The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour: A Novel of Waterloo

Written by David Ebsworth
Review by Jessica Brown

The canteen-mistresses or cantinières of Napoleon’s army are a hidden part of history, one populated by courageous women such as Marianne Tambour in David Ebsworth’s new novel. Even more interesting is the story of female front line soldiers, such as Liberté Dumont, recruited and serving alongside their male colleagues. True-life examples of both have been well-documented as shown by the author’s introduction.

The whole concept of ‘Waterloo from the French side’ is refreshing, no, actually, it’s an eye-opener. David Ebsworth is a thorough and accomplished researcher and we can see the two women in their context: mud, scrapping, camp life, errant husbands and goat-caring little daughters in Tambour’s case, and horses, scavengers, cavalry charges, sex discrimination, lost uniform and gallantry for Dumont.

The two women’s story, which develops very nicely, would fascinate by itself, but the account of the sprawling action of the battle in Belgium that we call Waterloo is comprehensive almost to a fault. In a way, this book pulls in two ways. The stories of the two women and their comrades in arms, enemies and superiors, and their interaction with Napoleon himself would be enjoyed by readers who enjoy personal stories in the melée of historical action. However, there is too much detailed battle description for these readers. In contrast, those who relish the fine detail of Napoleonic warfighting, especially in this final confrontation, may find the two protagonists’ story a distraction.

This is a good read, well-produced and formatted. I applaud David Ebsworth’s concept of centring his story on two Frenchwomen, but if he considered a second edition, some cutting of the detailed battle scenes would tighten up the story considerably. I would suggest he pen a factual book of ‘Marianne Tambour’s Waterloo’ as a companion work, at the same time, concentrating on the battle scenes with incidental information about the role of women in the French forces at that time.