Far more than an architecture book, Coastal Defences of the British Empire, 1775–1815 is a sweeping reinterpretation of the Martello towers, Grand Redoubts, Royal Military Canal and other new defence infrastructure of the Napoleonic War. Lavishly illustrated with period maps, views, portraits, cartoons and newly commissioned color photographs, it includes not only these structures’ forerunners, and plans that were never executed, but also the grand strategy that informed them.
At its best, this saw Britain’s position as a vast land battle, with the deadly threat of the French-held Antwerp navy yards on its own ‘left wing’, and Lisbon as the enemy’s ‘weak left’ to be ‘turned’. The book also takes in the astonishingly inventive, bold and bloody small-boat wars that raged from the Baltic and Channel coast to Chesapeake Bay and Lake Ontario, and provides vivid pen-sketches of the now-obscure and sometimes deeply flawed strategic visionaries, engineers, inventors, and fighting men who held the line as – even after Trafalgar – the forces of an ever more powerful French empire circled like sharks.
Along the way, it traces a fundamental change in the nature of war and society: from a ponderous game of fortresses and colonies played by rulers, to murderous ‘foot by foot’ defence of the whole territory of the nation by ‘both sexes and every social type’.