Chapter 11


The first time the author visited Waterloo was in 1995 on a superb tour organized by the now defunct Midas Tours. This was the first of many visits to Belgium during which the battlefields of the 1815 campaign were studied with an increasing level of interest. Anyone wishing to gain a greater understanding of how topography shaped events at Waterloo should visit the field itself. Although the construction of the Lion Mound undoubtedly altered the appearance of the ridge where Wellington’s right wing stood, it is still possible to appreciate the strength of the Anglo-Allied Army’s defensive position and the difficulty that Napoleon experienced in attacking it.

One thing that immediately strikes observers, even when looking at maps alone, is the relatively small area that the main battlefield covers. This is true not only in comparison with later battlefields but in relation to other Napoleonic battlefields. For example, the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro (1811) was fought across the Spanish–Portuguese frontier and extends over an area three or four times as large as Waterloo. It is possible to walk from Napoleon’s command point to Wellington’s in 20–5 minutes, revealing how small this area is. It is staggering to think that the battle that influenced the fate of Europe for almost 100 years took place in an area totalling little more than 3 square miles (4.8km2).

The undulating nature of the ground also played a great part in deciding the outcome of this battle tactically. Despite the closeness of the Anglo-Allied and French armies, there are still large patches of dead ground in between them that restricted the effectiveness of artillery or allowed troops to be concealed. Photography can only give a vague impression of its subtle appearance and the field needs to be seen in person by enthusiasts who truly want to understand how and why events developed as they did. For example, when one sees the lie of the land around La Haye Sainte, the alleged mistake that the Prince of Orange made by sending infantry forward in line (while unaware that concealed cavalry lay in the vicinity) seems far more understandable.


Belgium is bordered by Germany, the Netherlands and France. It is not landlocked and has a coastline with three major ports on the North Sea. Brussels (the capital) is the largest city, after which Antwerp, Brugge and Luxembourg cities are its largest municipalities. This nation’s central position means that it has been involved in numerous wars over the centuries, particularly between Austria, France and Germany. The regions of Flanders and Wallonia have suffered repeated invasions but one of the few benefits of incessant warfare has been the construction of extensive road, rail and canal networks enabling armies to traverse the area more swiftly.

Finding Waterloo.

Although it has always been a centre of trade, commerce and politics, Brussels has become increasingly important in Europe. As one of the founding states of the European Union, Brussels has effectively become Europe’s capital city as the main meeting place of the European Parliament, although there are three homes to the elected body of the European Union, the others being in Luxembourg and Strasbourg. Other related organizations are located within the capital or in other Belgian cities. The resulting increase in the city’s international importance means that travel links to Belgium have become even easier to use over the last few decades and Waterloo lies only 12 miles (19km) from Brussels.

Large airports are located in Brussels, Antwerp, Charleroi, Liège and Luxembourg City. The two closest to the battlefield are at Brussels and Charleroi but the former possesses far more advantages for most tourists both in terms of position and facilities. The main Brussels airport for international flights is at Zaventem, lying 9 miles (14km) to the north-east of the city centre. Most Belgians refer to it as Zaventem rather than Brussels airport and taxi drivers will instantly recognize it by this name.

There are regular flights to Brussels from all European capital cities and beyond. British Airways, Air Canada, American Airlines, Delta and Lufthansa (among others) all offer several direct flights every day but travellers from North America may find it easier to land at other European capitals and take a connecting flight from there.

Brussels lies at the heart of the European rail network and travellers should experience little difficulty reaching the city by train. The high-speed Eurostar service now runs directly to the Belgian capital from London through the Channel Tunnel and can be boarded at a number of stations in England and France before it reaches Belgium. Direct services are offered from Paris, Amsterdam and Cologne, using the Thalys rail network, but the locations of other capital cities (such as Berlin) require passengers to change trains along most routes.

When arriving in Brussels by train, it is possible to change connections and continue by rail to the town of Waterloo or very near the battlefield itself. A regular local service operates from the capital with stations at Waterloo and the town of Braine l’Alleud. Waterloo station lies about ½ mile (1km) from the town centre and visitors can either proceed on foot along the Rue de la Station towards it or call a taxi. A regular bus route runs from the centre of Waterloo to the battlefield and there are plenty of taxi operators based in the town. If visitors alight at Braine l’Alleud station, a regular bus service runs directly to the Lion Village from the centre and, once again, taxis are easily available for this short trip.

Travelling to Brussels by road is also easier than it has ever been in the past. Daily (or occasionally more frequent) coach services run from most European capitals and Brussels contains a number of major bus stations. Travelling to Waterloo from the capital by bus is straightforward with regular services operating along the main highway (N5), which transects Waterloo and the battlefield itself. Since Brussels is so close to the battlefield, the cost of a taxi there is not prohibitive. Visitors who are in a hurry or who wish to avoid public transport may find it advisable to use the taxis, especially if they have booked accommodation close to the battlefield and have large amounts of luggage.

Those wishing to reach Brussels by car will find that Belgium benefits from an extensive, well-maintained road network, which includes numerous motorways. Drivers from the Netherlands, Germany and France will have no difficulty in reaching Brussels using major routes but visitors from the British Isles will have to use the ferry crossings to the Channel ports. The Belgian ferry ports are at Antwerp, Ostend, Zebrugge and Ghent. However, the French ports of Calais and Dunkirk are close to the frontier and usually allow drivers to join motorways faster, permitting a swifter journey to Brussels.

Since Belgium signed the Schengen Agreement, there are no border controls to delay travellers and routes from all the Channel ports are well signposted and quick to travel on. Journeys beginning from Ostend or Zebrugge usually take 2 hours and can be as short as 1¼ hours from Calais. Brussels lies in the centre of a large motorway hub with at least ten motorways joining this directly and other major routes converging with them shortly beforehand. The Petite Ceinture (small belt) lies within this hub, providing easy road access to the city centre itself.

The N5 is the best route to take when driving to Waterloo and the battlefield from Brussels itself as it neatly transects both destinations. Alternatively, the R0 motorway runs there indirectly and travellers using it should leave at sortie (exit) No. 28 or 27 if heading for Waterloo or at sortie No. 25 for the actual battlefield. It can be interesting to travel by way of Charleroi, joining the N5 just above that city to trace part of Napoleon’s invasion route, which approaches the battlefield from the south.


