Waterloo Busting the Myths - Yves Vander Cruysen - ebook

Waterloo Busting the Myths ebook

Yves Vander Cruysen

40,16 zł


No battle has generated more myths or more conflicting analyses than that of Waterloo

How worried were they in Brussels, dancing at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball? What was Grouchy up to when he was needed? Was the French cavalry destroyed by a sunken road? Was the victory due to Napoleon’s state of health on the day of the battle? Was he misled by a local guide? Was a French general murdered after being taken prisoner? Should we really see the battle as a German victory? What did Cambronne say (and can it be printed)?
Then come the issues about the aftermath – What happened to Napoleon’s treasures – and his famous hat? Who cut down Wellington’s tree? Were local people compensated for the damage to their livelihoods? How did battlefield tourism develop? And how did Lord Uxbridge’s amputated leg become a diplomatic issue?

This book, written on the occasion of the Bicentenary, scrutinises these and other legends and stories with the aim of distinguishing the true from the false


The author, Yves Vander Cruysen, has spent 15 years of study on and around the battlefield. He is also the councillor in the commune of Waterloo responsible for culture and tourism. His detailed local knowledge, besides his profound historical research, affords new perspectives and unique insights into many of these issues.


Waterloo has often been the scene of conflicts. Simply because, over the centuries, armies defending or threatening Brussels had equal interest in securing the position of Waterloo, which guaranteed control of the Forest of Soignes which encircled the capital. Waterloo was also served by a paved road, much prized by armies. It thus became a real cornerstone for military strategists.
Since 1698, this small town, which was then only one of the villages which made up Braine l’Alleud, has thus been occupied by various passing troops; with all that this may represent in theway of damage and sacrifices for local people.

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• • •

No battle or historic event has generated so many rumours, conflicting analyses, scholarly and anecdotal writings or legends as the battle of Waterloo.

Romantic writers have played their part. As soon as the site became accessible, Byron, Walter Scott, Robert Southey and others came and gave enduring life to all the statements, true or false, supplied by witnesses or pseudo-witnesses who they met. Chateaubriand managed the feat of telling the story of the conflict when he was fifty miles away and could only hear it. (Even that is doubtful!) Stendhal placed his character Fabrice del Dongo there without ever visiting himself. Dumas, when a refugee on the Boulevard de Waterloo in Brussels, took his friends there. Victor Hugo did the rest, making myths out of the tales of his predecessors, adding layers, and ensuring for Waterloo a real universal resonance.

The ravine formed by the sunken road, Cambronne’s famous expletive, Grouchy’s strawberries, the three hundred corpses in the Hougoumont well, the excellent marriage made by a farmer’s wife at Plancenoit, the Prince of Orange’s wound, the heroic deaths of Picton and of Marie Tête-de-bois originate from the imaginative genius of these great writers, whose writings have been so successful that they have been recopied, for a century, by pseudo-historians.

Other legends were born later – concerning the forces present, the numbers of casualties, the construction of the Lion Mound, Wellington’s annuity, Napoleon’s absence during the fighting, the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, Lord Uxbridge’s leg, the Rothschild fortune, the Emperor’s horses, the number of flags taken from the French, the fate of their guns, individual exploits, the toponymic origin of certain placenames, the mistakes made by some - or others, the choice of name for the battle, as well as the origin of all those ‘Waterloos’ that are now to be found all around the world. Such legends have often gained currency due to the lack of contradictory evidence.

Even the cover of this book, representing the meeting of Wellington and Blücher, on the evening of the battle, at the Belle Alliance, whose original is exhibited in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster in London, is the result of a legend. As we will read later, Wellington himself denounced this fabrication.

This book has only one aim: to take stock of all these rumours, myths and legends and carefully try to separate the wheat from the chaff, to distinguish the true from the false, to clear away incongruities, and to recall some truths that some may find unpleasant to read, but which are needed to better understand certain events. With one risk: that of destroying some of the myths of this battlefield that is now celebrating the bicentennial of the most famous conflict that took place there.

But this book also seeks to be informative and to appeal to the general public. Purists and technical experts on the period, lovers of supplementary notes at the foot of every page, may remain unsatisfied. However, they will find at the end of the volume a bibliography that will allow them to extend their reading according to the topics they wish to pursue.

