Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The Passing of Christopher Duffy


Jim Mitchell (left) and Christopher Duffy (right) at Hochkirch in 1994.
Photo by Jim Purky

It is with a great deal of sadness that I have to report the passing of Christopher Duffy, noted historian and acclaimed expert on mid 18th Century military history. More specifically, he is known for his works about the army of Frederick the Great of Prussia and the collection of adversaries including Austria, Russia, France and the German Empire.

Back in the early 1980s, when I was getting my start in studying the history of the Seven Years War and wargaming the period, it was hard to find any information on the SYW printed in English. There were plenty of German language books about Frederick the Great and related military history, but very little of it in English. It was then that I discovered the author Christopher Duffy and he opened my eyes to the period in ways that I could hardly imagine a few years earlier.

My first Duffy book was The Military Life of Frederick the Great which was published in 1985. Duffy's writing style was fluid and easy to read. You never felt as if you were looking at nothing but dates, battles and dry history when you read anything written by Duffy. In fact, Red Storm on the Reich, a book that he wrote about the Russian army's final push against Germany in 1945, captivated me even though I had little interest in World War II at the time. I recommend this book too, by the way.

The important thing that Duffy made available to the student of Frederick the Great and his battles were nicely detailed maps of all of the battles. The maps were based on the German General Staff Histories, but formatted in a more readable manner. One could see the exact placement of individual regiments of infantry and cavalry for both sides of the battle, information that was hereto unknown to me. Christopher also provided a concise and informative description of the battles and the related campaigns. Again, his books are probably the most readable history texts that you will ever find.

A Short Biography of Christoper Duffy (1936 - 2022)

I am copying the short bio of Duffy from the dust jacket of his book Fight For A Throne, The Jacobite '45 Reconsidered:

Christopher Duffy is the acclaimed and highly-regarded doyen of eighteenth century military history (The Harold). His works are grounded on unpublished sources and physical realities, and are characterized by the attention that is given to the visual presentation and not least the maps, which he draws himself.

Dr Duffy was born in 1936. He was a contemporary and friend of John Keegan at Balliol College, Oxford - gaining a first class degree in Modern History in 1958 and his doctorate in 1961. In that year he joined the Department of Military History at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and retired from there in 1996 as Senior Lecturer in War Studies. After a research professorship at De Montfort University (1996 - 2001), he became involved in a variety of volunteer work taking in historical advice and fundraising for the National Trust of Scotland's centre at Culloden. As such, he is heavily engaged in the effort to save this and other "Jacobite" battlefields from the threat of development, which has now become acute. He was a founder member  of the British Commission for Military History and the Scottish Battlefield Trust, and is currently a Vice-President of the Military History Society of Ireland and Chairman of the 1745 Association.

My First Introduction to Duffy

I first met Christopher Duffy at one of the Gencon game conventions in Milwaukee, WI during the late 1980s. My recollection is that Todd Fisher had invited Christopher to make the trip from his home in the UK to the States so that he could deliver several speeches at the convention. By this time, those of us who were members of the Seven Years War Association thought of Duffy in a god-like manner and I'm sure that he was both flattered and amused that he had such a following in the United States.

A bunch of us had a beer with Christopher after one of his speeches and I am sure that we must have embarrassed ourselves with the way that we fawned over him. Todd Fisher had arranged for all of us to have dinner that evening with Duffy at a local Milwaukee German restaurant. I think that it was called Maters. After dinner, Christopher gave a talk about some SYW related topic and there he was introduced to what probably was his very first heckler. Duffy was talking about the Grenz border lands when some inebriated sod shouted out "what about Bosnia!"  Then after several more interruptions, Dean West walked over to the heckler and firmly invited him to "get the fuck out or I will shove my fist down your throat."  The heckler, not wishing to engage in hand to hand combat with Dean,  immediately slinked out of the dinner hall and was never seen again. Dean was short in stature but he was not one that you would want to mess around with when he was angry.

