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Your questions answered

In this video, Chris Woolgar and Karen Robson answer learners' questions about Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo.
KAREN ROBSON: Hello there. And so we’ve come to the conclusion of week three. It’s been a fascinating experience, which we’ve enjoyed greatly, and I’d just like to thank all who’ve participated in it.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Yes, I’ve read lots of interesting comments, and certainly thought-provoking. It’s been very good. Thank you very much.
KAREN ROBSON: That’s good. Yes. So what we’re going to do today is focus on three topics or three subjects that people have raised. And we’re going to begin with Waterloo prize money, which Roger Stemp has asked about. Now I gather, Chris, there was about 25 million francs granted to distribute.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Yes. It’s an interesting question. After Waterloo, Wellington issues a general order reminding his troops that they’re about to go into France and that France is a friendly country. So where does all this money come from? Where does the notion of prize money come from? And as far as I can track it down– and some of this is still obscure, because I think it must have taken, it must have been resolved in conversations between Wellington, Castlereagh and other politicians during the summer of 1815– is that by the time we get to November, 1815, a figure has been set aside after the reparations that France is to pay.
And it looks as though there are about 50 million francs, which is about 2 million pounds in English sterling at the time, that is divided equally between the Prussians and the British. And when I say “the British,” it’s accepted by Wellington that this is to be treated as prize money for all those who are under his command. So it includes the troops of Nassau, of the low countries, the Brunswickers and the Hanoverians. And there is then a sort of standard pattern of distribution, and there’s an order for distributing it to the troops in 1817. It is intended to be given to those who are engaged in the fighting.
So it doesn’t go to those who are on garrison duty, for example, in Antwerp or wherever. And there is a standard pattern to the distribution. It seems to have been broken up into 16 lots, basically, which the commander in chief, Wellington, gets one. So he gets about 60,000 pounds, although I believe he gives 2/3 of it back to the Treasury, which is fair enough. But the rank and file soldier ends up with 2 pounds 11 shillings.
KAREN ROBSON: So quite a contrast between the top and the bottom.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Yes. And the distribution isn’t finally signed off until June, 1819. So it’s quite a long time. But the sergeants do better. The sergeants get 19 pounds.
KAREN ROBSON: Ah. That’s quite good.
KAREN ROBSON: Very good. OK. We’re now going to move on to a discussion on timing and naming of the commemoration. Nathan Thomas and Robert Smith have mentioned that issue. Also, we’ll probably steer along to national identity making the hero. And Andrew Greeves has talked about that.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Yes. One of the things I’ve been doing this week is to go back to the Padlet boards with the mentions of Wellington and Waterloo places. And this ties in very nicely to the question of commemoration. And just to take two of the examples, which I had very– well, I had no knowledge. I was very interested to be pointed to Wellington in Western Cape province in South Africa. And that very nicely makes a link to how these places come to be named. They’re not necessarily named in the immediate aftermath of Waterloo, but in later periods of settlement, later periods of commemoration.
Particularly in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s, as these soldiers come to the ends of their lives, memorialisation and memory are thought about much more. Particularly, we find, if you look at the map, we find former British colonies have clutches of places with these names. And in some cases, it’s where veteran soldiers have been settled. In other cases, it’s where governors who have fought alongside Wellington go out to the provinces. And the other one I particularly liked was the Waterloo Bridge at Betws-y-Coed, the iron bridge there–
KAREN ROBSON: Good old Thomas Telford, yes.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: –which was put up by Thomas Telford from 1815 onwards. Sort of very, very striking. I think there’s something else that goes with this sense of commemoration and sense of heroes, that it is worth, perhaps, reiterating. And I don’t think the memorialisation is explained entirely by regard for individuals. I think there was something in the spirit of the age that people think of history as being– well, as being what great men do. And they sort of constitute history. So there is a passionate interest in people’s lives. And Thomas Carlyle, who writes this book on heroes and heroism– it was published in 1840– I think epitomises this. He refers to Wellington as a godlike man, for example.
