Tag Archives: Napoleon Bonaparte

Waterloo in the public imagination

It was on this date in 1815 that the first Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte faced each other on the battlefield for the first and only time.

Hougoumont, Waterloo [MS 351/6 A4170/7/4]

Hougoumont, Waterloo [MS 351/6 A4170/7/4]

The battle was to exert a powerful influence on the public imagination and commemorations and celebrations ranged from the worthy, such as providing support for those wounded or the families of those killed at the battle, to the frivolous, such as souvenir engravings and maps.

Waterloo subscription, 1815 [MS 61 WP1/487/10]

Waterloo subscription: a printed list of subscribers for the
families of soldiers killed and for soldiers wounded at the battle of Waterloo, 21 September 1815 [MS 61 WP1/487/10]

However, what proved particularly popular with the general public were exhibitions of paintings and artefacts connected with the battle. Fascination in Napoleon Bonaparte became even more intense and he was to feature in a number of exhibitions around London: an estimated 10,000 people daily visited a display of his battlefield carriage.

The Waterloo Museum, which was opened in November 1815, was based at 97 Pall Mall, London, in the former Star and Garter Tavern. It was one of a number of establishments set up to meet the insatiable public demand for Waterloo related memorabilia. Staffed by retired soldiers or those ‘gallant young men who were actually deprived of their limbs in that ever-memorable conflict’, this created a sense of authenticity for the Museum and its collection.

The Museum housed an assortment of armour and weaponry and other military items collected from the battlefield, together with paintings, objects and mementoes of the Bonaparte family.

Catalogue of the Waterloo Museum

Catalogue of the Waterloo Museum
(London, 1816) [Rare Books DC241 CAT]

The first room entered was the armoury, which had walls covered with cuirasses, helmets and caps, swords, guns and bayonets all collected from the battlefield. This included the armour in which Napoleon encased his heavy horse to protect it against sword cuts or musket fire. There were two trumpets, one described as so battered that it bore little resemblance to its original shape.

The Grand Saloon housed items belonging to the Bonaparte family together with paintings and other objects. These included a hat and coat worn by Napoleon in Elba, detailed in the catalogue below.

Items in the Grand Saloon of the Wellington Museum

Items in the Grand Saloon of the Wellington Museum

Amongst the paintings was the huge 15 feet by 6 feet Portrait of Napoleon in his coronation robes by Robert Lefévre (1755–1830) produced in 1811 and the 33 inch by 26 inch The Battle of Waterloo by the Flemish artist Constantine Coene(1780–1841). Depicting the battle at dusk, Coene shows Wellington pointing to a distant spot where the smoke of the Prussian cannon is rising in the horizon. He is dressed in a plain manner, unlike the pomp and imperial glory of Napoleon’s coronation robes. At the rear of the army are wounded soldiers and the widow of an artillery man is shown lamenting over her husband.

The Waterloo Museum was one of a number of such institutions that satisfied a general fascination with the battle. When Messrs. Boydell of St James’ Street in London arranged an exhibition of art that included a portrait of Napoleon they were able to charge one shilling admittance, a considerable sum for many workers at that period.

In 1819, Wellington received an account of the enthusiastic reception received by a panorama of the battle created by E.Maaskamp on display in Brussels. [MS 61 WP1/618/19]

Other more formal annual events arose out of a wish to mark the battle, the Waterloo banquet hosted by the Duke of Wellington at Apsley House being one of these. And Apsley House continues to host a Waterloo weekend of events every year.

Wellington and Waterloo events – June 2017

Wellington and Waterloo MOOC
Starting on 5 June 2017 there will be a re-run of the free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the Duke of Wellington and the battle of Waterloo.

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.

For further details and to sign up please visit:

Wellington and Waterloo revisited – Special Event
In conjunction with the MOOC, the Special Collections will be holding a Special Event on Saturday 17 June. This will feature a private view of the exhibition Wellington and Waterloo in the Special Collections Exhibition Gallery, a lecture on the Waterloo Despatch, followed by tea and dancing with the Duke of Wellington’s Dancers.

To register and for joining instructions please visit:

This event it open to everyone. We would be delighted if you could join us!

