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Remembering Waterloo

On this day, nearly two hundred years ago, the artillery, cavalry and red coated infantry of Britain, along with their Dutch and Prussian allies, finally put an end to the tyrannical rule of Napoleon Bonaparte on the Belgian wheat fields of Waterloo, near Brussels. It was the Duke of Wellington’s greatest triumph.

Given that this blog is of course, such a great fan of the French political class (heh), I trust no readers of this publication would be so vulgar and unsophisticated to point out this salient historical anniversary to their friends and colleagues today.

I just thought you would like to have this titbit of historical information, gentle reader.

“Up Guards, and at ’em!”
– Wellington, June 18th 1815

28 comments to Remembering Waterloo

  • Britain needs a modern day Duke of Wellington…ironic how Waterloo is near Brussels.

  • JSAllison

    Umm, I’d put my bit in for the Peninsular campaign being Wellington’s greatest triumph, being a rather lengthy campaign and not a one-off battle that benefitted from good fortune.

  • mark holland


    I think the name of the station Eurostar trains from Paris and Brussels arrive at more ironic.

  • I must say I do find the idea of the most reactionary, paternalist Prime Minister Britain ever had being praised on Samizdata rather amusing.

    Nevertheless, here’s a health unto Old Nosey! Go d bless him!

  • I was having a rant about the EU to a French colleague the other day (I work in France) and brought up a question about the French glorification of Napoleon in comparison to their treatment of Hitler. Basically it was : why should Naploleon and Hitler be treated any differently.

    My my did the sparks start flying!!

    While I’m pretty sure he didn’t kill as many as Hitler, the number of countries he invaded surely puts him into the same league.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Iain Murray is right about old Nosey, he was a reactionary in many ways. He once objected to railway trains on the grounds that they would encourage the plebs to move about. He was not really suited to politics, though he helped Robert Peel scrap the Corn Laws in 1846, perhaps in atonement for messing Peel about over Catholic Emancipation.

    But Wellington’s claim to greatness spans his entire military career. He was a much better general than Bonaparte publicly(not privately) gave him credit for.

    He also had another quality much missed in today’s public figures, excepting perhaps Donald Rumsfeld -he told it like it was.

    May god rest his soul.

  • Liberty Belle

    I remember a few years ago a much exercised Frenchman wrote in to The Times to say he was insulted by having to get off Eurostar into a station that celebrated a French defeat by England. He said he thought we ought to change the name so as not to offend other French and Belgian travellers. (If I remember correctly, he wanted it changed to Napoleon Bonaparte or something equally absurd, but he definitely felt that as Eurostar came from France, Waterloo Station should have a French name.) A couple of days later, an Englishman wrote in and said, fine. Let’s change it to Eau de Toilette.

  • Iain: I must say I do find the idea of the most reactionary, paternalist Prime Minister Britain ever had being praised on Samizdata rather amusing.

    To be fair, I think we are praising Wellington-the-General rather that Wellington-the-PM.

  • Andy Duncan

    I say let’s go further, and rename all of the main railway stations of London. “Marylebone”? Rhymes a bit with “El Alamein”. “Paddington?” After the usual scrum chasing for the 17:52 to Henley-On-Thames, of an evening, I would suggest “Agincourt”. By God Harry, it’s bloody.

    That leaves us with Cannon Street, as “Trafalgar”, Charing Cross as “Armada”, and the paired stations of King’s Cross and St. Pancras, as “Sink The Bismarck!” and “Escape From Colditz!”.

    “Can I have a single to Sink The Bismarck! please?”

    “Certainly, mein Freund.”

    I think I’ve got to get out more! 😉

  • Becky

    Perhaps they could change Gare du Nord to Gare de Hastings.

  • Liberty Belle

    The Gare de Lyons to Gare Richard Coeur de Lion?

  • Becky: And why is no one bitching about Gare d’ Austerlitz then? Or is it only battles the French lost which are in bad taste?

  • Guy Herbert

    I seem to recall Wellington claimed he was proudest of Assaye.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    I guess I should play my copy of ABBA’s greatest hits today. 🙂

  • Stephen M.

    Actually, I celebrate this date every year.
    It just happens to be my birthday. 🙂
    But I can appreciate the dual meaning…

  • Eric Jablow


    Wouldn’t that destroy people’s games of “Mornington Crescent”?

    As an aside—do any of you have a twinge of disgust when you listen to the 1812 Overture? A piece of music celebrating the Czar’s victory over Napoleon? Wouldn’t you prefer for both sides to have lost?

