Today we’ll learn about the classic 1970 film Waterloo and its depiction of Napoleon’s final defeat. Joining us to discuss the historical accuracy of Waterloo is historian and professor at Louisiana State University, Alexander Mikaberidze. Alexander has also written numerous books on the Napoleonic era, including his latest which is called The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History.
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Dan LeFebvre 01:40
Let’s start the same way the movie does by setting up the events prior to the film’s timeline. According to some text on the screen, Napoleon became the emperor of the French in just a few brief years. Then in 1812, his 15 years of victory came to a halt during the Russian campaign. The next year in 1813, he was defeated by the combined forces of Austria, Russia, Prussia and England at Leipzig. And from there he was driven to Paris. And that’s where the movie begins in the year 1814. How well does the movie do setting up Napoleon’s career up until 1814?
Alexander Mikaberidze 02:10
The movie doesn’t really give you a sense of his career. It’s a quick introduction to what Napoleon accomplished. But it opens with this powerful scene probably one of the most famous scene in modern history, a scene that has been the subject of many paintings by Montfort and others. And it is a scene of Napoleon being confronted by his marshals a group of military officers that he is elevated to the highest positions, position in the French military. And one of the things Napoleon did, as part of his reforms was to create to revive the Institute of the martial of friends, and all the periods of this previous 14 years. He is or 10 years to be precise, he has created 26 of this marshals, and this way, they the man who carried the, you know the legions of the French army, so to speak to the various corners of Europe and who were the spearhead of Napoleon’s conquest, but 10 years later, and you can see, and I think the movie conveys that sense of exhaustion and fatigue that these generals have, they have become very, both successful and rich, but also tired of this constant campaigning. And I always, always tell my students that anyone who has gone to Russia in 1812 and survived and came back home, probably didn’t want to see another battlefield again. And then on top of it, as you mentioned, there was fighting in 1813 and 14 so this man want peace. And so the movie opens with a scene where the Napoleon is confronted by this marshals who tell him it’s time to stop it’s time to negotiate, it’s time for you to go and he tries to push back into tries to say no, I’m the Emperor has made you and then these marshals call you That’s it, your time is over. And what I love about this opening scene is that once Napoleon decreased to abdicate, and he agrees to leave, he leaves the room and all of this entire scenes taken place in the palace of Fontainebleau, the wonderful Crowell palace that Napoleon turned into his residence. And there are the movie doesn’t really great job it’s recreating the scene of his famous farewell to His Imperial Guard. You see this courtyard you see the troops lined up there and Napoleon gives that speech. And the movie actually repeated his speech, the actual speech almost robotic. And you see the sense of of the historical importance. And there even the contemporaries talk about some soldiers crying and shedding tear and then you see that recreate you know, reenacted in the movie as well. Yeah, really got the sense that his men I loved him because yeah, you saw some of that emotion on the face of the soldiers as he was giving that speech. Indeed, and these are not just any kind of soldiers. This is the legal the Grand Army, the great French army, the Imperial Guard, Napoleon always treated military as an elite in society in the Imperial Guard was the elite within these elite. For them, Napoleon was indeed meant to look up to now to see him defeated, and cast aside, so to speak, was of course a very emotional scene for them. And then for many others in which is one of the reasons why the following will be able to make a comeback in less than a year. defeated. Next.
Dan LeFebvre 05:45
We will get to that I did want to ask you about the exile because in the movie that we kind of get some inner monologue in Napoleon’s head and one of those he’s like why Elba? But the movie doesn’t really explain that. So I thought it would ask that same thing. Why was Elba chosen for Napoleon’s exile?