Brussels makes an excellent base for tourists and has too many hotels and other forms of accommodation to list in addition to numerous restaurants, art galleries, museums and facilities of almost every other kind. Yet some visitors may wish to stay closer to the battlefield hoping to gain obvious advantages from close proximity and more economical rates than those charged in the capital.

Waterloo boasts a number of hotels, those nearest its centre being Martin’s Grand Hôtel/Martin’s Lodge, the Ibis Hôtel and the Hôtel Le Côte Vert. Moving further out of town, the Hôtel Dolce La Hulpe lies in its north-eastern suburbs, while the closest to the battlefield is Le Joli Bois to the south, just north of Mont St Jean.

The former Hôtel du Musée, established in the Lion Village by Sergeant Major Cotton, is now a museum and no longer receives guests, but Le 1815 Hôtel provides the closest accommodation currently possible, being located on the battlefield itself. It stands on the Route du Lion within easy walking distance of Wellington’s Elm Tree crossroads and the Lion Village. Le 1815 Hôtel offers very reasonable rates and a big bonus for Waterloo enthusiasts is the fact that many rooms enjoy excellent views of the battlefield. The hotel lies near the centre of Wellington’s position and the rooms at the front face towards the farm of La Haye Sainte and the Lion Mound is close by. La Belle Alliance is visible from here along with other notable features.

One pleasing aspect is the fact that the rooms have been named after Allied and French generals including Wellington, Napoleon, Blücher, the Prince of Orange, Picton, Hill, Uxbridge, Ney, Grouchy, Soult, Lobau, Reille, Cambronne, d’Erlon, Gniesenau and Thielmann. This is a nice touch and the hotel is a pleasant and highly convenient place to stay in, providing excellent access to the battlefield. Nonetheless, visitors should be aware that the Route du Lion is often extremely busy and should take care when entering or leaving the hotel car park.


One of the very first battlefield guides was Sergeant Major Edward Cotton (1792–1849). Cotton fought at Waterloo with the 7th Hussars, which was part of Colquhoun Grant’s 5th British Cavalry Brigade. At that time, Cotton was a private soldier and displayed great bravery when he dragged Private Edward Gilmore from under his fallen horse and got him to safety as French cavalry bore down upon them. He left the army in 1835 and returned to the area, buying land on the battlefield. He married a local woman and lived in Mont St Jean village.

Now that the British could travel freely to the Continent again, Waterloo became a popular stop during the traditional European Grand Tour beloved by the nobility. The increasingly prosperous middle classes were also beginning to travel for pleasure and Cotton recognized a business opportunity, establishing Le Grand Hôtel du Musée in a small hamlet that became known as the Lion Village. The building eventually contained an ‘English bar, four rooms for restaurant, one of which is capable of seating 100 people, 24 sitting and bedrooms, stabling for 40 horses and vast coach-houses and outhouses’.

As a veteran, Cotton’s services as a ‘Guide and Describer of the Battle’ were much in demand and he eventually wrote a guidebook entitled A Voice from Waterloo in 1846. This became enormously popular and thirteen editions were published between that time and 1913 (it is still available today). As an honourable man, Cotton was generous towards his former foes, writing of them:

Their bearing throughout the day was of gallant soldiers; their attacks were conducted with a chivalric impetuousity and admirably sustained vigour which left no shadow of doubt upon our minds of their entire devotedness to the cause of Napoleon, of their expectation of victory, and the determination of many of them not to suvive defeat. The best and the bravest of them fell: but not til they had inflicted almost equal loss upon their conquerors.

Cotton amassed a considerable array of Waterloo artefacts and trivia that he displayed within the hotel, which reputedly catered for over 1 million guests during the 14 years that Cotton ran the establishment. The Naval and Military Gazette described him as: ‘an intelligent, active, good-looking man of fifty-three years of age, and the very cut of a hussar’. When he died on 24 June 1849, he was buried in the orchard of Hougoumont next to Captain Robert Blackwood’s grave at his own request. His remains were eventually transferred and now rest in Evere Cemetery in the company of other Waterloo heroes. Cotton’s descendants ran the hotel until 1909, when they finally sold the business. His collection of around 3,000 artefacts was divided and auctioned in Brussels.

The building no longer serves as hotel but houses the current Waxworks Museum. Cotton was hugely influential in helping to establish the Lion Village and would probably be proud of the service it provides to visitors today. His guidebook is still highly regarded, despite its age, and was useful during research for this work nearly 200 years later.


Professionally organized tours of Waterloo have visited the battlefield since the 1850s and possibly before. As popular peace movements have emerged worldwide during the past 200 years, some people have questioned the ‘macabre appeal’ of visiting battlefields, alleging that it appears voyeuristic in some sense. However, the serious study of military history demonstrates that examining the ground itself is of great help to those who wish to understand how events transpired and there are many educational benefits, especially to sites well equipped with battlefield centres and museums. Furthermore, even though Waterloo is nearing its bicentenary, there is still a commemotive purpose for visits, especially for those whose ancestors or regiments fought there.

There are numerous advantages to going on a properly organized tour and many companies offer trips to Waterloo, usually lasting between three days and a week in length. They provide an excellent introduction for those wishing to learn about military history or who are visiting a battlefield for the first time, with the benefits of expert guides and lecturers being obvious. There are also advantages to travelling with like-minded guests and most groups rapidly establish a lively camaraderie, which make tours a pleasant experience in themselves. Other guests, who often include former service personnel and re-enactors, may possess specialized knowledge and the author has learned a great deal from associating with fellow enthusiasts in this manner.

From a practical viewpoint, a tour operator usually provides almost everything during these excursions, which can be a relief for older tourists reluctant to go through the stress of driving in a foreign country among other considerations. Essentially the tour operator undertakes to get their guests to their destination (handling driving and map reading), books accommodation, takes them to individual sites on the battlefield, recommends how to get the best out of the experience, provides foreign-language speakers and generally deals with any unforeseen eventualities that may arise. In the case of sickness or injury, this can be a major advantage for people travelling in another country.

In Britain, there are a host of tour operators including Holts Battlefield Tours, The Cultural Experience, Ian Fletcher Battlefield Tours, Leger Holidays and Cooper’s Waterloo Tours. However, this list is not comprehensive and many other guided tours operate on the Continent and from even further afield. Using the Internet, those wishing to visit Waterloo as part of a tour will find themselves spoilt for choice.