  • mark holland

    Hastings? Is that the best you can do? William the Bastard has about as much relevance to modern France as the baron in Les Visiteurs does. Hasting was the last succesful invasion of Britain but look what happened on the last attempted invasion of the mainland. They didn’t reckon of the fiesty women of Fishguard

  • r.mccain

    all of you are of course, correct. but let me note one thing, 1815 was the last time the French put up an honorable fight! Since then, it’s been all downhill. WWI saw them buttressed by British troops, and the French Army basically went into mutiny later in the war. In 1940 it took them about twenty minutes to surrender (six weeks to be specific, thanks to a dashing and boldly planned armoured pincer movement hashed out by Erwin Rommel and Heinz Guderian)

  • Andy Duncan

    Eric Jablow writes:

    Wouldn’t that destroy people’s games of “Mornington Crescent”?

    No, because you’d run it under the Hoffmeister convention, with Watsonian escalator handles.

    You’d also only be allowed to play it wearing Viking helmets, to celebrate the successful 841 AD Danish and Norse invasion of northern France, creating Normandy, out of an earlier Saxon kingdom, which kicked Charlemagne’s French defences into touch.

    It’s funny to think that when the Viking/Saxon invaders of Normandy invaded England, to fight their Viking/Saxon cousins already here, there really were absolutely no Frenchmen involved at all.

    Even the Breton Knight auxillaries, at Hastings, were originally from Britain anyway, from their own earlier successful invasion of French Armorica.

    Don’t you just love history! 😉

  • Becky

    Andy wrote:

    “It’s funny to think that when the Viking/Saxon invaders of Normandy invaded England […] there really were absolutely no Frenchmen involved at all.”

    Funny how the invaders all spoke French, though.

  • Martin Adamson

    I wouldn’t make too much of the Dutch contribution to Waterloo – they ran away very early doors, only returning very much after the battle had finished to loot the corpses. However, it was the last time they won a major battle, so they’re still quite proud of it.


  • Andy Duncan

    But Becky, would you claim the Irish, the Scottish, and the Welsh are actually English, because of the language most of them use as a lingua franca?

    Also, when we’re both speaking the imposed common language of dEUtsch in fifty years, presuming we’re still alive, will that make us both German? Ich denke nicht.

    Ahhhh. It’s happening already! 🙂

  • Becky,

    The Norman invasion may have some spoken a version of “French” (Certainly the knights, the infantrists and such probably spoke some horrid dialects.) and there were strong cultural similarities.

    They also hated one another with a passion that is shocking when you read about it today. William I’s greatest achievement is organizing the diplomatic alliances to cover his rear while he was off annihilating the anglo-saxons and scaring off the Dano-Scandinavians.

    Do recall that the French did not consider the (historical) Normans, “french” and the almost continuous Franco-Norman warfare until the final destruction of the Anglo-Norman state on the continent is a testament to that. They still don’t: modern french textbooks and histories are full of idiotic ahistorical comments about “les anglais” when refering to Normans. It’s not even correct after 1066 when refering to the anglo-norman (quasi) empire.

    It’s sort of amusing to note that the French state is basically a reaction to to that centuries long conflict where the Dukes of France basically had to grab centralized administrative control of the rest of the Gallic part of europe to evict the Normans and their descendants.

    {They didn;t have problems with germans until that after that idiot Napolean reorganized the Germanies.}

    And their understanding of the (proto-modern) highly centralized late medieval/ renaissance state starts when they captured Normandy and discovered the administrative archives at Caen and Rouen, and talked to monk-clerks who ran the centralized (for the time) Norman state bureaucracy and realized that there might be better way to run a country. (France hitherto having stumbled along with a very messy feudal system.)

    That, and the King of France grabbing Normandy, gave him the power to subjugate the rest of what is now modern France and coerce the other Dukes and Counts into line.


  • If we’re gonna be casting historic aspersions, then let it be clear that Waterloo is also a case where the British have taken credit for a Prussian victory.

    There’s a fascinating book called “Waterloo: New Perspectives” by David Hamilton-Williams. He has discovered that the received story of the battle we all know and love is a fabrication. It turns out that it derives from the work of Captain William Siborne, who was obsessed with the battle and wrote a book about it in the mid 19th Century. However, he was also deeply in debt, and had borrowed money from many of the top officers and British noblemen who had been present there. So he rewrote the story to make them look like the heroes, and that’s the story we all know now.

    Hamilton-Williams went back to primary sources (which are still available, if you’re willing to visit the right libraries and collections) and found that the Old Guard routed not because they were charged by the English Guards, but rather because the Prussian brigade commanded by Von Steinmetz had broken the French line and was fanning out in both directions.

