You can’t say Waterloo without thinking of Napoleon ..or ABBA.. and Waterloo was certainly the place, where the hubris of the little megalomaniac was turned into his nemesis June 18th 1815.
And the small guy with the big ego really had it coming for him!
For almost two decades, Napoleon raged war against different European countries, becoming increasingly unpopular and more greedy of power, and what started as a praisable desire to unify Europe ended with thousands of dead.
Liberty, Equality and Fraternity
Because Napoleon was a result of the French revolution and embodied many of the virtues, that was a result of the Enlightenment; Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, he wanted to share and expand that idea throughout Europe. He instituted many reforms, like a tax code, higher education, roads and sewer systems, he introduced the metric system, established the first central bank in French history – the Banque de France – and diminished the powers of the Catholic church.
Corrupted by power
But somewhere along the way, power corrupted him. He crowned himself “Emperor of the French” in 1804 and historians argue, that his victories at Austerlitz and Jena in 1805-06 heightened his sense of self-grandiosity, leaving him even more certain of his destiny and invincibility. And even though he signed the Act of abdication in 1814 that labelled him “the sole obstacle to the restoration of peace in Europe”, he only lasted one year in exile on the island of Elba before his ambition drew him yet again to rule France.
By this time, the rest of Europe have had enough and declared him an outlaw. Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia each pledged to end his rule.
Insight to Europe
The battle of Waterloo wasn’t the longest battle, the greatest battle, nor the one with the highest death toll in Napoleon’s career. But it was his last. That’s why you should visit Waterloo – to get insight into a Europe that was on the verge of becoming, what it is today; a coalition of countries, working on bringing peace and prosperity to its citizens by the means of freedom and equality.
The Napoleonic Wars brought radical changes to Europe. In most European countries, the french influence brought with it many liberal features of the French Revolution including democracy, abolition of servitude, due process in courts, reduction of the power of the Catholic Church, and a demand for constitutional limits on monarchs. The increasing voice of the middle classes meant that restored European monarchs had to retain many of the reforms enacted during Napoleon’s rule.
His legacy lives on
The Napoleonic code was adopted throughout much of Europe, though only in the lands he conquered, and remained in force after Napoleon’s defeat. Napoleon said:
My true glory is not to have won forty battles…Waterloo will erase the memory of so many victories. … But…what will live forever, is my Civil Code.
The Code still has importance today in a quarter of the world’s jurisdictions including in Europe, the Americas and Africa.
- Website of Memorial 1815 museum
- Wikipedia on The Battle of Waterloo
- Wikipedia on Napoleon Bonaparte
- Waterloo on Google Maps