This work is the result of fifteen years of daily presence on the battlefield, of study in the library and unpublished archives generously endowed by Gustave Maison, Jacques-Henri Pirenne, Philippe de Callataÿ and Jacques Logie among others, and of meetings with leading historians, such as Jean Tulard, Thierry Lentz, Emmanuel de Waresquiel, David Chandler, John Hussey, Jean-Marc Largeaud, Marie-Pierre Rey, and the descendants of the main belligerents. As well as long, frequent and cordial working meetings with members of the international scientific steering committee of the battlefield of Waterloo*, to whom I dedicate this book, thanking them for all they have taught me and that I hope now to share with a greater number. As a simple passer-on of memory.

Yves Vander Cruysen

* Jacques-Olivier Boudon, Philippe de Callataÿ, Alan Forrest, Jacques Garnier, Klaus-Peter Hartmann, Philippe Raxhon and Kees Schulten.

Waterloo, theatre of battles

• • •

Waterloo has often been the scene of conflicts. Simply because, over the centuries, armies defending or threatening Brussels had equal interest in securing the position of Waterloo, which guaranteed control of the Forest of Soignes which encircled the capital. Waterloo was also served by a paved road, much prized by armies. It thus became a real cornerstone for military strategists.

Since 1698, this small town, which was then only one of the villages which made up Braine l’Alleud, has thus been occupied by various passing troops; with all that this may represent in the way of damage and sacrifices for local people.

On 17 August 1705, Waterloo was the scene of a first important conflict, opposing Marlborough’s troops against those of Jacques Pastur, known as Jaco, a popular figure in the region. This child of the country, worthy of the novels of Alexandre Dumas, was leader of a troop of toughs, ready for anything and devoted to their master, in the area around the hamlet of Roussart. Jaco put himself and his mercenaries, in turn, in the service of Spain and France. Between 1702 and 1705, he was thus charged by King Louis XIV to monitor the movements of Marlborough’s army, who had arrived on the old continent to reinforce the Austrian Habsburgs. It was in this context that, near his native village, he stoutly resisted the Anglo-Dutch troops when they tried to take possession of the strategic road connecting Charleroi with Brussels.

The fight lasted a good hour and a half. Seeing the enemy columns break through to his right, Pastur sounded a retreat, fearing encirclement. He withdrew his men, slowly and in good order, to Vivier d’Oie where they had erected a small fort, which became famous under the name of Fort Jaco. Marlborough’s troops did not dare venture into the forest. They contented themselves with plundering the village and settled down for the night. But they had not bargained for the pride of Jaco. Understanding the situation, he ordered his men to turn around. Half asleep, intoxicated by what they believed was their victory, the Anglo-Dutch could make no response to this surprise offensive. Pastur took hardly any time to clear the woods and to regain the village. Many Dutch and English soldiers fled into the forest, got lost and never returned. Many were killed.

The impact of this first «battle» of Waterloo has been treated quite unequally by historians. On the Allied side, memoirs have sought to minimise the real setback suffered by the troops of Marlborough. They treat the fight as a small skirmish of no importance. But even Winston Churchill, a direct descendant of the Duke of Marlborough, chose as title for the chapter on that period in the biography that he devoted to his illustrious ancestor «The Unfought Waterloo.» That is still doing considerable honour to a battle that, according to him, did not take place. In France, however, the celebration of the «Waterloo affair» was considerable and certainly out of proportion to the event. Thus, the little soldier of fortune, the guardian of the Forest of Soignes, who for so long had harassed the French, was presented to the Court of the Sun King. This happened on 17 or 18 March 1706, Louis XIV personally presenting him with a gold chain and a medal. The next day, Jaco, even though he had none of the four quarters of nobility required for this distinction, and despite the sovereign’s usual avarice in these matters, received the Knight’s Cross of the Order of St. Lazarus and of Mount Carmel. Later, he was made a field marshal and ended his life, rich and famous, on a large estate he built in the heart of Waterloo. He dropped dead, unexpectedly, on 3 May 1723, while riding in a Brussels street where he also had property.