While organized tours are an excellent facility for most visitors, the author recommends the option of attempting to organize your own tour from personal experience. While not suitable for everyone, people who have an advanced knowledge of the subject matter can gain great benefits from arranging a ‘Do It Yourself’ tour of their own. Unsurprisingly, tour companies find themselves obliged to cater for a broad level of knowledge among their guests, ranging from total novices to experts. Unless travelling on a specialized tour, aimed at those who are already well informed, serious enthusiasts may find that guides and lecturers do not go into the level of detail they may require. Furthermore, such tours are often more expensive than attempting the trip alone due to the need to stay at hotels with three-star ratings or above, which many older guests enjoy.

The final disadvantage is that tour guides are obliged to adhere to a strict itinerary, due to time restrictions, and obscure locations can be omitted and the time spent at others restricted. History enthusiasts who plan and execute their own travel plans enjoy total control in this regard. However, the DIY approach also has drawbacks and it is certainly more stressful as individuals or small groups have to be self reliant and confident in their own abilities. Essentially, it is vital to book ahead for accommodation, ferry crossings, flights and deal with all other travel considerations personally. While this requires some effort, the introduction of the Internet has made booking your own holiday far easier and it is possible to shop around and find far cheaper rates than a tour company may be able to secure.

Admittedly, the experience can be more stressful than utilizing a company’s services. For example, long periods of driving are tiring and language barriers need to be overcome, a particular problem for many British visitors. Map reading, during travel and on the battlefield itself, is also a challenge and extra time should be allowed for potential difficulties in finding locations. For example, during the author’s last trip, negotiating the road system and finding obscure locations at the site of the Battle of Wavre was a significant problem, only overcome with great persistence on the part of the navigator and driver. While modern ‘sat navs’ can be invaluable in large cities with complex road systems, they are not 100 per cent reliable and they can sometimes give misleading information. Always carry maps to back up electronic devices, regardless of what their manufacturers may claim about their merits. It is also very easy to be tempted when sighting unexpected but attractive locations and divert from your planned itinerary.

Advance planning is vital for organizing your own tour and it is advisable to stick to a set itinerary or be prepared to sacrifice a visit to some sites if you deviate from it. The remarkable thing about touring historical sites is just how many relevant locations there are and time is always at a premium on such trips with difficult choices occasionally being necessary. Furthermore, a personal tour requires accepting responsibility for the safety of the vehicle, refuelling and gaining a prior knowledge of local driving laws and conditions. The simple fact that Continental countries drive on the right-hand side of the road is enough to deter many British tourists from attempting this kind of project. Securing proper medical insurance for all those involved is also advisable, especially when isolated areas feature on the itinerary.

Indeed, prior to arranging personal tours, the author did not carry a mobile phone. After the experience of crossing isolated rivers to gain photographs of bridges in the Peninsula, a cell phone became a vital accessory, and it is advisable to learn the local emergency numbers when travelling abroad. Naturally making your own choices is a major advantage for going it alone but the experience certainly gives you a greater appreciation of the organizational difficulties that face professional tour guides.

Overall, visiting battlefields is an excellent pastime and greatly recommended whether you travel with a tour operator or attempt the trip yourself.


Once visitors actually reach Waterloo, there are a number of ways to travel around the main locations. Driving by car or coach are the easiest in terms of mobility but the merits of cycling or walking should not be dismissed, especially as this is a relatively small battlefield compared to others of the era. Furthermore, sufficient parking is not always available at some locations and visitors should be prepared to walk a short distance from the nearest parking point to areas of interest.

While Belgian drivers are usually considerate road users, bear in mind that the main Charleroi–Brussels highway (N5) is always busy and that vehicles usually travel at some speed upon it. While searching for roadsigns and sites of interest, it is easy to become distracted so be aware that traffic may be bearing down upon you and that manoeuvres such as three-point turns on some roads are therefore inadvisable if you have missed a location and have to retrace your route.

While walking the battlefield is not recommended for everyone, particulary older or infirm visitors, a slow perusal from the perspective of an infantryman can add to the experience. Indeed, some companies offer specialized walking tours specifically aimed at experts who have already been to Waterloo and wish to revisit the area to view the sights in a slower, more meticulous fashion. Bicycles can also be hired in Waterloo and elsewhere and more is often seen when travelling at a slower pace. The late Professor Richard Holmes even recommended viewing battlefields from horseback as one gains the perspective that a commander would have enjoyed. For those wishing to try the experience, the area contains many equestrian centres, notably at Papelotte.

Walking or cycling around the battlefield is definitely recommended during the summer months but visitors should be aware that the area is quite exposed and suitable clothing and suncream are necessary. Furthermore, the bane of many battlefield trips (regardless of the form of travel) is dehydration, particularly in the warmer months. Visitors should therefore take a plentiful supply of water and, as the author can testify from personal experience, its excess weight and bulk is often worth the effort of carrying rather than falling victim to dehydration.

Finally, visitors should take particular care to treat monuments, private residences and property with sufficient respect. In the case of war memorials, inconsiderate behaviour around them can cause genuine offence so be particularly sensitive when viewing and photographing them. Although residents living in the area are used to the sight of tourists, they are easily irritated if they overstep common courtesy. It is therefore important to avoid approaching relevant farmhouses, which are often family residences, without due care and attention.

Tales of aggravated farmers reaching for shotguns and peppering adventurous visitors with rock salt or birdshot are legion in military history circles. Thankfully, this is rare but the author once witnessed an entire group being thrown out of Hougoumont by the former farmer after a glass object was accidently smashed in the courtyard. He subsequently declared his property off limits for the rest of the day.

With hundreds of visitors arriving daily, even outside the usual tourist season, it is understandable that tempers can become frayed. Taking account of this, approach occupied buildings very carefully and ask permission if you wish to take close-ups or try unusual angles when taking photographs. For example, people have occasionally been tempted to scale the wall of La Haye Sainte and take photographs over it into the courtyard below, as the gate is usually closed and impassible. After years of being pestered, the current owner restored the wall largely to prevent such incursions and he may respond badly to ill-advised attempts to gain entry, hopefully not resorting to the extremes that the farm’s former occupants adopted when they observed voltigeurs clambering over the walls.