Alexander Mikaberidze 05:59
That’s a great question. And it goes back to this conundrum that the allies. When Napoleon was defeated, he was defeated by the combined efforts of European powers, which included Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia. So this big four powers, the allies, are facing this issue of what to do with Napoleon, because they have recognized him as the head of state. They have made deals with them, negotiate with him and all but they also fought and clearly, you know, defeated and prevailed over him. But there are no no grounds, legal grounds for simply putting him in prison or shooting him or anywhere, any one of those extreme cases. You know, they didn’t want to make a monitor of him as by essentially getting rid of him in a violent manner. And so ultimately, this suggestion of the Russian Emperor, it was a good week that it might be better to simply exiled into at some periphery, and just let him be there. And Elvis seemed to be like a nice kind of options where they could keep an eye on him, where they could give him really the basic conference because Napoleon’s exile to the first exile to the to this island of Elba was actually quite a nice arrangement in the sense that the defeated emperor was given a handsome salary, 2 million francs a year that the French monarchy was supposed to pay him, he was allowed to retreat to this island and retain the title of an emperor. And even though this was the man who ruled much of Europe, and now he’s reduced to the ruling, this speck of an island in the middle of Mediterranean, almost middle to Indian sea, and then he was allowed to have an army, and even the semblance of a fleet. So Nicola even had his own flag, this white canvas with a red band with three golden beads on it. So he has all the trappings of sovereignty, except that he rose was there, the island the size of my university campus.
Dan LeFebvre 08:07
Well, that’s interesting. I had no idea that he was I mean, he was still he was an exile, but essentially, he was still an emperor.
Alexander Mikaberidze 08:14
That’s why that’s where these there’s these long for a long time right? We will be known. In popular imagination This was in the Napoleon escaped and, you know, Napoleon, you know, some kind of sneakily left the island technically he was free to leave, it was not advisable to leave. So shortly after being defeated, but as a sovereign of elbow, he certainly leaves the island now returning to friends. Now, that was an issue.
Dan LeFebvre 08:46
Well, we do see that in the movie, and according to the movie, it says that it happens 10 months after he’s exiled on Elba, he comes back with less than 1000 men and invades the mainland of Europe. And then in 1815, we see Napoleon being greeted by Cheers. There’s happy crowds. There’s even a scene where Marshall neighs soldiers refuse to shoot Napoleon, he stands right in front of them, you’ll shoot your Emperor and instead they all join his army. Meanwhile, we see King Louie the 18th say something like, perhaps the people will let me go as they let him come. So overall, I got the impression that the French people love Napoleon. They welcome him back in and essentially it’s kind of kick Lou. Yeah. Is that true?
Alexander Mikaberidze 09:28
No. We can say that it’s partially true. So we know that when Napoleon was defeated in the was exiled the Borbon monarchy, which has been in exile from France since 1789 7098, the brothers of the last king, the two brothers, he had conduct while and comme Provence, lived into exile for better part of a quarter of a century and they fought against revolutionary France and therefore they Against Napoleonic France. So we talked about the group of people right led by this now new king, we to previous would come to Provence who spent more than two decades confronting and fighting and now they’re back in charge. So there is a gap in terms of perceptions, attitudes and expectations between the newly returned King and the, the katerine. You know, this this group of people that surround him, and the wise vast majority of the Frenchman who may not be content with Napoleon in 1814, then they’re tired of war. They’re tired of tax, they’re tired of conscription, they want peace, but they’re not. But on the other hand, they don’t want to get rid of the the great achievements that Napoleon brought to France consolidation, revolutionary gains, the efficient government, the great reforms and Napoleonic code, you know, all the things that Napoleon is justly commanded on is still right, there are two sides to this man. But when Napoleon is exiled, what we see is this, the problem of how do you reconcile the old government effect with the borbone government that comes to friends with a new reality on the grounds and now the king way to try to maintain this middle ground where he said, What can simply turn the clock back and go to the good old days between before the 1789, before the revolution before the fall in 25 years separate us from that, and much has happened, so we have to accept new condition on the ground. But unfortunately, the king is surrounded by what we call ultra, ultra royalists. The people who are more oil is than the king who believes that the system has to be restored as it was before. They wanted their privileges. They wanted the old way. And their attempts to indeed tweak the pollyannish system. The legacy of the French Revolution, caused a lot of