The people of Waterloo were left in peace for nearly a century. At most they saw rolling by, at the height of the Brabant revolution, the troops of General Friedrich Wilhelm von Schoenfeld, retreating before the Austrians. Or, on 20 November 1792, after the Battle of Jemappes, those of General Dumouriez which halted in the village before continuing their hunt for the Austrians.

On 6 and 7 July 1794, Waterloo bathed again in blood. This time it was the whole army of the Sambre and Meuse, of Generals Kleber and Lefebvre, which, just after the battle of Fleurus, arrived on the plain of Mont St Jean. It had before it the armies of the Prince of Orange, reinforced by the rearguard of the Austrian army commanded by the Prince of Cobourg. Cavalry charges and infantry fighting lasted several hours. And it was an intervention of General Lefebvre’s grenadiers, preceded by a new cavalry charge, that decided the fate of the first day. Interrupted by darkness, the battle started up again on 7 July, but more towards the village of Waterloo. Pushed back all along the line, the Prince of Orange had to withdraw to Mechelen. The exhausted victor, the husband of Madame Sans Gene, the most faithful among all Napoleon’s faithful, stopped in the village for the night, before making a triumphal entry, two days later, into Brussels.

Military strategists of the nineteenth century thus knew the site of Mont St Jean, its strategic interest, and its capacity to accommodate a major battle. They had maps of it. The land had also been recognised in 1814 by Hudson Lowe, on behalf of the British Government, as being «capable of being used advantageously to stop an invading French army before Brussels.» It was relatively clear and allowed, at the same time, infantry manoeuvres, cavalry charges and artillery preparations. Who could ask for more?

The forces present

• • •

The most fanciful figures circulate about the forces at the Battle of Waterloo. Some speak of a hundred thousand men; others of two hundred thousand, four hundred thousand or five hundred thousand. Recently an elected official of an adjacent municipality, when receiving an Asian delegation, even spoke of a million combatants. According to the international scientific steering committee, set up to prepare the bicentenary of Waterloo, there must have been between 300 and 340 thousand engaged in the battle. But they did not all actually fight - far from it.

This is the order of battle, as it has been approved by the committee made up of French, English, German, Dutch and Belgian historians.

For the French army:

Commander: Emperor Napoleon

Major General: Marshal SOULT

Artillery commander: General RUTY

Engineer commander: General Rogniat

1st Corps: General DROUET of ERLON (20,000 men)

- Allix Infantry Division (Quiot and Bourgeois brigades)

54th, 55th, 28th and 105th regiments of the line

- Donzelot Infantry Division (Schmitz and Aulard brigades)

13th light, 17th, 19th, 51st line

- Marcognet Infantry Division (Noguez and attic brigades)

21st, 46th, 25th, 45th line

- Durutte Infantry Division (Pégot and Brue brigades)

8th, 29th, 85th, 95th line

- Light Cavalry Division Jacquinot (Bruno and Gobrecht brigades)

3rd chasseurs, 7th Hussars, 3rd and 4th Light Horse Lancers

- Artillery (6 batteries)

2nd corps: General REILLE (25,000 men)

- Bachelu Infantry Division (Husson and Campy brigades)

2nd Light, 61st, 72nd, 108th line

- Infantry Division Jérôme Bonaparte (Baudouin and Soye brigades)

1st Light Infantry Regiment, 1st, 2nd, 3rd line

- Girard Infantry Division (Devilliers and Piat brigades)

11th and 12th light, 4th and 82nd line

- Foy Infantry Division (Gauthier and Jamin brigades)

4th Light, 92nd, 93rd and 100th line

- Light Cavalry Division Piré (brigades Hubert and Wathiez)

1st and 10 hunters, 5th and 6th Lancers

3rd Corps: General VANDAMME (18,000 men)

- Lefol Infantry Division (brigades Billard and Corsin)

15th light, 23rd, 37th and 64th line

- Habert Infantry Division (Gengoux and Dupeyroux brigades)

22nd, 34th, 70th, 88th line and 2nd foreign (Swiss)

- Berthezène Infantry Division (Dufour et Lagarde brigades)

12th, 33rd, 56th, 86th line

- Light Cavalry Division Domon (Dommanget and Vinot brigades)

