Halloween at Special Collections

Among the bonny winding banks,
Where Doon rins, wimplin’ clear,
Where Bruce ance ruled the martial ranks,
And shook his Carrick spear,
Some merry, friendly, country-folks,
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, and pou their stocks,
And haud their Halloween
Fu’ blithe that night.

Hallowe’en by Robert Burns

Although Halloween has its roots in the pagan practices of Scotland and Ireland, its name comes from the Scottish phrase “All Hallows’ Even”, the night before the Christian holiday, All Hallows’ Day.  The word, Hallowe’en was first used in the 16th century.  Halloween is most closely linked with the Celtic holiday, Samhain, the day, it was thought, in which the natural and supernatural realms were nearest to each other and the dead could revisit the living.

The Reformation brought Halloween rituals under attack, although the customs still flourished in most of Scotland and Ireland.  Furthermore, the popularity of Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th every year also put a damper on Halloween in England.  The Puritans who sailed to America did not bring the Halloween traditions with them and Halloween was largely ignored until the 19th century influx of Scottish and Irish immigrants.  By the early 20th century, the popularity of Halloween in America had taken hold of the majority of the population.

Today, Halloween is a huge commercial enterprise.  In the U.S., Halloween generates $2.4 billion in sales.  More candy is sold on Halloween than Valentine’s Day and more parties are held on Halloween than on New Year’s Eve.  In terms of gross sales, Halloween is second only to Christmas.  Almost every television show and cartoon has a Halloween episode at some point and every comic has a Halloween theme as well.  The two comic books, Batman’s “The Long Halloween” and “Garfield in Disguise” are two such examples.

At Special Collections, such spooky tales like The Night Hag and Dante’s Inferno might tickle your fancy this time of year.  Come on by our Reading Room at 401 Ellis to take a look at our Halloween themed books and comics.  Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Martin Luther – Doctor in Bible

Five hundred years ago today, Martin Luther was awarded a doctorate in theology.  In 1512, Luther was 28 years old.  Seven years before, when Luther was attending law school at the University of Erfurt, a place he called a beerhouse and a whorehouse, lightning struck near where he was riding his horse.  This event made Luther realize that he feared for his soul and he made a promise to Saint Anna to become a monk.  It was a promise Luther thought he could not break, so he sold his law books and left university to join a monastery in Erfurt.  His father was furious at him!  How could Luther throw away all the education he received?

After only two years at the monastery, Luther’s sadness and deep introspection was too much for his superiors.  Luther was ordained as a priest in 1507 and ordered back to academia where Luther pursued degrees in theology, eventually obtaining a position with the University of Wittenberg’s faculty a mere two days after receiving his doctorate.  His position was that of Doctor in Bible.


Kirchen Postilla Exterior

Kirchen Postilla InteriorAt Special Collections, we have a few items published during Luther’s lifetime and just after.  The Kirchen Postilla : Das ist, Auslegung der Episteln und Evangelien an Sontagen und Furnemesten Festen durchs Gantze Jar is one prime example.  A rough translation of the title is Church Notes: That is, Interpretation of the Epistles and Gospels for Sundays and Festivals through the Entire Year.  This book was meant to be used by Protestant churches all over Germany as a reference book for Protestant ministers while they prepared their Sunday sermons.  The book came with two clasps, although one is now missing.  It was a chained book, which means that this particular copy that Special Collections possesses must have been chained to a desk.  This prevented the possibility of being stolen from the library, church, or monastery where it probably first resided.

Later, Luther published his German translations of various books of the Bible.  Der Prophet Sacharja (The Prophet Zechariah) was published in 1528. 

Der Prophet SacharjaThe woodcut illustration on the title page depicts Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Zechariah is shown in the upper right hand corner giving the masses the prophecy that Jesus fulfilled that day.

After his death, Luther’s commentaries on the New Testament epistles, Der Erste [Bis Zwelffte] Teil der Bücher, were published.  These hefty volumes, twelve in all, not only include thousands of pages of text, but also a large amount of printed margin notes.  Like many German tomes of the period, these volumes included metal clasps and hinges to keep the books closed, but all that remains now are the hinges.

