2015 is a year of historically significant anniversaries. Although you don’t need an anniversary to study a historic period, they can come in handy for getting people to think about it.
This June it is the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo – one of the most famous European battles ever! Even at the time, the clash between the Duke of Wellington’s British forces and the troops of the Seventh Coalition against the French Napoleon was known throughout Europe.
After the long Napoleonic Wars that stretched across Europe into Russia and the Peninsula campaign of 1803-1814, Wellington and the European leaders believed that Napoleon had been defeated. Captured, he was cast into exile in Elba. When the new Monarch of France, Louis XVIII, failed to create stability, Napoleon staged a comeback and entered Paris in March 1815. The European Powers were meeting in Vienna when they heard the news of Napoleon’s return and they immediately declared war once more.
By the time that the forces met in June 1815 all of Europe waited anxiously for peace to be won. If the coalition forces lost, Europe could be cast back into the dark days of war and uncertainty.
Now we all know the outcome, but do we all know what happened and where exactly the battle took place? I was surprised to hear in a survey (one of those radio things) that many people assumed that Waterloo was in France, rather than in Belgium. On talking to some non-historian friends of mine, I was also surprised that most people knew little about the actual battle or the political intricacies that are part of the big picture.
So determined as we at Rayburn are, and with the full knowledge that the new National Curriculum at Key Stage 3 cites that pupils should learn about Britain 1745-1901, and of course the changes to the GCSE’s and A levels mean a broadening of parts of British history, a tour to explore the battlefields of Waterloo had been put together. We have guides, we have sites and we have the information about where the new memorials and information points will be.
What’s more, we’re all fired up to help people know their Wellington from their von Blücher, and their cavalry charge from their cannon ball. Really it’s very exciting and we can’t wait to tell you all about it, over the bicentenary and beyond (drum march off into the distance).