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Ian Fletcher Battlefield Tours

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Henry II was one of England’s most formidable kings ruling an empire that stretched from Ireland in the West to the Auvergne in the East and from the Scottish Border in the north to the Pyrenees in the South. In this tour we will look at this great king, his tempestuous relationship with his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, the most celebrated woman of her day, and his equally turbulent relationship with his sons Geoffrey, Henry, John and Richard. We will also look at the reigns of the two sons who became king: Richard the Lionheart and King John and their attempts to hold on to Henry’s inheritance.

When Lieutenant General Sir Lancelot Kiggell, Field Marshal Haig’s chief of staff, saw for himself the terrible conditions in which the British soldier was fighting he was moved to remark, ‘God, did we really send men to fight in this?’ It was an awful indictment of the detached view of a staff officer whose experience of war came largely in the rear areas. However, it wasn’t all mud and blood. Indeed, the early and latter phases of the Great War, as it was known until 1939, were largely those that saw great mobility, such as the retreat from Mons and the great Allied advance of 1918. But it is the intervening stalemate years, those that saw the emergence of trench warfare, of mud, blood, gas and slaughter, that will forever remain the iconic images in the minds of most people.

It is probably true to say that no battle in history has stirred so many emotions and provoked more literature than Waterloo. Fought on 18 June 1815 between the Allied armies of the  Duke of Wellington and Blucher and the French army under Napoleon, the battle continues to court controversy even today. Our tour follows the momentous events of the campaign, visiting the battlefields of Quatre Bras, Ligny and the dramatic events of 17 June, and, of course, Waterloo itself, where Wellington’s army hung on grimly until the arrival of Blucher’s Prussians tipped the scales in favour of the Allies.

James Falkner leads us to the River Danube and then back to the Low Countries to visit the sites of all the great victories achieved by John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, at Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet, during the War of the Spanish Succession. Marlborough’s march to the Danube, the daring strategic shift to southern Germany in 1704 and great triumph at Blenheim is well known, and the route takes us through some breathtakingly beautiful countryside and historic towns. Equally spectacular are the Duke’s subsequent victories in today’s Belgium - Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet. This tour enables us to see and fully grasp his genius in all its astonishing and unequalled scale.

It is 209 years since the British Army began fighting what remains arguably its most successful campaign to date, the Peninsular War. It was a war that saw the rise of one of  Britain’s greatest commanders, the Duke of Wellington, who began the war as Sir Arthur Wellesley, the most junior lieutenant general in the British army. He was to go on to enjoy huge success in the Peninsula and, of course, at Waterloo where he defeated Napoleon Bonaparte. But this was still some way off when he landed at the mouth of the River Mondego in the summer of 1808. Landing on the back of humiliations in South America and Egypt the previous year many doubted whether the British army would stand a chance against Napoleon’s legions. But by April 1814 Wellington and his men had driven the French from Portugal (three times), from Spain and finally over the Pyrenees and into France. It was a great achievement, marked by a series of brilliant victories with only Burgos to blot an otherwise splendid copybook.

On 16 April 1746, on a bleak moor east of Inverness, the Government forces under the  Duke of Cumberland came face to face with the Jacobite army under Bonnie Prince Charlie. On 6 December 1745, after initial success and an invasion of England that had halted just 130 miles from London, the Jacobites were forced to turn and head back to Scotland. The following month the Duke of Cumberland, fresh from campaigning in the Low Countries, arrived in Scotland to assume command of the government forces and put an end to the Jacobite Rebellion, the so-called ’45. The Battle of Culloden did just that, being a bloody but somewhat one-sided action which saw Cumberland’s regulars rout the Jacobites on the field of battle and in the glens and highlands in the months that followed.

The retreat to Corunna during the winter of 1808–09 was one of the most harrowing episodes of the Peninsular War. Faced with overwhelming odds, the British Army, led by Sir John Moore, embarked upon a bold course of action to help the beleaguered Spanish cause by marching directly across French communications. The gamble failed and Moore was forced to retreat through the bleak Galician mountains, pursued at one point by Napoleon himself. Our tour follows in the footsteps of Moore and his army, taking in most of the battle sites along the way, such as Mayorga, Benavente, Sahagun and Lugo, as well as Corunna itself, where we visit the Moore’s last resting place in the garden of San Carlos. The accommodation on the tour includes the castle of Benavente, now a luxury hotel, but in 1808 used by the soldiers of both armies for shelter.

Archduke Charles of Austria, Duke of Teschen, was Napoleon’s most dogged adversary throughout the Napoleonic Wars. Our Napoleon and Austria tour takes us to his capital,  the wonderful city of Vienna, where we visit the superb army museum amongst other things. The tour also takes us back to some of the pivotal moments in the history of these two great adversaries, such as Wagram, Aspern-Essling and Eckmuhl. In addition, we will also visit the great battlefield of Austerlitz, situated not too far over the Czech border. It’s the first time we’ve offered this tour since 2009 when we stood on the ground on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Wagram. The tour includes five nights in the beautiful city of Vienna.

In the 18th and early 19th century Customs and Excise duties amounted to two-thirds of government income and were cheap to collect. In 1760 there were 800 items on which duty had to be paid. By 1810 due to the need to finance the wars with France this number had risen to 2,100 items. By 1745 it was reckoned 20,000 people in Sussex alone were involved in smuggling and later two thirds of all tea drunk in England was smuggled. With the possibility of making astronomical sums of money – provided you weren’t caught – all ranks of society were involved and there is not a piece of the coastline that does not have a smuggling story to tell. In this weekend we will focus on the most noteworthy gangs of all the Hawkhurst gang. We will also look at the life of one of the greatest English eccentrics, Mad Jack Fuller, and at the extraordinary career of Sir William Courtney.

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