William Francis Patrick Napier

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For other individuals of the same name, see William Napier (disambiguation).
Sir William Napier
Born 7 December 1785
Celbridge, near Dublin
Died 12 February 1860
Clapham, London
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Rank General
Battles/wars Peninsular War
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath

General Sir William Francis Patrick Napier KCB (7 December 1785– 12 February 1860), Irish soldier in the British Army and military historian, third son of Colonel George Napier (1751–1804) and his wife, Lady Sarah Lennox (1745-1826) was born at Celbridge, near Dublin.

Military service[edit]

He became an ensign in the Royal Irish Artillery in 1800, but at once exchanged into the 62nd, and was put on half-pay in 1802. He was afterwards made a cornet in the Royal Horse Guards by the influence of his uncle the duke of Richmond, and for the first time did actual military duty in this regiment, but he soon fell in with Sir John Moore's suggestion that he should exchange into the 52nd, which was about to be trained at Shorncliffe Army Camp. Through Sir John Moore he soon obtained a company in the 43rd, joined that regiment at Shorncliffe and became a great favourite with Moore.

He served in Denmark, and was present at the engagement of Koege (Køge),[1] and, his regiment being shortly afterwards sent to Spain, he bore himself nobly through the retreat to Corunna, the hardships of which permanently impaired his health. In 1809 he became aide-de-camp to his cousin the Duke of Richmond, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, but joined the 43rd when that regiment was ordered again to Spain. With the light brigade (the 43rd, 52nd, and 95th), under the command of General Craufurd, he marched to Talavera in the famous forced march which he has described in his History, and had a violent attack of pleurisy on the way.

He, however, refused to leave Spain, was wounded on the Coa, and shot near the spine at Cazal Nova. His conduct was so conspicuous during the pursuit of Masséna after he left the lines of Torres Vedras that he as well as his brother George was recommended for a brevet majority. He became Brigade Major, was present at Fuentes d'Onoro, but had so bad an attack of ague that he was obliged to return to England.

In England he married his cousin Caroline Amelia Fox, daughter of General, the Honourable Henry Fox and niece of the statesman Charles James Fox. They had a number of children, one of whom, Pamela Adelaide Napier, married Philip William Skynner Miles and had a son, Philip Napier Miles. Another daughter, Louisa Augusta Napier, married General Sir Patrick Leonard MacDougall who, after her death, married Marianne Adelaide Miles, a sister of Philip William Skynner Miles.[2]

Three weeks after his marriage he again started for Spain, and was present at the storming of Badajoz, where his great friend Colonel McLeod was killed. In the absence of the new Lieutenant-Colonel he took command of the 43rd regiment (he was now a substantive Major) and commanded it at the battle of Salamanca. After a short stay at home he again joined his regiment at the Pyrenees, and did his greatest military service at the Battle of Nivelle, where, with instinctive military insight, he secured the most strongly fortified part of Soult's position, practically without orders. He served with his regiment at the battles of the Nive, where he received two wounds, Orthes, and Toulouse. For his services he was made brevet Lieutenant-Colonel, and one of the first C.B.s. Like his brother Charles he then entered the military college at Farnham. He commanded his regiment in the invasion of France after Waterloo, and remained in France with the army of occupation until 1819, when he retired on half-pay. As it was impossible for him to live on a Major's half-pay with a wife and family, he determined to become an artist, and took a house in Sloane Street, where he studied with George Jones, the academician.

Historian[edit]

The years he had spent in France he had occupied in improving his general education, for, incredible as it seems, the author of the History of the War in the Peninsula could not spell or write respectable English till that time. But his career was to be great in literature, not in art. The tendency appeared in an able review of Jomini's works (Edinburgh Review) in 1821, and in 1823 Henry Bickersteth suggested that he write a history of the Peninsular War.

For some time he did not take kindly to the suggestion, but at last determined to become an author in order to defend the memory of Sir John Moore, and to prevent the glory of his old chief being overshadowed by that of Wellington. The Duke of Wellington himself gave him much assistance, and handed over to him the whole of Joseph Bonaparte's correspondence which had been taken at the battle of Vittoria; this was all in cipher, but Mrs Napier, with great patience, discovered the keys. Marshal Soult also took an active interest in the work and arranged for the French translation of Mathieu Dumas.

In 1828 the first volume of the History appeared. The publisher, John Murray, indeed, was disappointed in the sale of the first volume and Napier published the remainder himself. But it was at once seen that the great deeds of the Peninsular War were about to be fitly commemorated. The excitement which followed the appearance of each volume is proved by the innumerable pamphlets issued by those who believed themselves to be attacked, and by personal altercations with many distinguished officers. But the success of the book was proved still more by the absence of competition than by these bitter controversies. The histories of Southey and Lord Londonderry fell still-born, and Sir George Murray, Wellington's quartermaster-general, who had determined to produce the history, gave up the attempt in despair. This success was due to a combination of qualities which have justly secured for Napier the title of being the greatest military historian England has produced. When in 1840 the last volume of the History was published, his fame not only in England but in France and Germany was safely established.

His life during these years had been chiefly absorbed in his History, but he had warmly sympathized with the movement for political reform which was agitating England. 'The Radicals' of Bath, (forerunners of Chartism), and many other cities and towns pressed him to enter parliament, and Napier was actually invited to become tile military chief of a national guard to obtain reforms by force of arms. He refused the dangerous honor on the ground that he was in bad health and had a family of eight children. In 1830 he had been promoted Colonel, and in 1841 he was made a Major-General[3] and was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey. Here he found plenty of occupation in controlling the relations between the soldiers and the inhabitants, and also in working out proposals for a complete scheme of reform in the government of the island.

While he was at Guernsey his brother Charles had conquered Sindh, and the attacks made on the policy of that conquest brought William Napier again into the field of literature. In 1845 he published his History of the Conquest of Scinde, and in 1851 the corresponding History of the Administration of Scinde books which in style and vigour rivalled the great History, but which, being written for controversial purposes, were not likely to maintain enduring popularity. In 1847 he resigned his governorship, and in 1848 was made a K.C.B., and settled at Scinde House, Clapham Park. In 1851 he was promoted Lieutenant-General. His time was fully occupied in defending his brother, in revising the numerous editions of his History which were being called for, and in writing letters to The Times on every conceivable subject, whether military or literary. His energy is the more astonishing when it is remembered that he never recovered from the effects of the wound he had received at Cazal Nova, and that he often had to lie on his back for months together.

His domestic life was shadowed by the incurable affliction of his only son, and when his brother Charles died in 1853 the world seemed to be darkening round him. He devoted himself to writing the life of that brother, which appeared in 1857, and which is in many respects his most characteristic book. In the end of 1853 his younger brother, Captain Henry Napier, RN., died, and in 1855 his brother Sir George. Inspired by his work, he lived on till the year 1860, when, broken by trouble, fatigue and ill-health, he died at Clapham, and was buried at West Norwood. Four months earlier he had been promoted to the full rank of general.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

Government offices
Preceded by
Sir James Douglas
Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey
1842–1848
Succeeded by
Sir John Bell