Set in the pre-Waterloo days of the peninsula campaign, Tillyard’s narrative explores both military and personal maneuvers as Wellington seeks victory on the battlefields and some of his officers seek victory in the bedrooms.
The novel easily mixes the historical and the fictional. Tillyard’s Wellington is stiff, overbearing and scant with praise for his fellow officers. He leaves his wife Kitty on the homefront in London, and she is forced to deal with more than her husband realizes, most notably the appearance of Mrs. Fitzwilliam, Wellington’s mistress, and an illegitimate son about which the general has no knowledge. As Wellington struggles militarily in Spain and Portugal, Kitty shrewdly takes control of her own financial affairs with the good advice of Nathan Rothschild, another historical figure who makes a fortune through astute wartime business practices. We also follow fictional characters James Raven, one of Wellington’s officers, and his new bride Harriet, an intellectual woman who shares her father’s scientific proclivities. While James is in Spain, he becomes romantically involved with Camille Florens, whose Irish father has taught her to hate all things English. She readily manipulates James at the same time Harriet in London has become enamored with Frederick Winsor, a German who has Anglicized his name from Friedrich Winzer and whose interest in developing sources of light and heat appeal to Harriet’s scientific aptitudes. James comes back disillusioned both with war and with the spoils of war, and he and Harriet are obviously estranged in their short time together before James is summoned once again to fight on the continent at Waterloo.
Solid historical fiction, with vivid characters and vibrant local color.