Wellington and Waterloo exhibition
Special Collections Gallery

The Battle of Waterloo, fought on Sunday 18 June 1815, between allied forces and the French forces commanded by Napoleon, brought to a close more than two decades of conflict. Drawing heavily on the Wellington Archive at the University, this exhibition captures the final act of these wars from the perspective of the Duke of Wellington. It considers the diplomatic background to the military campaign of 1815, the battle itself, its aftermath and the occupation of France and the commemoration of both Wellington and Waterloo. It includes descriptions of the battle in the official reports of Wellington’s commanders, and a poignant letter from Wellington to Lord Aberdeen informing him of the death of his brother Sir Alexander Gordon, one of Wellington’s aides-de-camp. Amongst the items relating to the commemoration of Waterloo and Wellington are the catalogue of the Waterloo Museum, an establishment opened in the immediate aftermath of the battle, exhibiting memorabilia, and a nautilus shell, engraved by C.H.Wood, dating from the 1850s, which contains an image of Wellington on one side and St George on the other.

The exhibition runs from 5 – 23 June during which time the gallery is open weekdays, 10am to 4pm.

For further details visit:

Napoleon’s empire comes to an end

April 1814 saw the end game of the French Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte, with the abdication of the Emperor and the final military conflicts at Toulouse, Bayonne and Barcelona.

After meeting with his military commanders on 4 April, who urged Napoleon to abdicate, he did so on 6 April. The allies then were faced with the question of what to do with him. They concluded that he needed to be deposed and sent into exile as they feared that any attempt to overthrow him would risk civil war.  As Lord Liverpool, the British Prime Minister noted ‘any peace with Buonaparte will only be a state of preparation for renewed hostilities’. Signed by the allies on 11 April 1814, the Treaty of Fontainebleau set out the conditions of Napoleon’s abdication. In return for his abdication as Emperor of the French, Napoleon was granted the title of Emperor, given the sovereignty of the island of Elba, off the coast of Italy, and granted an annual pension of 2 million francs from the French government.

Cartoon, ‘The journey of a modern hero, to the island of Elba’, by J. Phillips.

Cartoon, ‘The journey of a modern hero, to the island of Elba’, by J. Phillips.

This cartoon, by J. Phillips, was published in May 1814, and shows the disgraced emperor riding backwards on a donkey, a typical pose of humiliation, with his sword broken. The poem makes much of the immorality and consequences of his ambition.

Napoleon: A throne is only made of wood and cover’d with velvet

Donkey: The greatest events in human life is turn’d to a puff

Saddlebags: Materials for the history of my life and exploits. A bagful of Mathematical books for my study on ELBA.

The Journey of a modern Hero, to the Island of ELBA

Farewell my brave soldiers, my eagles adieu; Stung with my ambition, o’er the world ye flew; But deeds of disaster so sad to rehearse, I have lived — fatal truth for to know the reverse. From Moscow. from Lipsic; the case it is clear I was sent back to France with a flea in my ear. A lesson to mortals, regarding my fall; He grasps at a shadow; by grasping at all. My course it is finish’d my race it is run, My career it is ended just where it begun. The Empire of France no more it is mine, Because I can’t keep it I freely resign.

Lithograph of after the battle of Toulouse [MS 351/6 A4170/2]

Lithograph of after the battle of Toulouse [MS 351/6 A4170/2]

Whist the details of the abdication of Napoleon were being finalised in Paris, in the South of France and northern Spain the war continued. News had started to filter through of the defeat of Napoleon at Arcis-sur-Aube and that the House of Bourbon had been proclaimed at Paris, but until these reports were confirmed neither Marshal Soult, the commander of the French forces, nor Wellington as commander of the allied army, could think of suspending their operations. Thus on Easter Sunday, 10 April 1814, the allied forces attacked Soult’s forces holding Toulouse. Although there were subsequent actions at Bayonne on the 14th and Barcelona on the 16th, Toulouse marked the last major battle between the main allied and French armies before the final end of the war. The battle of Toulouse was to inflict heavy losses on the allied forces, with around 4,500 killed. The French retained control of the northern part of the Heights of Calvinet, but recognising that his position as untenable, and concerned that enemy cavalry was moving to cut him off, Soult decided to retreat to Carcassonne and left the city of Toulouse on the 11 April. Jubilant inhabitants invited Wellington to enter the city the following day, where he received news of the abdication of Napoleon that afternoon.

Wellington and Napoleon never faced each other on the battlefield throughout the years of the Napoleonic wars. This was to change in 1815, when they met for the first and only time at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June.

