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Up, Guards!

This video outlines the battle of Waterloo, the written evidence and accounts we have of the battle and the aftermath that led to peace in Europe.
KAREN ROBSON: We’ll be covering three themes this week– the Battle of Waterloo itself, how we know what happened, and the immediate consequences of the battle. So what were Napoleon’s options? He could either wait for the Allies to invade France and fight a defensive battle on French soil, or he could take the initiative and invade the Low Countries. With this in mind, he assembles his army secretly and invaded the Low Countries on the 15th of June. They immediately engaged Prussian forces at Charleroi. On the 16th of June, the following day, the French forces fought the Prussians at Ligny. And at the same time, Marshall Ney engaged with an ever-growing allied force at Quatre Bras.
Fighting continued intermittently on the 17th of June, and Wellington began to concentrate his forces at Waterloo. They were mostly all there in position by the end of that day.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: There were some 75,000 troops in the Anglo-allied army and perhaps 75,000 troops as well among the French forces. The largest of the battles of the wars had been the Battle of Leipzig where something like half a million men had been on the field. At Waterloo, the Anglo-allied army was made up of troops that have fought with Wellington in the Peninsula, but some of the battalions that were at Waterloo among the British forces were much less experienced. There were also some 5,000 troops from the King’s German Legion. And there were, in addition, troops from a number of North German states.
Wellington also had with him contingents from the Low Countries– from Belgium and Holland– some of whom who had fought with Napoleon’s forces during the earlier phases of the wars. Waterloo, from Wellington’s perspective, was a defensive battle. He was protecting the route into Brussels. The battlefield itself was quite a concentrated area– perhaps five kilometres wide and four kilometres deep. One of the interesting things about battles of the early 19th century is how close together troops have to come to fight. Part of this has to do with the effective range of their weapons. Muskets, for example, were not really reliable above 100 metres.
It was for this reason that infantry manuals, training manuals spent a great deal of time teaching their soldiers drill so that they could deploy effectively and manoeuvre on the battlefield.
KAREN ROBSON: The Allied forces were along Mont Saint-Jean Ridge– and particularly, in the strategically important chateaus in front of them of Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. The opposing French forces were to the south of them at La Belle Alliance Ridge.
The battle commenced at 11:00 a.m., and fighting continued all day. The arrival of the Prussians in late afternoon– under the command Field Marshal Blucher– ensured that Napoleon would be defeated. At the end of the afternoon, the French forces fled the field.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Wellington and Napoleon had different styles of command and different offensive and defensive strategies. Wellington, for example, very rarely delegated. On the battlefield, he was not usually to be found in one position. He moved to wherever he was needed to encourage his troops, to see the detail of the action and what was going on. Even on a small battlefield such as Waterloo, Napoleon had to make sure that there were others there who could lead and command the troops. He could not be everywhere. Tactically and psychologically, there were differences in the ways the two armies worked. The British infantry has been trained to hold their fire. They were well-disciplined.
They expected the enemy to come very close before they would open fire, let off a volley, and then charge with bayonets This produced a terrifying effect on those who were barely recovering from the impact of the volley of fire.
KAREN ROBSON: French forces were led into battle by their officers who whipped them up into a frenzy and hoped that, by sheer numbers, they would succeed in breaking their opposition in the first assault. We know about the experience of war from a number of different written sources; official documents and reports, and also private correspondence and memoirs. Private correspondence has a very different feel to it and in soldiers’ memoir and journals, we learn about the experience of warfare in the 19th century.

Napoleon seizes the initative and invades the Low Countries, aiming to win a decisive victory within days. Following a series of engagements with the Allied armies, he sees a chance to engage and defeat the British before their Prussian allies can join the battle. Wellington has chosen his defensive position carefully and has his troops in place – but can they hold out against the onslaught of the French artillery, cavalry and troops?

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Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo

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