by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 18th 2015)
Cometh the Hour
200 years ago today (June 18th 2015) the myth of Napoléon Bonaparteʼs military prowess was punctured once and for all on the fields of a small Belgian town – Waterloo. Napoléon staked his future and that of his empire on a final battle. However, he knew that he was fighting against time. He had to win a decisive victory before the Prussian leader Field-marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher arrived with reinforcements. He failed to do so. Blücherʼs forces occupied the attentions of reinforcements that Napoléon desperately needed to fight Wellingtonʼs army. The rest is history.
Bonaparte failed to unite Europe under his rule. The course of European and indeed world history was determined that day.
Shamefully. The British government treated the veterans of Waterloo abysmally. There was no land fit for heroes. There was no gratitude. There were no jobs for them – they were offered as mercenaries to Latin-American revolutionaries. Among the beneficiaries of this was Simón Bolívar y Palacios. Bolívar paid tribute to the contribution of these soldiers to the eventual defeat of Spanish colonialism.
Arthur Wellesley completed the final defeat of Bonaparte and with that ensured that France and its Emperor did not achieve primacy over Europe and probably the world. Britain went on to have the largest empire the world had ever seen. Waterloo played a pivotal part in facilitating the rise to empire of Britain and also ensuring that the French empire would never attain pre-eminence.
Early in his military career Wellesley bought promotions – a common practice at the time, yet he had military acumen. This was a rare combination. Wellesley was a gifted soldier – one of the finest defensive military commanders ever. He distinguished himself in many campaigns from India to the Peninsular Wars, culminating in his final defeat of Bonaparteʼs bluster. Wellesley was created the first Duke of Wellington after his success in the Peninsular War, which ended with the Battle of Toulouse in 1814.
Wellington went into politics, becoming Prime Minister twice, 1828-1830 and again for less than a month in 1834. He opposed the Reform Act of 1832, but three years earlier had been instrumental in ensuring that the Catholic Relief Act became law. Wellington went on to become the Leader of the House of Lords and the favourite of the young Queen Victoria. He died in 1852. He was given a state funeral.
In February 1815 Napoléon Bonaparte escaped from Elba, drawing former supporters, including Marshall Michel Ney, later to play an important role in the defeat at Waterloo. Bonaparteʼs plan was to engage the British and Prussians separately and defeat both. After that he planned to reach an accommodation with the Russians and Austrians, but Blücherʼs arrival destroyed his plans.
Bonaparte blamed Ney in particular for the failure of his plan and Ney paid the heaviest price. The man Bonaparte dubbed the Bravest of the Brave was executed by firing squad in December 1815.
Napoléon Bonaparte was transported to exile in St Helena. His empire was over. He died in 1821.
One of the most celebrated Prussians ever began his military career as an enemy – a Swedish hussar. Once recruited to the Prussian cause he remained loyal to it. He brooked no nonsense, even from his monarch. Denied a promotion to Major, Blücher left Prussian King Frederick the Great in no doubt what he thought with a deliberately rude resignation letter in 1773. Thirteen years later Frederick was dead. Blücher got his promotion.
He was respected by his troops as was Wellesley. He was rewarded by King Frederick III of Prussia for services during the Napoleonic Wars. Blücherʼs relationship with Weelington was crucial at Waterloo. Both knew they could rely on each other to unite for the final push that would seal Bonaparteʼs fate. After Waterloo Blücher was given lands in Silesia – now in Poland. He died at Krieblowitz in September 1819.
His remains were buried at huge mausoleum at Krobielowice in Poland. Shamefully his remains were desecrated by the Red Army in 1945, despite the role he had played in defeating Bonaparteʼs invasion of Russia and imperial plans over Europe.