Der Erste TeilOn the title page, Martin Luther kneels at Jesus’ left and the Elector of Saxony, who guaranteed Luther’s security while Luther was being pursued by the Cardinal Cajetan, is shown kneeling on Jesus’ right.

Special Collections also owns a few copies of sermons published only a few years after Luther posted his famous 95 Theses.  Come by during our operating hours to check out what we have!


home Resources and Services, Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books Siri versus the Medieval Perpetual Calendar

Siri versus the Medieval Perpetual Calendar

Initials "KL" for "Kalends," decorated with arabesquesAre you tired of your Moleskine planner?  Do Siri’s annoying reminders tax your nerves? Consider trying a medieval perpetual calendar and discover a more streamlined approach to managing your affairs.

Feast Days from Twelfth-Century English Calendar. Saint Wulfstan, Bishop of WorcesterAmong their many virtues is longevity: the same calendar can be used year in, year out, all the way up to the Second Coming. How is this possible?  As our forebears knew, parchment is a durable medium that can withstand the insults of time and use. It is also well suited to accommodating the changing winds of orthodoxy. Should it be necessary to remove a feast from the calendar, simply scrape the pigment off, and no one will suspect your error. Should a new saint arrive on the scene, simply pencil in the feast day as someone has done for Saint Wulfstan using brown pigment in the calendar above from twelfth-century England.

Chart of dominical letters, from 12th-century English calendar
PJulian Calendar, from Twelfth-Century English Calendarerpetual calendars are imminently portable. Tuck yours inside your breviary, where it be within reach at all times. Rise in your co-workers esteem by scheduling meetings according to the Julian calendar (left). Your coworkers will be impressed by your willingness to master a more complicated scheme of keeping track of dates, and you will soon have everyone trying to count the days forwards and backwards from Kalends, Ides and Nones.

You will be the life of the party on New Year’s Eve, when, with a furtive glance, you can determine the dominical letter, for the upcoming year (right). Dominical letters are useful for determining the date of Easter, a service for which your friends and relations will no doubt be grateful.

Be the envy of everyone with your attractive, vintage planner. You might think the colors are there merely to delight the eye, but look again. Differentiate feast days of high-status saints from those of middling status. Color code astronomical events from those of a more cosmic nature. They serve the practical purpose of differentiating different kinds of events, as well as ranking them in importance. In the calendar we’ve been looking at, the feast of the Ascension, the feast day of Saint Barnabus, the sun’s entrance into cancer, the feast day of St. Aethelthryth, and a commemoration of Saint Paul the apostle are all given special distinction. Most astronomical information is recorded in green pigment.

Attractive, convenient, and durable, medieval perpetual calendars allow you to honor the past as you plan the future. They sit quietly inside your psalter or breviary without interrupting your classes. Get yours today!

Well loved 14th-century Irish calendarCalendar from a book of hours, France, 16th centuryThe verso of the same 12th-century calendar we have looked at above

Teacher Spotlight: Rabia Gregory

Dr. Rabia Gregory, an assistant professor in the Religious Studies department at the University of Missouri, is the focus of the first Teacher Spotlight of the new school year.  Her primary interest is in medieval women’s religious literature, and she can often be found teaching courses at Mizzou on Historical Christianity, and Women and Religions.  Dr. Gregory is a frequent visitor to Special Collections and has often brought her classes to learn about the primary sources we have here.  We were pleased to get a chance to talk to her at the beginning of the semester.

SC: How have you incorporated Special Collections into your teaching?

Gregory: I initially only took upper-level and graduate seminars to Special Collections and designed the visits to help students learn to work with sources in the original. Last spring I attempted to bring a large introductory lecture course to Special Collections.  I designed a new assignment asking the undergraduates to spend time with a manuscript or an early printed book and then write about it as if they were, themselves, professional historians.

