Wednesday, 16 November 2022

Christopher Duffy, 1936-2022. RIP

I couldn't let today go by without noting the sad passing of the great man. This won't be a proper eulogy to Doctor Duffy. That might come later. Now I'll just put down some immediate thoughts and reflections. As a result this post might be rather rambling.

Doctor Duffy's work has been around for most of my wargaming life. In fact his first published book has been around for nearly my whole life. Not that I was aware of it for a long time. My first acquaintance with  the Doctor's prolific body of work was the Army of Frederick the Great, originally published in 1974. I first acquired the book around the age of 15, a much treasured birthday/Christmas present from my big sister and her husband. The level of scholarship was way above anything that I'd read up to that point, and it helped entrench my interest in the SYW. This was as much a product of the style and the wit displayed in the writing as it was of the learning transmitted.

Other books followed and joined my collection. All read several times. Siege Warfare (vols I&II), Fire and Stone, Borodino, The Military Experience in the Age of Reason, Russias Military Way to the West, etc. etc. etc. I even strayed outside my obsession with the Horse & Musket era when Duffy released Through German Eyes about the Somme: a fabulous work. He had that ability to focus on incredible minutiae or nuance, yet also he could pull back and draw some profound and broader conclusion about humanity.

It's fair to say that I have been royally educated and entertained by the works of this man. He has opened up my eyes to whole areas of military history I barely knew existed. Having read the work published earlier this year to accompany the Festschrift in Doctor Duffy's honour, it's clear to see that he has also had a huge influence on professional military historians.

I'll quote two extracts from two of Doctor Duffy's works that I encountered first. The first is the opening paragraph of the preface to Siege Warfare: The Fortress in the Early Modern World, 1494-1660. The second comes from the final paragraph of the first edition of The Army of Frederick the Great. The second addition has an additional section after that).

"Many solemn ventures of mankind are impelled by impulses which are more trivial than the voyagers would care to admit - the rationalisations are often left until later. It so happens that the present work, for all the pomposity of its title, was inspired by nothing more than the sight of a traffic-island of turf and stone in my native Blackheath."

"Perhaps it is more useful to dismiss the preoccupations of the day altogether, and look upon Frederick and his army as manifestations of their own time. That is something which the old devil surely has a right to demand of us."


  1. Sad to see this, Chris. Like you, I have many of Duffy’s books in my library. Many of them are valued references for 18th Century military history. I pull them down from the shelves often. A great loss for the history buff.

  2. Thanks for sharing although sad news, I have a number of his excellent books 🙂

  3. Very sad, though not unexpected. As it happens I have just got around to reading Instrument of War as my bedtime reading.

  4. Thank you for the news. His passing is a reminder to not take anyone for granted.

  5. Indeed, sad news. When I saw him speak in the summer (thanks to you - - please excuse the plug for my blog!) he was obviously physically infirm and confined to a wheelchair, but spoke well and was entirely sharp mentally. He leaves a great legacy, which of course we can all continue to study.

  6. Sad news I've had his siege warfare vol 1for almost 40 years now, great book!
    Best Iain

  7. That was/is a fine tribute Chris.
    Those quotes are superb! Not having ever really been 'into' the Seven Years' War, I had/have not read his works in detail, but I still feel that I 'knew' him in some way and such was his presence in the hobby and presentation of history to we 'history buffs', that I was still personally 'affected' on hearing of his passing. He, Chandler and Connolly were of a similar ilk for mine and all three were hugely influential to the lay audience; and I am sure within their profession too!
    Regards, James

    1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there James. He’s the younger end of the Young and Chandler/Griffiths generations.
      Despite mostly being known for the 18th century, Duffy did write some memorable things on other periods, some of which cross into your era of interest. 16th/17th centuries in Siege Warfare vol I, but also Napoleonics (Austerlitz and Borodino), French Revolutionary Wars (Eagles over the Alps) and 20th century (Through German Eyes:German view of the Somme, and Red Storm over Berlin: Soviet attack in 1945).

    2. Yes, I was forgetting those when I commented. I picked up second hand copies of Austerlitz, Borodino and Eagles over the Alps relatively recently. They all are still in my long reading list. A joy for later!

    3. Hope you got Eagles for a good price James. I managed to get a cheap copy early this year but prior to that people have been asking high prices.