disgruntlement. Now imagine if you are a person living in France, and you bought property that was forfeited by the nobles who fled from France or property that was confiscated from the church. And now this new Borbon government speaks about the restitution or some kind of compensation for that property you are concerned about. Or if you are a person who has benefited from the revolutionary promise of basic rights and freedoms and here comes to people who actually don’t believe in revolutionary ideals, you feel that your standing in society might be threatened. And it certainly didn’t help that the war bonds started to downsize the French military. Now, we might understand why Francis is defeated power, that he doesn’t need a massive army anymore. He wants to show it to the rest of Europe that the warring days are over, we want to be at peace. But that’s not much of a solace for soldier and officer who is now who spent the last 20 years fighting under Napoleon, who has been to almost all major capitals of Europe, except for London, who has been triumphantly, you know, doing so. And then now he’s told That’s it, we don’t need you anymore, and cast aside thrown into the street. And here you see this sense of among the among the military men that France used to be great, it has fallen down, and this new government does nothing about it. And when they do wonderful to have friends, great again, right? This kind of narrative of reviving French greatness. And they clearly have no hope for this government, because the king can’t even get on a horse. He is suffering from a medical condition. He barely can move. And so we use erivo go from Napoleon, this man of action, you know, God of War, to a guy who can barely ride a horse. And so this juxtaposition of how far we have fallen, will contribute to the increased popularity of Napoleon, which is amazing. In 1814, no one really wants it around in 1850. And people like, he wasn’t that bad. Maybe we can give him another chance. Yeah,
Dan LeFebvre 14:12
I mean, you as you’re saying that the I mean, first thing comes to mind is what you were just saying a moment ago, where the marshals were like, we’re tired of war, we just want to stop. And then now it sounds like oh, we stopped. Wait a minute. Wait, no, let’s go back.
Alexander Mikaberidze 14:26
Now the scene in the movie, about 20, about 20 minutes into the movie, when Napoleon comes back. That is, to me one of the most powerful moments in modern history because here you see one man, Napoleon taking on the whole country. It’s very well reenacted based on historical event, which took place in March in a small village of love right in southern France. And indeed, as movie shows, Napoleon has about 1000 men and he he’s moving across the mountains. And to go back to your question that is that Napoleon knew that he was not universally welcomed in France, he knew that there were a lot of people who didn’t want him, not just because necessarily that he didn’t like, what he stood for, but rather, they realized that opponents return men war, and people simply didn’t want another war for this. And so there was indeed this popular kind of response to it where entire areas didn’t want him to pass through. And so what he did is he carefully navigated around those villages and had to move through remote areas across the mountains and so, the movie shows you Napoleon crossing this one of this mountains and coming across the royalist detachment about 5000 men. Now the movie conflicts however, two separate incidents here, martial ne is not present at the left right. You will switch the size A few days later. But for the sense of, you know, both narrative and enjoyment I think they just condensed this and they use present now as a phrase in the movie, but the rest of it is very well reenacted and I love the scene when the Polian so well, you know so excellently portrayed by the actor is walking right slowly towards the Royal his detachment and he leaves his 1000 men behind and factually alone right most towards this army. And he stands there and imagine, I cannot frankly imagine any other historical personality in modern history who can just walk in front of an army alone and give a speech right now, granted this were the days or mantises you can actually give a speech. And he famously gives that speech right soldiers are the fifth regiment. I’ve heard your grumbles. And you know, I’ve come back and here I am. And if you want to shoot you Emperor, right, Yo, man, the man who carried you everywhere, and you know who stands for that vision of, of the great friends, here I am, shoot me. You see that emotion among the soldiers. Because you don’t want to be in their shoes, because here in a matter of seconds, they have to make a remarkable decision. Do they stay loyal to the borbone government and shoot this guy. And that’s the only thing you need. There’s one nervous finger on the trigger. One shot the man is that we go home, or used to give up on your loyalty to the board bonds and switch and support this man, not knowing what the future has. And then I love that touch where one of the soldier right is under such pressure that he passes out, remember. But ultimately, they are the soldiers carry the day, even though we know that you know his movie shows the officer orders to fire. The soldiers refuse to follow the order. Instead, they drop their weapons rush and embrace Napoleon. Whatever. waterparks We’ll see.
