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Online course

Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo

Mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo in 2015 and explore the Duke of Wellington’s archive with this free online course.


  • Access to the course for its length + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps)
  • Access to quizzes and assignments
  • No certificate


  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps)
  • Access to quizzes and assignments
  • A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Find out more

Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo

Why join the course?

The Battle of Waterloo was one of the key events of nineteenth-century history, but why was it fought, who was involved and what were consequences? This free online course will answer these questions, marking the 200th anniversary of Waterloo on 18 June 2015.

Forming a coalition to defeat Napoleon

We will explain why Europe had been at war almost continuously since 1793; how a peace settlement in 1814 had followed the abdication of Napoleon as Emperor of the French; and how further negotiations were under way at the Congress of Vienna when Napoleon escaped from Elba in February 1815.

The process of gathering military support and a legal basis for a further campaign against Napoleon will be explored, as well as the ways in which a coalition of Allied Powers assembled an army, led by the Duke of Wellington, to fight the French.

We will examine sources from the Battle of Waterloo itself — from official despatches to the voice of the individual soldier — and consider the ways in which different interpretations arise, before discussing the immediate consequences of the battle and the peace settlement that followed.

The course will conclude by examining the longer-term place of Waterloo and Wellington in commemoration and memory, the arts and popular culture, and the connections that were made to nineteenth-century ideas of heroism, nationality and identity.

Exploring the Duke of Wellington’s archive

We will use the University of Southampton’s Wellington Archive — a collection of over 100,000 items from the Duke’s military and political career — to contextualise the battle and the role of Wellington in commanding the allied forces against Napoleon.

You will learn with Professor Chris Woolgar, Professor of History and Archival Studies, who has an international academic reputation as a Wellington scholar and archivist, and Karen Robson, Head of Archives at the University of Southampton Library.

You can find out more in Chris’s post for the FutureLearn blog: “Commemorating the bicentenary of Waterloo.”

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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 secondsCHRIS WOOLGAR: Hello. I am Chris Woolgar, and this is my colleague, Karen Robson.

Skip to 0 minutes and 13 secondsKAREN ROBSON: Hello.

Skip to 0 minutes and 14 secondsCHRIS WOOLGAR: And we're here at the University of Southampton, the home of the first Duke of Wellington's archive.

Skip to 0 minutes and 19 secondsKAREN ROBSON: This free online course on Wellington & Waterloo will enable you to discover one of the great events of the 19th century. The material from the Wellington archive will form the basis of your exploration of this.

Skip to 0 minutes and 33 secondsCHRIS WOOLGAR: Celebrity is nothing new. As we mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, we have around us, still, references in popular culture to the Duke and the battle, from street names, railway stations, through to footwear.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 secondsKAREN ROBSON: Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, was Britain's most successful general. And he had spent his professional career fighting the French Napoleonic forces. Obviously, he succeeds. And in the aftermath of Waterloo, he plays an important role in the settlement of Europe. So I wanted to ask you what you feel makes the Battle of Waterloo so important?

Skip to 1 minute and 11 secondsCHRIS WOOLGAR: Well, the important thing, as I see it, is that it brings to a definitive conclusion more than 20 years of warfare, warfare which has gone on around the globe. It offers an opportunity to reshape the international system, so that people put first an international interest, rather than national concerns.

Skip to 1 minute and 34 secondsSo we look forward to you joining us to discover more about Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

Who is the course for?

This course is aimed at both A-level students and anyone with an interest in politics or European and military history.

Who will you learn with?

Chris Woolgar

Chris Woolgar is Professor of History and Archival Studies at the University of Southampton. He has spent more than 30 years working with the papers of the first Duke of Wellington.

Karen Robson

Karen Robson is the Head of Archives at the Hartley Library, University of Southampton. The archive of the Duke of Wellington has been a major focus of her work.

Who developed the course?

Southampton is a place for ambitious people keen to stretch their intellectual abilities and help change the world.

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate

You can buy a Statement of Participation for this course — a personalised certificate in both digital and printed formats, to celebrate taking part.

£34.00 + shipping

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Charges to your account will be made in GBP. Prices in local currency are provided as a convenience and are only an estimate based on current exchange rates.