15. How the Brigadier Held the King & How the King Held the Brigadier (1895)

We have a double bill of Gerard for our first encounter with the Brigadier, with two stories from the Exploits of Brigadier Gerard.

You can read the stories here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=How_the_Brigadier_Held_the_Kinghttps://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=How_the_King_Held_the_Brigadier

The episode can be heard below:


'How the Brigadier Held the King'

It is 1st July 1810 and Colonel Etienne Gerard of the French 3rd Hussars is recuperating from a lance wound to his ankle in the Spanish village of Alamo. He is desperate to be back in the field with his regiment, who are quartered forty miles away in Pastores and involved in operations around the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo. All he needs is a horse, but none is to be found. His prayers are answered by a kindly old Spanish priest, who offers Gerard passage across the mountains in his rickety old diligence. But the priest is not all he seems to be and Gerard finds himself the prisoner of a unit of Spanish guerillas led by the notorious and bloodthirsty marauder known as El Cuchillo. Yet just as Gerard is steeling himself to face an horrendous death, salvation appears in an unlikely form …

'How the King Held the Brigadier'

 Following his capture in Spain, Gerard is held in Dartmoor Prison, as he has refused to give his parole and consequently cannot be quartered upon an English family. Once behind the grim walls he thinks only of escaping, which, against the odds, he does. Once free, however, he has to contend with the moor, his pursuers, and some curious encounters with the locals. And then fate intervenes, with an ironic twist …

Writing and publication history

  • Conan Doyle's earlier Napoleonic work was discussed in Episode 10 and Episode 12.
  • ‘The Medal of Brigadier Gerard,’ the first of the Gerard stories, was a stand-alone tale, probably written in early 1894 prior to Conan Doyle’s lecture tour of the USA. He may have conceived the idea for the story in Davos during the preceding winter of 1893/4, when the family retired to Switzerland to help Louise, Conan Doyle’s first wife, battle tuberculosis.
  • Conan Doyle had decided to write a series of Gerard stories, subsequently named ‘The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard,’ by the end of 1894. The majority of the stories were written in Davos during January-May 1895.
  • The stories appeared in the Strand from April-September 1895, with a final Exploit, 'How the Brigadier Played for a Kingdom,' appearing in December 1895.
  • All the stories written to that date were collected as The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard in February 1896.
  • See also Reichenbach Irregulars, Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle and Switzerland (2021) – review here.

The character of Etienne Gerard

  • The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot (tr. Butler, 1892)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, Vol XII – The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (Author’s Edition, 1903)
  • Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers (1844)
  • George Meredith (1828-1909), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Meredith
  • Hesketh Pearson, Conan Doyle: His Life and Art (1943)
  • John Dickson Carr, The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1949)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, Memories and Adventures (1924/1930)

The Rank of the Brigadier

When Arthur Conan Doyle gave Etienne Gerard the rank of 'Brigadier', he was thinking of the British meaning of the term; a general commanding a brigade. However, in the French cavalry a brigadier is a corporal, which was clearly not Conan Doyle's intention for his swashbuckling Napoleonic Gascon.

By the time of his service in Spain in 1810, Gerard is a colonel, commanding the Third Hussars. Later he is also appointed chef de brigade, or brigade-major, which is a staff position. This in itself is different from general de brigade, which is a rank rather than an appointment, and, confusingly, does not necessarily indicate command of a brigade.

The Peninsular War

  • Charles Esdaile, The Peninsular War (2002)
  • René Chartrand, Spanish Guerillas and the Peninsular War (2004)

Related works by Conan Doyle

  • 'The Winning Shot' (1882)
  • 'A Straggler of ’15' (1891)
  • 'Silver Blaze' (1892)
  • (A Story of) Waterloo (first performed 1894)
  • The Great Shadow (1892)
  • Rodney Stone (1897)
  • Uncle Bernac (1896)
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901-2)

Also read…

Clifford Goldfarb, The Great Shadow: Arthur Conan Doyle, Brigadier Gerard and Napoleon (1997)

Next time on the Doings of Doyle…

A slice of Anglo-Indian Gothic, with plenty of Sherlockian connections, in Uncle Jeremy’s Household (1887). Read it here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=Uncle_Jeremy%27s_Household


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Image credits: Thanks to Alexis Barquin at The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopaedia for permission to reproduce these images. Please support the encyclopaedia at www.arthur-conan-doyle.com.

Music credit: Sneaky Snitch Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons:  By Attribution 3.0 License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/