Today marks 200 years since the decisive defeat of Napoleon’s forces by the Duke of Wellington’s army at the famous Battle of Waterloo.
The Battle of Waterloo was an important event in the history of the European continent, which had been embroiled in bloody conflict for more than two decades previously, as Napoleon sought to extend his empire, which in 1811 comprised much of continental Europe and meant that he ruled over more than 70 million people.
The tide began to turn for Napoleon when, in 1814, an alliance of several major European powers including Austria, Prussia and a number of other German states, Russia and the United Kingdom drove him into exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba, now part of Italy. The emperor abdicated and the Bourbons (the French Royal Family) were restored to power. Much of the land conquered by Napoleon was lost.
By the following year, Napoleon had escaped from his island prison and was back at the head of the French government. The Battle of Waterloo took place just under 10 miles from Brussels in modern-day Belgium (at the time part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands). It was an incredibly close-fought battle that turned out to be Napoleon’s last.
After being decisively beaten, Napoleon abdicated for the second time and was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died 6 years later.
There are many commemorations taking place to celebrate the 200th anniversary of what turned out to be a decisive moment in European history. The Prince of Wales has unveiled a memorial at Hougoumont farm, one of the Duke of Wellington’s key posts. The memorial features two life-size soldiers battling to shut the gate to keep out the advancing French. There are currently more than 5,000 enthusiasts in period costume camping out on the battlefield, where they will stage a re-enactment and there will also be a special commemorative service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London today.