Our favorite this week commemorates a turning point in history. On June 19, 1815, the Duke of Wellington sent one of the world’s most famous military dispatches, describing his defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Listen to it in full read by Hugh Grant, courtesy of The Guardian.
I do like improbable combinations, and this week’s Favorite may just top them all. In time for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the town itself has decided to put on an exhibition of of Napoleon’s life.
Built entirely of Legos.
Everything from Jacques Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps to the Arc de Triompnh to Napoleon’s bicorn hat are part of the massive display.
Ever want to get involved in a historical reenactment but didn’t know how? Or think you didn’t have time for all the preparation? Afraid you’ll get stage fright and forget what to do?
Then here’s a simple opportunity to participate in the Jane Austen Festival in Kentucky without all the hassle or expense of travel–write a historical letter to a Royal Navy sailor!
From the HMS Acasta website:
“Open Call to ALL Reenactors, Historians and Creative Writers!
The Royal Navy reenacting group that represents HMS Acasta will be attending the Jane Austen Festival in July of this year. One of the things that I’d like to be able to do is deliver a ‘mail packet’ full of letters to the various Acasta members. This is a project that I have undertaken in the past with other groups with awesome results.
This is where YOU come in!
Anyone who would like to submit a period correct letter to add to the packet is encouraged to do so! We’d love to have your contribution, however large or small! Anything added to the packet will help to enhance the historical experience for not only the Acastas who receive them, but for the public who will attend the Festival as well.”
There are ideas, links to examples of period-style letters, and specific sailors to write to on the Acasta website. Deadline is the end of June 2014.
No, that’s not a typo. This article is not about Napoleon’s victories on the battle fields of Europe. It’s about his victory in the farmers’ fields in France.
With sugar beets.
Sugar beets (Beta vulgaris) are white, conical roots, with a rosette of leaves above ground. The leaves absorb sunlight and produce sugar by photosynthesis (remember your high school biology?). The sugar is then stored in the root—the part we dig up and process. Sugar beets are grown in temperate climates like Germany, France, the UK, and the northern US, rather than the tropical locales sugar cane prefers.
But what do they have to do with the self-proclaimed Emperor of France?
In 1806 Napoleon attempted to destroy British trade lines and weaken the country by banning the import of British goods into Europe (including those from Britain’s colonies). George III and his Parliament responded by ordering a blockade of all French ports. So the only goods Napoleon and his people were getting (legally) were those they could grow or make themselves. Since all of the sugar in use at the time came from plantations in the West Indies, that meant no sugar for France.
Sugar beets were already known at this time—in the mid-1700’s, a German chemist named Andreas Margraff discovered that the sucrose contained in the beet’s root was indistinguishable from the sucrose in sugar cane. One of Margraff’s students, Franz Karl Achard, later experimented with ways to extract the sugar from beets, and was successful (he’s now considered the father of the sugar beet industry).
So when France found herself sugarless in the first decade of the 1800’s, a starting point already existed for her scientists. In 1809, a commission repeated Achard’s experiments, producing two loaves of beet sugar. One of them was eventually passed on to Napoleon himself, who realized he held the answer to his problem (one of them, anyway). He ordered 32,000 hectares of sugar beets to be sown, and more than 40 small factories were built to process them. In January 1811, the order was upped to 100,000 hectares and licenses were given to build 334 factories throughout the French empire.
In 1813, however, the tide of the war turned. Napoleon was on the run, and the blockade was lifted. Cane sugar once again became readily available, and beet sugar was no longer competitively priced. All of the beet processing factories that had been built in Germany and Austria (part of Napoleon’s territory) were closed down. The following spring the Sixth Coalition defeated the French empire, and Napoleon—champion of the sugar beet—was exiled to the island of Elba.
Then why do we eat beet sugar today?
France never quite gave up on sugar beet refinement. Between 1820 and 1839, the number of factories began to slowly climb again in response to a duty imposed on imported cane sugar. Once again, beet sugar was a cheaper alternative. The production of cane sugar also had an ugly stigma attached—it was only possible on large plantations using slave labor. Sugar beets could be grown and processed right at home, in factories that employed paid workers.
The process of refining sugar beets later became popular in Germany, the UK, Russia, and even spread across the Atlantic to the US. My home state of Michigan is one of eleven states that continue to produce beet sugar today, though the European Union is the world’s largest producer with about 50% of the total. Overall, beet sugar accounts for about 35% of the world’s production.
Beet sugar: just one example of the silver lining on a very dark cloud.