SC: What sort of outcomes or effects on your students have you observed after visiting the Special Collections department?

Gregory: I noticed a variety of responses, particularly with the large lecture class. Some students were so excited that they snapped photos of manuscripts to share with old teachers or with family members. Others came back to visit with friends and classmates. And some were completely disinterested, trying to sneak out of the room even before class was over. Learning how books were made and used really changed the ways that my class responded to primary sources in translation. They less frequently asked "why" different sources offered competing versions of history or why miracles were recorded. Instead they were interested in why those versions of history had been considered important enough to put into something so expensive and time-consuming as a manuscript.

SC: What advice would you give to faculty or instructors interested in using Special Collections in their courses?

Gregory: Plan ahead, make sure that the visit has a clear pedagogic purpose for your class and that the students have a way of finding meaning from the objects they will (most likely) not be able to read. Do talk with the Special Collections staff and get their input on the assignments, a semester in advance if you can! And make sure that you explain clearly to your students and teaching assistants the purpose of the assignment.

Non angli, sed angeli

Gregory the Great was consecrated to the papal office on this day in the year 590. He would have preferred to remain a monk. According to Gregory of Tours, “[h]e strove earnestly to avoid this high office for fear that a certain pride at attaining the honor might sweep him back into worldly vanities he had rejected.” Circumstances colluded to push him into public office,however, and he seems to have met with great success there. He was responsible for the conversion of the English, and is credited with the development of Gregorian chant. An eminent historian of the papacy calls him, if not the greatest pope, then the “greatest Christian” of all the popes.(1)

He was also very adept at puns, and the historical record preserves many of his zingers. When he learned that some soon-to-be-converts were from a province called Deira, he replied that this was only suitable, since they were soon to be rescued “de ira,” or “from wrath” (that is, of God). Another opportunity to exercise his skill came as he set off for the mission field with some fellow monks. When a locust landed on Gregory’s Bible he exclaimed, naturally enough, “Ecce, locusta,”  (Behold, a locust). Ever attuned to alternative meanings, however, Gregory soon realized that “locusta” could be broken into “ loco  sta,” meaning “stay in place.”  He quickly decided to stay put and sent his cohorts on to convert the heathen alone. The drum roll, however, is generally reserved for the following.  In the well-known account recorded Historia ecclesiastica, Bede tells of how Saint Gregory came upon some especially attractive slave-boys for sale in the Roman market. Gregory inquired after them and soon learned they were Angles, or members of the Germanic tribe occupying what is now England. “Not Angles, but angels,” he quipped.

The recto of Fragment #75, with the text of Gregory's Magna MoraliaGregory’s writings provide a synthesis of the orthodox thought of the Patristic era in the West; as such they remained very influential during the Middle Ages. This image comes from a 13th-century Italian copy of Gregory the Great’s Magna Moralia, a commentary on the Book of Job. This section comes from chapter 23 of book XIII, and comments on Job: 16:19-20, verses that the scribe underlined in red. (The scribe indicates the start of a scriptural verse drawn from outside of the Book of Job with green pigment.)

You can see the end of verse 19–“O earth, do not cover my blood; let my outcry find no resting-place”-at the top of the folio. In the commentary that follows, Gregory first equates the blood in question with Christ’s blood. More surprisingly, he also equates the outcry with the blood, bringing in support from Genesis (And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”) Gregory finds further application to human conduct: “We are bound to imitate that which we take,” i.e. the sacrament of wine representing the blood of Christ. “But that His cry may not lie hid in us, it remains that each one of us according to his small measure should make known to his neighbors the mystery of his own quickening.”(2)

Verse 20–“Even now, in fact, my witness is in heaven,and he that vouches for me is on high” is about two-thirds of the way down. A three-line blue initial begins the commentary for this verse. Gregory interprets the “witness” to be God the Father. The verse thus contributes an orthodox understanding of the divine nature of Christ. The Christological debates of the Early Middle Ages, in which the dual nature of Christ was often contested, probably underlie this understanding.