La Chateau et la Ferme d’Hougoumont

La Chateau et la Ferme d’Hougoumont, Waterloo [MS 351/6 A4170/7/4]

A MOOC on the Duke of Wellington and the battle of Waterloo, drawing on the Wellington archive at Southampton, and led by Karen Robson, Head of Archives, and Professor Chris Woolgar of the School of Humanities, will be given a re-run from 5 June 2017. Further details of this three week course will be available shortly.

In conjunction with this MOOC, the Special Collections will be mounting an exhibition in its Special Collections Gallery, 5-23 June, and there will be a Special Event on Saturday 17 June.  This will feature a private view of the exhibition, a lecture on the Waterloo Despatch, followed by tea and dancing with the Duke of Wellington’s Dancers.  For further details and to book for the event please go to: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wellington-and-waterloo-revisited-tickets-33522712335

We hope that you can join us on 17 June.

“Napoleon’s Farewell” by Lord Byron

The Special Collections holds a manuscript copy, in the hand of Jane Austen, of Lord Byron’s poem “Napoleon’s Farewell”, c.1815: a dramatic monologue in three stanzas in the character of Bonaparte.

Byron’s poem, likely written on 25 July, was first published in The Examiner on 30 July 1815 and subsequently appeared in his Poems (1816) where it formed part of a group of poems “From the French” which ranged between condemning Napoleon and praising his bravery.

Extract from Byron's poem "Napoleon's Farewell" in the hand of Jane Austen, c.1815 (MS 8)

Extract from Byron’s poem “Napoleon’s Farewell” in the hand of Jane Austen, c.1815 (MS 8)

For Byron, Napoleon was the epitome of the Romantic hero, the persecuted, lonely, and flawed genius and it is believed he considered Napoleon a foil for his own complex personality.  Jane Austen shared a fascination with Napoleon and even contemplated writing his history. In the spring of 1816 Byron left England in a cloud of scandal and debt, never to return. As he journeyed to Switzerland he visited the field of Waterloo as a tourist. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Byron saw the outcome of the battle as a tragedy rather than a victory and it was to have a significant influence on the third canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.

Austen’s version of “Napoleon’s Farewell”, which differs from Byron’s original, seems to have been written from memory, and was produced in 1815 or 1816 while she was writing Persuasion.  References to contemporary literature in Persuasion include those to the poetry of Byron.

Some changes are small, for example, she switches “name” and “fame” at the ends of the second and fourth lines.  Interestingly, in Byron’s original, Napoleon bids farewell to the land where, not the “bloom”, as penned by Austen, but the “gloom” of his glory rose.

The third stanza contains the most differences.  Napoleon asks to be remembered again in France when “Liberty” – rather than victory – rallies and he does not “vanquish the foes” but rather “baffle[s] the hosts” that surround them.  The most significant difference is the third line from the end:  the line in Byron’s original is “And yet may thy heart leap awake to my voice”.

Farewell to the land, where the bloom of my glory
Arose, & o’ershadowed the Earth with her fame
She abandons me now, but the page of her story
The brightest or blackest is filled with my name.
I have warred with a world which vanquish’d me only
When the meteor of conquest allured me too far,
I have coped with the Nations which dread me thus lonely
The last single captive, to millions in war.

Farewell to thee France! When thy Diadem crown’d me
I made thee the gem & the wonder of Earth,
Thy weakness decrees I should leave as I found thee
Decayed in thy glory and sunk in thy worth.
O! for the veteran hearts which were wasted
In strife with the storm, when their battles were won,
Then the Eagle whose gaze in that moment was blasted
Had still soared with eyes fix’d on Victory’s sun

Farewell to thee France! But when victory rallies
Once more in thy regions, remember me then;
The violet grows in the depth of thy valleys,
Tho wither’d – thy tears will unfold it again.
Once more I may vanquish the foes that surround us,
Once more shall they heartless awake to my voice.
There are links that must break in the chain that has bound us,
Then turn thee and call on the chief of thy choice.

[MS 8 AO174]

The Road to Waterloo: Week 20 (6 – 12 July 2015)

The road from Waterloo: The second restoration of Louis XVIII
While the military convention at St Cloud on 3 July brought a formal cessation of hostilities, there remained much to be done if France was to have peace. In particular, decisions still needed to be made regarding the establishment of a credible authority and the fate of Napoleon.

