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It’s been 200 years since Napoleon died on a lonely island in the Atlantic Ocean, but stories of his military exploits remain alive and well through the memoirs of his soldiers.
Returning from the wars in 1815, hundreds of Napoleonic veterans from different countries sat down to write their autobiographies – tales of adventure, romance and horror that long outlived their authors, passing from reader to reader as time went on.
Veterans such as Jean-Roch Coignet of the 96th demi-brigade, whose once-forgotten memoirs later became international bestsellers, and then a French TV show. Or, on the other side of the Channel, the recollections of John Kincaid of the 95th Rifles, which shaped Sean Bean’s character in Sharpe.
Drawing on the findings of her new book, 'Dead Men Telling Tales: Napoleonic War Veterans and the Military Memoir Industry, 1808-1914', Matilda Greig will demonstrate how a heap of 200-year-old war memoirs have helped shape our fascination with war stories today.
Dr Matilda Greig is a historian of modern warfare, with a special focus on life writing and the Napoleonic period. She is currently working as a Research Associate at Cardiff University, and has held research and teaching posts at University College Dublin and Sciences Po in Reims. Her first book, 'Dead Men Telling Tales', was published by Oxford University Press in 2021.