January 1829: George IV is on the throne, Wellington is England's prime minister, and snow is falling thickly on the London streets as Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Hervey is summoned to the Horse Guards in the expectation of command of his regiment, the 6th Light Dragoons.

But the benefits of long-term peace at home mean cuts in the army, and Hervey is told that the Sixth are to be reduced to a single squadron. With his long-term plans in disarray, he undertakes instead a six-month assignment as an observer with the Russian army, an undertaking at the personal request of the commander-in- chief, Lord Hill.

Soon Hervey, his friend Edward Fairbrother and his faithful groom, Private Johnson, are sailing north to St Petersburg, and from there on to the Eastern Balkans, seat of the ferocious war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire.

Hervey is meant to be an impartial spectator in the campaign, but soon the circumstances—and his own nature—propel him into a more active role. In the climactic Battle of Kulewtscha, in which more troops were engaged than in any battle since Waterloo, Hervey and Fairbrother find themselves in the thick of the action.

For Hervey, the stakes have never been higher - or more personal.





The Seat of War in the East 1829

South-East Europe and the Near East after 1815


The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

William Faulkner

In the first edition of The Spectator, 5 July 1828, there is an article describing the topography of ‘the theatre of war in Turkey’. Russia had fought the Ottomans no fewer than eight times in a hundred and fifty years, but in none of these wars was Britain directly involved, nor, indeed, very indirectly. There had been a close shave in 1827 when a combined British, French and Russian fleet had – incredible as it may seem – inadvertently sunk a sizeable Turkish fleet which lay at anchor in Navarino Bay (the battle which features in the ninth Hervey tale, Man of War). By deft diplomatic activity, however, war was averted – one of the Foreign Office’s finer moments.

In that Spectator article, quoted at length at the beginning of Part Two of this latest Hervey adventure, there is a statement with sinister echoes: ‘The truth is, that the Danube debouches in a very obscure portion of Europe, and, except in the case of a contest, like the one commencing, there is very little reason why we should trouble our heads with its geography.’ For is this not reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain’s speech in September 1938 during the Czechoslovakia crisis, in which he referred to ‘a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing’? War came but a year later for Chamberlain’s Britain; in the Russo- Turkish quarrel it would be another twenty-five before Britain found herself embroiled (in the Crimea). But in both cases the British army, sorely neglected in the preceding years, fared badly at first, and only survived by the innate strength of the regimental system until it could variously pull itself together. On His Majesty’s Service, the eleventh volume chronicling the military life of Matthew Hervey, a cavalryman in the pre- dawn of the Victorian era, is not written as a tale for our times, but the reader might occasionally feel that there is a certain contemporary resonance. It is sad to relate, for example, that publication sees the army at its lowest strength since the eighteenth century, and facing even further cuts. Sad because the army’s expertise has been hard won; its ‘operational heritage’, giving it that intangible winning edge, reaches back to Hervey’s day and beyond. Quarrels in far-away countries between people of whom we know nothing have in the past become our quarrels, and although Plato never actually wrote what is attributed to him on a wall of the Imperial War Museum, it nevertheless reflects the wisdom of the ages: Only the dead have seen the end of war.

But Colonel Matthew Hervey is a professional soldier. War is his business. And the events in which he now takes part ‘in a very obscure portion of Europe’ actually happened.


28 July 1828


After the royal assent had been given, by commission, to several bills, the following Speech of the Lords Commissioners was delivered to both Houses by the Lord Chancellor:

‘My Lords and Gentlemen, we are commanded by his Majesty to acquaint you, that the business of the Session having been brought to a close, his Majesty is enabled to release you from your attendance in Parliament.

His Majesty commands us at the same time to return to you his warm acknowledgments for the zeal and diligence with which you have applied yourselves to the consideration of many subjects of great importance to the public welfare.

The provisions which you have made for the regulation of the import of Corn, combining adequate protection for domestic agriculture with due precaution against the consequences of a deficient harvest, will, in the confident expectation of his Majesty, promote the inseparable interests of all classes of his subjects.

We are commanded by his Majesty to acquaint you, that his Majesty continues to receive from his Allies, and from all Foreign Powers, assurances of their friendly disposition towards this country.

The endeavours of his Majesty to effect the Pacification of Greece, in concert with his Allies, the King of France and the Emperor of Russia, have continued unabated.

His Imperial Majesty has found himself under the necessity of declaring War against the Ottoman Porte1, upon grounds concerning exclusively the interests of his own Dominions, and unconnected with the Stipulations of the Treaty of the 6th July 1827.

His Majesty deeply laments the occurrence of these hostilities, and will omit no effort of friendly interposition to restore peace.

The determination of the Powers, parties to the Treaty of the 6th July, to effect the objects of that Treaty, remains unchanged …’

1 The ‘Sublime Porte’ is a figure of speech for the Sultan’s court and government of the

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