On Saturday 22 June, British Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley will be in Spencerville, ON for the Heritage Fair presenting on "The Matter of Honour".
Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley served 36 years in the British Army, as well as Director-General and Master of the Royal Armouries. Riley's posts included Deputy Commander of NATO ISAF in Afghanistan, Deputy Commandant of the Joint Services Staff College, Deputy Commander of the American mission to re-establish the Iraq Armed Forces, and Commanding General of the Multi-National Division in Southern Iraq to name but a few of his positions.
Those were his staff appointments but Jonathon Riley has also seen considerable active service. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for valour as commanding officer of the Royal Welch Fusiliers in Bosnia and he has served six tours in Northern Ireland, five in the Balkans and one in Central America and Sierra Leone respectively.
Riley's latest book, "A Matter of Honour: The Life, Campaigns and Generalship of Isaac Brock", studies a familiar personage from our War of 1812
In his book, Riley attempts to translate his "experience backwards in time to interpret what Brock was doing, and to focus on his life, his campaigns and his generalship."
Capturing the historic sense of honour seems to have been a motive for Riley.
"On many occasions the things that Brock did only made sense when they were interpreted in the light of what was expected of people then," describes Riley. "Many things only make sense when you understand the code of honour amongst gentlemen, particularly amongst military officers. Honour mattered more than the law, more than self-respect
The duel that Brock fought, the way he conducted himself, his disputes over strategy and operational planning with Prevost, his indignation at Hull at the siege of Detroit asking for the honours of war when he had not put up a proper defence and indeed the manner of his death, putting himself in the place of a captain. They only make sense if you look at them through the 18th century notion of honour."
In listening to Riley's explanations, his calm way of speaking and articulate British English, this sense of honour seems far more present than lost, but the concept extends far beyond pleasant manners.
"To an 18th century gentleman, and it is very much a male thing," says Riley "a gentleman's honour, which extended to his family, was all about the accepted code of behaviour, what was expected of you in relation to others, how you conducted yourself to your opposites, your peers, your superiors and your inferiors and how they conducted themselves towards you. It was about your position in society and in the world. And anyone who sought to denigrate that apposition, or insulted or questioned it, was impugning your honour and the whole way in which you conducted yourself, and your whole status in the world." For someone like Brock, a sense of honour was multifaceted.
Courage was also an important factor in a military officer's honour. "Not much was expected of a military officer in the 18th century," explains Riley, "other than that you looked after your men and that you did so before you looked after yourself and that you were brave in the face of the enemy. Woe betide anybody who was not, because to show any lack of courage was to forfeit your honour immediately."
When considered in such a context Brock's heroism seems far more commonplace than we might expect in 2012. Brock did what was expected, even if doing so cost him his life.
During his presentation in Spencerville, Riley will deal with the origin of the honour system, its application in the 18th-19th centuries, the development of duelling, the military applications of the system including example by officers, rules for conduct, surrenders and so on. The talk is based on a large number of sources combined for the first time to present a wholesome picture.
The cost for the talk is $10. Tickets are available online at www.spencervillemill.ca