Christopher Duffy giving one of his history talks at the Seven Years War Association Convention
Photo by Jim Purky

Also at that time, I was the editor of the Seven Years War Association Journal, having picked up the editorial and publishing reins from founder Bill Protz. Having gotten to get to know him a little bit, I invited him to attend the Seven Years War Association Convention in South Bend, Indiana with all expenses paid (mainly by me, but several other people chipped in some money) and to my great delight, he said yes. This was the first of many visits by Christopher to our convention and after a couple of years he insisted that he should henceforth pay his own travel and lodging expenses (although I'm sure that the SYWA would have gladly paid). I believe that Christopher attended every SYWA Convention thereafter without missing any of them. My memory fails me on the exact dates, (2017?)  but when he reached his 80th birthday he announced that that this would be his last convention due to his health making the travel difficult.

During Duffy's first visit to the SYWA Convention I spent some time with him showing him around the city of Chicago. He was quite taken with the architecture of the city and when he heard that there was a lakeside boat tour, he insisted that we get on the boat and see the Chicago skyline from Lake Michigan. I have lived in the Chicago area for most of my life and I had never taken that boat tour until Duffy came to Chicago. I drove him to South Bend, Indiana for the convention and we had some great conversation about all sorts of things. I was surprised to find that I was not the only person who would look at some passing ground and imagined how an army would look if they deployed on that terrain. Henceforth we kept our eye open for gentle ridges with dead ground behind.

On another visit to the convention, Christopher and I had some time to kill so we went to the movie th

Each year, Christopher would address the convention with a talk (speech is hardly the word that I want to use here) about one or more of Frederick's battles, complete with overhead slides and handouts. He always referred to the Austrians and the French as "the Good Guys" and the Prussians as "the Bad Guys".  We always got a good laugh out of that. His talk was always peppered with his dry sense of humor and he was a master of getting a laugh from the audience. All of this is to say that Christopher Duffy made history fun. He was quite a treasure for all of us and he would gladly sit down with you and answer any questions that you might have about Frederick, the Austrian army or what really happened at the battle of such and so, et cetera.

The Duffy Battlefield Tours

I think that it was in 1994 when Christopher let us know that he would like to lead a tour of Frederician battle fields in the newly opened East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The eastern European countries were now open to western tourists, post-fall of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe and this made it possible for us to actually walk the battlefields and hear about the movements of the battle from the preeminent military historian of the SYW era. We had a good group of eager followers on the tour from all over the globe: the USA, the UK, Australia, Sweden, Italy and Canada. The fellow from Australia fell in love and married a Polish woman that he'd met in Breslau.

Some of the battlefield sites that we visited were Lobositz, Kolin, Kunersdorf, Hohenfriedburg, Mollwitz, Hochkirch, Maxen, Landshut, Dresden and the holiest of holies, Leuthen. For me, as a student of Frederick the Great, it was a dream come true to walk the field of Leuthen. It is something that I couldn't imagine ever doing.

Duffy conducted tours in 1994, 1998 and 2016 with SYWA members. Here are a few pictures of Christopher Duffy during the 2016 battlefield tour of Seven Years War sites in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Duffy pointing out the finer details of the Austrian attack at Maxen
during the 2016 tour.

Photo by Jim Purky

Christopher Duffy, on the left wearing a red tie, talks about Hochkirch during his 2016 battlefields tour.
Photo by Jim Purky

Christopher and the rest of the tour gang learning about the battlefield archeology at Kunersdorf
during the 2016 tour.

Photo by Jim Purky

One Last Story
I leave you with one final story about Christopher Duffy that occurred during the first tour in 1994. Recall that eastern Germany had just been freed of the Soviet Russia yoke in 1989 and everything was still in transition as West Germany reintegrated with East Germany. There were still some Russian troops stationed in the eastern half of Germany in 1994.

We were touring the battlefield site at Torgau and our bus took a turn up a gravel road leading to the Suptitz plateau where the Austrian army had been deployed. Christopher then got on the public address speaker in the bus and told us:

The last time I was here at Torgau there was a Russian airfield on this ground and it may still be off limits to tourists. The Russian may still be here on their base. If we see a trail of bullets coming down the road toward us we will know that we have made a terrible mistake.