Although instances of the above are rare, remember that the people inhabiting this region are friendly and helpful but please treat them kindly in order that they remain so and continue to welcome visitors to Waterloo.


Collectors have always sought after relics connected with great battles. In the case of Waterloo, people realized its significance so swiftly that a thriving trade in mementos picked up from the battlefield began in Brussels in the very week in which the battle took place. Indeed, some participants even took items from their foes while the fighting was still in progress such as Captain Kelly of the 1st Life Guards who, after cutting down Colonel Michel Ordener of the 1st Cuirassiers during a cavalry skirmish, dismounted to take the epaulettes from his enemy’s uniform as trophies. In fact, the unfortunate Ordener was merely wounded and survived the battle. Large numbers of civilians and camp followers also prowled the battlefield that night and over the following days, looting anything of significance or value.

In recent years, the use of metal detectors has become increasingly popular with those who hope to find interesting or valuable objects on battlefields. Collectors who engage in this hobby seek formerly commonplace items such as belt buckles, uniform buttons, shako plates and musket balls. Some pass these on to museums but many either collect objects for themselves or sell them. The use of metal detectors can be beneficial when museum professionals or archaeologists conduct surveys but amateur enthusiasts should be aware that searching battlefields without permission is legally and morally dubious.

Main locations for Waterloo battlefield.

In fairness, the trade in such objects is an interesting one and it is easy to see why many are drawn to the hobby. However, few things irritate a landowner more than the sight of a stranger wandering through his fields equipped with metal detector and shovel. However, the field of Waterloo’s fame has ensured that it has been thoroughly searched in this fashion over the years and there cannot be much left to find of great significance. In any case, the proper place for battlefield finds is in museum collections where they can be displayed to the public.

Objects directly associated with Waterloo, and those that fought there, often fetch high prices at antique auctions. This is especially true of artefacts associated with Napoleon or Wellington. Gilles Betrand and Gérard Lachaux, in their book Waterloo Relics, wrote that even mundane objects that the Emperor handled briefly are valued. For example, a cup and saucer he used at a farm in Charleroi is now a treasured possession in the Musée de l’Armée’s collection in Paris. Likewise, when a local woman gave Napoleon a drink from a ceramic vessel in Fleurus, it became her most treasured possession and was passed down as a family heirloom. This object is now held in the Musée Napoléon de Ligny.

Personal objects, such as Napoleon’s distinctive hats and long grey frock coats, command astronomical sums at auction on the rare occasions when they are sold. This was true even during the early twentieth century and the Connoisseur Magazine of 1904 recorded that serious collectors paid various amounts for them and for ‘that essentially personal relic – the Napoleonic hair. For some considerable time past a lock of Wellington’s hair has fetched a sovereign or thereabouts.’ Locks of hair were regularly exchanged during the nineteenth century as marks of affection between friends and relations.

Major Heinrich Eugen Baron von Keller captured two of Napoleon’s carriages during the rout of the French army. They were abandoned when the roads became impassible due to the numbers of fugitives fleeing Waterloo and Keller was fortunate that he maintained possession of them. Although they contained some valuables, even items such as the side lanterns and candles were cut from them and later sold. Keller also received large sums of money for the carriages themselves, the Berlin seized at Genappe fetching £2,500 from Madame Tussaud’s gallery in London (a considerable sum at the time).

Objects like the Waterloo Chairs constructed out of wood from the elm tree at Wellington’s crossroads are highly treasured items today (see Chapter 3), as are items of furniture that Napoleon used at Longwood House during his exile on St Helena. Any weapon used at Waterloo, with a legitimate provenance, can also command high sums at auction and it is a demonstration of how significant the battle was that almost any item associated with this battle instantly attracts the attention of serious collectors.



Belgium’s capital city lies 12 miles (19km) from the battlefield, which makes it an excellent base for most visitors. It is also easy to travel to and battlefield tourists will have no difficulty in finding accommodation, shops, restaurants and almost anything that they require in a city that has become the heart of Europe. Indeed, as Brussels is the main home of the European Parliament, it is tempting to suggest that Napoleon’s ideal of a united Europe is almost upon us, although in truth his vision entailed an empire dominated by France with a ruling Bonaparte dynasty at its head.

After the peace of 1814, hundreds of British expatriates (many of them from among the nobility) came to stay in Brussels. They did this partly through curiosity, as travelling there had been almost impossible during the wars, but also to escape their creditors and enjoy a high but economic standard of living in Belgium. At the time of Napoleon’s return, Brussels was thriving with regular balls and soirées. The famous Waterloo Ball, held at the Duke and Duchess of Richmond’s residence, was one such entertainment. Lord Byron described the occasion in his poems Childe Harold and the Eve of Waterloo. One verse reads:

There was a sound of revelry by night,

And Belgium’s capital had gather’d then

Her Beauty and her Chivalry, and bright

The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men;

The ballroom no longer exists, having been demolished during the nineteenth century when the Rue des Cendres was constructed. The house it stood behind still stands in the Rue de la Blanchisserie in central Brussels.


Wellington set out from Vienna on 29 March and arrived at the Belgian capital on 4 April. He chose to stay at the private residence of Monsieur van de Cruyce, renting the entire ground floor of this large house on the Rue Royale. The building is currently divided between civic and private company offices and is numbered 54–6 on the Rue Royale near the Parc de Bruxelles in the city centre. It was here that Wellington planned the invasion of France and, although caught off guard by Napoleon’s preemptive strike, his preparatory work served him well when the Allies marched into France after Waterloo.

The Duke also spent significant time at the Hôtel de Belle Vue. This is now the Belvue Museum, which displays a large collection of fine paintings, photographs, sculptures and other exhibits related to the Belgian royal family. It stands on the Place de Palais, opposite the Palais Royale, and this palace is the official residence of the Belgian Monarchy. The former hotel has an elegant neoclassical facade and it is easy to see why Wellington enjoyed holding lectures and meetings here for military purposes and civic functions. It was here that he received an alarming message from General Constant de Rebequè at 3.00pm on 15 June, which informed him that Napoleon had crossed the frontier.


Many buildings and private residences were used as makeshift hospitals within the city as carts carrying hundreds of wounded soldiers trundled into the capital from 15 June onwards. Every jolt the wagons took as they traversed the roughly cobbled streets drew gasps and groans of pain from the men they carried, arousing great sympathy from the citizens of Brussels who did their best to cater for their needs.

