Thursday, June 18, 2015

Waterloo at 200

Today is June 18th, and for those of you who are historically-minded, it's the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, in which the resurgent French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by English and Prussian forces under the respective commands of the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal von Bluecher. Were it not for the outcome of this battle, I might be writing this blog in French.

I find military history to be fascinating, and the scope of my interest has been steadily moving backwards from my teenage interest in World War II, originally fueled by 1960's-vintage TV series like "Combat" and "The Gallant Men." The Second World War grew out of the First World War, which built on the earlier Balkans wars and the Franco-Prussian War, which led back to ... well ... the Napoleonic Wars.

I just finished reading a fascinating new book by Bernard CornwellWaterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles.

Cornwell is, of course, the author of the popular series of novels and short stories featuring the character of Richard Sharpe*, the British soldier who rose through the ranks and fought in every single battle of the Napoleonic wars, culminating in his participation at Waterloo as a lieutenant colonel.

Mr Cornwell has written a very detailed, but very readable and exciting history of the three battles of the Waterloo campaign - Ligny, Quatre Bras, and Waterloo, bringing the noise, smell, and fury of the battle to life as perhaps no other current author can. He draws on previous historical research and writings, and on primary sources such as diaries and letters to present the battle from perspectives ranging from those of Napoleon, Bluecher, and the Duke of Wellington to those of private soldiers of the three competing armies (French, Prussian, and English). After reading this book, you'll be glad you weren't there.

The 200th anniversary of Waterloo also led to a recent flap between the Belgian and French governments when Belgium announced plans to issue a 2.5 Euro coin commemorating the battle.

This, as you might imagine, irritated the ever-prickly French, whose government huffed that the coin threatened to undermine European unity and "spur an 'unfavorable reaction in France.'" The French, of course, have never quite accepted that Napoleon didn't work out well for them in the long run.

And if you are not especially interested in European military history, you can still celebrate the legacy of Waterloo in this song by the Swedish quartet Abba ...

Get your ration of history - read this fine book by Bernard Cornwell.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow, when we'll reveal the Left Cheek Ass Clown for the month of June. More thoughts then.


* Sharpe was played by actor Sean Bean in the BBC series based on the Cornwell stories. Mr Bean also played the character of Eddard Stark in the HBO series "Game of Thrones," and of Boromir in "The Lord of the Rings."


Duckbutt said...

Thanks for the reading suggestion. I like that sort of book.

I'm taking a break before reading August, 1916 by Solzhenitsyn.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

I never heard that ABBA song before. To me, ABBA is a guilty pleasure.

Linda Kay said...

Love ABBA, so thanks for sharing this with us this morning. I'm not so interested in history that far back, but found that traveling in Europe I was more intrigued. Glad you enjoyed it!

Gonzo Dave said...

The June issue of Smithsonian had an excellent article about Waterloo in it: "Why We'd Be Better Off if Napoleon Never Lost at Waterloo"

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

The French tend to be sore losers. They've had practice at it!

Mike said...

Love ABBA and that song. 'Combat' was on one of the secondary broadcast channels late night here for awhile. It was strange watching an old show that only had 5 minutes instead of 20 minutes of commercials in it.