didn't have the numbers to gain a total victory until after 1812, when Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia forced him to pull troops from Spain.

The town of Vitoria (note--not a typo. I'm using the modern spelling for the town and the older one used by the British at the time for the battle) is in Basque country in the northeastern part of Spain, which by itself tells you that Wellington's army had almost succeeded in driving the French back to their own borders. In fact, by this point Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's older brother whom he'd installed as King of Spain, had abandoned Madrid and was with the French army--with a formidable baggage train of royal riches and treasures looted from Madrid along with the usual money and gear you'd expect an army to be transporting. Its estimated value was one million pounds in 1813 money. While it's difficult to accurately convert currency values from two centuries ago, think $150,000,000 or so. In other words, a lot.

I won't go into details of the battle, though I'd be happy to point anyone who's interested to sources. Suffice it to say it turned into a rout. The French fled the field, in their haste abandoning that baggage train of treasure.

Wellington, of course, would've preferred that his soldiers pursue their defeated enemy. Instead, discipline temporarily collapsed, and they stopped to plunder--along with not a few French soldiers who wanted to claim a few treasures of their own before catching up with their units.

And so not the battle but its aftermath became the springboard of my story. My hero, Elijah Cameron, comes upon one of his men in a lethal struggle with a French soldier for a ruby necklace. Elijah drives the Frenchman away, but it's too late for his friend--who entrusts the necklace to Elijah to give to his widow, Rose Merrifield, so she can use it to return to England and have the life she's always dreamed of--buying an inn in her home village and using her cooking skill to make it a place where all the travelers on the Great North Road will want to linger over their dinners. But once rumors of the treasure get out, Rose isn't safe from men who'd use her and the necklace to their own ends. And the only one she trusts to protect her is Elijah...

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