The Battle of Waterloo, which ended Napoleon’s ‘Hundred Days’, has generally been commemorated in this country as a great British victory. Yet Wellington himself admitted to Thomas Creevey on 18 June 1815 that the battle had been ‘a damned nice thing – the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life’.
The battle comprised hundreds of minor skirmishes and confrontations but the arrival of the Prussian forces under the command of Gebhard von Blücher, shown here in an anonymous oil painting (1815-1819), was crucial.
His 48,000 men played a key role alongside Wellington’s 67,000. In fact more than half of those who fought at Waterloo were German.
This justly reflects the notable, but often unremarked, contribution that the German-speaking population of Europe made to Napoleon’s defeat. That began several years previously with the formation of the Sixth Coalition, in which Austria played a leading role, along with Prussia and Russia, and which culminated in the decisive Battle of Leipzig in October 1813. The French forces were pursued back into France and Napoleon abdicated on 11 April 1814. By September 1814 the Congress of Vienna had already begun to shape the future of Europe. Napoleon’s brief return was a hiatus; Waterloo was a postscript.