Camp Followers During the Peninsular War by Susana Ellis

Today’s guest post, featuring romance author Susana Ellis, is very special. In this bicentennial year of the Battle of Waterloo, Susana had the idea of a romance with that momentous event as a back-drop. It was such a good idea that other romance authors joined in, and the result is a lively new Regency romance anthology, Beaux, Ballrooms, And Battles. Today’s post also marks another milestone here, since Susana is offering a very nice giveaway to readers. But this giveaway ends tomorrow, so don’t wait to enter.

In addition to all of that, Susana is also sharing her research on the lives of the women who followed the drum during the Allied campaigns on the Iberian Peninsula to drive out the French and free Spain from the grip of Bonaparte. Once you have read Susana’s article, dare I suggest that you would prefer to be the heroine in her romance rather than one of the women whose lives she researched?

Print of soldiers riding or walking along a trail, with women following along.

A Word About Spanish and Portuguese Camp Followers
During the Peninsular War

While researching for the blog post on camp followers that appeared two weeks ago on Catherine Curzon’s blog, I learned that in the years of the Peninsular War, more and more local, Iberian women were added to the growing number of women following the British Army. Since the heroine of Lost and Found Lady, my story in the Beaux, Ballrooms, and Battles anthology, is Spanish born and bred, I was curious as to who they were and what happened to them. And why any woman would want to marry a soldier and have to live in the same sort of rough conditions they suffered tramping around between one battle and another. (Note:   many of these reasons also apply to women from Britain or other countries who joined the army entourage.)

They were desperate.

Many were children of the streets with nowhere else to go. Marriage (or even something less) to a soldier, and working as laundresses and selling whatever skills they had, was preferable to the misery of trying to survive in war-torn Spain (or on the streets of London). No doubt the structure and discipline of army life was preferable to many than what they had before.

Some women were actually bought and sold, from a disgruntled husband or desperate parents to soldiers.

And for a fortunate few, things turned out well, i.e., the love story of Harry and Juana Smith. After their home and livelihood was destroyed at Badajoz, Juana’s older sister begged the British army to "protect" her fourteen-year-old sister from the rape and pillage going on in the city at the time. Things could have gone downhill from there, but fortunately, Brigade-Major Harry Smith fell in love with her at first sight and married her four days later, and so began a love affair that lasted the remainder of their lives.

They were silly young girls.

Let’s face it:   a soldier in uniform is a tantalizing sight, especially one in a bright red coat and a tall shako. So colorful. So masculine. So protective. It cannot fail to appeal. It certainly did to Lydia and Kitty Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, and I think there was a time when Lizzie found them alluring as well. While their mothers might be looking for reliability and security in a husband for their offspring, the young ladies themselves might be looking for something more exciting. They aren’t seeing the sweltering sun or the inches of mud or the danger of fording rivers when they anticipate following the army in foreign countries. A handsome husband and the chance to get away from their humdrum life is enough.

So what happened to them after the war ended?

This is the heartbreaking part. I found this explanation in the book Women in the Peninsular War by Charles J. Esdaile (2014).

…the return home meant a voyage by sea, this being something that for many of the women concerned constituted an insuperable obstacle. Thus, the authorities for the most part would only meet the cost of the journey in the case of women who were legally married, which most of the Spanish and Portuguese women were not. When the British army took ship at Bourdeaux in the wake of the fall of Napoleon, then, several hundred women found that they were to be left behind. Shocked by the news, a number of regiments appear to have raised subscriptions to help the women, the vast majority of whom were absolutely destitute, whilst a few men deserted rather than forsake their partners, but in general there was nothing to be done, the embarkation was going ahead amidst scenes of the utmost despair, the camp followers concerned eventually being sent back across the Pyrenees in the company of a brigade of Portuguese infantry.

What the future held for the 950 women concerned does not bear thinking about. Many had probably never been forgiven by their families for running off with British soldiers, while others had no homes to return to. A handful, perhaps, managed to find husbands in their wanderings, but the fact that few could have provided even the humblest of dowries could not but have told against them. Sadly, then, we may assume that, faut de mieux, many ended up as common prostitutes, and all the more so as the fact that had run off with foreign soldiers without contracting the bonds of marriage almost certainly precluded them from obtaining any of the limited compensation that was available from the state (in so far as this was concerned, in Spain, at least, it was decreed, first that pensions should be paid to the widows of men killed in the war, and, second, that girls who had been orphaned in the conflict should be provided with dowries; in practice, however, little money was actually paid out, in the first place because the Spanish state was all but bankrupt, and, in the second, because the countless women of whose husbands there was no trace had no means of proving that they were actually dead). (pp. 219-220)

My Rupert and Catalina

In Lost and Found Lady, Rupert is a British exploring officer who falls in love with Catalina, a young Spanish peasant girl who saves his life following the Battle of Salamanca. Catalina’s living situation is not good and he wishes he could whisk her away, but he’s not in a position to do so at the time, so he promises to return for her as soon as he can. When he does, however, she’s not there, and they don’t find each other until years later when a final confrontation is brewing between Wellington and Napoleon in a little Belgian village called Waterloo.

