Queen Victoria’s Little Wars by Byron Farwell

Review published on July 30, 2017.

The author of this book, Byron Farwell, notes that in the last quarter of the nineteenth century little wars came ever more frequently. There were plenty of military campaigns, plenty of revolts to quash and full scams wars, from the time of Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne until her death, and until this book nobody had ever counted them.

When the author researched this book, he noted that there was not a single year in Victoria’s long reign that the British Army in its various guises was not fighting for her and the empire. The additional thing of note is that except for the final Boer War, all the military action was small when compared to the wars of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Victoria’s armies were, and still are, organised on a regimental basis, and in one of the appendices he explains the system for those unfamiliar with the regimental system of the British Army. What Farwell does note though is that while the British Army may have been officered by the British, they were not afraid to use mercenaries in the ranks.

To name all the wars that took place would end up looking like a very long list, but they are all covered in this book, so we see the theatres may change, but the idea of spreading British dominance did not. We are taken across the battles in Asia, India, Africa, and the Middle East to dealing with any trouble that were on the edges of the empire in the far east, such as was Burma, some of which did not even garner any interest back home.

Something that does come through rather clearly is that the continual little wars that Britain had undertaken had by the end of Victoria’s reign become an accepted way of life for the army. In the sixty-four years Victoria was on the throne, the British army fought or undertook more than one hundred ‘little’ wars, starting with the Insurrection in Canara, India in 1837 and lasting until the Ashanti War of 1900-1901. From the wars many can name, such as the Crimea and Zulu wars, to those people may have heard of, such as the Opium Wars or the Boxer Rebellion, to far more that you may not know.

Queen Victoria’s Little Wars was originally published in 1973, and like those little wars it has become a forgotten book. It is good to see this recent publication bringing an excellent historical account back into print; well done Pen and Sword.

Paul Diggett 5/5

Queen Victoria’s Little Wars by Byron Farwell
Pen & Sword Military 9781848840157 pbk Aug 2009

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