My new book was released last week ‘Marengo’, published by Pen and Sword.
The book has a rather long subtitle: ‘The Victory That Placed the Crown of France on Napoleon’s Head’ – this is a reference to a famous quip by General of Brigade Kellermann, who complained he did not receive enough praise and promotion after the battle – a battle in which the charge of his heavy cavalry had ‘placed the crown on Napoleon’s head’ – in Kellermann’s opinion.
Although it was four more years before Napoleon was made emperor of the French Republic (‘given the imperial dignity’ is how they described it at the time), the manner of his victory at Marengo, and the results of the battle and lightning campaign (all of north-west Italy re-conquered in a matter of weeks), startled the world. Marengo confirmed Napoleon’s military genius, and reinforced the idea that providence (or a lucky star) was guiding his career. In short, it was Marengo that gave Napoleon his legitimacy.
The thing is, the full story of this battle has never really been told. The accounts we have read in the past are heavily Franco-centric and heavily edited. Almost like the director’s cut of a movie, whole parts of the battle were cut from the official accounts. So, for nearly twenty years I collected every scrap of evidence I could find. I visited the battlefield in Italy three times. While I searched through the French Army archives at Vincennes, I had colleagues trawl through the Austrian military archives in Vienna. I analysed maps of the battlefield, aerial photography, local history accounts – as much as I could find. And as new material materialised, was translated and analysed, the full story of the battle was painstakingly restored.
In this new account you get to meet the Austrians. You understand why things went wrong for them after such a successful year in 1799. You realised they were not surprised by Napoleon marching his army over the Alps, and even find out about their own operations scouting the Great St Bernard Pass in the early months of 1800, looking, waiting for signs of the French advanced through Switzerland.
Most critically you will learn about the Italian double spy, Carlo Gioelli – an incredible story of treachery, intrigue and daring. At last we understand the full intelligence picture behind the campaign, and how secret intelligence influenced key decisions in the lead up and during the battle.
While I doubt this will be the last written about this pivotal battle, my hope is this book will reset the debate on Marengo. Any future work will need encompass the full range of sources presented here.
I commend to you my work. Pen and Sword have an introductory discount on the book if you order directly with them: https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Marengo-Hardback/p/14967