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Waterloo

Autumn and winter are slow seasons when it comes to battle re-enactment festivals or revived history festivals, mostly due to bad and cold weather. But, autumn and winter are also the season known for reminiscing about the past. Therefore, I will use this opportunity to write a little bit about the 200 year anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo that was celebrated this June. The real Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday, 18 June 1815, near Waterloo in present-day Belgium, then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. A French army under the command of Napoleon was defeated by two of the armies of the Seventh Coalition: an Anglo-allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington, and a Prussian army under the command of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher.

A huge re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo took place in the same Belgian fields where Napoleon’s army was defeated. More than 64,000 spectators have gathered at the battlefield for the dramatic re-enactments. In front of them, more than 6,200 male and female re-enactors re-created the 10-hour battle that two centuries earlier had left more than 65,000 dead and wounded. The real Battle of Waterloo saw some 93,000 French troops, led by Napoleon, fight 107,000 British, German and Belgian-Dutch forces under the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal Blucher. The defeat of the French army ended Napoleon’s ambitions for European dominance and saw him exiled to Saint Helena, in the South Atlantic Ocean, where he died in 1821.

In London, there has been a re-enactment of the Duke Wellington’s dispatch’s arrival in London exactly 200 years ago with the news from Waterloo that Napoleon’s army had been defeated. A historian named Julian Farrance played the part of Wellington’s messenger Major Henry Percy. He descended from a replica of the carriage that carried him to London and announced to a small crowd of locals and tourists that the Seventh Coalition army “has met the Corsican ogre in the field and have dealt him the most shattering defeat”, according to theguardian.com. It was the start of a day-long procession that started in the Tower of London and Horseguards Parade and would culminate in Princess Anne taking on the role of prince regent to receive Wellington’s dispatch. She awaited the messengers at St James’ Square, on the site where the prince regent was attending a ball on a sultry evening two centuries ago when the news finally came.

The organizer of the event, Peter Warwick, said that Waterloo was a defining moment in European history that created 100 years of peace, according to theguardian.com. To Warwick, this re-enactment represents a celebration of the idea of European co-operation which is the foundation of the European Union. I wonder if the French would agree with this statement, but the animosity between the British and the French is well known.

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