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The nearest run thing you ever saw: the Battle of Waterloo
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The nearest run thing you ever saw: the Battle of Waterloo

Scene showing cavalry about to charge across a cluttered battlefield at the Battle of WaterlooScene showing cavalry about to charge at the Battle of WaterlooIt has been a damned nice thing—the nearest run thing you ever saw.

With these words the Duke of Wellington summed up the fierce and bloody battle which on 18 June 1815 saw the final defeat of Napoleonic France near the village of Waterloo, ten miles south of Brussels.

It was indeed a closely fought encounter; the French, whose forces outnumbered those of their coalition opponents, had victory within their grasp, but the timely arrival of Prussian reinforcements turned the tide in the direction of the Allied forces, and the day closed with Wellington and Blücher, the Prussian leader, meeting on the battlefield to offer mutual congratulations. After two decades of European war, peace was at hand at last. 

In this online exhibition, originally held to mark the bicentenary of this momentous day in European history, we look at the course of the battle itself, the military tactics and techniques involved and the treatment afforded to those wounded on the battlefield. We look too at the careers of the two key protagonists – Napoleon and Wellington – both before and after the battle.

For the former, defeat at Waterloo signalled the eclipse of the hopes entertained during the ‘Hundred Days’ since his escape from Elban exile of a re-establishment of his imperial rule; instead he would shortly find himself an island exile again, a prisoner this time on the remote Atlantic island of St Helena. For Wellington, ‘the nearest run thing you ever saw’ would go down in history as his greatest victory; it would also herald a turning point in his career, as the coming of peace led to an increasing involvement in domestic British politics, culminating in his premiership of 1828-30.

While prime minister, Wellington was instrumental in the foundation of King’s College London  – see the Wellington and King’s section of this online exhibition – and King’s is proud to maintain its connexion with the victor of Waterloo, the current Duke of Wellington serving as chairman of the College Council.

Most items in this exhibition are drawn from the holdings of the Foyle Special Collections Library. We are also pleased to display items from two other collections at King’s, the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives and the Gordon Museum of Pathology. 

Exhibition curators: Niamh Delaney, Adam Ray and Katie Sambrook

Please note, this exhibition originally ran from 10 June to 23 September 2015 in the Weston Room of the Maughan Library, King's College London and is now available to view as an online exhibition only.

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