Dan LeFebvre 18:09
Wow. Yeah, yeah. And so much pressure that the soldiers had to have been under to make that decision. Essentially. Which government are we going to back?
Alexander Mikaberidze 18:17
That’s right. Yeah, I mean, your entire life. I mean, literally, the lights is about to be decided. And you have to make you roll the dice.
Dan LeFebvre 18:26
Wow, wow. Well, once Napoleon is back in power in the movie, we he finds out that Wellington and blue cruise armies have been separated It’s June of 1815. And Napoleon decides to lead his army to Belgium in hopes of defeating Wellington’s army there. And this is another part where I felt the movie was kind of rushing the explanation. I think there’s one line of dialogue where Napoleon says something like, everything will depend on one big battle just like it did at Marengo. Of course, the movie doesn’t show us what happened. And it doesn’t really give an explanation as to why Napoleon is willing to travel to Belgium to beat Wellington. So can you give us some more historical context around why Napoleon was so focused on defeating Wellington and how it was related to whatever happened at maringa.
Alexander Mikaberidze 19:08
So Napoleon returned in France in March, he only took him 20 days from landing in the south of France, not far from cons from nice to Paris without shooting a single shot. It’s one of those remarkable events really the fly to the eagle is sometimes it is referred to and then taking on the country and actually prevailing, but once he gets to Paris, once he took bloodlessly this country, then he is confronted by the situation that the rest of Europe has rejected. Now at the end of Napoleonic wars in 1814, right when the following was first defeated, the great powers that defeated him decided to get together in the city of Vienna in Austria to decide the future of Europe. Since they have been fighting Napoleon for a long time, and Napoleon introduced a lot of changes in Europe, now this hours have to decide and sit down and decide what to do with those changes. For example, you know, the Polian found Germany divided into more than 300 states. And he left it in 1814, downsize to just three dozen states. So are we gonna keep that change, right? Or what are we gonna do about this social and economic reforms that Napoleon brought to various parts of Europe? Keep it or not. And if we’re getting there, what was the point of fighting Napoleon? If we’re not keeping, then to what extent. And so they were already meeting in the Vienna Congress of Vienna, which was actually one of the important reasons why Napoleon will be ultimately defeated because the great powers were already in one place, they had this ability to coordinate. And one of the first things they did in the Congress of Vienna, is they declared him an outlaw. That is, almost as soon, almost as soon as Napoleon returned, he is declared an outlaw. If you read the declaration, that the Congress of Vienna issued it is quite interesting, because the effectually declare war not on friends, but on the single individual, which is quite interesting. And he said, his declaration of war against one man, but it was done. He said, He’s famously condemned as, as a dissident, an enemy and disturber of the tranquility of the world. And so they say that we are not fighting the French people, but rather one man. So in fact, they’re trying to divide, you know, the French side saying, hey, people just come down and sit at home, we only have a beef with who is one dude, let me let us handle him. And then you can go back to being your peaceful cell. And so Napoleon, therefore, being after realizing that there is more coming, and he’s facing a situation where he can mobilize at the most, at the most about 250,000 men. So that’s the extent of the French force that he can rely on. But on the other hand, he’s facing a combined efforts of European powers that can bring to bear close to a million men. So that’s a massive disparity there. And of those powers, the ones that were able to respond first were the British, the Prussians and their allies, Dutch allies, and the Belgian allies in the army, that the British and the Prussians had were deployed in the north, in what is today Belgium, in an effort to invade France from the north. At the same time, almost quarter million Austrian troops are mobilizing in the eastern part. And there’s not a quarter million of Russian forces are being mobilized and being sent Now, in order to, for the Russians to get to France, of course, they had to cross most of centrally all all Central Europe. So it will take few weeks for the Russians and Austrians to come. And that’s where the Pauline strategy was, I’m gonna strike into Belgium and defeat the British and the Russians. That’s where he wants that decisive battle. Because by defeating these two powers, he hopes to split the coalition, and then find a way to negotiate with the other two. And one of those things that gives them this kind of hope is that remember that he’s married to an Austrian princess. So the Austrians have this kind of connection to him. And he Napoleon also is aware that when the great powers were meeting in Vienna, talking about restructuring Europe, that there is a lot of disagreements among them. In fact, disagreements to such a degree that Austria and Britain were willing to confront militarily confront Prussia and Russia over the issue of German partitioning. So there are disagreements between the allies and the Polian by striking into Belgium and defeating with Liz, the British Navy, British and the Prussians hopes to splinter it.