Among the buildings used as aid stations were the Civil List Building (at the corner of the Place de Palais and Rue Ducale) and the Abbaye de la Cambre (at the end of the Etangs d’Ixelles). The most famous place where wounded were tended to is the Grande Place which lies right in the heart of the old quarter of the city.

Today the Grande Place is a popular tourist destination as a site of spectacular architectural beauty where cultural events are regularly held. Some of the oldest civic buildings in Europe stand on the edges of this large cobbled square and all are well maintained and of magnificent appearance. These include the spectacular Hôtel de Ville, Le Maison des Ducs de Brabant and the Maison de Roi, parts of the latter dating back to 1536. Victor Hugo stayed at ‘Le Pigeon’, which is currently a restaurant, during his exile in 1852. Most of the buildings are stone faced and some have their construction dates, statuettes and features on their facades picked out in golden alloy or brass. The area is steeped in history, providing the ideal venue for enthusiasts to sit at one of the many pavement cafes there and comfortably enjoy Belgian wine, beer and food in a very pleasant setting.

With this in mind, it is hard to imagine the markedly different scene that must have greeted passersby in 1815 for at least a week after Waterloo. Medical orderlies scattered a layer of straw over the cobbles and laid wounded men in rows throughout the square. While it is likely that many were moved indoors when accommodation became available, others were tended in the open air for hours or days and received only minimal treatment. It is likely that many remained here for several days and the mortality rate must have been high due to the long wait for operations, with so many men to treat, and amputation being the main method of dealing with serious wounds. Although visiting the Grande Place is a wonderful experience, this is a location where horrific events occurred and its current appearance gives no hint of what took place there 200 years ago.


On Tuesday 26 August 1890 a monument was unveiled at Evere Cemetery by the Duke of Cambridge as commander-in-chief of the British Army. It was dedicated to the soldiers of the British Army killed during the 1815 campaign or who died of wounds received in battle shortly thereafter. Huge numbers of British expatriates living in Belgium attended along with scores of extra visitors from Britain. So many people wished to attend, particularly from among the military that a special steamer was laid on to convey them from Dover to Ostend.

Among the large crowd present was General Baron de Rennette (representing the Belgian King Leopold II), the Lord Mayor of London and the Burgomaster of Brussels. Many relatives of men who had fought during the campaign attended and among them was Lord Vivian, the grandson of Major General Sir Hussey Vivian who commanded the 6th British Cavalry Brigade at Waterloo. After a solemn but magnificent religious service, Lord Vivian gave a speech to the gathering, explaining the purpose of the monument and thanking the Municipality of Brussels for generously bestowing the site for commemorative purposes.

The Belgians had given the British a plot 32yd2 (30m2) in Evere Cemetery where they placed a burial vault with a large statue above it. Initially this contained the remains of fifteen officers and one non-commissioned officer, although other remains were subsequently added. These had been disinterred from various sites, placed in zinc coffins and laid to rest inside the vault. They included Lieutenant Colonel Sir William de Lancey (Wellington’s Deputy Quartermaster General), Lieutenant Colonel the Honourable Sir Alexander Gordon (whose monument stands by Wellington’s crossroads) and Sergeant Major Edward Cotton of the 7th Hussars.

The British royal family, British Army and the City of London contributed to the cost of the monument. Subscriptions were also raised from British communities in Brussels and private individuals in Britain and Belgium. The Illustrated London News gave a good description of its appearance:

the work of the Comte de Lalaing, a Belgian sculptor, represents, on a pedestal, a kneeling figure of Britannia, with her head bent down as if in mourning for her children, and still watching over them in their death-sleep. At the base of the monument are three lions couchant in varied attitudes. The effect of the whole is seriously impressive …

Beneath the statue is a Latin inscription reading ‘mortuorum patria memor’ (‘the country mindful of its dead’). The vault itself lies below and is reached by two flights of stairs, which descend into the ground ending at the vault entrance. Shield-shaped plaques record the names of the regiments that fought at Waterloo on either side and above the entrance is the following inscription in English:

IN MEMORY of the British officers non-commissioned officers & men who fell during the WATERLOO CAMPAIGN in 1815 & whose remains were transferred to this cemetery in 1889. This Monument is erected by Her Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria, Empress of India, & by their Countrymen on a site generously presented by the City of Brussels.

The cemetery lies to the north-east of Brussels centre and is easily reached by car, taxi or bus. It is usually open from early morning to late afternoon but is often closed on Mondays. It is located at the end of the Rue de la Cimetière. To find the monument, walk through the main gateway of the cemetery, proceed directly on to the central island and then turn right. Alternatively, turn right immediately after entering, walking along the wall of the cemetery. Using either route, the monument soon becomes visible due to its height.


The Musée Royal de l’Armée et d’Histoire Militaire (Royal Army and Military History Museum) is one of the largest museums of its kind in the world. It is located in a large complex of buildings around the vast triumphal arches at the end of the Parc du Cinquantenaire in central Brussels, which includes Autoworld and the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire. It contains a vast array of military artefacts from the medieval period to the present day along with a section devoted to aircraft.

Of particular interest are examples of medieval artillery and exhibitions dedicated to the history of the Belgian Army from the late 1700s, Belgian Revolution of 1830, Emperor Maximilian’s involvement in Mexico and the First and Second World Wars. As a Royal institution, the museum has benefited from generous funding and the fact that so many wars have been fought in central Europe has allowed it to assemble a huge amount of weaponry, paintings, uniforms and decorations.

Military history enthusiasts will be spoilt for choice in this incredible museum but the Napoleonic Gallery is obviously the most relevant for this book’s subject matter. In addition to the material contained within it, the gallery is located within the triumphal archway itself, which stands several storeys high and is reached by stairway or elevator. Visitors can step out onto viewing platforms on either side of the quadriga surmounting the structure. This sculpture portrays the figure of Brabant, brandishing the national flag and riding a four-horsed chariot. A gigantic Belgian flag usually hangs within the central archway and is visible from a great distance. From this height, visitors gain spectacular views of Cinquantenaire Park below and the city.

Ironically more re-enactors choose to portray soldiers of the French Army rather than the ultimately victorious Allies today. The romanticism of a lost cause is one of the attractions.

