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In this video, Chris Woolgar and Karen Robson answer learners' questions about Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo.
KAREN ROBSON: And here we are in week 2. There continues to be an array of very interesting discussions which we’ve very much enjoyed following. It’s also been quite a week. I’m sure some of you have been to various events relating to the battle of Waterloo. We had our own event here, yesterday, and it was very nice to meet a number of you who were able to come along. It was quite a good event, wasn’t it?
CHRIS WOOLGAR: It was a good event. It was very good to meet people and to talk, yes.
KAREN ROBSON: So what we’re going to do is the same as last week. We’ve identified a number of areas of questions. I’m going to talk to Chris, and we’ll have a discussion with regard to these. So we’ll start with a question from GR Gordon about the aftermath of the battle.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Yes. I think the question of “What is the battlefield like, immediately afterwards? What happens? How is it cleaned up?” is quite an interesting one. We have some watercolours that have recently been on show in the British Museum that show the battlefield on the morning of the 19th. And we can already see, at that stage, the corpses have been stripped bare, and things. There is clearly looting, pillaging, plundering the dead going on. Very soon afterwards, as well, the dead appear be buried in– well, the dead are buried in mass graves. But the armies– Wellington’s army, Blucher’s army– have got jobs to do. They’ve got to move on.
Although there are detachments that can be spared for this, to a certain extent, that’s not really the main thrust of their business. But at the same time, the sick, the wounded have got to be treated. Some go back to Brussels. And we get the first battlefield tourists appearing, as well. And we’re going to talk more about that next week.
KAREN ROBSON: We are, indeed. If anyone is able to go to London, the sketchbook that Chris mentioned is at the British Museum, and the exhibition runs till August. And I did post a link about that on the MOOC. So we move on to the next question. We have questions from Owen Carlstrand and John Wales. It relates to peace deliberations after the battle and Wellington’s role in those.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Yes. The questions after the battle are, firstly, how do you conclude this war, in terms of France– invading France? And then what happens more generally about peace and Wellington’s role in that? In terms of the conclusion of hostilities in France, the allies move quite swiftly into France. French commissioners come to Wellington– 26, 27, 28th of June. Both he and Blucher think this is a ruse, though, really to give the French a negotiating position. And they don’t enter into discussions with them. But then the French come back and say, well, Napoleon is well and truly beaten. He has no longer a role to play in this. We need to stop the bloodshed. And gradually these discussions develop.
And by the 3rd of July, this is settled, from a military point of view. We have a cessation of hostilities. But this doesn’t settle the political questions. And we then need to think about how this is resolved, in terms of France. The allied sovereigns arrive in Paris. Louis XVIII is in Paris. There is a lot of discussion through the summer, and there is a formal convention on the 20th of November. But to get to that point, there has been quite an aggressive stance, particularly from the Prussians, about recovering territory from France, about reparations, about cultural property, as well.
Wellington’s role in this is really as an advisor to Castlereagh, the British foreign secretary, who is the British minister who’s responsible for this. And he and Castlereagh argue, together, that there should be– well, there are indeed reparations imposed on France. There’s some adjustment to French territory. And the boundaries of 1790 are used, rather than the previous year. The boundaries of 1792 had been agreed. So France loses some territory. But it’s a very tense situation through that summer. And Wellington is really there helping to keep the peace, as it were, using his forces and those of the allies to do that. But also convincing parties, including the British government, that major territorial concessions by France would be a mistake.
And they have to argue, really, quite hard, particularly against the Prussians, to achieve this. So he has a role. It may not be a formal role, until we get to the 20th of November, when he is actually appointed to take charge of the army and occupation.
KAREN ROBSON: Mhm. Very interesting. OK. Well, we next move on to– we have been following a very interesting discussion thread relating to the treatment of soldiers after Waterloo. Some of this we will be covering next week.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Yes, indeed.
KAREN ROBSON: And for instance, we have something about public subscriptions for soldiers who were injured in the battle and for the families of those killed. I have a particular interest in satirical works, particularly broadside ballads. And you find in some of those that Wellington’s criticised for the fact that he does so well, whereas the soldiers suffer straitened circumstances and have difficulties finding employment. I’d say, though, really, from Wellington’s perspective, I think he always felt he held true to the idea of the bond of the “band of brothers”– if we’re looking at a Henry V reference– and really supported them throughout the period after Waterloo.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Well, I think he supports them for the rest of his life. And where he is asked, he looks very hard at circumstances to see what he can do for individuals. Certainly when it comes to allocating patronage– and we have to remember that a lot of early 19th century government revolves around patronage– he makes a point of saying that top of his list are the military, and especially those that have fought with him. So that’s a very good point.
KAREN ROBSON: And really, I think, his sort of circle of friends– many of his circle of friends in the post-Waterloo period are his generals who served with him throughout the peninsula and Waterloo as well. So, very much a sense of maintaining links with the army. The next question is from Peter Coxhill, who’s asked about a list of soldiers who took part in Waterloo. I’d really refer you to the National Archives. Among their War Office papers– and the reference is WO100– they have the campaign medals and award rolls. This is the manuscript list. And a digital copy is available via the National Archives site, so I’d recommend going there. And it’s freely available.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Yes. You get a very good perspective of the vast numbers of people who did take part in the battle.
KAREN ROBSON: Absolutely. And our final question. We’re moving on to a question about support for Napoleon in Britain, which was sent to us by Hugh Barr.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Yes. We’ve not really spoken about the peace party, as it were, in Britain. But I think it’s fair to say that there is support for the ideas of the French Revolution. And there is a certain amount of support for Napoleon, as well. Some of this comes from a group of quite well-educated dissenters, particularly Unitarians. And there is one lady– Anna Laeticia Barbauld– who writes the very impressive poem Eighteen Hundred and Eleven which is arguing the case for peace– the antiwar case. But we have to remember, as well, that Britain is a parliamentary democracy. And throughout the period of the war, there is opposition to what is going on.
And we see some people– like Samuel Whitbread, from the brewing family, in particular, who’s MP for Bedford, throughout the war asks really quite searching questions of the government. In 1813, for example, he puts before Parliament a motion for peace. One of the interesting things about this opposition, though, is it actually– paradoxically, it helps the government, because it requires them to make their case for a much more effective– and to operate things in a much more effective way. And in parallel with it run various committees for reform of administrative processes to do with the military. Whitbread, in 1815, after the Treaty of Vienna, certainly taxes Castlereagh quite hard about his terms.
And again, there’s a protest address that he puts before Parliament against the extermination of Napoleon, on the 28th of April. But he loses by 73 votes to 272. So it gives you the idea that there is indeed some opposition and the government has to justify its position. But it is, certainly by that stage, very, very strong. And Whitbread himself comes to a very distressing end, quite shortly after Waterloo.
KAREN ROBSON: Well, I’m not sure that necessarily quite follows on to–
CHRIS WOOLGAR: No, no, no.
KAREN ROBSON: But we’re looking ahead to next week. And we’re going to be moving on to commemoration of Wellington and Waterloo after 1815. So, monuments and museums, art and literature.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Yes. And we very much look forward to reading your comments, as well. I’ve got a lot from them– learnt all sort things, myself. So thank you very much, indeed.
KAREN ROBSON: Thank you.

In this video (10 minutes) Chris answers four of the questions you asked – about the aftermath of the battle, Wellington’s role in the peace deliberations, the treatment of soldiers after Waterloo, and support for Napoleon in Britain.

There is a link below to the National Archive’s list(s) of soldiers awarded the Waterloo campaign medal, which Karen refers to in the video.

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Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo

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