Contrasting Memories: Remembering Waterloo in France and Britain

  • Alan Forrest
Part of the War, Culture and Society, 1750–1850 book series (WCS)


For both Britain and France the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815 held a particular significance, as the conflict that brought to an end the long series of eighteenth-century wars which have been called, with some justification, ‘the second Hundred Years War’.1 It was the last time they would fight over European and world hegemony, and it proved a turning point in the European balance of power, seeing France’s political pretensions permanently halted, to Britain’s advantage. Britain suffered, of course, both on the battlefield and on the home front. But the country could take pride in the quality of its soldiers and the prudence of their tactics, safe in the knowledge that, as a result of their sacrifices, France was no longer in a position to threaten her place on the world stage. As the Prussian general August Neidhardt von Gneisenau remarked, Britain should regard Napoleon as her benefactor, having ‘no greater obligation to any mortal on earth than to this ruffian’, whose aggressive behaviour lay at the root of Britain’s subsequent greatness as an industrial powerhouse and a world empire. ‘For through the events that he has brought about, England’s greatness, prosperity and wealth have risen high. She is the mistress of the sea, and neither in this dominion nor in world trade has she now a single rival to fear’.2


National Memory Civilian Life National Hero French Republic British Army 
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© Alan Forrest 2016

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  • Alan Forrest

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