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So.... Nicky?

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Women in the Peninsular War

Women in the Peninsular War - Charles J. Esdaile One of the few books I've found that explores the status and actions of women in the Iberian campaign: wives, camp followers, nuns, gentry, poor folk, and more. Esdaile's general survey fills a huge hole in my history shelf; especially useful to see how the stories I know (Agustina Zaragosa) were shaped in the retelling, especially for political and cultural reasons.

Chapters include Matrons and Majas (the two top stereotypes); Baggages (camp followers, cantinieres, etc); Heroines (hard and soft resistance methods); Survivors (local peoples, rich and poor); Virgins (nuns). I especially enjoyed the first chapter, Images, which examines how paintings, etchings, plays, novels, and other media then and now contribute to our view of Spanish and Portuguese women. A short last chapter, Liberators, adds French and British soldiers' views; good but if you want more try The British Soldier in the Peninsular War by Gavin Daly.

Esdaile's main point is that the argument that all Spanish and Portuguese women were patriots first and foremost goes too far, and that they were proto-feminists farther still; the goal of most civilians was to survive and keep their families safe. Many actions that from one angle look heroic (firing a cannon when all around you are dead) look save-your-skin from another. Similarly with women who consorted with the French or the British; if their families were starving who is to say it was patriotism that caused them to flirt, or to spy, or to beg their husbands not to go to war.

Very useful -- and entertaining -- are the extensive notes for each chapter, as well as a deep bibliography. I have a long list of story ideas -- so many strong women! -- and detail notes now, not to mention a half-dozen more books/monographs to look for. I wish the notes were available online because they include hyperlinks to the many art examples in Chapter One and it's hard to type correctly an URL that goes four lines long.