4th, 9th and 12th chasseurs

4th Corps: General GÉRARD (15,000 men)

- Pécheux Infantry Division (Romme and Schoeffer brigades)

6th light, 30th, 63rd, 96th line

- Vichery infantry division (brigade Captain and Desprez)

48th, 59th, 60th, 76th line

- Bourmont Infantry Division (taken over by Hulot when he passed to the enemy) (Hulot and Toussaint brigades)

9th light, 44th, 50th and 111th line

- Light Cavalry Division Maurin (Vallin and Berruyer brigades)

6th Hussars, 7th and 8th chasseurs

6th Corps: General MOUTON, Earl of LOBAU (15,000 men)

- Simmer Infantry Division (Bellair and Jamin brigades)

5th, 11th, 27th and 84th line

- Jannin Infantry Division (Bony and Tromelin brigades)

5th Light, 10th, 47th and 107th line

- Teste Infantry Division (Laffite and Penne brigades)

8th Light, 40th, 65th and 75th line

Imperial Guard: General Drouot, replacing Marshal Mortier, who was ill (21,000 men)

- Grenadiers of General Friant (Generals Petit, Christiani Poret de Morvan, Harlet)

1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th regiments

- Foot Chasseurs General Morand (General Cambronne, Pelet, Mallet and Hanrion)

1st, 2nd and 3rd Regiments

- Young guard on foot

Voltigeurs General Duhesme: 1st and 3rd Regiments

Sharpshooters General Barrois: 1st and 3rd Regiments

- Light cavalry of General Lefebvre-Desnoëtes

Light-horse Lancers of General Edouard de Colbert

Chasseurs General F. Lallemand

- Artillery, trains, sappers and sailors of General Desvaux of Saint-Maurice

Cavalry reserve: Marshal Grouchy (14,000 men)

- 1st Cavalry Corps General PAJOL

Division Pierre Soult (Saint-Laurent and Ameil brigades)

1st, 4th, 5th Hussars, 1st and 2nd Lancers, 11th chasseurs

Subervie division (Colbert and Merlin brigades)

1st and 2nd Lancers, 11th chasseurs

- 2nd Cavalry Corps General EXELMANS

Stolz Division (Burthe and Vincent brigades)

5th, 13th, 15th and 20th dragons

Chastel division (Bonnemains and Burton brigades)

4th, 12th, 14th and 17th dragons

- 3rd Cavalry Corps General KELLERMANN

Lhéritier division (Picquet and Guitton brigades)

Dragons 2nd and 7th, 8th and 11th cuirassiers

Rousset Division Hurbal (Blancart and Donot brigades)

1st and 2nd Carabinieri, 2nd and 3rd cuirassiers

- 4th cavalry corps of General Milhaud

Wathier Division (Dubois et Travers brigades)

1st, 4th, 7th and 12th cuirassiers

Delort Division (Farine and Vial brigades)

5th, 6th, 9th and 10th cuirassiers

A total of 128,000 men, including 23,000 cavalry and 384 artillery pieces.

For the Anglo-Dutch army

Commander: General Duke of Wellington

1st corps: Prince of ORANGE (25,000 foot soldiers, 56 guns)

- English 1st division of General COOKE (4700 infantry, 12 guns)

1st Brigade (Maitland) - 1st Guards

2nd Brigade (Byng) - 2nd Guards

- English 3rd division of General ALTEN (7500 infantry, 12 guns)

5th Brigade (Colin Halkett) - 30th, 33rd, 69th, 73rd

2nd King German Legion (Colonel Ompteda) - 1st, 2nd light battalion, 5th and 8th line battalion

1st Hanoverian brigade (Kielmansegge) - battalions of Bremen, Verden, York, Lüneburg, Grubenhagen

Jaeger Corps

- Dutch-Belgian 2nd division of General PERPONCHER (7500 infantry, 16 guns)

1st Brigade (Byland) - 7th line, 27th, 5th, 7th chasseurs and 8th Militia

2nd Brigade of Prince Bernard of Saxe-Weimar - 2nd regiment of Nassau, Orange-Nassau Regiment