20 days after Waterloo

Given that the Bourbons had not managed to establish themselves authoritatively in 1814-15, there was reluctance among the Allied powers to see Louis XVIII restored to the throne of France. However, no credible alternative could be found and, on 8 July, Louis XVIII made his formal return to Paris, the day after the arrival of General Graf von Zieten’s Prussian corps. The return of the King to the capital marked the end of the period that has become known as the Hundred Days (actually a period of 111 days), which began with Napoleon’s arrival into Paris on 20 March. Immediately after his arrival, the King assigned Lieutenant General Dessolles to command the national guard and Lieutenant General Maison to the command of the First Division of the army. A government was announced which was to be headed by Prince Talleyrand, who was also given the role of foreign minister. It was critical at this time for the King to have a strong government and ensure his authority was accepted. Furthermore, an army of occupation, under the Duke of Wellington, was established to support long term security while decisions were made regarding the boundaries of France and the settlement of war debts.

Meanwhile, Napoleon’s hopes to flee to America were prevented by the presence of blockading Royal Navy warships. Unable to either remain in France or flee, Napoleon wrote a brief letter to the Prince Regent, on 13 July, putting himself at his mercy. Two days later he surrendered to Captain Maitland of HMS Bellerophon and was taken on board the vessel. While there were calls for Napoleon’s execution, the British government decided he was to be placed in exile at a location where it was beyond his capacity to disturb the peace of Europe. Maitland’s letter announcing Napoleon’s surrender to him reached London on 24 July and Lord Bathurst, the Secretary of State, immediately wrote to Wellington:

“We have nearly determined, subject to what we may hear from Paris in answer to Lord Liverpool’s letter a week ago, to send Bonaparte to St Helena. In point of climate it is unobjectionable, and its situation will enable us to keep him from all intercourse with the world, without requiring all that severity of restraint which it would be otherwise necessary to inflict upon him. There is much reason to hope that in a place from whence we propose excluding all neutrals, and with which there can be so little communication, Bonaparte’s existence will be soon forgotten.”
[MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/474/9]

If the hope of oblivion for Napoleon was misplaced, the solution did in general meet the Allies’ requirements for the duration of Napoleon’s life — although there was long-running conflict between the former emperor and Hudson Lowe, the governor of the island. Napoleon died on St Helena six years later, on 5 May 1821.

Commemorating Samuel Whitbread, 1758-1815

In this week’s blog post Professor Emma Clery of the Faculty of English discusses an unsung hero of the war with Napoleon.

‘I deny the insane proposition that peace is more dangerous than war’: Commemorating Samuel Whitbread, 1758-1815
In all the buzz surrounding the bicentenary of the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, no mention has been made of the existence of a peace movement in Britain during the long years of war with France. For several years I’ve been exploring the context of the great anti-war poem Eighteen Hundred and Eleven by Anna Letitia Barbauld, a writer well-known in her day. Before I began this research, I confess I wondered what the objection to the war could be, other than moral opposition to all warfare. Napoleon was generally seen by the British as a tyrant with an insatiable appetite for conquest, who must be resisted, right?

WP1/464/29 Copy of a letter from Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, to William Wellesley-Pole, concerning Mr. Whitbread’s attack on him in Parliament in connection with Napoleon being declared an outlaw, 5 May 1815

WP1/464/29 Copy of a letter from Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, to William Wellesley-Pole, concerning Mr. Whitbread’s attack on him in Parliament in connection with Napoleon being declared an outlaw, 5 May 1815

But no. There was organised opposition to the war, and a lot of the leadership came from well-educated, prosperous and socially respectable Dissenters, many of them Unitarians like Barbauld. Their arguments were moral and religious, but also pragmatic, economic and political. They judged that Napoleon’s desire for war with Britain had been exaggerated, and condemned the unwillingness of government to listen to diplomatic approaches from France and her allies. They pointed out that ministers and officials were profiting from the war, and had an interest in prolonging it. At various points in the period 1793 to 1815 they saw opportunities for an honourable negotiated peace with Napoleon and launched nation-wide petition campaigns to put pressure on the war establishment. The peace of Amiens, which lasted for 18 months from 1802-1803, had been very popular. In the years 1808 and 1812 in particular, there seemed to be an opening for new peace negotiations.