Another silver lining of the Napoleonic Wars? Wounded warrior romance heroes! To celebrate the Summer Banquet Blog Hop, I’m giving away one of my very favorites: a signed, print copy of Grace Burrowes’ The Solider, direct from the author herself!
Leave a comment below to enter: tell me what you learned today, what you really think of Napoleon, who your favorite historical soldier/sailor is, what draws you to this period of history, your obsession with sweets (or wounded warriors!), or whatever else you’d like.
Comments must be left by midnight EDT on June 7, 2013 to be eligible to win. Open worldwide.
Don’t forget to check out the posts and giveaways of all the Hop participants:
- Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
- Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
- Anna Belfrage
- Debra Brown
- Lauren Gilbert
- Gillian Bagwell
- Julie K. Rose
- Donna Russo Morin
- Regina Jeffers
- Shauna Roberts
- Tinney S. Heath
- Grace Elliot
- Diane Scott Lewis
- Susan Mason-Milks
- Ginger Myrick
- Helen Hollick
- Heather Domin
- Margaret Skea
- Yves Fey
- JL Oakley
- Shannon Winslow
- Evangeline Holland
- Cora Lee (you are here)
- Laura Purcell
- P. O. Dixon
- E.M. Powell
- Sharon Lathan
- Sally Smith O’Rourke
- Allison Bruning
- Violet Bedford
- Sue Millard
Agribusiness Handbook: Sugar Beets. Food and Agricultural Organization, United Nations. 2009
Agriculture and Rural Development. European Commission. 2013.
Bonaparte, Napoleon. The Berlin Decree. November 21, 1806.
Draycott, A. Philip (editor). Sugar Beet (World Agricultural Series). John Wiley & Sons, 2008.
Harveson, Robert M. “History of Sugarbeet Production and Use.” Crop Watch: Sugarbeets, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Retrieved electronically May 2013.
“In this distinguished Service, you will carry a Rifle no heavier than a Fowling-Piece. You will knock down your Enemy at Five Hundred Yards, instead of missing him at Fifty.
On Service, your Post is always the Post of Honour, and your Quarters the best in the Army; for you have the first of everything; and at Home you are sure of Respect—because a BRITISH RIFLEMAN always makes himself Respectable.
GOD SAVE the KING! and his Rifle Regiment!”
Who says you can’t learn things from fiction? I was first introduced to the 95th Rifles in Mary Jo Putney’s book The Bargain, where the hero was a wounded officer from that regiment. (Bernard Cornwell also uses them in his Richard Sharpe series.) I wouldn’t have thought anything else about it except that she included an author’s note and explained why she picked the 95th. I’m one of those strange souls who think history is a whole lot of fun, so I went right from the book to the computer and starting poking around the Napoleonic Wars and the 95th Rifle Regiment. It turns out they were quite different from the rest of their infantry brethren.
The first thing I noticed was that the men and officers of the Rifles wore green uniforms rather than the familiar red—not a huge revelation if one is familiar with the British Army, but a small surprise for me. Their belts and trim were black instead of the white of the other regiments. Recruitment advertisements touted these darker uniforms as more comfortable and easier to care for. In practice, they drew the ridicule of other units (at least in the beginning—once the Rifle Brigade had proved its value, the taunting slowed considerably).
Also, while most officers of the time were still purchasing their commissions and promotions, the majority of officers of the 95th were commissioned or promoted based on merit or seniority. “Soldiers of fortune” they called themselves, neither nobility nor gentry for the most part. Perhaps because of this, the Rifles were known as a more egalitarian outfit than their musket-bearing counterparts.
The biggest difference between the Rifles and the rest of the infantry, of course, was their weapon. While everyone else carried muskets, the 95th carried the Baker rifle which had grooves inside the barrel to spin the bullet as it was fired (you CSI fans and gun enthusiasts will recognize this as the “rifling”). The spinning increased accuracy immensely—like spiraling a football—allowing these soldiers to fight differently. Riflemen did not stand shoulder to shoulder and fire into a block of the enemy. Instead, they could fire individually and from standing, sitting, and kneeling positions, or even laying down, and were trained accordingly. They were, in fact, founded to emulate the sharpshooters of Continental Army and militias during the American Revolution. (There’s irony for you!)
The 95th Rifles went on to become wildly famous for their actions during the Peninsular War, being awarded regimental battle honors for Ciudad Rodrigo, Salamanca, Vittoria, The Pyrenees, Toulouse, and Waterloo, among others. Curiously, though, they were rarely awarded individual medals and recognition, though other soldiers in other units were regularly honored.