Dan LeFebvre 24:06
So basically so that the same thing doesn’t happen again that in the movie, you see almost getting surrounded in Paris by all these different forces and that’s trying to not let history repeat itself.
Alexander Mikaberidze 24:17
That’s right because in 1814 this combined coalition invaded France from multiple directions and Napoleon was simply overwhelmed through sheer numbers because he actually provides one of the best campaigns of his life in the early spring of 1814. With a small army he can outmaneuver these allies and famously scores six victories in one week. But he only has so many troops. The allies have a vast superiority numbers and he knows that the same scenario it’s going to play out in 1815. And he wants to anticipate that by seizing the initiative,
Dan LeFebvre 24:56
there is a scene in the movie where the movie explains why it happens the battle actually happens at Waterloo. And according that scene after Willington found out Napoleon crossed the border at Sharla raw, he believes Napoleon will go toward we see a map, and they’re all kind of strategizing their see for roads by calibre and Wellington decides that he’s going to confront Napoleon at nearby Waterloo. Is that a pretty accurate reason for why the battle ended up taking place at Waterloo?
Alexander Mikaberidze 25:25
Yes, I think it’s a pretty close. No, I do want to mention that the movie has a wonderful reconstruction of the famous ball that the British were attending. This was a bowl, given that the Dutch by Richmond, and the British military leaders attending their their women, their wives are, you know, this quite a charming atmosphere and demand that dancing and this, you know, they anticipate the war, of course, but this is essentially the last hurrah before, you know, the fighting begins. And there’s this kind of love and chomping or joy still is still in there. And Christopher Palmer is, to me is a perfect Wellington. And he’s placing quite well. And you see, this news arriving, right, and you see the stark impact of the news that Poland has crossed the border and is invading Belgium. And you see quick reaction, right where the soldiers have to leave, and to go into this dark moment where the women are all left alone and demand leave. And then I love the scene when Wellington is meeting with his officers, as you’ve said, and they look over the map and they see how Napoleon is moving. And what Napoleon did is when he struck into Belgium, he’s carefully calculated to position himself between the British and the Prussian armies. And that was part of his this kind of classical Napoleonic strategy. We refer to it as the strategy of central position. By getting into the center and splitting your opponents, you can handle them separately. And that wasn’t only once and he actually is able to do it. And I love in the movie where Wellington says I have been humbled, according to the eyewitnesses as an actual quote, because he realized that Napoleon seize the initiative and he managed to achieve that first success of Central positioning and now he can keep this allies separate. But in order to for the Polian to then achieve the second success, he needs to engage the allies and defeat them. And he focuses on Napoleon focuses his attention on the closest opponent and that is the Prussian army led by this remarkable kind of Maverick Field Marshal bluger. Napoleon knows that blue army will be converging on the city on the town of lini. And so he decides to engage blue here at lynnie. But he also wants to keep Wellington at bay so Wellington can simply come and help the Prussians and so is the Battle of leaney begins. Napoleon since one of his units, one of the scores on the Marshall Nate towards the count of quarter bra. And the quarter brand had this crucial crossing across roads of several roads converging and then one of the roads was coming from Brussels, but it was also another road that was would have allowed the French to flank to turn the flank of the Prussian army at lini. If the French had secured that cross, cross cross, the Prussians would have been a really bad situation. But Wellington correctly anticipates this move. And therefore he responds by rushing to the crossroads. And here we see this twin battles taking place simultaneously, well between French and the Prussians at Laney and the French and the British quarter bra. And unfortunately for the French while their gain victory leaney and the Prussian army is engaged badly more, they can’t win as caught up.
