Monday, June 29, 2015
Waterloo : The Aftermath by Paul O'Keeffe
Let me begin by explaining that I won this book in a Vintage Book competition on Twitter so it made perfect sense to follow-up Andrew Roberts', Napoleon The Great with Waterloo - The Aftermath
It's an excellent piece of narrative history that takes us from the Ligny and Quatre Bras through to Napoleon's exile on St Helena via Brussels, Antwerp, London, Torbay and Guadalupe (among other diverse geographical locations.)
The book finely illustrates the theory that an army in retreat is only one step away from turning into a mob. The retreating French army, pursued by the vengeful Prussians, were at some points falling apart quite spectacularly.
It's a dark book too. The sections on the looting of the battlefield, on how Napoleonic armies dealt with the wounded (including a section on amputations that the more squeamish among you might find a tad difficult to read through) and on that Prussian rage.
When confronted about this by Wellington, Blucher just said, "My Lord Duke, the French were never in England." Napoleon's humiliation of Prussia had led to this and as part of the law of unintended consequences would also lead - eventually - to the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership and the fall of another Napoleonic Empire.
Like Andrew Roberts' book we also get to see how slippery a large number of French political figures were and how tired of war the French had become. There was no attempt to scorch the Earth of France in front of the invaders as the Russians had in 1812. Sometimes even a great man has to call it a day.
Napoleon's abdication and eventual surrender to the British is also well told. Napoleon missed a chance to flee to the USA. He then hoped that he'd be allowed to live in British exile but it was not to be. He was exiled to St Helena. There was no way a British government would have allowed Napoleon to settle in Britain and his flight from Elba showed that he couldn't be trusted to stay near Europe. It made perfect sense but it always seems rather unkind (as did separating him from his son), which I know is stupidly wet of me in the circumstances.
Again to cut a long blog short this is well-written, well-researched and well good innit. (Sorry. I won't do that again.) It seems an obvious thing to say - but I'm going to say it anyway - but wars and battles don't just end in neat and tidy fashion and Waterloo - The Aftermath perfectly explains that by telling a tale of disaster, debacle and defeat.