The Napoleonic gallery contains an impressive number of exhibits, many of which are rarely seen elsewhere. Examples include the largest range of Napoleonic shakos and helmets that the author has ever seen on display during a lifetime of visiting military museums. Along with numerous weapons, decorations and paintings (some relating directly to Waterloo) are two exhibits worth seeking out specifically. These are a complete set of musical instruments from a regimental band and a striking portrait in pastel of a Belgian officer in the French Imperial Guard.

Another object of interest is an imposing French 12-pound cannon, which currently stands near the main museum entrance, behind the triumphal archway. Cannon of this calibre were considered the most effective field weapon of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The sheer size of this monstrous gun (the wheels exceed the height of most men) gives some insight into why these cannon were both feared and respected on the battlefield. Napoleon valued them greatly and believed that successfully concentrating the fire of artillery batteries had been a decisive factor in many of his victories.


Braine l’Alleud lies to the north-west of Waterloo battlefield and, while no actual fighting took place here, Wellington posted large numbers of troops within and around Braine l’Alleud. The bulk of these forces were from the 3rd Netherlands Division (around 7,000 men) and, as the course of the fighting became clearer, General Chassé brought most of his division forward to reinforce Wellington’s centre. A portion of Chassé’s command played an important role in repelling the final French attack by the Imperial Guard.

Today there are few buildings within Braine l’Alleud dating back to 1815 or before but the locals brought many wounded here and gave them shelter. One building that was here in 1815 is the Church of St Etienne, which was used for the treatment of the injured. It has an unusual spire, similar to the onion-shaped minarets of Russian Orthodox Church spires. A plaque is set on the outer wall of the tower and its French inscription translates as: ‘This church served as a hospital on the day following the battle when the good people of Braine l’Alleud came to tend the wounded, June 1815’. These words are also inscribed upon a bass relief inside St Etienne’s, depicting Simon Cyrene helping Jesus carry his terrible burden to the crucifixion.

The church tower is 147.6ft (45m) tall and Victor Hugo compared its distinctive spire to a ‘graceful chalice’. It was visible some distance from the village, which is now a small town, and according to local legend, Prussian soldiers asked their officers how they would know when victory was near, who responded: ‘When you see a church tower surmounted by a helmet.’ The spire does resemble a German pickel-haube helmet, although the use of this spiked military headgear postdates the Battle of Waterloo.


Today Waterloo is a large town with a population of around 28,000 inhabitants. In 1815, there were approximately 7,000 people living here and the village lies 3 miles (5km) from the battlefield, and no fighting took place here. As the name of their town is world famous due to its associations with the conflict, its citizens are naturally proud but occasionally perplexed by having to explain its exact involvement to the thousands of tourists who visit every year. During one of the author’s recent visits, a woman serving in the Maison de Tourisme (tourist information office) smiled after pointing out the Waterloo-related leaflets and literature available and gestured to the floor above, where there was a local history exhibition. ‘Waterloo is known for more than just that time when Napoleon visited us, you know?’ she added. The tourist information centre is located in the centre of the town, just across the road from the Wellington Museum.

Early Medieval accounts initially refer to the village as ‘Waterlots’, which means ‘wet meadows by a stream in a forest’. It lies 9½ miles (15km) from the capital and its position, being along one of the first main highways to be paved in the country (originally named the Chemin des Wallons), meant that it prospered as a staging post for travellers. Inns and taverns sprang up to cater for travellers eager for food and lodgings during journeys between Brussels and Paris. The close proximity of the Forest of Soignes also meant that the village was involved with the forestry industry. A minor engagement was fought here in 1705 during the War of Spanish Succession when Jacque Pastur (who was born in the village and commanded a militia-based force) briefly challenged the progress of the Duke of Marlborough’s army. Since it straddles an important national communications route, Waterloo has seen many armies pass through over the centuries.


The Musée Wellington lies on the Chaussée de Bruxelles in the centre of Waterloo. An old coaching inn (built circa 1705), Wellington selected it as his headquarters since it was large enough to house most of his staff and was situated adjacent to the highway that Napoleon probably intended to use on his drive towards Brussels. The building had narrow corridors and fourteen separate rooms along with stabling in 1815. It was here that Wellington conferred with his generals and wrote his famous first dispatch conveying news of his victory to the British Government.

Over the years the house has changed hands many times and been used for several different purposes. During the 1950s, a wealthy American offered to buy the structure, intending to transfer it back brick-by-brick for reconstruction in the USA. However, Count Jacques-Henri Pirenne (the historian who founded Les Amis du Musée Wellington – The Friends of the Wellington Museum) managed to prevent this in 1955 and it became a museum. By 1958, the Belgian Government had taken possession, and it was declared a protected building in 1981.

The museum’s collection includes many relics associated with the battlefield, Wellington, Napoleon and the Wars of Revolution and Empire. Of particular interest is Wellington’s former bedchamber on the first floor, which he relinquished to his friend Gordon as he suffered the agonies of amputation. Nearby is the study where the Duke wrote his first dispatch outlining the emerging details of the victory. A mannequin representing Wellington sits at the very desk he supposedly used for the purpose. He wrote this knowing that his friend Gordon lay mortally wounded only a short distance away, where he eventually died in the early hours of 19 June.

The Wellington Museum, which resides in the building that the Duke chose as his headquarters. It stands opposite St Joseph’s in the centre of Waterloo.

In addition to numerous busts, paintings, weapons and decorations, the Wellington Museum regularly hosts special exhibitions. Many of these relate to the Napoleonic Wars in general but the Duke’s Peninsula campaigns are also a favourite topic. A recent exhibition examines the effect that Waterloo had on history and records how far its name spread throughout Europe and the world by listing the incredible number of towns, cities and institutions named in honour of the battle. There are also large-scale maps on display, some of which are illuminated, which visitors may find useful to peruse before visiting the actual battlefield.

In addition to the usual Waterloo postcards and souvenirs, the museum contains an excellent bookshop containing more Napoleonic titles than most related museums in the area. The old coach entrance on the front of the museum is now filled with a black gate about 6ft (1.8m) high with the numerals 1815 picked out in gold upon it. A pleasing addition to the frontage are modern national flags of participating nations in the 1815 campaign, the appearance of which side by side represents the hope that old quarrels are now forgotten.