Dan LeFebvre 29:13
In the movie, I think we see kind of an aftermath of a battle where Napoleon talks about 16,000 dead Prussian is that the battle that that you’re talking about there that we didn’t really see the battle itself in the movie, but we kind of see the aftermath of it.
Alexander Mikaberidze 29:26
Yes. And correctly. So I think the the movie makers in a wonder chook so given that you could direct this movie made the correct decision, because it would have been a bit repetitive to have the same kind of, you know, battle scenes that would have, you know, the focus clearly here and correctly. So it was on Waterloo, and showing defining it at lini or quarter Bravo, that would have been just redundant. But the illusion is indeed to these two battles. We know that at leaney the Prussians were defeated, they were thrown back and in fact the commander in chief blew her was thrown off the horse and the horse fell on top of him. So he was actually badly bruised. And he could have been, and was very close to being captured by the French and who knows how history would have turned out if they had succeeded at this. But as it was, blew her evaded the capture. And here he makes he and he’s he staff, you know, he has a cadre of very capable Prussian officers advising him. And they made a very important decision. Now, after you defeat the like Illini, your natural inclination is to retreat along with military calls, the lines of communication lines of supply, meaning you go back the way you came. So to keep this supply system, you’re still behind it. But what the Prussians decided in the wake of linear was, instead of retreating along the line of communication, to we’re off of it, to turn left of it, and go north and then West, to support the British allies, which is a very important decision because that is a decision that will lead to the French defeat at Waterloo.
Dan LeFebvre 31:07
Speaking of the Battle of Waterloo, we’re kind of getting to that point in the movie where the battle is about to start. But before we actually get into the battle itself, want to ask you about some key things for how the movie sets up the battle. First, there was a brief line, I remember hearing someone on the English side, saying that counting the French there are some 140,000 men, but they also expect that some 40,000 will be dead by the next day. Another key thing the movie suggests is a big factor is the mud which the French think will make it very difficult to move their cannons efficiently. And lastly, we see Napoleon sweating really bad the night before the battle, and there are growing concerns about his health. How well does the movie do setting up some of these key elements leading up to the Battle of water?
Alexander Mikaberidze 31:50
Actually, all of this is historically correct, maybe we can quibble about specific details. But overall, the movie does well in conveying this broad, historical narrative. To start with the size of the armies, we know that Napoleon had about 73,000 men at Waterloo, that includes about 50,000 infantry about 15,000 cavalry and you know, 10,000 or so artillery and the support troops. On the other side, we know that the Wellington had about 68,000 and the Prussians would arrive later in the day, but they would bring about 50,000. So the Allies if combined, which is what exactly Napoleon wanted to prevent, without number Napoleon, essentially how about roughly 120,000 against 73,000. But separately, the opponent will outnumber this individual allied armies in terms of whether we know that after battle of linear which is for the June 16, there was indeed down for I mean, really like a stormy weather that will go through it will rain. And it has a direct impact on the battle because the battlefield between the villages of Villa Leon’s and in Waterloo is massive battlefield is soggy. It’s hard to move, but it’s also as a problematic for the artillery. In this movie and other movies. Oftentimes we see these, you know, the artillery shell just exploding, right? That’s not particularly true, unless you are shooting explosive shells, which most of the time they didn’t. The idea was that the artillery cannibal that solid Cannonball once it’s fired, would bounce off the ground and hit the target, if double hits straight, but will bounce off the ground. And that ricochet effect was actually quite dangerous, because the direction of the cannonball once it hit, the ground was unpredictable. And he could bounce repeatedly and still maintain this momentum that could easily kill men. But you can’t achieve that. If you have