Fragment 75, and others of Gregory’s manuscripts are available to be consulted during our regular opening  hours.

1. Erich Caspar, Geschichte des Papsttums, vol. II, p. 514

2. Translations from the Latin taken from the translation by John Henry Parker, et al.

home Resources and Services, Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books St. Bartholomew’s Day, the Act of Uniformity, and the Book of Common Prayer

St. Bartholomew’s Day, the Act of Uniformity, and the Book of Common Prayer

A year after the child king, Edward VI, ascended to the British throne, the first Act of Uniformity was enacted in 1549. The Act established the Book of Common Prayer as the sole legal form of worship in England. Subsequent Acts of Uniformity in 1552 and 1559 adopted revisions of the Book of Common Prayer, or reinstated the act after the reign of a Catholic monarch, like Mary I. The Book of Common Prayer, first published in 1549, is the liturgical text of the Church of England. It contains liturgies for both Sunday and daily worship services as well as orders for baptisms, weddings, funerals, confirmation, and words to say over the ill and dying. Readings from the Old and New Testament were included as well as Morning Prayers, Evening Prayers, and Holy Communion rites. In England, a country that had only just recently broken from the Roman Catholic church, it was invaluable to have a liturgy text in the English language.Book of Common Prayer, 1739

A century later, after the end of England’s Civil War and the reign of Oliver Cromwell and his son, Richard, the monarchy was reestablished under Charles II in 1661. Another major revision of the Book of Common Prayer was published a year later and a new Act of Uniformity was enacted along with it. This new Act was even more stringent. Not only was the Book of Common Prayer the only legal form of worship throughout England again, but adherence was mandatory for anyone who wished to hold a position in the church or in the government. Furthermore, the requirement for episcopal ordination for all ministers was reintroduced. The Act was met with hostility from a large group of ministers who complained that they could not adhere to a revised, yet-to-be-printed, Book of Common Prayer that they had not yet even seen. However, a deadline to comply with the Act was placed on St. Bartholomew’s Day, August 26, 1662.

What is now known as the Great Ejection took place on that day. It is estimated that about 2,000 to 2,500 ministers were cast out of not only the Church of England, but also from social and academic life. The Clarendon Code, named for the Earl of Clarendon, consisted of the Act of Uniformity and three other acts, passed around the same time. The Code forbade non-conformist ministers from holding university degrees from Cambridge or Oxford and many were forced to move at least five miles away from their former home parishes. Historians and former ministers wrote passionately on the injustice of the Great Ejection. Well-known ministers who became victims of the Great Ejection include John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, Sr., Thomas Doolittle, Matthew Poole, Samuel Clarke, and Richard Baxter. At Special Collections, you can find historian John Corbet’s An Account Given of the Principles & Practices of Several Nonconformists and Edmund Colamy’s The Church and the Dissenters Compar’d as to Persecution.
The Church and the Dissenters Compared as to Persecution
Principles and Practices of Several Nonconformists

It would be 150 years before Nonconformists could hold civil or military office. This year, 350 years after the Act of Uniformity of 1662 was enacted, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dean of Westminster held a Service of Reconciliation at Westminster Abbey in London on February 8th. To mark the occasion, an Act of Penitence and an Act of Recommitment were performed, and selections from various writings of seventeenth century and eighteenth century Nonconformist ministers were read.


home Resources and Services, Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books My Great-Grandparents Did What?: Genealogical Resources at Special Collections

My Great-Grandparents Did What?: Genealogical Resources at Special Collections

Looking for information about one’s ancestors can be a daunting (and sometimes expensive) task. There are quite a few online databases and websites like Ancestry.com or Genealogy.com that can help fill in the holes of your family tree, but they are not cheap.  Here at Special Collections, researching family trees has become a bit of a hobby for one of our employees. We are extremely lucky here to have plenty of resources in a number of forms including print, digital, and microforms. However, a lot of people have no clue how to begin to look for an elusive ancestor. Although census records and birth certificates can tell a lot, they sometimes do not tell the whole story about a person.

