The best hidden histories on The Napoleonic Wars

Who am I?

I’m a very ordinary person. A history and literary nerd. A wife and mother. I don’t have any M.As or PhDs. I started teaching myself to write in 1991, and after joining the Romance Writers of America, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as Writing NSW (New South Wales), I had my first writing award, and first short story published in 1997. I got my first writing contract in 2000 (Silhouette Books, NY). I quit romance in 2012 to focus on historical fiction and YA, both of which I still love, and putting a little romance in there never hurts. I've given workshops and talks for the Historical Novel Societies of Australia and North America.


I wrote...

The Tide Watchers

By Lisa Chaplin,

Book cover of The Tide Watchers

What is my book about?

In early 2007 I was showing American friends around Sydney. I picked up a book whose subtitle is Nelson, Napoleon and the Secret War. I was hooked. Soon my friends had to remind me they were hungry! I read the book all the way home. A passing mention of Napoleon’s secret attempt to invade England in 1803 made me think, I have to know more...

Lucky for me, not long after, my husband and I moved...to Europe! It was the perfect ground for my research. Visiting the places the book spoke of, and speaking to local historians (and taking their tours) brought the hidden history to life – and learning about American inventor Robert Fulton’s life in France at the time, it brought to my mind the only way the invading ships could mysteriously sink 8 miles out to sea. And so The Tide Watchers was born.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Terror Before Trafalgar: Nelson, Napoleon and the Secret War

Lisa Chaplin Why did I love this book?

Tom Pocock, a Naval Correspondent for The Times and Defence Correspondent for the London Evening Standard, has been described as the foremost authority on Admiral Nelson. But going past Nelson, in this book, he delves deeply into the lesser-known people that helped Nelson – and Britain – win the Napoleonic Wars, mission by mission, battle by battle.

This book is an absolute treasure-trove of information for anyone interested in the more secret ways Britain fought the first half of the Napoleonic Wars. “This book tells, through contemporary letters, journals, and newspapers, the gripping story of the secret war and of the shadowy but fascinating figures who did their utmost to undermine French plans.” This book inspired years of research – books and physical trips – that created The Tide Watchers. It brought the people of “the secret war” to life, American inventor Robert Fulton’s life in France, and the dedicated but little-known British spies who did what they must to stop Napoleon walking in William the Conqueror’s footsteps. Their stories inspired the characters of Duncan, Alec, Cal, and Lisbeth – and a woman whose name is lost to history, code-name “The Incomparable”, and her regular partner in espionage, the real-life Scarlet Pimpernel.

By Tom Pocock,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Terror Before Trafalgar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nelson's victory at Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 was a pivotal event in European history. But Trafalgar was not simply an isolated battle fought and won in an afternoon - the naval campaign had in fact begun more than four years before. This extraordinary period, following Napoleon's threat to invade England in 1801, came to be known as The Great Terror, and Britain was on the alert. As the Grande Armee faced a Dad's army of English volunteers across the Channel, a secret war of espionage and subversion was fought in the shadows. New weapons - rockets, submarines and torpedoes…


Book cover of Phantom of the Guillotine: The Real Scarlet Pimpernel, Louis Bayard - Lewis Duval 1769-1844

Lisa Chaplin Why did I love this book?

“This enthralling biography and detective story convincingly identifies the real-life model for Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel. It delves into the politics and espionage of Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras.” The real Scarlet Pimpernel, Louis Bayard was an amazing person. Baroness Orczy knew him in her childhood as Lewis Duval, a London-based French lawyer. The story of his exploits in Orczy’s novels is just a shadow of all he accomplished, which Sparrow brings to glittering life. His allies and enemies, how he influenced Napoleon and Pitt, as well as other leaders of the time, and accomplished the impossible many times over, comes alive in this story that begins in his childhood. The boy and man for whom “seeking danger was a compulsion”. It’s how real heroes, ever hidden in the shadows, are made.

I’m using this “thundering good read” now while writing my own YA series. Sent back to 1793 Lyon, Xandra and Marcus have to find and save a 19-year-old French boy they know only as Mouron (French for Scarlet Pimpernel) before the enemy can find and kill him. The man young Royalist lieutenant Louis Bayard becomes will change the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars, saving millions of lives, but killing key scientists and leaders, which is destroying the world of 2045. I also used Phantom of the Guillotine for the sequel to my book, which I hope to publish in the next year.

Book cover of Secret Service: British Agents in France, 1792-1815

Lisa Chaplin Why did I love this book?

“A tour de force of research, an essential document for future students of the (Napoleonic Wars) subject.”

Sparrow, “an acknowledged authority on the beginnings of the British Secret Service” is a meticulous researcher, who goes deeply into the world of British and French espionage of the time, and what motivated them to act for or betray their countries. This absolute treasure was given to me by a writer friend. I’ve marked it to bits, with highlights, notes, and Post-Its everywhere. It’s a university course on the deeper facets of the Napoleonic Wars all on its own. Leaving aside heroism, she presents facts about the politics and spymasters, and what they had to do to win the war. This book was invaluable in bringing my own book to life, making characters less hero and more human.

By Elizabeth Sparrow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Secret Service as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Something rare in the study of a period or a subject: a genuinely substantial addition to knowledge, of a kind that will henceforth need to be taken fully into account in any study of the British conduct of the great French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. JOHN EHRMAN
A tour de force of research, an essential document for future students of the subject. JOHN LE CARRE
Elizabeth Sparrow traces the origins of the British secret service to the turbulent aftermath of the French revolution, when Pitt's government, concerned to forestall civil unrest in England, set uppolice surveillance to counteract immigration and…


Book cover of Napoleon's Wars: An International History

Lisa Chaplin Why did I love this book?