- Dutch-Belgian 3rd division of General CHASSE (6700 infantry, 16 guns)

1st Brigade Detmers - 2nd line, 35 chasseurs, 4th, 6th, 19th Militia

On the 2nd Brigade Aubremé - 3rd, 12th, 13th line, 36th chasseurs, 3rd and 10th Militia

- Dutch-Belgian cavalry division of General COLLAERT

Brigades Trip, Ghigny and Van Merlen

2nd Corps: General HILL (25,000 men)

- 2nd Anglo-Hanoverian division of General CLINTON

Brigades of Adam, Duplat and William Halkett

- 4th Anglo-Hanoverian division of General COLVILLE

Brigades of Mitchell, Johnstone and Lyon

- 1st Dutch-Belgian division STEDMAN

Cavalry Brigade Estorff

- Corps of Prince FREDERIC of the NETHERLANDS

Cavalry Corps: Lord UXBRIDGE (11,000 men)

- Brigades of Somerset, Ponsonby, Dörnberg, Vandeleur, Grant, Vivian and Arenschild

Reserve, under the direct orders of WELLINGTON (36,000 men)

- PICTON division (Kemp, Pack and Vincke brigades)

- COLE division (Lambert and Best brigades)

- VON KRUSE Nassau Contingent


A total of 97,000 men, including 16,000 cavalry and 186 artillery pieces.

For the Prussian army:

Commander: Field Marshal BLÜCHER

Chief of Staff: General Count von GNEISENAU

1st Corps: General von ZIETEN (31,000 men)

- Infantry brigades Steinmetz, Pirch II, Jagow, Henkel

- Cavalry Roeder

2nd Corps: General PIRCH 1 (32,000 men)

- Infantry Brigades Trippelskirch, Krafft, Brause, Langen

- Cavalry Langas

3rd Corps: General THIELMANN (24,000 men)

- Infantry Brigades Borcke, Kemphen, Lück, Stülpnagel

- Hobe cavalry

4th Corps: General von Dennewitz BÜLOW (30,000 men)

- Infantry Brigades Hacke, Ryssel, Losthin, Hiller

- Cavalry of Prince William of Prussia

A total of 117,000 men, including 12,000 cavalry and 312 artillery pieces.

It is estimated that on the battlefield of Waterloo, the French actually aligned nearly 75,000 men; the Britannico-Dutch between 70 and 78,000 and the Prussians 33,000.

Blücher, ‘Marshal Forward’

• • •

Head of the Prussian army at Waterloo, Marshal Blücher had received the nickname «Marshal Vorwärts» [Forward]. It is said that it was because he was always at the head of his troops, always ready to be the first into action. The origin of the nickname is actually quite different.

The old soldier Blücher had fought the French troops for almost twenty years. He had been humiliated at Lübeck, and captured at Hamburg. He dreamt of revenge. His presence at the Battle of Leipzig had been decisive. Congratulated everywhere, he did not appreciate allied attempts to obtain a truce with Napoleon. He wanted to march on Paris. «I want to plant my flag on the throne of Napoleon!» he wrote to his wife. It was in these circumstances that he gave voice to his famous «Vorwärts!» that would lead him to the French capital.

That said, he really was at the heart of all the battles. At Ligny, on 16 June 1815, despite having reached the ripe old age, for the time, of 73, he displayed, once again, boldness, passion and courage. He wanted to do battle with his old enemy, the one he hated the most, Napoleon Bonaparte. Thus, while leading his Uhlans in yet another charge against the French army, he fell from his horse (a gift from the Prince Regent of England) and landed, half unconscious, with his leg crushed under its bleeding carcass. It was only thanks to the courage of his aide, Count Nostitz, that he was not captured by the men of the 9th French cuirassiers who were passing by. Discovering the sad plight of his master, Nostitz dismounted, hid his Marshal’s sword and lay on top of him, remaining motionless as death, while the French rode by. Then, taking advantage of the dusk and with the help of Sergeant Schneider, he hoisted him on a horse and evacuated him towards Mellery.

What would have been the outcome of the battle of Waterloo if Blücher had been taken prisoner that night? That will forever remain an unanswered question.

Did Napoleon try to negotiate with Blücher?

