Waterloo: a victory for European co-operation, not just for Britain

An interview about the Battle of Waterloo with CRAM member – and expert in the history of Napoleonic Europe – Dr Leighton James…. 

Waterloo was a victory for European co-operation, not a simple matter of Britain versus France, or Wellington against Napoleon, says a Swansea historian and expert in the field, in the approach to the 200th anniversary of the 1815 battle on 18th June. A coalition of nations defeated Napoleon, including not just British troops but forces from the territories that we now know as Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, said Dr Leighton James.  He added that the battle was less of a turning point than we might think: if anything, the key moment was the battle of Leipzig in 1813, two years before Waterloo.

Waterloo - Hougomont
Picture: The Closing of the Gates of Hougomont, by Robert Gibb. This was one of the opening encounters in the Battle of Waterloo, with French troops trying – and failing – to storm an Allied strongpoint. Copyright: National Museums of Scotland

Dr.James is associate professor in the department of history and classics at Swansea University. His research expertise includes the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars in German Central Europe and the Seven Years War.

Dr Leighton James said: “Waterloo was a European victory, not just a British one.  It was a victory for European co-operation, and to characterise it as just a British triumph is too simple. Wellington’s troops fought alongside soldiers from areas we know now as Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. In fact, the real turning point in the battle is the arrival of the Prussians, who appear just in time to reinforce Wellington’s troops.  At that point, most of the soldiers fighting against Napoleon are German.”

Dr James added that the popular notion of Waterloo as the defining battle in the struggle against Napoleon was misplaced:
‌”Leipzig in 1813 was the biggest battle in Europe before the First World War, involving over 600,000 troops. It pitted the Germans, Austrian, Russians and a small number of British forces against the French.  Leipzig – rather than Waterloo – was the key moment when Napoleon’s empire really begins to crumble.  Waterloo was really an epilogue.”

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