Fought on June 18, 1815 in Belgium, the Battle of Waterloo figures so casually in our present day minds as an event that mainly provides us with a slang term to use when mentioning an ultimate defeat, that we have no idea of how fearful people in many parts of Europe were that Napoleon would not be defeated.
Having quickly risen to power in the dangerous and disorganized period of the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) brought stability and national pride back to France, eventually crowning himself as Emperor in 1804. As a solder and leader of armies he seemed invincible, not only to the French people, but to people all over the world. Thus, from about 1789, until Bonaparte’s final defeat in 1815 by a coalition of nations, the world at that time was plunged into the chaos, first of the Wars of the French Revolution, then of the Napoleonic Wars.
After 1812, the Napoleonic Wars may be regarded perhaps as the first “First World War” since so many areas of the world became embroiled in these conflicts on land and sea. Though Napoleon was forced to abdicate and exiled to the island of Elba off the coast of Italy in 1814, after only a year of exile he escaped and soon had Europe scrambling to form a coalition to stop this new threat. Thus, his final defeat in June, 1815 at Waterloo, and his final exile to the island of St. Helena marked the culmination of a conflict that seemed endless.
Along with many other commemorative events, including a major reenactment on the battlefield in Belgium, the Erwin Library offers an exhibit in the Reference Area showcasing histories and biographies of the major adversaries, including not only the victorious British army leader, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, but other members of the international coalition, as well as Bonaparte himself.
Other books focus on a variety of writers, including Thomas Hardy (The Dynasts), the Bronte sisters, and William Makepeace Thackery (Vanity Fair) whose works often included plots based on the violence and battles of the Napoleonic wars.