The gardens are also open to the public and plaques can be viewed both here and mounted on the walls of the ground floor of the house. Many plaques have been relocated from elsewhere and the officers thus commemorated are Lieutenant Colonel Stables (of the Guards), Major Arthur Rowley Heyland (40th Foot), Colonel Ellis (25th Foot) and Lieutenant Colonel Richard Fitz-Gerald whose tomb still stands in the garden.

One of the more unusual tales about Waterloo relates to Lord Uxbridge’s amputated leg. This awful operation was carried out in Château Tremblant, which then stood on the Chausée de Bruxelles. According to some sources, Uxbridge suffered the agony of amputation in silence only speaking once to remark that the surgeon’s saw could have been a little sharper. Jean-Baptiste Pâris, who lived there, actually put up a grave marker for the severed limb after burying it in the garden.

There are three versions of how its inscription read, which are grimly humourous, the first supposedly reading: ‘Here lies the Marquis of Anglesey’s leg; Pray for the rest of his body, I beg’. The second alternative continues in similar vein with: ‘Here lies the Marquis of Anglesey’s limb; The devil will have the remainder of him’. The final version is a more respectful, if rather eccentric, record for the interment of a solitary body part:

Here is buried the leg

Of the illustrious and valiant Count Uxbridge,

Lieutenant-General of his Britannic Majesty,

Commander in Chief of the British, Belgian and Dutch

Cavalry, wounded 18th June

1815, at the memorable battle of Waterloo;

Which by his heroism, contributed towards the

Triumph of the human cause;

Gloriously decided by the brilliant victory of the said day.

Lieutenant General Henry Paget, Earl of Uxbridge, one of Britain’s finest cavalry commanders and second in command to Wellington at Waterloo. (Lawrence)

The leg was disinterred during the nineteenth century and, according to some sources, actually displayed in a glass cabinet at one stage. When the Marquis’s son visited the area during 1877–8, he was stunned to see the bone and the boot that housed it utilized as an exhibit and appealed to the Belgian ambassador in London for its removal when he returned to England. Consequently, it was removed from display and was transferred to the grounds of the Wellington Museum in 1991. Once again, the remains were reburied but their precise whereabouts are now disputed. Nevertheless, one of the Marquis’s wooden prosthetic limbs is currently on display in Gordon’s bedchamber in the Wellington Museum.


On the other side of the Chaussée de Bruxelles, opposite the Wellington Museum, are the Royal Chapel and Church of St Joseph, which predate the battle. The chapel was consecrated in 1690 by the Marquis of Castanaga (the Spanish Governor General of the Low Countries) who intended it to be used as a place of rest for his sovereign’s line. However, when Charles II of Spain died without issue, it was put to other uses. The chapel has a solemnly impressive appearance with a classical frontage. The adjoining St Joseph’s Church has been extended since 1815, reaching its current size in the 1850s, and the combined structure towers over the pavement and visually dominates the centre of Waterloo.

Following the battle, twenty-seven plaques commemorating Allied officers slain during the campaign were placed within the Royal Chapel. Subsequently, most of these were transferred into St Joseph’s Church and today they adorn the walls and floor of its interior. Only two large bas-reliefs relating to the battle and a large bust of Wellington remain in the Royal Chapel now.

St Joseph’s Church in the centre of Waterloo Village (now a town). Inside the church are numerous monuments commemorating the slain on all sides at Waterloo.

The church and chapel are made of dark-brown brick, faced with stonework and the dome is contained in a leaden roof, greened with age and topped by a dark tower. Considering the relatively dark exterior, it therefore comes as a pleasant surprise to visitors that the interior of the dome contrasts sharply with this appearance. Light cascades down from the windows above and the whole structure is spacious, bright and cool – lending a serious and calm aspect suitable for a place of worship housing memorials to the fallen.

The stones lining the walls predominantly record the sacrifices of British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers but a French monument was added in recent years. The sheer number of officers listed, along with their regiments who lost even more men in the ranks, has a sobering effect on most observers. Naturally their words are too many to repeat here but a white marble plaque to the left of the entrance gives a more general description: ‘In honoured memory of all British officers, non commissioned officers and soldiers who fell in battle upon the 16th, 17th and 18th June 1815. This tablet was erected by a few brothers in arms and countrymen AD MDCCCLVIII’.


The impact of the Napoleonic Wars was so great that people immediately wished to see the place where Wellington triumphed over the ‘Corsican Tyrant’ and finally defeated him. Indeed, as soon as word of the great victory reached Brussels, many travelled to the scene and some civilians had even been present during the battle itself, as was often the case during the period, simply out of curiosity.

Looking down on the Waterloo panorama and the village from the summit of the Lion Mound, which contains a spectacular painting of the battle.

An early pioneer of travelling for pleasure was Thomas Cook, often considered the father of modern tourism. Having organized excursions in Britain during the 1840s, he became a full-time ‘excursion and tourist operator’ in 1854 and arranged his first ‘Grand Circular Tour of Europe’ the following year. This included a trip to Waterloo, and visits to the site of Napoleon’s defeat were frequently requested throughout his career, the battlefield never losing its popularity as a destination.

While the majority of early tourists hailed from the participant nations allied against France in 1815, French visitors increasingly began to travel here as the political climate and assessment of history changed their nation’s outlook. The undiminished and almost mythic status afforded to Napoleon was also influential in drawing curious visitors to the site of his last battle. By 1912, an anonymous French writer claimed: ‘the battlefield has beome an almost obligatory pilgrimage for the French visiting Belgium’.

Yet even before the organization of large tours, visitors flocked to the battlefield and a small group of buildings was constructed to cater for tourists. Built nearby and to the north-east of the Lion Mound, the village lies in the centre of the ridge where Wellington’s right flank had once been. This collection of buildings soon gained the unofficial name of the Lion Village. The gigantic Lion Mound (see Chapter 3) and the large rotunda at its foot, containing the panorama (seeChapter 5), dominate the village. It also contains an impressive range of shops, restaurants, museums and a battlefield centre.


