Monthly Archives: June 2015

The road to Waterloo: Week 18 (22 – 28 June 2015)

The road from Waterloo: Napoleon abdicates
Following his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon chose to return to Paris on the afternoon of 21 June, instead of remaining on the battlefield with his shattered army.

4 days from Waterloo

On his return he found that he was no longer supported by either the legislature or the people.  The following day, 22 June, he abdicated in favour of his son Napoleon II, who was four years old.  The newly established Provisional Government proclaimed this fact to the French nation and the world and sent ministers to the Allied Powers to treat for peace.

The Battle of Waterloo has achieved status in the English language and is an idiom for a decisive and final contest.  However, affairs were not quite so clear cut in the days following the battle.  On 24 June, Wellington wrote to Prince Frederick of the Netherlands requesting that he take no notice of the news of Bonaparte’s abdication. [MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/471/29]

Both Wellington and Blucher feared Napoleon’s actions may be a trick – or at the very least they did not satisfy the requirements set out by the Allies in the treaty of 25th March.  Consequently they chose not to discontinue operations until they had achieved their aim of placing Napoleon “in a situation in which he will no longer have it in his power to disturb the peace of the world”. [MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/471/31]


Waterloo Day 2015

The Special Collections at the Hartley Library, University of Southampton, welcomed visitors to a special event on the afternoon of Waterloo Day, including some of the students who are currently following our MOOC course on Wellington and Waterloo. For further information on the MOOC go to:

Wellington and Waterloo cake

Wellington and Waterloo cake

The afternoon’s programme began with a visit to the Special Collections exhibition Wellington and Waterloo ‘the tale is in every Englishman’s mouth’. This exhibition draws extensively on the archives of the first Duke of Wellington which are held at Southampton, presenting the Waterloo campaign from the perspective of Wellington. The exhibition has been co-curated by Chris Woolgar, who is Professor of History and Archival Studies, and Karen Robson, Head of Archives, at the University.

Visitors at the Wellington and Waterloo exhibition

Visitors at the Wellington and Waterloo exhibition

The visit to the exhibition was followed by a lecture by Chris Woolgar about writing the Waterloo despatch. This was an in-depth analysis of this formal document, which provided a fascinating insight into its composition by the Duke of Wellington.

Chris Woolgar delivering his lecture on the Waterloo despatch

Chris Woolgar delivering his lecture on the Waterloo despatch

The afternoon was rounded off by tea and cakes. Pride of place was given to a cake depicting Wellington on horseback, specially commissioned for the event.

The road to Waterloo: Week 17 (15 – 21 June 2015)

The Battles of Ligny, Quatre Bras and Waterloo
On 15 June Napoleon and his forces crossed the border into the Low Countries.

The Battle of Waterloo

Napoleon knew that he did not have a large enough army to defeat the combined Anglo-Allied and Prussian armies, so he attacked the Prussian force at the lightly garrisoned post of Charleroi.  This post had been identified by Napoleon as a weak point between the allied armies and by attacking it he hoped to potentially divide the two sides.  Lieutenant General Zieten, who commanded at Charleroi, had been ordered not to attempt a serious defence of his position, and evacuated.  Following the attack, Prussian forces began to move between Charleloi and Ligny and were in place by the afternoon of 16 June.  The Anglo-Allied army was ordered by Wellington to concentrate its forces at Quatre Bras.

The Battle of Ligny, which began at 3 o’clock on the 16th June was an intense battle between the Prussians and the French under the command of Napoleon.  Although Marshal Ney was not able to provide assistance, as he was engaged in battle elsewhere at Quatre Bras, the French forces prevailed.  At the end of the day with their reserves exhausted, the Prussians retreated, moving towards Wavre.

At the same time as the Battle of Ligny, another battle was being fought at Quatre Bras.  Here the Anglo-Allied army faced that of Marshal Ney.  The momentum of this battle swung back and forth as the arrival of fresh troops gave one side or the other the advantage. Eventually the advantage swung in Wellington’s favour and he gained a modest victory as Ney’s forces were repulsed.

As Wellington noted in a letter to Lady Frances Webster on 18 June: “We fought a desperate battle on Friday [16 June] in which I was successful though I had but very few troops.” [MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/470/2/52]

Learning of the Prussians’ defeat, and of their retreat towards Wavre, Wellington pulled his forces back to around Mont St Jean, which was about ten miles west of Wavre.  Having received assurances from the Prussians that they would come to his aid, Wellington determined to give battle on the 18th June from this position.

The Battle of Waterloo commenced at 11a.m. on 18th June with an attack by Napoleon against the château of Hougoumont.  The opposing forces commanded by Wellington and Napoleon were fairly equal in number — nearly 75,000 each — however, Wellington was hampered by the variable quality of the coalition forces under his command and was considerably outgunned.  Another 30,000 French troops, under the command of Marshal Grouchy, were based to the east and this force engaged part of the Prussian army at Wavre as the Prussian forces made their way to Waterloo.  Some of the Prussian army were not to see action at Waterloo as they were still on their way when the battle ended, but Field Marshal Blücher with forces of around 12,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry, reached the Battle of Waterloo at a crucial point in the afternoon.

