On 18 June 1815 a bloody encounter 10 miles south of Brussels altered the course of Europe’s history and gave the English language a new maxim: to meet your Waterloo. Here are some of the best ways to commemorate the anniversary of Wellington’s famous victory against Napoleon.
The final showdown between French forces under Napoleon Bonaparte intent on domination of Europe and allied troops under the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley), was, in the latter’s words, “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life,” and is forever known as The Battle of Waterloo.
After more than 20 years of French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815) convulsing the Continent, and hot on the heels of Napoleon’s escape from exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba, here was the reckoning.
On 18 June 1815, the French met Wellington’s British troops and their Dutch and German allies defending a high ridge near the village of Waterloo in modern-day Belgium.
The terrible battle raged all day – the Dover Gazette reported that Napoleon’s ‘Beautiful Daughters’ (12-pounder cannons) could be heard some 140 miles away on the English seafront. But Wellington had chosen his ground well. Facing superior French numbers (72,000 men and 246 cannons against 68,000 allies with 156 cannons), his forces withstood relentless artillery and cavalry charges until Field Marshal Blücher swooped in with Prussian reinforcements in the evening to clinch victory.
Napoleon was exiled to St Helena in the South Atlantic (he died there in 1821) and the Great Duke was fêted as the saviour of Europe. General European peace, apart from the Crimean War (1853-1856), would last right up until 1914.
Across Britain, the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo and its legacy is being commemorated throughout 2015 with re-enactments, exhibitions and concerts.
The battle itself, while epic, was a bloodbath with 65,000 people killed or injured, Wellington said: “It was the most desperate business I was ever in.”
Here are seven places to commemorate the famous Battle of Waterloo
The Waterloo Gallery, where the ‘Iron Duke’ held annual Waterloo Banquets in his London home has been recreated in stunning fashion and there is a new exhibition of memorabilia. You can even come face-to-face with Wellington’s troops during Waterloo Weekends in July.
Arthur Wellesley joined the 33rd Regiment of Foot in 1793 and it later became known as The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (now the 1st Yorkshire). The exhibition Waterloo Lives: Wellington’s Redcoats, (until 25 July), tells the story of Waterloo and of the ordinary soldiers who fought there.
As Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, Wellington used Walmer Castle as his late-summer residence for 23 years. New displays highlight his career, celebrity status, death and state funeral.
In celebration of the allied victory, King George IV created the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle. Enjoy an anniversary display and themed trail through the State Apartments, featuring objects seized on the battlefield, including Napoleon’s red cloak (until 13 January 2016).
The victory arch on Hyde Park Corner showcases Waterloo 1815 – The Battle for Peace, an exhibit that explores the iconic encounter and its legacy (until the end of October). Must-see items include the Duke’s handwritten battle orders and Wellington boots.
This museum in Horse Guards, London, will mark the anniversary by highlighting the role played by the Union Brigade in which 2,000 cavalrymen prevented French infantry from breaking the allied line at a critical stage. Artefacts include the bugle on which the charge of the Household Brigade was sounded on that fateful day.
To commemorate the bicentenary, 5,000 re-enactors, 300 horses and 100 cannons will recreate two phases of battle, The French Attack and The Allied Counterattack at Waterloo, Belgium on 19-20 June.
To read our full feature on the Duke of Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo see the May/June 2015 issue of BRITAIN.
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