Dark-haired officer in a scarlet uniform jacket, with a vignette below of a group of people wantering about.

Beaux, Ballrooms, and Battles:
A Celebration of Waterloo

June 18, 1815 was the day Napoleon Bonaparte’s Grande Armée was definitively routed by the ragtag band of soldiers from the Duke of Wellington’s Allied Army in a little Belgian town called Waterloo. The cost in men’s lives was high—22,000 dead or wounded for the Allied Army and 24,000 for the French. But the war with Napoleon that had dragged on for a dozen years was over for good, and the British people once more felt secure on their island shores.

The bicentenary of the famous battle seemed like an excellent opportunity to use that setting for a story, and before I knew it, I had eight other authors eager to join me, and to make a long story short, on April 1, 2015 our Waterloo-themed anthology was released to the world.

You are all invited to

our Website and Facebook Page
our Rafflecopter (ends April 18th)


1 Beaux, Ballrooms, and Battles mug

White china mug with the book cover on a peach background

Our Stories

Jillian Chantal:   Jeremiah’s Charge
Emmaline Rothesay has her eye on Jeremiah Denby as a potential suitor. When Captain Denby experiences a life-altering incident during the course of events surrounding the Battle of Waterloo, it throws a damper on Emmaline’s plans.

Téa Cooper:   The Caper Merchant
The moon in Gemini is a fertile field of dreams, ideas and adventure and Pandora Wellingham is more than ready to spread her wings. When Monsieur Cagneaux, caper merchant to the rich and famous, introduces her to the handsome dragoon she believes her stars have aligned.

Susana Ellis:   Lost and Found Lady
Catalina and Rupert fell in love in Spain in the aftermath of a battle, only to be separated by circumstances. Years later, they find each other again, just as another battle is brewing, but is it too late?

Aileen Fish:   Captain Lumley’s Angel
Charged with the duty of keeping his friend’s widow safe, Captain Sam Lumley watches over Ellen Staverton as she recovers from her loss, growing fonder of her as each month passes. When Ellen takes a position as a companion, Sam must confront his feelings before she’s completely gone from his life.

Victoria Hinshaw:   Folie Bleue
On the night of the 30th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, Aimée, Lady Prescott, reminisces about meeting her husband in Bruxelles on the eve of the fighting. She had avoided the dashing scarlet-clad British officers, but she could not resist the tempting smile and spellbinding charm of Captain Robert Prescott of the 16th Light Dragoons who—dangerously to Aimée—wore blue.

Heather King:   Copenhagen’s Last Charge
When Meg Lacy finds herself riding through the streets of Brussels only hours after the Battle of Waterloo, romance is the last thing on her mind, especially with surly Lieutenant James Cooper. However, their bickering uncovers a strange empathy—until, that is, the lieutenant makes a grave error of judgment that jeopardizes their budding friendship…

Christa Paige:   One Last Kiss
The moment Colin held Beatrice in his arms he wanted one last kiss to take with him into battle and an uncertain future. Despite the threat of a soldier’s death, he must survive, for he promises to return to her because one kiss from Beatrice would never be enough.

Sophia Strathmore:   A Soldier Lay Dying
Amelia and Anne Evans find themselves orphaned when their father, General Evans, dies. With no other options available, Amelia accepts the deathbed proposal of Oliver Brighton, Earl of Montford, a long time family friend. When Lord Montford recovers from his battle wounds, can the two find lasting love?

David W. Wilkin:   Not a Close Run Thing at All
Years, a decade. And now, Robert had come back into her life. Shortly before battle was to bring together more than three hundred thousand soldiers. They had but moments after all those years, and now, would they have any more after?

About Lost and Found Lady

On April 24, 1794, a girl child was born to an unknown Frenchwoman in a convent in Salamanca, Spain. Alas, her mother died in childbirth, and the little girl—Catalina—was given to a childless couple to raise.

Eighteen years later…the Peninsular War between the British and the French wages on, now perilously near Catalina’s home. After an afternoon yearning for adventure in her life, Catalina comes across a wounded British soldier in need of rescue. Voilà! An adventure! The sparks between them ignite, and before he returns to his post, Rupert promises to return for her.

But will he? Catalina’s grandmother warns her that some men make promises easily, but fail to carry them out. Catalina doesn’t believe Rupert is that sort, but what does she know? All she can do is wait…and pray.

But Fate has a few surprises in store for both Catalina and Rupert. When they meet again, it will be in another place where another battle is brewing, and their circumstances have been considerably altered. Will their love stand the test of time? And how will their lives be affected by the outcome of the conflict between the Iron Duke and the Emperor of the French?

Lost and Found Lady   Excerpt

September 14, 1793
A beach near Dieppe, France

"I don’t like the look of those clouds, monsieur," Tobias McIntosh said in fluent French to the gray-bearded old man in a sailor hat waiting impatiently near the rowboat that was beginning to bob more sharply with each swell of the waves. "Are you sure your vessel can make it safely all the way to Newhaven in these choppy seas?"

