Waterloo200 - A Defining Moment in European History

Posted on Thursday 9th August 2012

does the battle of waterloo, 1815, have significance and relevance in 2015?
The events of 1815 were momentous both on and off the battlefield. It was a historical watershed which brought more than 22 years of conflict in Europe to a definitive close – it also affected many thousands of lives for much of the Nineteenth Century and beyond.
The Battle of Waterloo was a milestone in European history. It ended over 20 years of conflict in Europe. It involved many nations and heralded over 50 years of peace and stability. The battle was the culmination of a long campaign, fought in Spain and Portugal, by the Duke of Wellington and his Allied armies. The commemoration of this seminal event will reflect the strategy and planning of the campaign in a modern context and will involve people of many nations.
The bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo is less than three years away. In June 2015, we shall commemorate the end of the Napoleonic Wars, which saw a European struggle against Republican France and finished with the famous Battle on 18 June 1815.
To support these commemorations, Waterloo200 has been established, with an aim to 'promote and co-ordinate the… bicentennial commemorations of the Peninsular War… and the Battle of Waterloo.' By promoting 'the enduring core values of Waterloo; those of Leadership, Respect, Enterprise and Co-operation' and with a wish to demonstrate 'the relevance of Waterloo to contemporary society', Waterloo200 wants to present a pan-European view of the wars which will help us to understand how each and every nation involved was affected and just why the Battle of Waterloo is so important for the history of modern Europe.

The Lion Mound at Waterloo.

When asked the question 'Does the Battle of Waterloo have relevance and significance in 2015?', historian and author Ian Fletcher responded 'Not only was Waterloo a crucial event in European political and social history but it was also one of the most decisive battles in military history, bringing to an end one of the longest and most costly wars in history and bringing to his knees one of the greatest military commanders that has ever commanded an army on the battlefield, Napoleon Bonaparte.'
Waterloo200’s Education Committee is dedicated to discovering why the Napoleonic wars were so significant, and aim to teach, communicate and present this fascinating history to schools and the wider community. We believe that only with an understanding of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods can we begin to focus on the numerous ways in which the conflict affected us all, and not just in the context of battle. It is imperative that we learn about the human dimension of these conflicts: the men and women who sacrificed themselves in battle and the families they left behind, the Sutlers (civilian merchants) and camp followers who traversed the roads alongside the Regiments and the women and children who witnessed war and were greatly affected by it.
We must also learn about society back home: what the people thought of the battles, how they were affected by wars fought on territory so far away, and how they reacted to the successes, or indeed defeats, that their countries suffered. But not only this! What about the technical advances, medical successes and industrial progression? All factors that helped to sustain the men and machines at war that must not be forgotten in a history of the period. 'One of the many strands emerging from studies of this era is the progress of medicine through warfare. The astounding successes in Afghanistan today take their roots 200 years, during the long and arduous French wars.
Attack on the British Squares by French cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo.

With so many projects on the go, including the production of a chronological summary of events and the Registering of Waterloo and Peninsular War memorials for use in schools and communities, it is the Education Committee’s wish to establish the Napoleonic Wars as a topic of history to be taught in schools. We want to provide educational support, learning materials and teaching equipment for schools, in order that this epoch can become accessible to all future generations and the community alike. Alongside this, we also hope to highlight the conferences, workshops and commemorations being held both here in Britain and in Europe.
Recently, the Education Committee has been present at both the School’s History Project held at Leeds Trinity University, and the Historical Association’s Conference in Reading. Both events were aimed at those with an interest in education and teaching, and as Carole Divall, author of Redcoats Against Napoleon stated 'I believe there is a very good case for the Battle of Waterloo to be taught in our schools and I thought our audience was very receptive.' We believe, from the responses we received from teachers, publishers and the community alike, that the Battle of Waterloo is significant enough to be included in the curriculum, but the big question is how?
Battlefield reenactment at Waterloo - the 33rd in action.

His Grace the Duke of Wellington, KG LVO OBE MC DL

A word from the 8th Duke of Wellington, 2011:
'I am often asked whether we should not now, in these days of European unity, forget Waterloo and the battles of the past. My reply is, history cannot be forgotten and we need to be reminded of the bravery of the thousands of men from many nations who fought and died in a few hours on 18 June 1815 and why their gallantry and sacrifice ensured peace in Europe for 50 years.'

An expert demonstrating how to load and fire a Brown Bess musket.
This is where our work is now taking us – to determining ways by which Waterloo can be taught in schools and how we can help to provide the resources and materials that are very much needed. We would love to ask you for your help; do you think the Napoleonic wars should feature on the curriculum, and if so how would you like to see it included? What sources would you wish to use and how would you like us to help bring that about?
Our social media presence is integral to our work, both for disseminating ideas and articles and for contacting and discussing your thoughts with you. If you do wish to contact us, you can now follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also visit us at www.waterloo200.org where you can sign up to our newsletter or send us suggestions, ideas and any questions you may have. Our Education Team, all experts in their own right on differing aspects of the period such as Naval Tactics, Surgery on the Battlefield and the Life of Redcoats, are always willing and available to answer your questions and queries! We look forward to hearing from you!
Gemma Bagshaw is studying history at the University of Leeds and is currently working with Dr Kevin Linch, through the Undergraduate Research Scholarship scheme, on a project focusing on Soldiers and Soldiering 1750-1815. Gemma has been working as part of the social media team for Waterloo200 education group for over a year now, looking at ways of introducing the Napoleonic Wars into schools and the curriculum and introducing the project to Twitter and Facebook.

Of further interest...