Take for instance the story of a 56 year old gentleman, George Valentine, who lived in what is now Ritchie County, West Virginia in 1862. The census records during his lifetime can give information about his name, occupation, family, where he was born, and age (thereby cluing the researcher into George Valentine’s birth year). However, if you search alphabetically in the Union Provost Marshals’ file of Papers Relating to Individual Civilians, you will find that George Valentine was arrested by Union troops for being a noted rebel in October 1861 and shipped off to Camp Chase in Ohio, a notorious Union prison where 2260 prisoners died from bad conditions including lack of food, water, clothing, and sanitation.  You would also find a letter, hand-written by Mr. Valentine’s captor to the Governor of Ohio, giving Mr. Valentine over to the governor’s care.
MU Savitar
If your ancestor possibly attended the University of Missouri, you should check out Special Collections’ MU collection. We have publications from various departments on campus.  One of our biggest periodical collections is the MU Savitar. The yearbook, which ran from 1894-2005, includes photographs and stories of thousands of students who have roamed the hallowed grounds of Mizzou for over one hundred years. If you are too far away from the MU campus, you should check out the digitized Savitar collection here.

Plat books contain a wealth of names and information of landowners in a particular county or state. Like the Savitar, most of the Missouri county plat books have been digitized, making it convenient to access nice clear scans of every page from anywhere. If you have an approximate idea of where an ancestor lived at a given point in time, you can usually find their name written in a plat book and estimate how much land the owned.Plat Book of Warren County Missouri

Sanborn Map

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps date back to 1867. They were originally created to assess fire liability and risk, but are used now to see a snapshot of a town or city during the past. This is a great way to find the general store that your great-grandfather ran back in 1905, or his house in 1912. Not only does Special Collections hold an extensive collection of Missouri Sanborn maps, but they have been digitized and put online as well. Furthermore, other states have also digitized their collections.

Finally, Special Collections is the home of one of the largest microform collections in North America. Immigrant and Passenger Arrivals Many of these sets come with their own print guides and indexes. Various microform collections that might of interest to genealogical researchers include the “The Immigrant in America”, extensive personal papers and correspondence of many American pioneers, and our large volume of early American newspapers and periodicals. We also have indexes of many major American newspapers like the New York Times, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and the Atlanta Constitution, so it is easy to look up someone’s name or a historical event and find the exact date and page number where they were mentioned.

As Missourians, we are truly lucky to have so much in genealogical information readily available.  Although there is a lot that has been put online for easy access, we also have a small staff here at Special Collections ready to help you find what you need up on the fourth floor of Ellis Library.  Even though none of us are trained genealogical experts, we can usually point you in the right direction.  For Missouri-specific inquiries, the State Historical Society is housed in the same building, and can often provide information that we may not have here.  Furthermore, the largest free-standing genealogical library the Midwest Genealogy Center, is located near Kansas City.   Finally, if you find yourself lost, contact us and we can provide you with names of local professional genealogists.

Feast Day of Saint Cyriacus

Today marks the anniversary of the death by beheading of Saint Cyriacus and his companions, Largus and Smaragdus. They had fallen afoul of the Emperor Diocletian.  Cyriacus had converted the daughter of the emperor, then went on to stage a mass baptism at the court of a Persian King. Cyriacus and company were tortured and beheaded on this day in the year 303. Their relics were placed in the Church of Saint Maria, in Via Lata, in Rome.