But there is a notion that this is what history is comprised of. There is also something, I think, to do with moral improvement. And certainly in 1795, when the act for creating the memorials that go into St. Paul’s is passed. There is a notion that these memorials will provide some sort of moral improvement for those contemplating them. So people will think about how people, how these veterans, these soldiers, these people who have died, have lived their lives particularly worthily and the great deeds that they have done. So that is really seen as the inspiration behind that.
KAREN ROBSON: It’s interesting you say that Carlyle talked about Wellington as a godlike man. That in a sense fits with this sort of sculptural representation as classical sort of sculptures. And it really goes back to the idea that– it goes back to ancient Greece, of the representation of the soldier hero, which is very much, by the 1850s, gets tied up with rhetoric about British imperial identity. And I think that’s one of the reasons that possibly Wellington is very much commemorated as a soldier hero rather than possibly for his political–
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Yes. And I think the link to national identity is an interesting question. Lots of people have started, well, have spoken about, is this an English victory? A British victory? An Irish victory? And I think the truth is, the word “English” is used in the early 19th century in a much more inclusive way, and it refers, really, to the countries of the union. And I think one can underestimate the impact of Waterloo as a conflict in which all four nations of the union took part. It’s a force for making a United Kingdom.
KAREN ROBSON: Yes, I think that’s very true. And that’s something you see in many forms and the way that they’re represented. Yeah. Our final area is really talking about Wellington’s reputation as a soldier and a politician. And John Wild has raised some questions about Wellington as a politician in the 19th century. I think Wellington, a soldier and politician, you can’t say the two are mutually exclusive. If you think, that as commander at Waterloo he’s commander of a coalition army, and he needed skills as a politician and diplomat as well as a soldier to do that job.
He was also involved in politics from the 1790s onward, so it’s not true to say that he suddenly moved into politics after he ceased to be a general leading an army. I think it’s possibly true to say, though, he didn’t reach quite the same heights as a politician as a soldier, but I think you may have–
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Well, I think I disagree. I think they are different spheres of action. But he does have some, I think, very major achievements. And right, if you’re a general, you’re in command of an army. You can do it again. You’re in command of an army, and you can do it again. Politics is a much more fluid affair. And one can point to a number of great pieces of legislation in the 19th century that probably only the particular individual in charge at the time, the prime minister, could have seen through. So in Wellington’s case, there is Roman Catholic emancipation in 1829. Lord Grey with the Reform Act in 1832, Robert Peel with the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.
And I think for him to have, for Wellington to have done that in 1829 is actually a staggering achievement. I know that really does demonstrate his ability as a politician. And I think, also, when we see him leading the conservative peers in the House of Lords through the 1830s and the 1840s, he makes a very major contribution, I think, quite a subtle contribution that we’re only now beginning to appreciate.
KAREN ROBSON: I think that’s a fair summary of his political achievements. Perhaps we should say that previously his military achievements have overshadowed his political ones. I know that newer histories of Wellington have been trying to reinterpret and revise the opinion of him as a politician to a certain extent.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Yes. I think it’s really only in the last 30 years that historians have turned to his correspondence, particularly in the post-Waterloo period and through the rest of his life, to discover what in fact he does. So there is still much to learn here, I think.
KAREN ROBSON: Well, perhaps we have to do another MOOC relating to Wellington the politician.
Well, I think that’s the end.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: Yes. Yes, I’d say.
KAREN ROBSON: So thank you very much again to all of you for following the course.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: And for stimulating questions as well. I’ve much enjoyed it.
KAREN ROBSON: Indeed. Thank you very much.

In this final video (11 minutes) Chris and Karen answer three of the questions you asked – about the distribution of ‘prize money’ to the Allied troops that fought at Waterloo, commemoration and the making of heroes, and Wellington’s reputation as a politician.

The transcript and subtitles will be available next week.

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Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo

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