A History of the Peninsular War, by Sir Charles Oman

(Article by Peter HICKS)

A History of the Peninsular War, by Sir Charles Oman

Sir Charles William Chadwick Oman (January 12, 1860 – June 23, 1946) was born in India, the son of a British planter, and was educated at Oxford University, where he studied under William Stubbs. He was elected to the Chichele chair of modern history at Oxford in 1905. He was also elected FBA that year, serving as President of the Royal Historical and Numismatic societies, and of the Royal Archaeological Institute. His academic career was interrupted by the First World War, during which he was employed by the government Press Bureau and Foreign Office. Oman was a Conservative member of Parliament for the University of Oxford from 1919 to 1935, and was knighted in 1920. He became an honorary fellow of New College in 1936 and received the honorary degrees of DCL (Oxford, 1926) and LL.D (Edinburgh, 1911 and Cambridge, 1927). He died at Oxford.
For a photo of Sir Charles Oman in 1926, held at the National Portrait Gallery, click here (external link).
For what follows of this description of the writing of Oman's great work, I am deeply indebted to the preface (written by John Elting) to the recent Greenhill republication of the work (1995). His study of the the Peninsular War came from his discovery of the Sir Charles Vaughan papers in the library of All Souls' College Oxford. Vaughan had served as a diplomat during the war and had collected a vast amount of paer on the subject. Obviously Oman had in front of him W. F. P. Napier's History of the War in the Peninsula (1828-). It is true that Napier had been through the conflict, but his history was flawed in many parts, incomplete and often biassed for personal reasons. During his reasearch for the work, Oman made certain remarkable discoveries (notably the strength returns of the British Army which had been lost at the Public Records Office) and when his first voloume was published it was clearly recognised as superior to Napier. The success of his first volumes (I published in 1902 and II in 1903) led to the families of some combatants offering him access to their archives. Research for volume III (published in 1908) was done in situ and the young Portuguese king, Manuel II lent him a car in order to be able to get around. Volume IV appeared in 1911. Volume V was published in 1914, but the First World War prevented any further work. Volume VI was not to come out until 1922, (final) volume VII appearing in 1930.

Although study of the Peninsular war has been carried forward (notably by Charles Esdaile, 2002), Oman's magnum opus still stands as the starting point for all those interested in the subject. It can be consulted at the Bibliothèque Martial Lapeyre-Fondation Napoléon under the shelfmark H (44) 3.08 oman.
Short bibliography

History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages (1898, rev. ed. 1924);
A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century (1937)
History of the Peninsular War (7 vol., 1902–30).
History of Greece (1888)
History of England before the Norman Conquest (1910, 8th ed. 1937)

Author: HICKS, Peter