• • •

On the evening after the battle of Ligny, Napoleon attempted yet another negotiation with the Prussians. Since landing at the Gulf of Juan, he had been constantly trying to separate the Anglo-Prussian allies. Taking advantage of the defeat of old Blücher, he had for a moment, but only for a moment, thought that the time had come for the Marshal to receive one of his emissaries. Yet he knew nothing of the fall which his old enemy had suffered. At most, he thought he had been wounded in his pride…

In fact, the idea came to him at the farm d’En Haut, at the end of the first phase of hostilities on 16 June 1815. Addressing a group of Prussian prisoners, Napoleon declared that he bore no malice towards his opponents. «On the contrary, I desire only peace,» he said. Then, discovering the presence of Baron Ludwig Adolf von Lutzow among the prisoners, he gave orders to his staff to try to establish contact with Blücher using him as intermediary. Lutzow was well known - particularly noted for his free corps during the 1813 campaign, he had commanded a cavalry brigade at Ligny.

General Bertrand was made responsible for negotiating the meeting. So he promised Lutzow preferential treatment if he agreed to conduct a French parliamentarian to the Prussian outposts. The refusal was categorical, Lutzow adding that his leader would never consent to such a meeting, let alone to any negotiation.

According to Albert Bruylants, Blücher had been warned by King Frederick William III, before leaving for Belgium, that any contact with the enemy was strictly forbidden. The spirit of the Vienna Convention should be maintained. No matter the cost.

Was Napoleon ill at Waterloo?

• • •

Some authors, including Georges Barral, have stated that during the battle, at about three o’clock in the afternoon, Napoleon, suffering from haemorrhoids, returned to Le Caillou to apply one of the lotions of white water which gave him almost immediate relief. He was therefore not present throughout the battle. Others have said that Napoleon could scarcely ride.

Careful analysis of the notes and memoirs of his closest collaborators permits us to put an end to that legend. Neither Baron Fain nor Fleury de Chaboulon nor commandant Duuring, nor the faithful Marchand, who all stayed the whole day at Le Caillou, reported such a return by the Emperor. If this were the case, they would certainly have mentioned that. And though he did indeed suffer from haemorrhoids, it is known that on 17 June Napoleon spent no less than eight hours in the saddle; and seven on both 18 and 19 June. «It is established that, out of the 96 hours that the Belgian campaign lasted, Napoleon was in the saddle for 37 hours and took only 20 hours’ rest. It was only at Philippeville that he dismounted to rest,» wrote Winand Aerts and Leon Wilmet, having long investigated the matter. However, Auguste-Louis Petiet estimates that Napoleon spent much less time riding during the Belgian incursion by comparison with his previous campaigns.

One thing is clear: Napoleon was not in great shape at Waterloo. According to Phil Mason, two days before the battle, his doctors had lost the leeches used to relieve the pain caused by his anal problems and had administered by mistake an overdose of laudanum, whose side effects he may still been suffering on the morning of the battle.

In addition to haemorrhoids, the Emperor also suffered from stomach aches and dysuria (difficulty in urinating), which had continued for years. Perhaps also from renal colic. A privileged witness, Henry Boucquéau, the owner of Le Caillou, saw him as «uncomfortable when moving around,» and «often separating his legs.» Other witnesses claim to have seen him tired, cold, or sick for several days.

It is also reported that, finding no sleep, Napoleon had spent the whole night night going up and down the battlefield, visiting Ney at the Chantelet farm, watching the English lines, inspecting Hougoumont under torrential rain. The testimony of the closest collaborators of the Emperor, like his mamelouk Ali, goes in quite the opposite direction. Tired, ailing, he arrived at Le Caillou, waited for his trunks, had his boots pulled off - which was difficult as they were so wet - undressed, went to bed and had dinner there. We know that he slept little, not because he was sick, but because he was disturbed by the constant comings and goings of his staff seeking orders, or to convey a message from his generals.

One thing is certain, writes Savary (though not present at Waterloo), quoted by Thierry Lentz: Napoleon could not put himself about, as he used to do on his battlefields, where his presence spread animation and emulation everywhere. This undoubtedly had an impact on the atmosphere of the battle and the ardour of his troops.

