Sacrifice and remembrance: the battle of Waterloo
The battle of Waterloo (the last engagement of Napoleon’s so-called Hundred Days) was fought on Sunday 18 June 1815, just south of Brussels in modern Belgium. It began late in the morning, as the French Emperor waited for the ground to dry after the soaking rain of previous days, but once battle was joined it raged until evening.
Napoleon had 71,947 men and 246 guns under his command, the Duke of Wellington slightly fewer with 67,655 men and 156 guns. In practice, the Duke’s army was considerably weaker: only 24,000 of its number were British, the rest being German or from the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Dutch were of doubtful loyalty. Many had previously fought under French colours and no-one knew for sure how they would perform in the battle to come. By contrast, Bonaparte’s troops were seasoned veterans willing to die for their Emperor and had given Blücher’s Prussians a bloody nose at Ligny just a few days earlier.
Wellington later called the battle “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life” and many believe the French should have won. But Napoleon, who had conducted his troops adroitly and energetically as recently as 15 June, was unaccountably lethargic at key points. Meanwhile, Marshal Grouchy, who commanded 32,000 men and 96 cannon just a few miles from the battlefield, failed to march to the sound of the guns. And the French cavalry commander Marshal Ney kept up fruitless charges against defensive squares of British infantry whilst Napoleon was temporarily absent from the battlefield, wasting precious men and time.
What has all that got to do with Magna Carta? Watch Magna Carta Unlocked to find out.