Camp followers in the Peninsular War

Soldiers on a marchIn earlier wars and campaigns, it was not uncommon for wives and children of soldiers to march with the armies. This was the case during the Peninsular War in Spain and Portugal fought from 1807 and 1814 between Britain and France. In a recently published account written by one such wife of a soldier,  Catherine Exley, the difficulties and travails experienced under such appalling conditions are brought sharply into focus. She describes one particular march in the Spain:

The rain poured down the whole way, the road was so bad we walked in mire and wet. The sand amongst my clothes, which, rubbing against my body, caused acute pain in  walking…having    neither tents nor beds, everyone was provided with a blanket only; the one which covered me was soaked with water.

The cover of the new publication uses a detail from a rather interesting engraving after the well-known British artist, Thomas Rowlandson. Entitled Soldiers on a march, it was published in London in April 1811 during the height of the war in Iberia, and captures the suffering borne by women camp-followers and wives. Indeed, the subtitle reads: ‘To pack up her tatters and follow the drum’. While it does poke fun at the subject, for instance, a woman carrying her husband, we see women with their children, and the stress is readily visible on the face of the woman on the right- hand side, who carries one child in a sling on her front while another is on her back. That the subject of women following the army was well-known in Britain at the time is suggested by other images which depict them. Examples are shown below:

 

Soldiers marching                 British troops on the march

March of baggage

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