The images you see here are from the front and back of a leaf from a twelfth-century English martyrology in our Fragmenta Manuscripta collection. Martyrologies were anthologies that provided narratives of the lives and passions of saints, arranged according to their feast day. These were read aloud in monastic houses during the office of prime.  The image on the left is the recto. The reading for Saint Cyriacus begins in the middle of the page, where you see the rubric and a fine blue and ochre arabesque initial. The leaf was trimmed along the bottom so it is not continuous with the text on the top of the verso of the folio (below). The text there provides the rationale for the day’s celebration: “However often we brothers celebrate their martyrdom, so often we say praise of the savior. And however often we observe their passions; so often we proclaim the grace of Christ.” The text on the verso looks forward to the Day of Judgment: “And because in the present age the faults of many are not known but in the future time it will be written, when god will judge the hidden things of men and will illuminate dark hiding places and will make manifest the heart’s deliberation. It will be known.  Do not fear the fury of persecutors. And the madness of blasphemers because the God of judgment will come, whereby our virtue and their wickedness will be demonstrated.”

We encourage you to join us in observing  this solemn occasion with a visit to the Rare Books Room.




Tips for Travelers

Cover of Baedeker's Lower Egypt (Leipzig, 1895)Travel guides began to appear in the eighteenth century with the rise in popularity of the Grand Tour. Wealthy young men traveled the continent, seeking to experience culture and the arts and enjoying European society. While the outbreak of the French Revolution curtailed the practice, peacetime brought tourists back to Europe.
Travels in nineteenth century Europe were facilitated by the advent of stage coaches. They allowed those who could not afford to hire private transportation to travel more economically. Additionally, the adventurous and self-sufficient could travel independently, departing from established routes. These travelers were served by guidebooks. In addition to listing of routes and overview of culture and history, these books offered practical advice on everything from where to stay, what to wear, and who to tip.
Title page from Letters from Italy (London, 1800)Special Collections has several guidebooks from this period. Mariana Starke’s Letters from Italy (London, 1800) reassured travelers that travel was safe and that the cities of Italy had not been robbed of their artwork. Starke gave her readers practical information about specific sites. Karl Baedeker published his first guidebook in 1839, basing the content on his personal travel experiences and including detailed maps. These guides became extremely popular. The firm is still producing guidebooks today. While not technically a guidebook, Bachelder’s Popular Resorts and How to Reach Them (Boston, 1875), gave travelers to the United States guidance on how to reach newly establish National Parks in the west.
Detail of the map of Stockholm from Baedeker's Norway and Sweden (Leipzig, 1879)

Advice from our guidebooks:

Avoid local fauna:
“The sting of a scorpion (seldom dangerous) or bite of a snake is usually treated with ammonia.”
Baedeker’s Lower Egypt(Leipzig, 1895)

How to pack:
“A soft or compressible portmanteau is not recommended, as the “Skydsgut”, who is sometimes a ponderous adult, always sits on the luggage strapped on [the pack horse]. A supply of stout cord and several straps will be found useful, and a strong umbrella is indispensable.”
Baedeker’s Norway and Sweden (Leipzig, 1879)

Illustrations of Yellowstone National Park from Popular Resorts and How to Reach Them (Boston, 1875)Visiting a National Park:
“If the National Park of the Yellowstone be the objective point, the tourist will continue on the Union Pacific Railroad to Corinne, Utah, at present the nearest approach by rail. From Corinne, the trip is completed partly by stage and by saddle, but should only be undertaken by person of strong physical endurance, after special preparation.”
Popular Resorts and How to Reach Them (Boston, 1875)

An early rating system:
“The Cappella Sistina contains some of the finest frescos in the world, namely, The last Judgement, by Buonarroti, immediately behind the alter, and on the ceiling, God dividing the light from the darkness, together with the Prophets and Sibyls, stupendous works by the same great Master !!!!!”
Letters from Italy (London, 1800)

Description of artwork from Letters from Italy (London, 1800) with many exclamation marks.Starke’s use of multiple exclamation points following her descriptions functioned as a kind of rating system. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescos earns the highest praise, a rare five exclamation marks.