During the war years the Whig party, the official opposition in Parliament, was lacking in direction and effectiveness. Their policy on the war wavered. Their long-standing leader Charles James Fox favoured peace, but he only gained power briefly during a coalition government immediately before his death in 1806, and no progress was made. His successors, Lord Holland and Earl Grey, gradually came round to luke-warm backing for the war. The anti-war cause was instead taken up in the House of Commons by radical Whigs, first among them Samuel Whitbread. He was brother-in-law to Grey, but came from a non-aristocratic background. He was the son of a wealthy brewer, and was never allowed to forget these lowly origins in trade by political opponents and by satirists.

Everyone has heard of Nelson and Wellington, but Whitbread is an unsung hero of the war with France. There’s been no proper assessment of this prominent figure on the British political scene since Dean Rapp’s 1970 PhD thesis was published as a book in 1987. I stumbled upon Whitbread’s speeches and activities almost by accident, and it struck me that there was something truly heroic about his dauntless championing of a variety of apparently lost causes, but especially his consistent support for the cause of negotiated peace. There is also something poignant about his death less than three weeks after Waterloo. I didn’t want this anniversary to pass without suggesting a couple of avenues for re-evaluation.

Although Whitbread represented a significant and influential tranche of public opinion at the time, he was marginalised by political opponents and even by members of his own party, and his predictions of disaster were mocked in the Loyalist press. This kind of belittling treatment has continued to the present day, with supposedly objective reference sources like Charles Arnold-Baker’s The Companion to British History and the article by D.R. Fisher on Whitbread in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in fact launching bizarre personal attacks on him. This rubbishing of Whitbread goes hand in hand with an uncritical acceptance that the war against Napoleon was unavoidable and British victory was inevitable.

But the trend among the best new histories of Britain’s war against Napoleon, for instance works by Charles Esdaile and Rory Muir, is to take a more nuanced and questioning approach. It’s not unusual to be told nowadays that the British war effort appeared to be doomed up to 1811, or even until early 1813. Although Whitbread’s nay-saying hasn’t yet been given its due, it’s surely only a matter of time before a revisionist account of diplomatic relations backs some of his arguments. The memorable words, ‘I deny the insane proposition that peace is more dangerous than war,’ can be found in an impassioned but closely-argued speech which he delivered in the Commons on the 29th February 1808, criticising the rejection by the Tory government of peace overtures from Russia and Austria. The speech take up 50 columns in printed version records of parliamentary debates, and can be accessed online at

Another point arises from Roger Knight’s recent Britain Against Napoleon: The Organization of Victory 1793-1815. The title may seem teleological, as if victory was a foregone conclusion. But actually the conclusions are far more circumspect. Knight goes so far as to argue that possibly the greatest advantage Britain enjoyed seemed to be a weakness: its parliamentary system of government. Napoleon could impose his will without opposition, but, Knight says, ‘while Napoleon had the advantages of continuity and speed of decision, he eventually lost a sense of reality’ (p. 464). The logical consequence of Knight’s argument is that the energetic radical wing of the Whig opposition, the Mountain led by Samuel Whitbread, inadvertently helped in this process of honing the government into a mean and lean fighting machine. By this token even the most hawkish can join in celebrating Whitbread’s contribution.

Whitbread welcomed both the short-lived end of hostilities in 1814, and the victory at Waterloo the following year. But on the 17th June 1815, the day before the battle was fought, he stated in the Commons that, ‘Neither the events of victory or defeat could alter the principle of the war, and his opposition remained unchanged upon that subject’. His view remained that the millions of casualties and the terrible sufferings of soldiers and civilians in the Napoleonic war had been avoidable. On the 5th of July 1815 he committed suicide, aged 57. Speculation about the motive has focused on signs that he was suffering from a mental disturbance at the time, possibly relating to financial difficulties. But there is no doubt that the displays of nationalist triumphalism must have deepened his sense of despair. He would have shared the feeling that Anna Letitia Barbauld described when writing to a friend after the bloodbath at Talavera, Spain, in 1810, from which Wellington emerged as victor:

…I do not know how to rejoice at this victory, splendid as it is, over Buonaparte, when I consider the horrible waste of life, the mass of misery, which such gigantic combats must occasion.

E.J. Clery, University of Southampton

Further Reading:

J.E. Cookson, The Friends of Peace: Anti-War Liberalism in England 1793-1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

Roger Fulford, Samuel Whitbread, 1764-1815: A Study in Opposition (London, Macmillan, 1967).

