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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Did they deserve the title' Great?'

I was re reading the latest Wargames Illustrated last night, and after reading Barry Hilton's article Personality Crisis I got to thinking as one is prone to do about history's treatment of certain of the 'great' war leaders.
 Now I know Barry, and we always say hello when I see him at various shows, in fact I always seem to come away with a feeling of inadequacy when I have seen some of his wonderful games.
 However, I do think he has it in for John Churchill. I am currently reading Winston Churchill's biography on his great relation and I know it may be a little biased, but to be fair Sir Winston does try to show both sides of the argument about the Duke of Marlborough.
 Barry blithely describes Marlborough as 'dropping his old drinking buddy'. Now I know Barry is just playing a bit of devils advocate, but reading about all the problems Marlborough faced during his tenure in charge of the Dutch/ Imperial forces and what he was able to achieve in spite of these issues, I think it could be argued John Churchill deserved the title 'Great', not that it would have gone down too well at home.
 Now the famous Greats, I think deserve to be looked at more closely. Frederick the Great in my eyes, and it is a personal view, was a little s@@t,, but of course Frederick the S''T doesn't have the same cachet.
 The one description that I feel sums Frederick up, was when he was applauding and laughing at some of his grenadiers beating up a Silesian peasant in order to get information.
 This is the man that legged it at Mollwitz at the first sign of defeat. Personally I think the Prussian rank and file carried Frederick to his title of 'Great', not that they received any thanks, after the war.
 As this is only a post I am unable to really elaborate on this point of view.
 This leads me on onto that giant of the battlefield Charles Xii of Sweden. In my eyes, he comes across as a complete inadequate. Again his army was a superb tool, and I think even Augustus the Strong of Saxony could have led it to victory.
 I am always suspicious of people who turn down the offer of a good time from a beautiful woman, in this case the mother of Marshal de Saxe, and instead leg it out of the door, only returning when the Countess Kongismark had rode away. I think his encouragement to hanging women and children in Poland in an effort to get supplies out of them shows the real stature of the man.
 I cannot argue with his bravery, or should that be recklessness but his legacy was to ruin Sweden.
No wonder that there is a strong suspicion that an assassin actually shot him through the head, to relieve everyone's misery.
 And then of course there is Alexander the Great, who I have alluded to in a previous post. The army that he inherited from his father Philip was far superior to any other army at that time. Quality and high morale will always beat numbers and poor morale.
 Alexander believed too much in his own immortality and not enough in what he was trying to achieve.
 His successor generals showed a far higher standard of tactical skill in their wars and most had a clear strategic goal. If greatness means having Colin Farrell play you in that dreadful film, then you can keep greatness.
 So where is this leading one may ask, well being a sad male I like lists, and I think it would be an interesting experiment to compile a list of commanders that deserved the title great, but never received the plaudit. For me it would have to be Marshal Davout who far outshone the rest of the marshalate and it can be argued that even Napoleon was envious of.
 The period when he commanded the third corps in Prussia and Russia showed the stamp of the man, and yes I know his troops were of a very high standard, but it was Davout that oversaw the training of them. I know its all subjective but greatness should be grasped and fought for, being able to write French poetry and playing a violin hardly constitutes greatness.





12 comments:

  1. Frederick was a very complex character and had a very strange upbringing - but I wouldn't want him round for tea !. Marlborough for me is as great if not greater than Wellington , Tony

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  2. Robbie,
    Have to agree with all of your observations, especially those of Marlborough and Alexander. You missed Peter the Great now was he great as a ruler or great as a commander? .
    Graham

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    1. Evening Graham,
      Its funny as I recently completed the Massie biography on Peter. He was a giant and not only in stature. Mind I wouldnt have drank with him, and I certainly would have kept out of the way when he was doing one.
      See you this weekend Robbie.

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  3. Interesting post. Marlborough certainly achieved some remarkable feats and changed the face of warfare in Europe. However, he couldn't have done that without Eugen or the fact that the French Marshalls were controlled from Versailles. Charles of Sweden was of much the same character as Richard I who we laud over here for the same reasons that the Swedes hold Charles in such high regard. John was a better King than Richard for the people but it was the nobility that were disadvantaged by him.
    As for those who deserve the title? Kublai Khan created the worlds largest empire and with more tolerance for other cultures than we have today.

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    1. Evening Paul,
      Well thats our Friday night taken care of then. We can discuss this over a beer if you want.
      Genghis Khan certainly was a one off. Looking forward to the weekend.
      Thanks Robbie.

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  4. Robbie- mostly in agreement here- read Richard Holmes biog of Marlborough .
    as for Fred the Average and Charles the Homicidal Lunatic well . All these daft tiles were bestowed after the events- sometimes centuries after and have become "traditional" Charles the Looney bankrupted his coutry Fred the Average lost several battles and Alex was probably certifiable- shold have been sectioned !

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    1. Evening Andy,
      The description in the biography about his father Phillip the second, describes Alexander as having a very high pitched voice and very noticeable pointed teeth. It doesnt sound good does it. I think it showed what he was like in his treatment of the Greek mercenaries after the Battle of Issus.
      The trouble is you dont realise they are mad until they are in power.
      Thanks Robbie.

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  5. I find Frederick a fascinating figure and great mix of the good and bad.I never fail to be saddened by his youth and relationship with his father.

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    1. I have read a couple of biographies about Frederick and its clear his father was a violent bully, but then the era wasnt known for a liberal stance on bringing up children, ''spare the rod, spoil the child'' [ Or was that me]
      I just find that Frederick lacked humanity. I wish there was a decent biography in English of Maria Theresa, there was a leader who was head and shoulders above the rulers around her.
      Thanks Robbie.

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  6. Would be interesting to know exactly WHEN they were all first labelled as 'Great'. From our perspective even I as an avid 18thC Prussophile (?) would agree that Frederick had his faults as a man and as a king and lost a fair few battles but he won lots too and displayed some pretty sound tactical and strategic sense. Perhaps its all relative. If as Andy suggests, FtG ought to have been known as Frederick the Average, that would make his opponents, by way of ability in relation to him, very much below average or even bottom of the barrel E class in old WRG terms! Maybe he needs the Mel Gibson treatment! lol

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    1. Now Colin weve had this talk before. It is an interesting point though, who gives you the title and how do you get the title Great.
      I dont think it was whilst he was alive. And I know its not a very British thing to do but why didnt John Churchill or Wellington earn the title?
      The only English man I know of who had the title was Alfred and he was a king a very longtime ago. I do think he deserved it though.
      Thanks Robbie.

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  7. Are you paying more than $5 per pack of cigarettes? I buy my cigarettes from Duty Free Depot and I save over 50%.

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My 6mm Napoleonic set up.

My 6mm Napoleonic set up.
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