Why the delay in starting the battle?

• • •

After winning the battle of Ligny, Napoleon displayed impressive confidence. To his generals, he confided that he felt 90% sure of victory. It’s just an affair of a lunchtime, he said.

So why did he decide to postpone the fighting by two hours?

As we have seen, this was certainly not due to his health. It was in fact during a snack at the farm of Le Caillou, accompanied by Soult, Bertrand, Ney, Drouot, Maret, Reille and Jerome Bonaparte that the Emperor, taking into account the comments that were made to him on the state of the ground, decided to postpone the attack for at least two hours. His aim was to enable the artillery to better manoeuver and latecoming units to join the battlefield. The men, soaked by the overnight rain, had hoped to go into action quickly.

In his memoirs, General Drouot, the most loyal of all, took responsibility for the decision, which was, as we know, highly prejudicial. By opening hostilities three hours earlier, says the historian Thierry Lentz, Napoleon might have been able to destroy the English army and so render the Prussian intervention futile.

Waterloo, Mont St Jean or Belle-Alliance?

• • •

Two centuries after the event some are still fighting, to challenge the association of the name of Waterloo with the battle on 18 June 1815. For them, the battle should bear the name of Mont St Jean, Belle-Alliance or even Plancenoit or Braine-l’Alleud.

In fact, three names have been in circulation. The French, for example, immediately called it the «Battle of Mont St Jean.» That is confirmed by the official report of the fighting, dated from Paris on 21 June, and by some romantic writers inspired by the scene. But this name, essentially French, met very limited success and quickly fell into disuse. Even Napoleon on St. Helena invoked only the name of Waterloo.

On the Prussian side, the name «Battle of La Belle Alliance» persisted longer. It has its origins in the report of Blücher’s Chief of Staff, Count von Gneisenau, written on 20 June in Merbes-le-Château: «In the midst of the position occupied by the French and at its highest point is a farm called La Belle Alliance. The march of all the Prussian columns was directed towards this farm, which was visible from all sides. It was there that Napoleon stood during the battle. It was there also that he gave his orders, that he flattered himself with the hope of victory and that his ruin was decided. It was also there by serendipity that Lord Wellington and Marshal Blücher met in the dark and saluted each other. In memory of the alliance which now exists between the English and Prussian nations, of the union of the two armies and their mutual trust, the Marshal desires that this battle should be called La Belle Alliance.»

Due to its symbolic appeal, although in fact this name has no connection with the meeting of the two generals, it has persisted for nearly a half a century, especially in Germany and the Netherlands. In Berlin a street and a square were named Belle-Alliance. Now only some German historians have continued to use it, and they are not many.

It is, in fact, to Wellington that we owe the official name. In his diary, General Constant Rebecque tells in what circumstances the Duke baptised the historic day: «It was late. Under the pressure of the fresh forces of the Zieten corps, French troops had retreated, pursued by English forces. We were then close to the Rossomme farm. On the way, the Duke said to me in speaking of the battle: «Well, what do you think of it?» I said, «I think, sir, it is the most beautiful thing you have done as yet.» He added, «By God, I saved the battle four times myself!» Then I said, «I suppose that the battle will be named Mont St Jean.» He replied «No, Waterloo!»

Returning in the night to his HQ, established in the inn of the widow Bodenghien in the heart of Waterloo village, opposite the Royal Chapel, he confirmed his decision, in writing his report to Lord Bathurst, by dating it from Waterloo. The name of the little Brabant village thus passed to posterity -in Britain, of course, but also in Europe and throughout the British Empire. So much so that today there are more than a hundred Waterloos worldwide. Besides lakes, rivers, mountains and streams. We will come back to that.

One thing is certain. No offence to the Brainois, but there was never any question of baptising the combat with the name of Braine l’Alleud where, they say, most of the battle took place. Maps prove this to be a myth.

So when in his Dictionary of the Battle of Waterloo, Jean H. Frings, founder of the Guides in 1815, wrote «No part of the battlefield is within the territory of Waterloo», he received a scathing response from Lucien Gerke, the late keeper of the Museum of Waterloo: «No writer – even the most headstrong - has ever been so peremptory (…) Waterloo occupied, even before the merger of the communes in 1976, nearly 30% of the land protected by the law of 1914. And there is no guide to the Wellington Museum who does not know that the biggest infantry attack, that of Drouet d’Erlon, saw almost half of its complement (10,000 men who faced as many) fight within our commune, leading to the capture of Papelotte (which is in Waterloo, of course).”

