King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
The Duke of Wellington

Waterloo - prelude

The Hundred Days

At WaterlooAt WaterlooWellingtonWellingtonNapoleon had abdicated in April 1814 following his earlier defeat at Leipzig and the disastrous Russian invasion.

News reached Wellington shortly after his costly taking of Toulouse and he quickly returned to London and on to Paris as British ambassador in August, by now having been raised to the Dukedom.

He then proceeded to the Congress of Vienna that was convened to make the peace. Whilst he was there, the extraordinary news arrived of Napoleon's escape from Elba.

The 'Hundred Days' had begun and Wellington was placed in charge of a new allied army.

As the Tsar of Russia counselled Wellington:


'It is for you to save the world again'

Preparations for war

Napoleon had returned to Paris in triumph in March 1815, replacing the unpopular Louis XVIII, and the two sides began to assemble their armies.

Wellington and BlucherWellington and BlucherFrench troopsFrench troopsNapoleon set up his headquarters at Beaumont with the aim of invading Belgium and destroying the Coalition forces before they had the opportunity to strike at the French capital.

In an extraordinary display of insouciance and a deliberate exercise in stiffening morale, Wellington insisted that despite the deepening crisis, as promised he and his senior officers would attend a ball organised by the Duchess of Richmond in Brussels.

It was here that they considered the first reports of the enemy advance. During this stage in the campaign, the initiative lay with Napoleon and his allies - the speed and cunning of his advance had caught Wellington off balance.

Realising his strategic weakness, Wellington exclaimed:

'Napoleon has humbugged me, by God!'

The next day, on the 16th June, hostilities began with the French Marshal Ney's move to secure the strategic crossroads at Quatre-Bras, only being beaten back with the timely intervention of allied reinforcements. The outcome was stalemate. Meanwhile, General Blucher's Prussians were compelled to retreat at Ligny. The stage was set for the final conflict.

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