• University of Southampton

Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo

Find out about the Battle of Waterloo and explore the Duke of Wellington’s archive with this free online course.

7,915 enrolled on this course

The Battle of Waterloo sketch by J Atkinson
  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    4 hours

The Battle of Waterloo was a key event of nineteenth-century European history, but why was it fought, who was involved and what were the consequences? We will use original documents from the University of Southampton’s Wellington Archive to contextualise the battle and the role of Wellington in commanding the allied forces against Napoleon. Sources from the battle itself — from official despatches to soldiers’ journals — will help you consider how different interpretations arise. You also will learn about the immediate consequences of the battle and its longer-term place in British culture.

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

Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds KAREN ROBSON: Hello.

Skip to 0 minutes and 14 seconds CHRIS 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 seconds KAREN 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 seconds CHRIS 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 seconds KAREN 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 seconds CHRIS 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 seconds So we look forward to you joining us to discover more about Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo.

What topics will you cover?

  • Placing Waterloo in context: the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the conclusion of a world war and the settlement of 1814.
  • The road to war: Napoleon’s dramatic return from exile, the Congress of Vienna and urgent preparations for further European war.
  • The forces that fought at Waterloo, how they were deployed and commanded.
  • Interpreting accounts of the battle, from official despatches to soldiers’ memoirs.
  • After the battle; the occupation of France by the Allied Powers and the exile of Napoleon.
  • How the battle was commemorated in the years immediately after 1815, from monuments and banquets to museums and battlefield tourism.
  • How the battle was depicted in popular paintings and literature, and how Wellington was depicted through sculpture and publication of his correspondence.
  • Wellington’s later life, his grand state funeral and his enduring place in British culture.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore the background to the Battle of Waterloo, accounts of the battle, its immediate aftermath and its longer-term impact on British culture.
  • Discuss different accounts of the battle and how they have arisen.
  • Evaluate original documents to see how they were written and what they tell us about the politics of the time.
  • Debate the ways in which wars are commemorated.

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 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 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?

University of Southampton

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

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  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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