General Sir Henry Brackenbury – ‘The Thinking Man’s Soldier’ – is the subject of Dr Christopher Brice’s much-anticipated debut book with Helion. Here’s an insight into why you should join our guest list for the exclusive launch on Thursday, 31st January 2013 at the London Club of the Rifles.
“He wasn’t an armchair General,” says Chris. “He was a fighting General – the complete antithesis of the Victorian stereotype. Fiercely intelligent; he was a first-rate administrator excelling in both War Office and non-military appointments. He contributed greatly to the popular press. Amazingly he stayed in the Army at a time when many of his contemporaries with arguably less intellect went on to excel in different spheres. I find him utterly fascinating.”
First-time author Chris tells how his pet project began with a hushed conversation in the Royal Military Academy (RMA) Sandhurst Library during his self-financed History PhD with De Montford University in Leicester.
“My then-supervisor Dr Anthony Clayton, a lecturer at Sandhurst, agreed that my original subject choice – the British Army in South Africa 1878 to 1902 – was too bulky to tackle as it covered the Zulu wars; both Boer Wars and campaigns in-between. ‘How about Brackenbury? He sounds interesting’, I suggested. It was a name I’d seen crop up time and again. I completed my thesis on his military career and 10 years later I am about to publish the first full-scale biography ever written on him.”
Chris describes the movement from thesis to biography as “initially straightforward,” but had to take an inventive approach to research due to Brackenbury’s paucity of private papers.
“Duncan approached me about doing a book after I gave a lecture on Brackenbury at the National Armoury Museum. My PhD looked at what impact he had on the Victorian Army and the wider state in general. I told Duncan that I wanted to look at Brackenbury’s life as a whole, which he fully supported.
I’d originally written a chapter on the Brackenburys of Lincolnshire for my PhD, but removed it at the request of the examiners. This was ideal for the full biography however, which gave me a good head-start.
My only difficulty was that Brackenbury didn’t leave a lot of papers. He appears to have had a clearout in the 1870s so details of the early part of his life were missing. While he wrote numerous books and articles including ‘some memories of my spare time’ about his pursuits away from his military career, he didn’t leave an autobiography.
It was a case of having to read papers by people who associated with him and looking for even the tiniest of references to Brackenbury – the odd sentence here and there. Among other locations I visited the British Library; National Archives; the Institute of Kentish Studies; the National Army Museum and the library at RMA Sandhurst where there is a wonderful collection of biographies and autobiographies of Brackenbury’s long-forgotten contemporaries – working out the chronology of his life as I went along.
I was also lucky enough to make the acquaintance of some of the Brackenburys who allowed me to look at private papers never seen outside of the family before. These were extremely useful – particularly with regard to his relationship with his first wife and also Lord Lansdowne, who was a senior member of the Conservative Party.
Because of the scale and painstaking nature of the research involved it would have been very difficult to produce this work any quicker than the 10 years it has taken me.”
Chris is the first person in his family to have written a book and already has plans to follow up this work with two more titles.
“While my English teacher from school would probably be surprised, I have to say that I’m hopeful that this is the start of my writing career!
I’m working on two concurrent projects – an examination of the history of the late Victorian Army and researching Field Marshal Viscount Hugh Gough at Helion’s request.
My long-term goal is to grow my list of published titles and become a university lecturer in History.
For now I am looking forward to what is sure to be an enjoyable evening on 31st January.
The guest list is already filling for the official launch of ‘The Thinking Man’s Soldier’ but there are still a few places available for anyone who wants to come along to the event, which starts at 6pm.
“I’ve been to a Helion book launch at the London Club of the Rifles before and I have to say it’s a fantastic venue.
You don’t need a dinner jacket, which is a relief because I haven’t got one! However, guests are asked to observe the dress code, which is jacket and tie.
After an opportunity to mingle and network at the start Duncan will introduce Professor Ian Beckett from the University of Kent, who will say a few words to put General Sir Henry Brackenbury into context. Then it’s my turn to try to give an overview of what you can expect from the book.
I’m not nervous. I’ll never get tired of talking about Brackenbury and with so much to say, the only thing to add is that you’ll need to get a copy of the book to fully explore this deeply significant and highly influential ‘Thinking Man’s Soldier’.”
Date: Thursday, 31st January 2013
Venue: London Club of the Rifles, 52-56 Davies Street, London W1K 5HR
Dress code: Jacket and tie
RSVP to Duncan Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 0121 705 3393 quoting ‘TWITTER’.
‘The Thinking Man’s Soldier. The Life & Career of General Sir Henry Brackenbury 1837 – 1914’ by Chris Brice (£35) is published by Helion & Company. Click to pre-order.
Words: Michelle Corbett