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The Battle of Waterloo: a quick primer for the 200th anniversary

This year commemorates 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Today we take a brief look at the who, what, where and why of this pivotal part of European history.

So where did this all begin? Who was part of this battle?

On 18 June 1815 the stage was set on a 4 square kilometer battlefield located 2 km from Waterloo in Belgium and 13 km south of Brussels.

On the battlefield were the French army consisting of 72,000 men led by Emperor Napoleon versus Allied (British, Belgian, Dutch, Hanoverian, Brunswick and Nassau) army 67,000 directed by Field Marshal Duke of Wellington. Later Field Marshal Blucher joined the battle with the 40,000 Prussians he commanded.

So why did the battle transpire?

Napoleon, Emperor of France, had seized an empire which almost covered the whole continent but was crushed in 1814. He was banished to the Isle of Elba. He fled and paraded with a small army to reclaim his throne in Paris, compelling the King to flee.

The threat to be overthrown by the main countries of Europe was imminent. Napoleon elected to launch an attack first as he intended to crush part of this mixture of countries before it formed and gathered momentum. The object for Napoleon was to decimate Wellington’s army and seize Brussels.

The armies under Wellington and Blucher were already positioned near the French border. Napoleon assaulted Belgium in a surprise attack. His forces overpowered the Prussians at Ligny on 16 June at the same time as a division of Wellington’s forces fought a holding skirmish at Quatre Bras.

The Prussians withdrew but continued to be operational; Napoleon erroneously presumed they were escaping to Germany. Wellington extracted his army to a selected point and proposed battle, realising that the Prussians were marching to join him and outnumber the French.

The battle began at 11.20 a.m. and ended that same day at 8.30 p.m. Casualties totaled to around 44,000 men and 12,000 horses killed and wounded.

So what were the consequences of the Battle of Waterloo?

There were four key after-effects that resulted from the Battle. Firstly, the French army demonstrated unable of reorganising and Paris fell. We would see Napoleon abdicate and France surrender. King Louis XVIII returned to the throne and Napoleon would eventually die in exile on the Island of St Helena. Finally, the Battle of Waterloo and the loss of life would bring forward the “Era of Congress’ which attempted to circumvent a further European war. It succeeded for a hundred years until 1914 and the onset of World War I.

As we get closer to the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, I will continue to share pieces that take a look at what is truly a milestone in European history. Do hope you join me.

Featured photo credit: British Wallpapers via photopin cc

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