Today marks the 200th anniversary of one of the most famous battles in history, the Battle of Waterloo, which was fought between the allied forces commanded by the Duke of Wellington and Imperial French forces commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte on June 18th 1815.
The battle closed the final chapter of a particularly bloody period of European history at the beginning of the 19th century during which Napoleon sought to secure dominance over Europe and world affairs through the might of the French Empire. After a sequence of disastrous reverses beginning with a calamitous Russian campaign in 1812, Napoleon had eventually been deposed and exiled by the beginning of 1815. Yet in March he returned to France to reclaim his throne, embarking on a brief but tumultuous period of conflict across Europe known as ‘The Hundred Days’.
After a series of smaller battles, an allied army, comprising of 68,000 British, Dutch and Prussian/German troops under the command of the legendary British strategist the Duke of Wellington, gave battle to a French force of 73,000 in the fields just outside the small Belgian town of Waterloo.
The battle took all day and the outcome see-sawed dramatically between the combatants, evenly matched with some seasoned by nearly twenty years of fighting. It has generally been accepted by military historians that the arrival, late in the day, of a large force of Prussian troops under the command of General Blucher ultimately turned the tide in the allies favour, though the battle’s outcome has remained disputed. But as a result, Napoleon fled the field and abdicated, returning for good to exile until his controversial death in 1821.
As the Duke of Wellington himself remarked after the battle: “it was the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life”, and one of the decisive turning points of world history, heralding the end of the Revolutionary period of European history and the beginning of an era of industrial and technological innovation, with an uneasy peace in Western Europe that would last until the final quarter of the 19th century, when France, led by another Napoleon, would cross swords with Prussian Germany once more.
You can get a flavour of the events of the day by browsing the Times Digital Archives, which have digital reproductions of the days news dating back to 1785. The British Humanities Index (BHI) is also an invaluable resource for those interested in finding out more about this fascinating period of history.
We also have quite a variety of books about the Napoleonic Wars and Revolutionary Europe downstairs among our history section on Level 2. Why not have a browse?
Pictured above is Lady Butler’s depiction of the British Scots Greys famous charge during the battle, reproduced from Flickr courtesy of Dennis Jarvis under Creative Commons License.