Mastodon The Writing Desk: Book Review – The Lost Battlefields of Britain, By Martin Wall

19 March 2022

Book Review – The Lost Battlefields of Britain, By Martin Wall

Available for pre-order 

Author and historian Martin Wall points out in his introduction that his title is misleading, as most of the battlefields of Britain are marked on Ordnance Survey maps with a ‘crossed swords’ symbol and a date. His point is that few of us know what it must have been like to experience those battles, and the stark facts deserve closer examination. This book is more of an exploration of successive invasions and occupations, than a search for lost battlefields.

Divided into four sections, the first takes us back to the earliest recorded battles of the Roman invasions. When the Romans arrived, the Britons didn’t even assemble an army, but as Tacitus noted, harassed the invaders from the cover of woodlands and marshes. The actual locations are vague, but the Britons learned how to confront the Roman army in pitched battles. Despite their advantage of knowing the land, in a now familiar pattern they were greatly outnumbered by the resources of the Roman empire.

The second part looks at the decline of the Roman empire, and the Anglo-Saxon colonisation of Britain. Again, the details of battles are overshadowed by Arthurian myths and legends, and even the Anglo-Saxon chronicles are an unreliable source. A good account of the Viking invasions lead up to the arrival of the Normans. I was surprised to see only a few pages covering such a significant turning point in British history.

Part three covers the less well known ‘barons wars’, as Norman nobles squabbled over their rewards and contested territory, setting the scene for many generations of battles. Fierce fighting at the Welsh and Scottish borders leads on to what are known as the ‘Wars of the Roses’, and the well-documented accounts at familiar battlefields. Little time is spent on the pivotal Battle of Bosworth Field, another pivotal moment in British warfare.

The fourth and final part marks the end of the longbow and fighting with swords, and the onset of modern warfare with muskets and artillery. Focussing on the English Civil Wars, this is again an exploration of key events, rather than the details of specific battlefields I was expecting.

In an optimistic and openly political conclusion, Martin Wall hopes we stand on the threshold of a new era of peace, with all battlefields lost and forgotten. He worries that generations with no experience of battles will tend to have a nostalgic view of war, yet as I read his book the daily news is dominated by scenes of devastation in Ukraine. 

Tony Riches

Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by the publishers, Amberley

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About the Author

Martin Wall inherited his passionate interest in local history and folklore from his father and has been writing about these subjects for ten years. He lectures historical groups on a variety of subjects and acts as a gallery interpreter in his spare time. He is the author of 'Warriors and Kings', 'The Anglo Saxon Age' and 'The Magical History of Britain'. He has a long-standing interest in Adult and Community Education.

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