William McCarthy, Anna Letitia Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).

Dean Rapp, Samuel Whitbread (1764-1815): A Social and Political Study (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1987.

The road to Waterloo: Week 19 (29 June – 5 July 2015)

The road from Waterloo: The march to Paris
As June faded into July, the Allies refused to agree to an armistice, determined to take control of France and to re-establish a legitimate government that would afford some chance of peace. Napoleon may have fled Paris for the coast, hoping to reach America, but his supporters were still at large; the Allies advanced, taking the fortresses of the towns along the border, and marching after the remnants of the French army, as it retreated to Paris.

15 days after Waterloo

Writing on 2 July, Wellington reported progress to Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies:

“The enemy attacked the advanced guard of Marshall Prince Blucher’s corps at Villers Cotterets on the 28th, but, the main body coming up, they were driven off with the loss of 6 pieces of cannon and about one thousand prisoners.

It appears that these troops were on the march from Soissons to Paris; and, having been driven off that road by the Prussian troops at Villers Cotterets, they got upon that of Meaux. They were attacked again upon this road by General Bulow, who took from them 500 prisoners, and drove them across the Marne.  They have, however, got into Paris.

The advanced guard of the Allied army under my command crossed the Oise on the 29th, and the whole on the 30th, and we yesterday took up a position, with the right upon the height of Richebourg, the left upon the Bois de Bondy.

Field Marshall Prince Blucher, having taken the village of Aubevilliers, or Vertus, on the morning of the 30th June, moved to his right, and crossed the Seine at St. Germain’s as I advanced; and he will this day have his right at Plessis Piquet, his left at St. Cloud, and the reserve at Versailles.

The enemy have fortified the heights of Montmartre and the town of St. Denis strongly; and, by means of the little rivers, Rouillon and la Vieille Mer, they have inundated the ground on the north side of that town; and water having been introduced into the canal de l’Ourcq, and the bank formed into a parapet and batteries, they have a strong position on this side of Paris.

The heights of Belleville are likewise strongly fortified, but I am not aware that any defensive works have been thrown up on the left of the Seine.

Having collected in Paris all the troops remaining after the battle of the 18th and all the depots of the whole army it is supposed the enemy have there about 40 or 50,000 troops of the line and guards, besides the National Guards, a new levy called les tirailleurs de la garde, and the Federes.

Under these circumstances I am inclined to doubt the expediency of our attacking the enemy in their fortified position; more particularly as having reason to believe that Marshall Prince Wrede’s corps was at Nancy on the 26th, we suppose it is this day at Chalons, and it may be here in 4 or 5 days…”
[MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/475/9]

That same day, Wellington was at Gonesse, a little to the north-east of Paris, and was again approached for an armistice. He wrote to Blucher:

“It appears to me that, with the force which you and I have under our command at present, the attack of Paris is a matter of great risk. I am convinced it cannot be made on this side with any hope of success … We must incur a severe loss, if it is necessary, in any case. But in this case it is not necessary. By the delay of a few days we shall have here the army under Marshal Prince Wrede, and the allied sovereigns with it, who will decide upon the measures to be adopted, and success will then be certain with a comparatively trifling loss; or, if we choose it, we can settle all our matters now by agreeing to the proposed armistice.”
[MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/475/10]

The Allies were reluctant to destroy Paris, the capital of Louis XVIII, whom they hoped to restore to the French throne. Yet the French army could not be allowed to remain there, and the king could not recover his throne in a way that left him in the hands of the Assemblies, which were seen as Napoleon’s creation and instrument.

Fighting continued around Paris on 2 and 3 July, at Meudon and Issy, to the south-west of the capital, in which the French suffered heavy losses. The Prussians then moved along the left bank of the Seine, in communication with Wellington’s army by way of the bridge at Argenteuil; and the British army was able to move in force along the left bank of the Seine as well, towards the Pont de Neuilly. At this point, the French asked for a ceasefire on both sides of the Seine and to negotiate a military convention.

Agreed at St Cloud on the night of 3 July and ratified the following day, the convention set out the terms on which the French army should evacuate Paris. There was to be a suspension of hostilities, with the French army given eight days to withdraw from the city across the Loire. In return, the Allies promised to respect the rights and property of the present authorities, French citizens and members of the French armed forces. At this stage, the terms of the agreement remained purely military and did not settle any political question.

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]

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.