I have posted but a few of the many photos that I took of Christopher Duffy. Many from the 1994 and 1998 tours are in the non-digital paper format and so I will have to sift through my pictures and scan the best pictures so that I can post them on this blog in the future.

Christopher Duffy, I thank you for your friendship and for all of the contributions that you made to 18th Century military history. In so many different ways, you made a difference in this world.

Farewell and rest in peace.


If you have any short personal memories of Christopher Duffy then please leave them in the comments section of this blog story. I really really really would like to hear what you have to say.



  1. I was very sad to hear of his passing, he will be sorely missed. Your post is a great one and raised a smile despite the sadness. A real giant of our period has passed, sad times.

  2. Thank you Jim for this wonderful tribute to Professor Duffy. My love for the eighteenth century can be traced to coming unexpectedly upon a wee second hand bookshop, half way up the hill to the castle . I went in and came out with a second hand book club edition of his book on the Prussian Army published in 1974. This was 31/3/87- l just checked what I wrote inside the book. This was the first of many of his books I bought over the years which have been a constant joy. I became a SYWA member, got into imaginations, discovered The Duchy of Tradgardland and have had so much added to my hobby life. I believe Duffy’s book was the catalyst and more besides.
    Alan Tradgardland

  3. Sad to hear that news. Duffy's books are peerless and will remain so. Without them all 18thC wargamers would be much the poorer.

  4. Jim, a great tribute. I only met him once at Culloden where we had a good chat about the battle and he complemented me on my then fairly newly released Crann Tara Jacobites. Of course I got him to sign his book on the ‘45. A true gent in every way.

  5. A great man and author, I am just reading and enjoying his '45' book at the moment.

  6. Thanks for sharing the sad news and your own reminiscences. Mine is only a might have been. We were once in the same place but I was too shy to say 'hello'

  7. Beautiful post Jim.
    I to was captured by his writing and his ‘The Army of Frederick the Great’ book is responsible for so many miniature Battalions on my shelves. Like you, I found his writing style so easy to read enabled the spark in my imagination and immersion. My favourite author by far, a sad day.


  8. A fine tribute there, Jim. He, and his knowledge will be a great loss.

  9. Wonderful tribute Jim. The best ones are by those who knew and loved the subject well. Sadly, I have not read any of his books as yet, my interest in the period is relatively new, but now, I have something to look forward to. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Thank you ,what a nice tribute. I was lucky to hear him speak, only a few months ago ( ). He was obviously physically infirm but mentally perfectly sharp, spoke briefly but well, and was both interesting and witty! He leaves a great legacy.

  11. Thank you for a wonderful tribute Jim.


  12. Thank you for a splendid tribute to a great scholar. It was his wonderful books that started me on my lifelong interest in the military history of the 18th century nearly 50 years ago. Great to see pictures of the battlefield tours too; I'm very sorry I never managed to go on one. Please do post more pictures! David.

  13. I missed the opportunity to meet the great man in the summer due to an error in agreeing holiday dates. Fortunately David (see comment above) was able to attend the event instead.
    How great it would have been to go on those tours. Fortunately we still have his great body of work. Some of which have been on my shelf for 40-45 years.
    RIP Christopher Duffy.

  14. Thank you for sharing the memories of your many experiences with Christopher Duffy. Most of us know him only from his many written works, but your tribute certainly brings another perspective upon which to reflect. Many of my ancestors lie buried on the battlefield of Culloden and both sides of my family are from the Black Isle just north of Inverness. As someone of all Scottish, and predominantly Highland heritage, Christopher Duffy's research and sympathetic, but non-partisan, treatment of Jacobite history, and his efforts to preserve the battlefields of the 1745 Rebellion will always be appreciated. The sad loss of a great historian.

  15. A marvellous tribute. Interesting, personal and witty. Perfect.
    Regards, James

  16. "Friedrich der Große und seine Armee" was my first Duffy in '78. Since then his books were a continuous company. I will simply read them again. Rest in peace Sir.

    Fedja Peter Galperin

  17. I have his book on 'Borodino': I borrowed it from Leyton library, London, never took it back, paid the 'lost' fine, it's there on the bookshelf, I am looking at it now... RIP.