One of the first buildings constructed here was the Hôtel du Musée (Museum Hotel) begun by Sergeant Major Cotton. This was purpose built for battlefield visitors and, as a Waterloo veteran, Cotton’s services as a guide were sought after. Today the building is a museum, housing a collection of life-size waxwork figures. These include portrayals of Wellington, Napoleon and Blücher along with most of the French marshals present during the battle. The famous scene of Napoleon breakfasting at Le Caillou and in conference with his generals is one of the events depicted. While the faces and poses of the figures vary in terms of realism, the uniforms are quite accurate and give a good impression of the visual military splendour of Napoleonic times.


A trip to Waterloo is incomplete without going to the Visitors’ Centre. This lies at the foot of the Lion Mound and there is a fee charged for those wishing to climb to its summit. An estimated 300,000 visitors do this every year and they are offered an audio-visual display in addition. This comprises a film depicting modern re-enactments of Napleonic battles and excerpts from Sergei Bondarchuk’s film Waterloo. Maps and display panels, along with a large model of the battlefield, help onlookers gain an understanding of the terrain and the course of the battle before they climb the Lion Mound. Tickets are also available for the Waterloo Panorama, which is well worth a visit and the centre contains a large bookshop with many related titles.

Staff at the battlefield centre are extremely helpful and, despite being frequently busy catering for large numbers of tourists, will happily answer queries from enthusiasts. Yet the future of the battlefield was once in doubt and, had it not been for the efforts of Belgian and British committees to preserve the field, the view from the Lion Mound might not be so impressive.

The conservation of a battlefield that had determined the fate of Europe was occasionally uncertain. Although changes have occurred since 1815, extensive building developments were once planned in the area and would have transformed the battle-field’s appearance unfavourably. Consequently, committees formed during the early twentieth century had to fight determinedly to fend off attempts to encroach on the site. While they benefited from the support of the fourth Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal Roberts among other dignitaries, they could not afford to buy the area outright as some groups have done with American battlefields. Instead, attempts were made to buy the building rights in the region with a view to restricting them. However, the Belgian Government was eventually persuaded to pass legislation forbidding new developments over an area of 1,347 acres in 1914.


Over the years, there have been many restaurants in the Lion Village, which have changed names and ownership numerous times. Currently some are unoccupied but the three main restaurants are Le Bivouac de l’Empereur, Le Cambronne Taverne and Le Wellington Café. These are all excellent establishments serving fine food and alcoholic beverages for every taste. While the first two have a pleasingly traditional atmosphere inside, displaying numerous Waterloo prints and artefacts on their walls, the Wellington Café presents a more modern appearance.

This impressive reproduction of a French Eagle stands guard outside Le Bivouac de l’Empereur Restaurant in the Lion Village.

The Cambronne Tavern is worthy of note, partly for its excellent beer and the fondues it is justly renowned for, but mainly because of an unusual modern ‘shrine’ placed on one internal wall. This is in the form of a large bust of Napoleon upon a sturdy shelf. Behind this hangs a flag from a French Eagle standard and the bust is flanked by two candlesticks. Apparently, the candles are lit on the 18 June each year and this, along with the fact that the tavern is named after the famously defiant General Cambronne (see Chapter 9) strongly imply that the owner’s sympathies do not lie with the Allied Coalition ranged against Napoleon.

The restaurants all have seating outside where it is very pleasant to enjoy a glass of cool beer particularly after tramping over the dusty battlefield during the summer months. Indeed, the Lion Village is extremely welcoming to tourists but be aware if driving through the village that it becomes extremely crowded, particularly around the June anniversary, and that ‘jaywalking’ visitors abound despite the sharp bend in the Route de Lion as it runs through the village.

The village is provided with large car parks but even these are stretched to capacity in June, often due to large numbers of coaches conveying organized tours to the battlefield. Re-enactors often wander within the village and, even when not acting in character, are usually prepared to pose for photographs to the delight of many visitors. Most groups take great care about the authenticity of their uniforms, arms and equipment so visitors can often learn a great deal about the Napoleonic Wars by engaging these enthusiasts in conversation. A large-scale re-enactment of the battle is currently planned to take place every five years. The first of these in 1995 was initially controversial since it took place on the battlefield itself. The concept of commemorating the battle in this fashion has now become more acceptable but the location of the event varies, depending upon landowners’ consent and other considerations.

Re-enactors depicting British light infantry (the famed ‘redcoats’), whose tenacious defence played a major part in winning the battle for the Allies.

A statue of Napoleon in the Lion Village, where statues of the victorious generals (Wellington and Blücher) are notable by their absence.

Both the visitors’ centre and the souvenir shops contain a vast range of mementos for sale connected with Waterloo and related personalities. While an impressive range of books are on offer, it is also possible to buy an enormous number of items relating to the battle or displaying its name. These include military prints, toy soldiers, toy cannon, t-shirts, sweatshirts, postcards, pens, busts and statuettes of all kinds. Interestingly, the vast majority of gifts are linked to Napoleon in some fashion, causing some visitors to comment wryly that people who are unaware of the battle’s history might reasonably conclude that he had actually won a victory here judging by their visit alone.

Indeed, items relating to the Allied armies and personalities such as Wellington and Blücher are notable by their absence. Considering the cult that has grown up around Napoleon, this is to be expected, especially when one considers that he had an entire era named after him. Those who had known him personally recognized that he was approaching legendary status even before his death on St Helena. François-Rene Chateaubriand (a renowned French writer, politican, soldier and historian) knew the former Emperor well and suggested: ‘Bonaparte is no longer the real Bonaparte; he is a figure of legend composed of a poet’s mad musings, soldiers’ accounts, and folk tales. What we see today is the Charlemagne and the Alexander of medieval epic. This fantastic hero shall remain the real person; the other portraits will vanish.’

Even though he had been conclusively defeated, the magnetism of the Emperor’s personality and virtually unmatched achievements made him an attractive and romantic figure. Chateaubriand argued fiercely with Napoleon and had no reason to like him. Indeed, when Napoleon became enraged after reading what Chateaubriand had written about him, he threatened to have him sabred on the steps of the Tuileries. Yet this former enemy was honest enough to concede that: ‘In his life he failed to capture the world. When he was dead, it was his.’ The truth of this phrase is evident in the Lion Village and many of the museums related to Waterloo or other Napoleonic subjects. The fact that a statue of Napoleon stands in the Lion Village, actually located on the former Allied ridge, while likenesses of his enemies are nowhere to be seen, speaks volumes about this theory.

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