The old man waved a hand over the horizon. "La tempête, it is not a threat, if we leave immédiatement. Plus tard…" He shrugged. "Je ne sais pas."

"Please, mon amour," pleaded the small woman wrapped in a hooded gray cloak standing at his side. "Allow me to stay with you. I don’t want to go to England. I promise I will be prudent."

A strong gust of wind caught her hood and forced it down, revealing her mop of shiny dark locks. Tobias felt like seizing her hand and pulling her away from the ominous waves to a place of safety where she and their unborn child could stay until the senseless Terreur was over.

"Justine, ma chère, we have discussed this endlessly. There is no place in France safe enough for you if your identity as the daughter of the Comte d’Audet is discovered." He shivered. "I could not bear it if you were to suffer the same fate at the hands of the revolutionaries as your parents did when I failed to save them."

She threw her arms around him, the top of her head barely reaching his chin. "Non, mon amour, it was not your fault. You could not have saved them. It was miraculeux that you saved me. I should have died with them."

She looked up to catch his gaze, her face ashen. "Instead, we met and have had three merveilleux months together. If it is my time to die, I wish to die at your side."

Tobias felt like his heart was going to break. His very soul demanded that the two of them remain together and yet… there was a price on both their heads, and the family of the Vicomte Lefebre was waiting for him in Amiens, the revolutionaries expected to reach them before midday. It was a dangerous work he was involved in—rescuing imperiled French nobility from bloodthirsty, vengeful mobs—but he had pledged himself to the cause and honor demanded that he carry on. And besides, there was now someone else to consider.

"The child," he said with more firmness than he felt. "We have our child to consider, now, Justine ma chère. The next Earl of Dumfries. He must live to grow up and make his way in the world."

Not to mention the fact that Tobias was human enough to wish to leave a child to mark his legacy in the world—his and Justine’s. He felt a heaviness in his heart that he might not live long enough to know this child he and Justine had created together. He could not allow his personal wishes to undermine his conviction. Justine and the child must survive.

Justine’s blue eyes filled with tears. "But I cannot! I will die without you, mon cher mari. You cannot ask it of me!"

"Justine," he said, pushing away from her to clasp her shoulders and look her directly in the eye. "You are a brave woman, the strongest I have ever known. You have survived many hardships and you can survive this. Take this letter to my brother in London, and he will see to your safety until the time comes that I can join you. My comrades in Newhaven will see that you are properly escorted."

He handed over a letter and a bag of coins. "This should be enough to get you to London."

After she had reluctantly accepted and pocketed the items beneath her cloak, he squeezed her hands.

"Be sure to eat well, ma chère. You are so thin and my son must be born healthy."

She gave him a feigned smile. "Our daughter is the one responsible for my sickness in the mornings… I do not believe she wishes me to even look at food."

She looked apprehensively at the increasingly angry waves as they tossed the small boat moored rather loosely to a rock on the shore and her hands impulsively went to her stomach.

"Make haste, monsieur," the old sailor called as he peered anxiously at the darkening clouds. "We must depart now if we are to escape the storm. Bid your chère-amie adieu maintenant or wait for another day. I must return to the bateau."

"Tobias," she said, her voice shaking.

He wondered if he would ever again hear her say his name with that adorable French inflection that had drawn him from their first meeting.

"Go, Justine. Go to my family and keep our child safe. I promise I will join you soon."

He scooped her up in his arms and carried her toward the dinghy, trying to ignore her tears. The old sailor held the boat as still as he could while Tobias placed her on the seat and kissed her hard before striding back to the shore, each footstep heavier than the last.

He studied the darkening sky as the sailor climbed in the boat. "You are sure it is safe?"

"La Chasseresse, she is très robuste. A few waves will not topple her, monsieur."

"Je t’aime, mon amour," she said to him plaintively, her chin trembling.

"Au revoir, ma chère," he said, trying to smile, although his vision was blurring from tears.

Will I ever see her again?

He stood watching as the dinghy made its way slowly through the choppy sea to the larger ship anchored in the distance, grief-stricken and unable to concentrate on anything but his pain. When the ship finally sailed off into the horizon, he fell to his knees and prayed as he had never done before for the safety of his beloved. He remained in that position until drops of rain on his face reminded him of the Lefebre family waiting for him in Amiens.

With a deep breath, he rose and made his way to the nearby forest, where his horse waited, tied to a tree.

"Come, my friend. We have a long, wet journey ahead of us."

Setting foot in the stirrup, he swung his leg over the saddle and urged the horse to a gallop, feeling his heart rip into pieces with every step away from his beloved.

Head shot of author, blond hair, pearl earrings and pink sweater

About the Author

Susana has always had stories in her head waiting to come out, especially when she learned to read and her imagination began to soar. Voracious reading led to a passion for writing, and her fascination with romance and people of the past landed her firmly in the field of historical romance.

A teacher in her former life, Susana lives in Toledo, Ohio in the summer and central Florida in the winter. She is a member of the Central Florida Romance Writers and the Beau Monde chapters of RWA and Maumee Valley Romance Inc.


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