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This video introduces the ways in which Wellington and Waterloo were commemorated and the lasting impact they have had on British culture.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Almost immediately the battle of Waterloo concluded there was a sense that things had changed, that the world after Waterloo was to be different. The military heroes of the battle received honours and renown. Officers received knighthoods. Every British soldier that had taken part in the battle received a Waterloo medal. And this was the first occasion that a general service medal had been given to the men of the British army.
KAREN ROBSON: Those who fought at Waterloo remembered not only their own exploits, but those of their former colleagues in everything from conversations to memoirs. Military memoirs became a very popular genre of literature in 19th century. News of the battle was marked by popular celebrations and commemorations, from public fetes, illumination fireworks, to theatrical performances. There was an overwhelming sense of relief at the end of the war.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: So how was memory of the battle shaped? First of all, there was a tremendous curiosity. People were passionately interested in what had happened. They wanted to see relics of the battle. They wanted to talk to those that had taken part. They wanted to visit museums and exhibitions where these things were on show. This curiosity extended to visiting the battlefield as well. And it also extended to the defeated. People were curious to know about the French Empire and about Napoleon. Even though he was exiled on St. Helena and couldn’t, obviously, be seen personally, people were interested in the relics, the paraphernalia of the French Empire. And this was on show in museums and exhibitions in London.
KAREN ROBSON: Beyond curiosity, there were formal commemorations and the creation of memorials. And on the 7th of July there was a national day of thanksgiving and prayers across the land. Monuments were commissioned for St. Paul’s cathedral for the creation of a national pantheon for the heroes of the Napoleonic wars. Many towns and cities across the country have their Waterloo monuments, often paid for by public subscription. The messages implicit in these monuments have much to tell us.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Commemorative events of the 19th century carefully linked heroism to the participants in the battle. There were occasions like the annual Waterloo banquets held at Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s residence, on Waterloo Day, and Waterloo Day itself was celebrated much more widely across the country.

Victory over Napoleon and the French at Waterloo was marked by celebrations across Britain — and it was seen as a very British victory, despite the vital Prussian involvement. There was passionate public interest in what happened, and people visited museums, exhibitions and even the battlefield to satisfy their curiosity. In this way, public memory of the event was shaped.

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Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo

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