King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
The nearest run thing you ever saw: the Battle of Waterloo

England's hope

After the events of 16 June it was all the more crucial that the Allies find a way to unite their scattered and depleted forces. Thus, the promise of support from at least one corps of the Prussian Army was key in persuading Wellington to take Napoleon on again. 

On retreating from Quatre Bras Wellington directed his troops towards Mont St Jean, to an area of undulating countryside he had previously identified as being well suited to his favoured deployment of troops. This deployment anticipated the type of defensive battle against numerically superior forces in which Wellington had grown so expert.

Natural obstacles, including hedges, long grass, ridges and indented terrain, would help to conceal Wellington’s troops from view, as well as providing some protection from the worst of the Napoleonic cannonade – as would the chateau of Hougoumont and farms of Papelotte and La Haye Sainte. Moreover, the elevation of Wellington’s position allowed him an overview of the field of combat.

Wellington on his horse in the long grass, scanning the battlefield with a telescopeEngland’s Hope, 1815Heavy rain in the days preceding the battle had created a mud bath in the fields of Waterloo. Thus, not only did the landscape favour Wellington’s stifling defensive tactics, weather conditions also contrived to slow Napoleon down. Indeed, he chose to wait to allow the ground to dry out before engaging, buying Wellington further vital time, as his Prussian allies marched to his aid. In anticipation of the direction of their arrival, Wellington loaded his right flank and prepared for the coming onslaught. 

The image on display – entitled England’s Hope – depicts Wellington scanning the horizon for the arrival of Napoleon’s forces. The long grass surrounding his horse and the farm buildings in the background would both have roles to play in the battle that followed.

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