The 26th Wellington Lecture and Cataloguing the lead up to Waterloo

The 26th Wellington Lecture, titled ‘The longest afternoon. The 400 men who decided the battle of Waterloo’, will take place on 22 October 2014 at 6pm at the Turner Sims, University of Southampton. The lecture will be delivered by Professor Brendan Simms, a professor in the History of International Relations and fellow at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. He is the author of Europe, shortlisted for the Lionel Gelber Prize.

The Wellington Arch

The Wellington Arch

Established in 1989 with an endowment from the Spanish Ambassador, the annual Wellington Lecture explores aspects of the life and times of the first Duke of Wellington, one of the leading military and political figures of the 19th century.

Over the years the University of Southampton has welcomed a host of distinguished speakers to present the lecture. This year eminent academic and author Professor Brendan Simms will recount how 400-odd riflemen beat back wave after wave of French infantry, until finally forced to withdraw, but only after holding up Napoleon for so long that he lost the overall contest. Drawing on previously untapped eye-witness reports for accurate and vivid details of the course of the battle, Professor Simms will capture the grand choreography and pervasive chaos of Waterloo: the advances and retreats, the death and the maiming, the heroism and the cowardice.

The Road to Waterloo
Among the events set to mark the battle of Waterloo in 2015, the University will be hosting the Sixth Wellington Congress from 10 to 12 April. In preparation for the anniversary Lara Nelson, an archivist in the Special Collections Division, recently catalogued correspondence from the Wellington Papers focusing on the lead up to Waterloo.

“Containing approximately 100,000 items, the Wellington papers are a treasure trove for those completing research relating to the career of Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington. Of particular interest is the correspondence to and from the first Duke of Wellington in the run up to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. During the first half of this year I have been cataloguing the correspondence dating from February and April 1815.

The February correspondence consists of 26 letters, covering the first Duke of Wellington’s time at Vienna as British Plenipotentiary, which he began on 3 February 1815. They cover foreign affairs such as whether Vatteline should become a part of Switzerland, the Secret Alliance Treaty made between Britain, Austria and France, and the preparation of troops in Italy in response to Murat becoming King of Rome. An item of significant interest includes a letter from Sir Neil Campbell, who was responsible for accompanying Napoleon to Elba. Dating the 29th February 1815, the letter concerns a copy of a despatch he sent to Lord Burghersh (Envoy-extraordinary and Minister-plenipotentiary at Florence), which relates to the escape of Napoleon from Elba. He instructs the Duke of Wellington to consult the despatch so as not to lose time, and to transmit it to London for the examination of Lord Bathurst (Secretary of War and the Colonies).

The April correspondence includes 255 letters, which cover the escalation of events, and the planning and organisation of the military attack against Napoleon. The letters reflect discussions on how the invasion is to be a success, and decisions made on the composition of artillery, troops and weaponry. Fascinating items include a memorandum from Sir Hudson Lowe. It provides a list of questions to be addressed to deserters and strangers coming from the direction of the operations of the Enemy’s Army. The questions include “If a deserter: To what Corps belonging? Strength of the Corps? Commander of it?”

Together the correspondence provides a detailed picture of the international events leading up to the Battle of Waterloo. Historians can be taken through the various aspects that are involved in preparing a large military attack; from preparing artillery, troops and weaponry, to determining the logistics of security maintenance and the activities of the enemy.”

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