This compelling history goes “beyond the legend that Napoleon himself helped create, to form a new, genuinely international context for his military career.”

History is most often written by the victors, and real life is never so one-sided. Esdaile writes as though he lived Napoleon’s life, and shows that many times his decisions were made (or changed) because of acts, or provocation, by British diplomats or agents. The quote by Napoleon’s stepdaughter Hortense says it all: “Any man who becomes the sole head of a great country by means other than heredity can only maintain himself in power if he gives the nation either liberty or military glory – if he makes himself, in short, either a Washington or a conqueror...it was impossible for him to establish...an absolute power except by bemusing reason [and] by every three months presenting the French people with some new spectacle.” Esdaile brings this unspoken part of brilliant military triumphs to light, the insecurity and the bombastic, the truth and hypocrisy that was Napoleon Bonaparte, and the demands of the country he ruled as Consul and Emperor.

By Charles J. Esdaile,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Napoleon's Wars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A glorious?and conclusive?chronicle of the wars waged by one of the most polarizing figures in military history

Acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic as a new standard on the subject, this sweeping, boldly written history of the Napoleonic era reveals its central protagonist as a man driven by an insatiable desire for fame, and determined ?to push matters to extremes.? More than a myth-busting portrait of Napoleon, however, it offers a panoramic view of the armed conflicts that spread so quickly out of revolutionary France to countries as remote as Sweden and Egypt. As it expertly moves through conflicts…


Book cover of Napoleonic Wars in Cartoons

Lisa Chaplin Why did I love this book?

This book shows the caricatures done by cartoonists of the time. If you pay enough attention to the dates, these can shed new or deeper light on accepted history. The minutiae of these cartoons teaches you a lot about the time and the thoughts of the general public, or how the media wanted to sway them to think. For example, on pages 24 and 25, the cartoons show “Citizen Fox” – showing this British subject living in France as joining the Republican system. “French Telegraph Making Signals in the Dark” (James Gillray) and “The Raft in Danger, or the Republican Crew Disappointed” (Isaac Cruikshank) shows the many wild rumors and general fear of French invasion around 1798, after the failed invasion via Ireland, who was then fighting for independence from the crushing absentee English landlords. Going deeper with this idea, you can see the fear of war on two fronts facing Britain at the time.

By Mark Bryant,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Napoleonic Wars in Cartoons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NAPOLEON BONAPARTE, the junior artillery officer of the French Revolution who became emperor and dictator of nearly all of western Europe, was the most caricatured figure of his time, with almost 1000 satirical drawings being produced about his exploits by British artists alone. Long before the advent of illustrated daily or weekly newspapers these hand-coloured prints were a major source of news and opinion and had considerable impact on the public at large. From the battles of the Nile, Copenhagen, Trafalgar, Austerlitz, Jena and Leipzig to the Peninsular War, the invasion of Russia, exile on Elba and his final defeat…


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Book cover of The Twenty: One Woman's Trek Across Corsica on the GR20 Trail

Marianne C. Bohr Author Of The Twenty: One Woman's Trek Across Corsica on the GR20 Trail

New book alert!

Who am I?

I married my high school sweetheart and travel partner, and followed my own advice to do graduate work, and started my career working for the French National Railroad in New York City, mapping itineraries for travelers to Europe. Travel means the world to me and if I don’t have a trip on the horizon, I feel aimless and untethered. I worked in book publishing for 30 years and dropped out of the corporate rat race to take a gap year abroad. I wrote about our “Senior year abroad” in my first book Gap Year Girl. I returned to the US to teach middle school French and organize student trips to France. 

Marianne's book list on by women about outdoor adventure

What is my book about?

Marianne Bohr and her husband, about to turn sixty, are restless for adventure. They decide on an extended, desolate trek across the French island of Corsica — the GR20, Europe’s toughest long-distance footpath — to challenge what it means to grow old. Part travelogue, part buddy story, part memoir, The Twenty is a journey across a rugged island of stunning beauty little known outside Europe.

From a chubby, non-athletic child, Bohr grew into a fit, athletic person with an “I’ll show them” attitude. But hiking GR20 forces her to transform a lifetime of hard-won achievements into acceptance of her body and its limitations.

The difficult journey across a remote island provides the crucible for exploring what it means to be an aging woman in a youth-focused culture, a physically fit person whose limitations are getting the best of her, and the partner of a husband who is growing old with her. More than a hiking tale, this is a moving story infused with humor about hiking, aging, accepting life’s finite journey, and the intimacy of a long-term marriage—set against the breathtaking beauty of Corsica’s rugged countryside.

By Marianne C. Bohr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Twenty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Great for fans of: Suzanne Roberts's Almost Somewhere, Juliana Buhring's This Road I Ride.


Marianne Bohr and her husband, about to turn sixty, are restless for adventure. They decide on an extended, desolate trek across the French island of Corsica-the GR20, Europe's toughest long-distance footpath-to challenge what it means to grow old. Part travelogue, part buddy story, part memoir, The Twenty is a journey across a rugged island of stunning beauty little known outside Europe.


From a chubby, non-athletic child, Bohr grew into a fit, athletic person with an "I'll show them" attitude. But hiking The Twenty forces her to…


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