The Waterloo Museum
The catalogue of the museum, published in 1816, gives an insight into what had made it popular. The first room was an armoury, with weapons and other military items collected from the battlefield. Everything about it was remarkable. The very first item was a French rifle ‘with an extraordinary bayonet, two feet in length’; a French grenadier’s cap (catalogue number 11) had five cuts, received from the sabre of an English dragoon; there was a group of sabres of French cuirassiers, ‘of prodigious length’ (15); and a further section in this room included the armour that Napoleon had used for his heavy cavalry (18).
Embedded in this collection, therefore, was evidence of the courage that had enabled the allies to win the battle.Napoleonic memorabiliaTheir bodies being thus proof against either sabre cuts or musket shot, the men advanced with confidence, and, with sabres of unusual length, imagined themselves to be invincible. … The Scots Greys and Horse Guards, with the Blues, and Inniskillens, alone could cope with them. By seeking their vulnerable parts, the neck or arms, they soon became equal, and at length superior.
The Grand Saloon contained clothing and relics of Napoleon, his family and the marshals of his armies. These were symbols of the imperial power that had been displaced with his defeat at Waterloo: they were not just spoils of war, but clear evidence of the downfall of the man the British had long considered a ‘tyrant’. Here were to be found a hat and coat worn by Napoleon on Elba (51–2), the foot board and panel of his state carriage (68, 76); Napoleon’s state sword, saddle, breastplate and harness (83), as well as the suit worn by Napoleon’s son, the King of Rome (as a three-year-old) at the review of the Imperial Guard on its return from Moscow (59), robes of Prince Jerome (84) and Joseph Bonaparte (85), and Joachim Murat’s military pelisse (56). Poignantly, the exhibition in the Grand Saloon also included clothing of Louis XVI (77–80), and of the revolutionary leader, ‘the execrated Robespierre’ (82). A further relic of Robespierre was in a case — his sword, ‘very superb, with Republican mottos and ornaments’, with legends on the blade ‘Pour ramener la paix’ (‘To bring back peace’), ‘Pour le salut de la Patrie’ (‘for the safety of the country’) (96). There was also a fine library clock from the palace of St Cloud, adorned with figures of Napoleon and a female petitioner, interceding for her husband arrested as a conspirator in a plot to assassinate the Emperor after the fall of Berlin (93) — Napoleon allowed her to destroy the evidence against him.The paintings
Amongst the paintings was an impressive canvas executed at Napoleon’s request in 1811 by Robert Lefèvre (1755–1830), a portrait of Napoleon in his coronation robes, the picture measuring 15 feet by 6 feet (75). In contrast to this imperial triumph was a painting of the entrance of the allies into Paris, in March 1814, showing the Emperor of Russia and King of Prussia and their military staff (74) and much more modest painting, of the Battle of Waterloo by the Flemish artist Constantine Coene (1780–1841) (71).
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University of Southampton online course,
Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo
The Waterloo Museum allowed the public to get as close to the authentic experience of battle as they could be, without going to Waterloo itself. Here they could reflect on the fate of Louis XVI and the French Revolution, see the imperial glory of Napoleon, and follow the Battle of Waterloo itself in an assemblage of prodigious objects, talking to those that had taken part, while admiring the most realistic of images of field.
You might like to experience visiting the Waterloo Museum. The catalogue can be downloaded from the link below. What are your favourite items, and why?[© University of Southampton Library, Rare Books DC 241: 00044728]
Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo
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