The Battle of Waterloo

Background to the Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo was fought near the town of Waterloo in what is now Belgium, on 18 June 1815, over 99 years before the First World War.

Why did the battle take place?

After the French Revolution in 1789, France was almost continuously at war with other European nations. Governments of nearby countries were concerned about the possibility of revolution and social unrest spreading to their shores and wanted to remove the new French Republic to stop this from happening.

Who was Napoleon?

Napoleon rose to power during the Revolution, first as a politician and military leader, then from 1804 as the Emperor of France. He wanted to expand France’s territory and build a large empire. To achieve this he led the French during a series of wars to seize territory from other countries, both neighbours such as Italy and as far afield as America: the Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).

Eventually, Napoleon extended too far and his invasion of Russia in 1812 ended in defeat. In 1814, a large army made up of troops from Austria, Prussia (a historic state now part of modern Germany) and Russia captured Paris and forced Napoleon to abdicate.

Why was war declared in 1815?

Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba, over 20 miles away from the coast of Italy, but in February 1815 he escaped and returned to lead France once more. The governments of the United Kingdom, Austria, Prussia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Russia met to decide what to do about him. At the Congress of Vienna in March 1815 they decided to declare war on France and each country promised to send 150,000 men into battle against Napoleon.

Glossary:

Abdicate – to give up a powerful position
Continuously – when something goes on without changing or stopping
Declare – to make an official announcement
Exile – when someone is forced to live outside their own country
Invasion – when an armed group goes into another country, aiming to take it over
Revolution – when a new group take over the political system and force the government to change
Unrest – when social or political problems lead to riots and protests

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Document icon Learning article provided by: Leeds Museum Discovery Centre |  Royal Armouries Museum | 

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