ONE LAST anniversary before the year is out – this time the Battle of Waterloo which took place two hundred years ago on 18th June 1815. It seems to be a year of historical anniversaries.
1812-1814 saw the War of the Sixth Coalition between Napoleon and the allies which included Austria, Prussia, Sweden, Great Britain and a number of German states. In 1814, while Great Britain, Spain and Portugal invaded France across the Pyrenees, the Russians, Austrians and their allies invaded France across the Rhine and, after the Battle for Paris, entered into negotiations with members of the French government for the abdication of Napoleon Bonaparte. Nobody had anything against the French – this was a ‘personal thing’ against Bonaparte. It ended with the Treaty of Fontainebleau and the exile of Napoleon to Elba in April 1814.
Abdication of Napoleon at Fontainebleau
But not for long. Napoleon escaped from Elba in February 1815 and marched on Paris with the intention of claiming the throne from King Louis XVIII of France. Napoleon simply did not know when to quit.
The Seventh Coalition was established between allied countries with Great Britain, the Netherlands and Prussia in particular not wishing to see Napoleon back in power. Napoleon had decided that the best course of action for success was to move before the Coalition could fully mobilise. He met the coalition armies at Waterloo (in present day Belgium).
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) – never knew when to quit!
Napoleon’s troops of some 118,000 outnumbered the Coalition’s of about 70,000 (the figures vary depending on source). Not only that but the latter were inexperienced and ill-equipped. Also, two days before the battle Napoleon had routed a Prussian force under Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. Things didn’t look good for the Coalition. But the allies were led by Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, and he had other ideas. Fortunately for him Blücher had rallied his 30,000 (approx) Prussians and joined in the affray early in the evening and by 8.30 pm Napoleon was defeated (see link at the end for more information on the battle).
Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) – born just 3 months before Napoleon
Wellington was to describe the battle as ‘the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.’ Around 44,000 men and 12,000 horses were killed or wounded (again these figures depend on source).
The famous image of Wellington at Waterloo
This battle brought the War of the Seventh Coalition to an end and became a defining moment in European history and the end of Napoleon’s reign as Emperor of France. Napoleon escaped to Paris but a month later surrendered on broad HMS Bellerophon on the 15th July 1815. He was sent to St Helena, and island off the west coast of Africa, where he died in May 1821.
For a detailed (and colourful) description of the Battle of Waterloo click here.