2015 marked the two hundredth year since the Battle of Waterloo, when the Emperor of the French was narrowly defeated by the allied troops of Britain, the Netherlands and Prussia, under the command of the Duke of Wellington.Here are ten things you might not know about the Battle of Waterloo!
1. The French nearly won.
Napoleon moved so rapidly that the British were still partying at the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball when he was engaging the army. Wellington decided not to panic. But Napoleon’s actions nearly won the day for him
2. Lord Uxbridge was sitting next to Wellington when he lost his leg. The exchange is one of the most famous in British history.
Uxbridge said, “By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!”, to which Wellington replied “By God, sir, so you have!”
Later, Uxbridge asked if his amputated leg could have been saved, and asked a friend, Sir Hussey Vivian, to look at it and give his opinion.
“Ah, Vivian!” said the wounded noble, “I want you to do me a favour. Some of my friends here seem to think I might have kept that leg on. Just go and cast your eye upon it, and tell me what you think.”
“I went, accordingly”, said Sir Hussey, “and, taking up the lacerated limb, carefully examined it, and so far as I could tell, it was completely spoiled for work. A rusty grape-shot had gone through and shattered the bones all to pieces. I therefore returned to the Marquis and told him he could set his mind quite at rest, as his leg, in my opinion, was better off than on.” (recorded by Henry Curling in 1847)
3. You can go to see the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse, Marengo.
The horse was named after one of Napoleon’s great victories, and it can still be seen today.
4. The course of Europe was decided before the battle, at the Congress of Vienna. Napoleon’s escape from Elba halted negotiations, but didn’t stop them. So while Britain’s bravest were fighting, the politicians were partying.
The Congress of Vienna was described as the best party in Europe. The major leaders and politicians in Europe gathered there after Napoleon was exiled to Elba, and had the time of their lives, celebrating. In between and during parties, they arranged the way Europe would look.
5. Tourists started arriving the day after the battle, when there were still bodies littering the fields.
Tourists and scavengers stripped the bodies, so that some remained unrecognisable. they sketched, marvelled and wandered all over the battlefield. There are reports of sightseers watching the battle itself! They also disturbed Wellington by peering in at his house to catch a glimpse of him, driving the great man mad.
6. The Battle of Waterloo made Wellington a millionaire.
The British Army received a ‘gratuity’ of 25 million francs from the French crown after winning. Converted into Sterling, £978,850.15s.4d was divided into 16 equal shares for distribution to every survivor. Four shares were split between the rank-and-file, giving each man £2.11s.4d. (£142 in today’s money). Two of the 16 shares were distributed among the non-commissioned officers, and so on up through the ranks of subaltern, captain, field officer and general officer. Wellington, as Commander in Chief, received a single share: £61,178.3s.5½ d, equivalent to over £3.25 million today.
7. There was nearly a train station in London called Mont St. Jean.
Waterloo was where Wellington had his headquarters, and the winner got to name the battle. There were closer places, like Hougoumont and Mont St. Jean, but it got to be Waterloo. How about a train station in London called Hougoumont?
8. Waterloo was the bloodiest battle in British history.
Casualties per square mile at Waterloo were nearly 2,300, while at the Somme, often considered the bloodiest battle, they were 234.
9. Dead soldiers from the battle continued to eat for the next 50 years.
Teeth were taken from the dead soldiers, and were put into false teeth for the next generation.
10. Even though he emerged from the battle unscathed, Napoleon died from injuries sustained as a result of Waterloo six years later.
Napoleon tried to kill himself shortly after the battle by taking poison. He was saved by doctors, but the prolonged vomiting and emetics probably caused the stomach lesion that contributed to his death.
It’s a stirring battle, by any account, and its outcome had a huge effect on the history of Europe for the next hundred years. The Congress of Vienna redrew the map of Europe, and the victory helped to pave the way to the imperialist ambitions of the British, still the greatest (in terms of land ruled over) empire the world has ever seen.
I’ve written two novellas to commemorate the battle, outlined below.
Here are some links you might like to see:
Skeleton of Soldier at Waterloo Discovered
An Account of the Battle of Waterloo
Bicentenary page, Waterloo 200 – this has pictures of some fascinating relics of the battle.
Another account of the battle – this one is straightforward, and very informative.
What the Battle of Waterloo teaches us about Europe Today – an interesting article in the New Statesman.
If you’ve found any interesting articles or accounts, do let me know!