“Lest We Forget”? The Battle of Waterloo turns 200 as Britain celebrates
Today marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo during which Napoleon suffered his greatest setback–hence our celebration all over the media today. The Battle of Waterloo was the bloodiest battle in Europe before the First World War, totalling around 65,000 dead (out of 118,000). Born in 1769 to a Corsican family, Napoleon would surpass even his father’s political position (who served as a Corsican representative to King Louis XVI) by becoming the Emperor of the French. By supporting the French Revolution, Napoleon astutely turned it to his favour by a coup d’etat in November 1799, beginning Napoleon’s reign that peaked in 1812.
Waterloo is a celebration of the end of a dictatorship in France. Austria, Russia and the United Kingdom (amongst others) were joined in an alliance to put an end to the French Emperor. It is remembered as the battle that ‘Napoleon still wins by losing,’ according to the New York Times. Andrew Higgins argues that while often the winners write the history, in this case Napoleon is the true focus of the Battle of Waterloo. It is his brilliance as a general, as an implementer rather an innovator, that ensures his lasting legacy. His experience as a general of the armed forces served him well as his transition into the First Consul and then Emperor of the French.
Yahoo! makes the insinuation that due to this single battle the world ‘changed forever 200 years ago.’ The world was indeed changed, as it served the purpose to end the Anglo-Franco war for supremacy, installing British supremacy. The Telegraph exclaims that it is Britain, and not France, that ‘has a Napoleon complex’ and that Britain should no longer view him as a ‘Hitler-style tyrant.’ Napoleon should be given his due, as a fair and worthy enemy, one that took considerable force to overcome.
Understandably, the French have been reluctant to commemorate the 200 years of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. A piece by The Telegraph also paints the French as unwilling to accept Napoleon’s dark image that he is often, whether wrongly or rightly, remembered for outside of France. In France, two options are apparent: one is to remember him as a dictator not unlike Hitler, while the other is to celebrate his enlightened military genius.
As the Wall Street Journal suggests the Battle of Waterloo is portrayed as more telling for the shortcomings of the Emperor than France itself, ‘Europe treads lightly [on this issue].’ There is one thing for certain – Napoleon will be remembered regardless of historians’ opinions of him. His name is etched into history alongside the Battle of Waterloo as his last courageous attempt to counter his enemies.
Tiia visits the Cambridge University Library Waterloo Exhibition
The University Library at Cambridge University has also taken to celebrating the Battle of Waterloo on a book-based exhibition. Located on the ground floor of the library, the exhibition shows the way books, pamphlets and print media wrote and discussed the events of the battle. One of the more interesting bits about the exhibition was the touch screen that allowed a more interactive way to learn more about the battle.
Further, a piece on the tourism present at the battle–and their subsequent accidental deaths due to stray bullets–was an interesting addition. Battlefield tourism, whilst the battle was on-going, seems extremely bizarre in today’s world.
After the battle was over, many locals would give guided tours of the area, as one of the letters in the exhibition tells us. Overall, if you enjoy books and looking at pamphlets from the early 1800s, this exhibition is for you. It provides interesting reading material for those who wish to know the cultural context surrounding the event.