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Great British Commanders (Hardback)

Leadership, Strategy and Luck

Military P&S History > British History

By Michael Clarke
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 360
Illustrations: 30 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526788993
Published: 30th September 2024

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Military commanders matter. They win or lose battles, determine the outcomes of wars and often shape the history of nations. But they are also human individuals. This study of thirty-four British commanders, from Boudica to Bomber Harris, reflects on their personal stories, as individuals and warriors; as husbands and wives, libertines and lovers, strategists and shapers of British history over almost two thousand years. Short biographical essays, by military analyst Michael Clarke, cover a sweep of British history from the epic story of Queen Boudica in Roman Britain, to the generals, admirals and air marshals of the First and Second World Wars. Their styles of leadership, their strategies – or in some cases lack of them – are examined as they throw themselves on fortune. And the Gods of War decide whom will be lucky, and whom not.

Some commanders described here were obvious shapers of British history, like King Alfred, William the Conqueror, Henry V, Cromwell, Marlborough, Wellington or Montgomery. Some were unlucky and seemed beset by failure, like Walter Raleigh, Sir John Moore or General John Gort. Others are less well-known as significant commanders; like Lady Aethelflaid of Mercia, the Empress Matilda, the ‘greatest knight’, Sir William Marshal, or Cuthbert Collingwood who served with Nelson at Trafalgar. All have fascinating stories. Their experiences are compared in two final chapters that draw from unique interviews with a number of living British commanders who reflect on the ‘eternal verities’ of command but also the new conditions of twenty-first century warfare.

A right rollicking read! The combination of reader accessibility and intelligent commentary is an outstanding feature of this book. Michael Clarke's lively and acutely observed portraits of British military commanders through the ages demonstrates how vibrant, historically informed writings can yield important - and indeed timeless - insights into the nature of strategy, leadership and policy.

Professor Michael Rainsborough, Academic Principal, Australian War College, Canberra

About Michael Clarke

PROFESSOR MICHAEL CLARKE is a defence and security analyst and author. He was the Director General of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) from 2007 to 2015. Prior to that he was Professor of Defence Studies at King’s College London, the founder of its Centre for Defence Studies and then its International Policy Institute, and Deputy Vice-Principal responsible for research development at KCL. He has taught international relations and security studies in a number of universities and remains a Visiting Professor at King’s College and also at the University of Exeter, where he is associate director of its Strategy and Security Institute. He is an alumni and Fellow of the University of Aberystwyth, and of the Royal College of Defence Studies. He remains a Distinguished Fellow at RUSI. He has been a specialist advisor to a number of Parliamentary Select Committees and served on both the Prime Minister’s National Security Forum and the Chief of Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel.


His most recent books include, The Challenge of Defending Britain (Manchester UP, 2019), Tipping Point: Britain, Brexit and Security (with Helen Ramscar) (I.B.Taurus, 2019) and Britain’s Persuaders: Soft Power in a Hard World (with Helen Ramscar) (I.B.Taurus, 2022). He is a frequent contributor in British and international print media and regularly appears as an analyst of contemporary conflicts on BBC TV and radio and on Sky News.


Publications - Authored Books: Recent writing includes Tipping Point: Britain, Brexit and Security in the 2020s (IB Tauris/Bloomsbury 2019); The Challenges of Defending (Manchester UP 2019); The Afghan Papers: Committing Britain to War in Helmand, 200506 (2011 RUSI/Routledge); plus 6 titles on security subjects; Edited Books; 17; Journal Articles: 88 in leading international peer reviewed journals; Other Publications: 18 in collections on security .

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