One of the most
important battles in European history, which decided the future of Europe, was fought in a place
to the south of Brussels. It is a name every European knows: Waterloo. The Battle of
Waterloo has occupied a special place in the British psyche ever since.
British were fascinated by it, and the commander of their forces, the
Wellington, was hailed as the conquering hero. This great
victory was so important that 18th June was celebrated as
Day’ throughout the United Kingdom.
The Battle of
Waterloo saw the end of decades of warfare and unrest in continental Europe, beginning with the
French Revolutionary wars in 1792 and continuing with the Napoleonic
1803. There was a respite of almost a year when Napoleon was forced to
and exiled to the island of Elba in 1814. But he escaped, returned to Paris in March 1815
and took power once more. A renewed Alliance soon
declared war on him again. Wellington, who had
by now fought in several battles against the French, took command of
Anglo-Dutch army. Together with Field-Marshal Blücher, who led
army, he came face to face with the army led by Napoleon.
lasted the whole of 18th June 1815 in the
countryside in the districts of Braine l’Alleud and Waterloo, south of Brussels, ending in
a triumphant defeat of the French army, when Napoleon was outmanoeuvred
unexpected attack by Blücher's Prussian army.
There were close
to 50,000 dead and wounded; the worst massacre in military history up
The victory dispatch, written by Wellington, was sent from Waterloo, thus giving the battle its name. On
22 nd June,
the French Emperor abdicated once
again, and was transported by the British to distant St. Helena.
The Battle of Waterloo was soon canonized as
one of the "Fifteen Decisive
Battles of the World".
echoed loudly throughout the world. Waterloo became a
memorial site to which veterans of the battle soon started going on
pilgrimages. A wave of war
tourists flooded the small hamlet, which before the battle was a sleepy
farmers’ village, and the area became known as ‘England
abroad’. They came to the best hotels, travelled to Waterloo by
‘diligence’, and were guided around the battlefield
by the local farmers. Many
eminent Britons came over to do research for books, articles and war
||The Brontës did
not escape the powerful attraction of this important piece of history. In their small Yorkshire village they would of
course have heard all about it through newspapers. One of Patrick's
church services in Thornton was dedicated to the victory at Waterloo.
Wellington was to remain
an important figure in the Brontë household.
A steady flow of newspapers, reviews, books
and magazines would provide
all the material that was to feed the Brontës’
hero-worship of the Duke of
Wellington, later called the ‘Iron Duke’ when he
became Prime Minister. The children
inherited their father’s thirst for politics and military
leaders; Wellington and
Napoleon both appear in various guises in their juvenilia. We all know
story of the box of soldiers their father gave Branwell, from which the
children would create an entire fictional world, based on military
particular was obsessive in her adoration of Wellington, which
emerges time and again. Her fictional characters Charles and Arthur
feature prominently in her early Angrian writings. In Brussels she wrote
an essay on ‘The Death of Napoleon’, in which she
praises Wellington, making
his genius superior to Napoleon’s. Throughout her
life she would follow her hero's progress, finally seeing him in the
she visited London in 1850.
main reason for Charlotte and Emily's stay in Brussels in 1842
was educational, there can be little doubt that Waterloo, where
their hero Wellington had defeated Napoleon, would be in their minds
when they crossed
the channel to Belgium. We know that
Patrick Brontë visited the site. After leaving his daughters
at the Pensionnat
Heger, he remained in Brussels for about a week longer, seeing the sights of
the city, and availed
himself of the opportunity of seeing the historic battlefield for
himself. He mentioned it
in his first sermon after his return to Haworth. A member of the congregation, Benjamin Binns,
writing in the
Bradford Observer in 1894, recollected Patrick describing in vivid and
language the field of Waterloo which he had visited from Brussels.
It is more
difficult to claim that Charlotte or Emily went to Waterloo. There is
no evidence - no letter or other document recording such a trip. In
view of Charlotte's worship
of Wellington it would seem surprising that she did not take
such an opportunity.
But if she did go to see the battlefield it is hardly likely she would
kept the experience to herself. Of course there may have been documents
referring to it which are now lost. If she did go,
it is most probable she went with Emily in 1842. They might have walked
on a fine Sunday or other holiday. We know that the Brontë
sisters were never
put off by a long walk, and Waterloo was certainly within walking distance.
possibility is that they took a coach; near the Rue
d’Isabelle was a small
coach company that organised trips there. They might have been
one of their English acquaintances, who often invited the sisters for
Waterloo also has
another link with the Brontës. During and after
the battle there was an influx of British nationals who crossed the
stay with their wounded husbands, brothers and lovers. Many of them
of a new and thriving British colony in the city. And these people
English chaplain. The first one was chaplain to the Duke of Kent
Edward, fourth son of King George III), then resident in Brussels. The
Protestant community worshipped in the Chapelle Royale on the Place de
An Anglican service was held there each Sunday morning and afternoon.
It was here that
Charlotte and Emily went on most Sundays to worship. The
chaplain in 1842 was
the Revd. Jenkins, an acquaintance of Patrick Brontë.