In a letter to Lady Frances Webster on 19 June, Wellington said of the battle:

“I yesterday after a most severe and bloody contest gained a complete victory, and pursued the French till after dark. They are in complete confusion and I have, I believe, 150 pieces of cannon; and Blucher who continued to the pursuit all night, my soldiers being tired to death, sent me word this morning that he had got 60 more.

My loss is immense. Lord Uxbridge, Lord FitzRoy Somerset, General Cooke, General Barnes, and Colonel Berkeley are wounded: Colonel De Lancey, Canning, Gordon, General Picton killed. The finger of Providence was upon me and I escaped unhurt.”
[MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/471/6]

The road to Waterloo: Week 16 (8 – 14 June 2015)

Napoleon leaves Paris to join his army
On 9 June 1815 the final act of the Treaty of Vienna was signed, embodying all the previous separate treaties and reaffirming the Allies intention to force Napoleon from power. By now Napoleon had decided to fight an offensive campaign and, with the Armee du Nord (of some 120,000 men) assembled in northern France, he was ready to strike.

6 days to Waterloo

On 12 June Napoleon left Paris to join his army. Escorted by cavalry of the Imperial Guard, he arrived in Avesnes on 13 June. Having failed to reach terms with the Allies, he understood that he could not simply wait for the Russian and Austrian armies to reach the French frontier and invade. Rather, if he could strike a decisive blow against the Prussian and Anglo-Allied armies in the Low Countries, he might be able to split the coalition and drive the British out of the war. This, in turn, would place him in a stronger position to negotiate peace terms with the governments of the Seventh Coalition.

During the early weeks of June the quality of Allied intelligence from France remained variable and while it was clear that Napoleon was intending to move, it was still uncertain where his main line of attack would fall. An advance through Mons or Tournai would first fall on Wellington’s Anglo-Allied army, while an advance through Charleroi would fall on Blücher’s Prussian army.

In a letter to Lord Fitzroy Somerset, on 12 June, Major General Sir William Dornberg provides intelligence regarding the concentration of French forces:

“A French gentleman coming from Maubeuge to join the King, gives the following intelligence. […] The Head Quarters of the army are transferred from Laon to Avesnes, where a division of the Guards is to arrive today. Bonaparte is expected every minute, but nothing certain was known when he had left Paris, where it appears he was still on the 10th. […] He estimates the forces between Philipville, Givet, Mezieres, Guise, and Maubeuge at more than 100,000 troops of the line, a very considerable corps of cavalry was reviewed at Hirson two days ago by Grouchy. The general opinion in the army is that they will attack, and that the arrival of Bonaparte at Avesnes will be the signal for the beginning of hostilities.”
[MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/467/22]

On 14 June, from the Imperial Headquarters at Avesnes, Napoleon made a rousing proclamation to his troops. Drawing on the anniversary of the battles of Marengo and Friedland, it ended with the words: “For every Frenchman with a heart, the time has come to conquer or die!”

That night the French army began its advance across the border into Belgium.

Wellington and Waterloo: June 2015 Events

As the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo approaches, we are happy to announce a number of activities taking place in June to mark the occasion.

Wellington and Waterloo MOOC – from Monday 8 June
Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo MOOC
We would be delighted if you could join us to discover more about the Duke of Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo on a free Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) from 8 June.

Over three weeks, the course will cover events from the French Revolution to the decisive battle that finally defeated Napoleon, the significance of the conflict, the ways in which it changed Europe forever and how the battle and its heroes have been commemorated. Chris Woolgar and Karen Robson will use the Wellington Archive at the University of Southampton to provide an insight into these momentous events from the early nineteenth century.

To enrol go to:

Waterloo Day Events – Thursday 18 June
Waterloo Day
There will be a special event at the Hartley Library, University of Southampton, on the afternoon of 18 June, Waterloo Day. Visitors are invited to meet the curators of the current Special Collections exhibition on Wellington and Waterloo. There will also be a lecture on Wellington and the writing of the Waterloo Despatch by Professor Chris Woolgar. Tea and cake will follow.

To sign up for this free event, please use EventBrite.

Battle of Waterloo, 200th Anniversary Concert – Saturday 13 June
Waterloo Concert
Students from the Music Department come together at the end of the academic year to celebrate the Battle of Waterloo. The programme will include the overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, the first movement of the Eroica symphony, and Beethoven’s Wellington Victory. It will also feature David Owen Norris performing The Siege of Badajoz by Samuel Wesley, and tenor soloist Peter James Bridgwood.

Free admission with donations in aid of the Friends of St. Michael’s.

For more information go to: