Jan Willem Pieneman: The battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815 (1824)

(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Today 18 June 2015 is the celebration of the famous battle of Waterloo. The last battle of Napoleon which ended his 100 Days return from exile from Elba. After his defeat in 1814, Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba. Napoleon however managed to escape and returned to France. Upon his return, the French army went ‘en masse’ to his side. Upon learning of the return of Napoleon, the enemies (Prussia, England, Germany, Austria, Russia, The Netherlands) of Napoleon immediately mobilized their armies again . Napoleon decided to wait for his enemies and invaded Belgium to attack the armies of England, the Netherlands and Prussia before they were fully assembled. The Prussian army under command of Gebhard von Blücher was defeated in the Battle of Ligny (16 June 1815) and the combined British/ German/ Dutch army was attacked at the Battle of Quatre Bras (16 June 1815). Napoleon thought that the defeat of the Prussian army was decisive and attack the combined British/ German/ Dutch army under command of Wellington at Waterloo. The battle of Waterloo was a hard-fought battle with about 150,000 soldiers in total. The combined British/ German/ Dutch army defended their positions the entire day but around 15h, cracks started to appear in the allied army. At that critical moment the Prussian army arrived on the battlefield and immediately attack Napoleon (although it suffered a heavy defeat, the Prussian commander Gebhard von Blücher had sworn to Wellington that he would come to his aid). Upon learning of the arrival of the Prussians, Wellington ordered a full scale assault on the French positions. This famous episode is shown on this painting. On the left you can see the commander of the Dutch troops, Prince William of Orange (future king William II of the Netherlands), is taken to the rear after he was wounded in battle (a fact that William boosted his entire life, claiming that he was considered the 'bravest of them all'). Painting from 1824.