Take a sweater:

“Villa Borghese (This beautiful and magnificent Villa is so cold, and so much is to be seen in the grounds, that it should be visited in warm dry weather only).”
Letters from Italy (London, 1800)

Local insects:

“The gnats which swarm in some of the inland districts, especially in the Swedish Norrland, including Lapland, are a great source of annoyance and suffering, but the plague generally abates after the middle of August.”
Baedeker’s Norway and Sweden (Leipzig, 1879)

Where to stay in Vienna:

“The inns of this City are bad and dear; Wolf’s is deemed the best, and the white Bull once was tolerable; but the present Master is so notorious a Cheat…; besides which, his dinners are so bad that it is scarcely possible to eat them. Indeed, the only way of living comfortable at Vienna is to take a private lodging.”
Letters from Italy (London, 1800)


Detail from a map of Alexandria in Baedeker's Lower Egypt (Leipzig, 1895)Advice for cigar aficionados in Egypt:

“Cigar-smokers will find it very difficult to become accustomed to the Oriental tobacco, but they will find tolerable cigar-shops at Alexandria and Cairo… As a general rule smokers are recommended to carry with them, both in going to and returning from Egypt, as little tobacco as possible,… as a rigorous search is often made and a heavy duty exacted, both at the Egyptian, and at the French, Austrian and Italian Frontiers.”
Baedeker’s Lower Egypt (Leipzig, 1895)
An explanation of hieroglyphics from Baedeker's Lower Egypt (Leipzig, 1895)Special Collections has several of Baedeker's Guides in our collection. Search for Karl Baedker (firm) in the Merlin catalog. Limit your search to Special Collections.

Salamanca, Wellington’s Masterpiece

Portrait of Wellington from Baines' History of the Wars of the French Revolution (London, 1817). The word Wellington is a facsimile of the General's signature.July 22, 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Salamanca. While Napoleon was in the midst of his Russian campaign, other generals were busy consolidating France's position in Spain against a combined force of English, Portuguese, and Spanish rebels.

Though Wellington is probably best remembered for the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the battle at Salamanca is often called his masterpiece. On the afternoon of July 22nd, after a full day of fighting, Wellington recognized a weakness in the French army lines. His decisive orders for attack led to a rapid victory for the British forces.

Page from Southey's "Life of Wellington" (Dublin, 1816) describing the moment when Wellington gives the orders that will lead to victory atThe relative quickness of the British success following this action inspired friends and enemies. The French general Maximilien Foy famously declared "Wellington defeated an army of 40,000 in 40 minutes" when he wrote about his experience at Salamanca in his journal. Robert Southey’s account of the battle from his book Life of Wellington emphasized the dramatic moment Wellington gave his orders.

"Lord Wellington was at dinner when he was informed of this movement [of French troops]: he saw at once the advantage which had been given; he rose in such haste as to overturn the table, …and in an instant was on horseback, issuing those orders which won the battle of Salamanca."

While these accounts might not be strictly true, they do reflect the quickness of this stage of the battle and the strategic skill shown by Wellington.

Up to this point, Wellington had generally been regarded as a defensive general. Salamanca established his ability as a skillful soldier and tactician. This statement from Baines’ History of the Wars of the French Revolution is characteristic of many of the tributes to the battle and to Wellington:

Page from Baine's History of the Wars of the French Revolution (London, 1817) describing the battle of Salamanca.

"The battle of Salamanca was distinguished from all other battles hitherto fought in the peninsula, by several important circumstances: it was more masterly in the design, more gallant in the execution, and followed by consequences of far greater importance."

In retrospect, observers recognized July 22, 1812 as a turning point in the Peninsular War, not only for Wellington's reputation but for the morale of French army on the peninsula. British forces eventually drove the French armies from Spain and invaded Southern France in 1814. If British officer William Napier is to be believed, Wellington was aware of the shift on the afternoon of the battle. Napier recalls seeing Wellington late in the day at Salamanca "…alone, the flush of victory was on his brow… With a prescient pride he seemed only accept his glory as an earnest of greater things." Those greater things would culminate in the Battle of Waterloo, and the final defeat of Napoleon.

Map of the Battle of Waterloo from Southey's Life of Wellington (Dublin, 1816).
Robert Muir's Book Salamanca, 1812 (Yale University Press, 2001) is a source for more information about the battle and its' importance.