To remain objective, it should be stated that 49% of the Waterloo battlefield, in its classified section, is within the territory of Plancenoit (the existing commune of Lasne), 30% in Waterloo and 21% in Braine, including such prestigious monuments as the Lion Mound, the panorama of the battle, the new Memorial and part of the farm of Hougoumont.

Where did Blücher and Wellington meet?

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An image has survived the centuries. It even illustrates the cover of this book: that of Wellington greeting Blücher, on the evening of the battle in front of the side wall of the farm of La Belle Alliance. It is however not sure they met at this place. Wellington, in any case, disagreed.

In letters dated 2 May and 8 June 1816 and sent to a certain W. Mudford, who wanted to write a book about his victory at Waterloo, Wellington explained that he did not want any such work dedicated to him unless he had previously seen it. He noted that more had been written on this battle than on any other event and that, most often, the results were disappointing. «Those who have written on this subject felt they had all the necessary information as soon as they had had a conversation with a peasant in the area or with an officer or soldier engaged in battle. Such reports cannot be accurate … «he wrote, cautioning against all these testimonies and advising him to read rather his own reports published in the London Gazette. «You cannot trust any of the other reports I have had under my view. To some among them there can be attributed the origin of fabrications circulating by means of non-official publications with which the press has been gorged.»

This testimony of Wellington becomes interesting when the Duke gives an example: «A remarkable instance is to be found in the report of a meeting between Marshal Blücher and me at La Belle Alliance (…) It happens that the meeting took place after ten at night in the village of Genappe; and anybody who attempts to describe with truth the operations of the different armies will see that it could not be otherwise.»

Though the meeting between the two victors of Waterloo certainly took place, it is likely that it took place elsewhere. Maybe between Le Caillou and La Maison du Roi. This at least is what some witnesses of the encounter suggest, including General Constant-Rebecque. We know, moreover, that the Duke had at the end of the fighting, advanced to the Gras-Fromage farm, near the village of Glabais, from where he could see in the distance the last skirmishes between the routed French and Gneisenau’s Prussians who were pursuing them. And it was while returning from this trip that Wellington and his staff saw, coming from Plancenoit, Blücher and his staff. They rode to meet them and they cordially shook hands and exchanged a few words for ten minutes. It must have been more or less 10:30p.m. Blücher then made towards Genappe, where he spent the night. Wellington went back to the centre of Waterloo where he had established his headquarters in the Bodenghien inn.

Much later, when he was again asked about this famous meeting during a formal meal, Wellington gave these details: «We were both on horseback. Nevertheless, he kissed me and exclaimed: ‘Mein liebe kamerad! Quelle affaire!’ Those were more or less the only words he knew in French.»

So why this legend? Undoubtedly for the symbolic value of the Belle-Alliance, which well suited Romantic writers, and because the owner of the farm was quick to affix to its façade a marble plaque describing the event. Something to attract the attention of tourists and thus to internationalise the reputation of the place. And it worked, at least temporarily.

Was ‘God Save the King’ played for the English?

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Several authors, inspired no doubt by the writings of Henry Houssaye, the historian with the widest following, say that during the meeting between Wellington and Blücher, the Prussian musicians played “God Save the King» in honour of their British allies.

Thus one reads in Georges Jacquemin: «The Prussians, despite their brutal behaviour, had the sensitivity to play on the dark night of victory, on what was a field of horror, the British national anthem. It was a cordial salute from a loyal ally to their brother in arms, the victor of the day, Field-Marshal Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. An honour for the English Generalissimo!»

It is impossible to confirm or deny that this tune was actually played on the evening of the battle. However, if this were the case, it was probably not in honour of Wellington or his sovereign.

It should be known that the hymn in question has no official composer. It might even have French or Danish origins. Some have even said it was inspired by some music of Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel or Henry Purcell. The British think that the melody was performed for the first time