    In other words, the Old Guard routed not because of English Guards to their front, but because of Prussian Hussars to their rear.

  • Wellington’s quip about the battle some years later (I seem to recall): “They came on in the same old way, and we sent them back in the same old way.” I hope the same will be true of the EU Constitution.

    As to the Prussians not getting enough of the glory for Waterloo in the Anglophone world, I agree with Mr. den Beste. But there is quite enough glory to go around, and nice thick slice, with custard sauce, goes to the Iron Duke.

    And we may as well celebrate the reactionary PM, at least a little. He showed that even the most reactionary politician in the land was not going to stand seriously in the way of reform, beyond grumbling. Classic English solution to the issues of continuity and reform, cling to as much of the old as you can, but don’t be beastly about it — don’t send the troops into the streets or assassinate or imprison the reformers, just don’t invite them to the best parties. England didn’t have a revolution in the 19th C because the conservatives felt secure with a guy like Wellington as PM — and his presence meant that the reformers had to go in increments which could be tolerated. And it all worked out.

    Another point on Wellington. When some blackmailer threatened to publish his love letters to his mistress, a married woman, Wellington responded — “Publish and be damned.” After facing Napoleon’s cannon balls, lesser threats did not make much impact on Wellington.

    Finally, the ubiquitous expression “I don’t give a damn” supposedly began with Wellington’s expostulation “I care not one two-penny damn!” Now there is an enduring contribution.

  • I hate to be the spoiler, but all of you are wrong about Waterloo.

    Please go here for the full and accurate story.

  • T. Hartin

    We can play “what if” all day about Waterloo, but the fact is that the battle was managed by the Iron Duke, the British forces did the bulk of the fighting and stopped the French charges all day long, and in fact (as I recall) the English were pushing the French back in places when the Prussians arrived to finish the job.

    The Old Guard was being beaten by the English when the Prussians arrived because the Old Guard could not push the English off of their ridge; the Old Guard, having been forced onto offense (Wellington’s favorite trick), would lose unless it could take ground, which it was failing to do. All the Brits had to do to win was stand fast, which they did.

    The Prussians turned a nasty tactical defeat into a crushing strategic setback, but they did not win the battle. The battle was already won; the Prussians merely ran up the score. One might also profitably read some of the speculations about just what took the Prussians so bloody long to show up; there has been some uncharitable speculation that they wanted to make sure Napoleon was beaten before joining the fray.

    The primary contribution of the Prussians to Wellington’s victory was strategic, not tactical. Napoleon was forced to fight at Waterloo because the Prussians boxed in his preferred line of march. With the Prussians where they were, Wellington was able to force Napoleon to fight where Wellington preferred to fight him.

  • What? The French won a battle? No really, they actually won a battle where the Americans and Brits weren’t actually doing the fighting for them? Are you kidding me?

    So what does that make them in the league tables? 1-277-0?

    I’ve got mixed feelings about this boycott thing. It seems to me that if they are facing relegation from the Premiership, we need to look at some countries from the lower division to move up into the Premiership to replace them. Here are some possibilities:

    Poland – does pretty well in league play, but usually gets a good kicking from Premiership clubs. Valiant defense, but lacks scoring punch.

    Switzerland – 0 – 0 – 300 record – no wins, all draws, isn’t great, but thanks to UN system that awards points for draws, it might be good enough to move up.

    Sweden – 150 – 7 – 10 – Good record played mostly against Third Division teams in local derbies. Again, thanks to UN Scoring System, which awards bonus points for moralizing sanctimony, they stand a good chance at promotion.

    Finland – fights well above weight class. Won the FA (Field Army) Cup in 1944, when it crushed the Soviets in the Southern Arctic Championships. Doesn’t travel well; questionable reserve teams. Their fans are rather flat as well.

    Italy – 53 – 900 – 0. Started out the season quite strong, led by its young flyhalf, Cato, a relentless attacker who passed and tackled well. Early season injuries and deaths (Julius Caesar (FB), Caesar Agustus(W)) and low quality reserve players (Nero(L, 51), Caligula(SH, 70)) hampered them in league play. Some of their flankers showed great flair from time to time, with great passing and use of kicking for advantage (Hadrian) and their great Eight man Mussolini looked to be a bruising running for a time, but the team was undone by internal strife and bickering by mid-season, by prima donna three quarters players such as the Borgias, and various popes. Silvio Berlusconi is a promising young prop, a bit undersized but very, very solid indeed; sadly he only plays tight head, preferring the right side over all others. And we know about their seemingly endless supply of high quality hookers. Very little possibility of competing well in the premiership, but always a good locker room presence.