Waterloo 200

There’s a break in transmission this week, as I’d like to write about an event I attended at the University of Southampton recently. The university houses the papers of the first Duke of Wellington and it is currently putting on an exhibition displaying some of the papers that are connected to the Battle of Waterloo, including a draft of Wellington’s despatch to Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State for War. The exhibition is called Wellington and Waterloo: ‘the tale is in every Englishman’s mouth’.

 The exhibition is in the university’s Hartley Library. It’s not a large exhibition and it doesn’t need to be. The papers have such historical significance that it would be a mistake to dilute their impact in order to display more.

There are papers showing some of Wellington’s instructions for the Congress of Vienna; drafts of reports from Wellington at Vienna to Lord Castlereagh, Secretary of State for Foreign affairs; pages from Le Moniteur Unversel reporting Napoleon’s activities in Paris during April 1815; estimates of the number of French soldiers and the number of allied soldiers in the run up to the battle; a letter from Wellington requesting additional troops after the battle; and letters about the eventual abdication of Napoleon and the occupation of France.

Save for a few papers at the bottom of the cabinets, the documents are easy to see and to read. The explanatory material is helpful and to the point. The catalogue is also useful, as it contains extracts from the documents on display.

Probably the most interesting document, since we have been remembering the bicentenary of Waterloo on Thursday, is Wellington’s despatch from Waterloo. It seems he started writing it on the battlefield and finished it in Brussels. This was the document that officially brought the news of Bonaparte’s defeat to London in the evening of 21st June, although there had already been rumours reaching the capital throughout the day.

Even allowing for the haste in which Wellington drafted his despatch after the battle, his writing is dreadful, almost illegible, but his thinking is clear. Given how exhausted he must have been when he wrote it, there are remarkably few crossings out and most of the corrections relate to information that must have been brought to him while he was writing.

It’s a very interesting exhibition for anyone interested in Wellington or the battle itself. It runs until 26th June and again from 13th to 24th July.

The link for further information is here

The university has also launched a free Massive Open Online Course about Wellington and Waterloo which makes use of many papers from the collection. The link for this is here. I’m participating in this course and learned about the exhibition as a result. I hope to review the course in some detail once I’ve completed it.

Jane Austen Lives Here will return next week.

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