Not too long ago, an opinion poll conducted in the UK suggested most British people have never heard of the Battle of Waterloo, which was fought in the muddy fields of what is now modern day Belgium but back in 1815 still part of the ironically titled United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Lekker.
Furthermore, most French would rather forget about it, understandably. So as I’m writing this from Gallic territory on the bicentenary of Napoléon Bonaparte’s death (at my grand old age of 51), I feel it’s my duty to remind them. To celebrate / commemorate his bloody life (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821), here’s a couple of factoids about the diminutive dictator’s demise at the hands of the Duke of Wellington’s army.
According to the survey, commissioned by the UK’s National Army Museum, just under half of Britons associate the name “Waterloo” with the eponymous Abba song. The Swedish Fab Four’s iconic hit compares a girl’s surrender to romance to Napoleon’s capitulation after the fateful battle a few miles south of Brussels, much of it actually fought in the nearby municipality of Braine-l’Alleud (as the locals won’t hesitate to remind anyone who’ll listen), but can you imagine Agnetha and Frida getting their tongues around that mouthful?
Whatever the exact location, Waterloo remains the quintessential cross-continental Eurovision song, winning the kitschy contest in 1974 and kickstarting a glorious pop career for the awesome foursome and erstwhile glam flockers.
The Corsican shorty who may not have actually set his boot in Waterloo at all was crowned Emperor of the French in Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral in 1804.
By 1807, he added King of Italy to his list of titles, controlling an empire that stretched from the River Elbe in the north, down through to the Mediterranean in the south, and from the Pyrenees to the Dalmatian coast.
While the battle over exactly where Bonaparte raised the white flag continues on both fronts, this is what each party agrees on: the defeat at Waterloo / Braine-l’Alleud ended the Napoleonic Wars and his pan European reign. He returned to Paris and on 22 June 1915 abdicated in favour of his son Napoleon II, the disputed infant heir known colloquially as the King of Rome. Alas, that’s another song entirely.
Steve Pafford, France