Let Us Celebrate Today’s 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo

WaterlooLet us do so in the conciliatory spirit of – from left to right – the present Duke of Wellington, Prince Charles Bonaparte (a descendant of Napoleon’s youngest brother Jérôme) and Prince Blücher von Wahlstatt. No doubt their commemorative handshake preceded an appropriate dinner. I doubt whether they used the occasion to ask this: Suppose Blücher’s ancestor had not arrived in the nick of time and Napoleon had won the battle? What would the world have been like? The Code Napoleon instead of the Common Law? No Nelson statue on Trafalgar Square? No Waterloo Station? No British Empire?

NapoleonAnd instead of the marble statue of Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker (made in 1802) in Apsley House on Hyde Park Corner, there would be a nude Iron Duke in a London version of Fontainebleau?

More likely, they discussed the women in Napoleon’s life, giving high marks to the Polish Countess Maria Walewska who came all the way to Le Havre to say a tearful goodbye to Napoleon before he sailed off to St. Helena. No doubt they deplored the disloyalty of his wife Marie Louise who did not turn up with their four-year-old son, Napoleon II. They preferred to stay at home in Vienna with Papa, the Emperor. The enchanting Josephine had died of pneumonia and a broken heart a year earlier.

When I learned about the Napoleonic period in school in pre-Nazi Germany, Wellington was hardly mentioned. Blücher beat Napoleon.

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6 responses to “Let Us Celebrate Today’s 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo

  1. In 1769 a child was born on an island possession of one of Europe’s most important countries. He grew up to be that country’s political leader and (arguably) the greatest general of his age. Less lucky in love than on the battle field, he became estranged from his wife. Most of his countrymen, however, adored him, and after his death he was laid to rest, with much ceremony, under a dome in his country’s greatest city.

    Who am I talking about? (Clue: it’s not Blucher!)

    • A google search of 1769 births provides a list far too long to sift through. Tell us, please! Expiring minds need to know…

  2. A dispassionate reading of history clearly supports the last sentence of the blog but that’s not what my generation of students, British subjects, were taught in school. Blucher was never mentioned. But is history objectively taught anywhere in the world?

  3. It is always interesting, if ultimately futile, to speculate on the ‘what ifs’ of history. A Napoleonic victory would have impacted on Britain although whether that would also mean no Empire is doubtful because the French fleet was not capable of taking the French army across the Channel. Of perhaps greater impact would have been felt in Prussia. Would there have been German unification if Blucher had failed? Another subject for ‘what ifs’ would be: what would have been the outcome if Harold 2 of England had waited in London until his far flung support could join him in 1066?

    • I was thinking of a German scenario in the case of Napoleon’s victory at Waterloo, as you did, Michael. Napoleon had already (in a sense) unified the millions of Germans he had conquered by triggering national feelings not known before – a common determination to be liberated, to throw off the French yoke. It’s hard to imagine that a victorious Napoleon could have suppressed these feelings for any length of time. After all, was it he who said, “You can do anything with bayonets except sit on them”?

  4. Peter Rehak

    Something a bit more trite: Way back in the last Century I had a high school teacher (Westmount High) who amused his class by asking: “What did Bluecher say to Wellington when he arrived at Waterloo?” The answer: “Ich stinke etwas!” (I smell somewhat). He had been riding all day to reach Waterloo. The teacher loved that story. School jokes used to be lame in those days. :)).