When we look back at the Age of Sail our view is often overshadowed by Napoleon's control of continental land and Nelson's climactic battles at sea. Each in their own way built a legend of invincibility on land and sea respectively. This hindsight however pushes the early strugglesof the French revolution into the background and causes us to view earlier sea battles against Nelson's later success, often on the basis of the number of prizes taken.
In the early years of the French Revolutionary War things were far less clear cut and of course nobody knew they were embarking on almost two decades of conflict. On land France was going through the convulsions of the Terror under Robespierre and at sea the Royal Navy, which had suffered defeats during the American War of Independance, notably causing the surrender of Cornwallis at York Town, was still gathering it's forces.
It is against this background that the English and French met at the battle, lasting several days, which came to be known as the Glorious First of June. In his new book, Sam Willis, studies not just the battle, as you would expect, but also the political situation that led to it, expectations of the general public, how the news of the battle was received and its results.
In a recent interview Mr Willis gave a list, which I will not repeat here, of ten notable firsts for this battlle, all of which are fully explored, particularly the role of artists in forming the publics perception of the battle. Most importantly the battle itself is studied anew from the original records and some of the myths that have built up, including the one that his captains did not follow Howe's orders to break the French line, are exposed as incorrect.
It is not often that the views and motivations of the general public are studied in depth and I have come away from this experience feeling far more informed about the early years of the war and this is the most detailed account of the Batle itself that I have read. The Glorious First of June is a book I hightly recommend.
Description of: The Glorious First of June
Author: Sam Willis