a soggy ground, that Cannonball will just simply stuck in the ground. And so Napoleon knows about this. And on the day of the battle on June 18, he makes the decision to wait for the ground to dry. And so he waits until about 11 o’clock. And, of course, in hindsight, we know that that was an important decision because he had he started earlier had the ground been dry, he would have started early in the days as all of these battles started, think about our system. It started before dawn Borodino started with a sunrise, right? But here because he waited effectively four or five hours. He doesn’t have those four or five hours in the afternoon when the Prussian so coming. And so that played a role in terms of health. We know that Napoleon was not feeling well. In fact, that’s that’s really one of the interesting things about him is that at the crucial moments of his life Places like when he finds the Russians on the outskirts of Moscow, Borodino Leipzig, and now it was a loop. He feels unwell, he feels sick. And some refer to that he had piles that he was given, he called cold. But he clearly was not himself. And the movie shows well this moment when he’s both sweats, but he also delegates a lot of decisions, right? He, he doesn’t go out there, you know, like it. It also is where he actually wanted to run and examine and cheered and all they hear is in the back end oftentimes is more responsive, and reactive to events rather than seizing the initiative.
Dan LeFebvre 35:43
You mentioned something that I want to ask about, because in the movie, we see Napoleon’s tactics for actually starting the battle is to launch an attack near hougham on the right side of the English forces and the impression that I got was he wanted to, like you mentioned, like split basically hoping that Wellington would take men from the center, move them over to the right side and then he could, Polian would have an advantage there being able to split the Wellington’s men, was that his tactic to start the battle, they’re essentially trying to split Wellington and Wellington. According to movie, at least he didn’t fall for it.
Alexander Mikaberidze 36:20
That’s right. Bear in mind, this is the first time Napoleon confronts well. So here you have these two great commander, so the age, probably the most talented commander, so they have this period of facing each other. Now Wellington achieved great success fighting the French and Iberian didn’t so like Portugal and Spain. And marshals that Napoleon sent to five monk and were repeatedly dropped by him. So they had this experience of dealing with Wellington. In fact, they weren’t Napoleon or Wellington’s abilities, and especially he sees tactical prowess, but Napoleon because he never confronted him. He never, you know, fought him. And this was the first kind of appearance in a showdown between the he I think underestimated welding. And especially when we look at how carefully willing to deploy his positions are in the troops on the positions. Napoleon couldn’t really see Wellington’s army, because the Wellington deployed it on this reverse slopes of the heights of this hills on the battlefield. And so he could only see some of those troops but not what behind the height, which is, it was ingenious for wanting to do so. And so what he decides and what Napoleon decides is that he wants to strike on the left or towards the shut off Ooh, c’mon, by effectively by pretending that this was the main attack, they know he would pretend that he will try to smash the Wellington’s left, oh, well, it does rise playing, he will force him to commit reserves, because all commanders had the reserves on his side. And so he would make him commit reserves to his flank. And once that is achieved, Napoleon will strike somewhere else in the center right, and achieve a breakthrough. So the attack on Google mon was supposed to be a diverse, not a strong diversion, because it needs to look like an actual major attack. But Napoleon visioned it as a diversion to Wellington’s credit, he reads through this right he understands what’s happening. And so what he does is that he’s very skillfully kids, his right flank at Google Mont defended. And it gets to the great credit of the British troops who’s so steadfastly held out in that shadow and in the fall back, and so when he does doesn’t have to commit all of his resources, he can just simply fit that’s flying in just enough support to keep it intact, so that when the calling indeed tries to attack him elsewhere, Wellington still has reserves, he still is ready to respond to them.
Dan LeFebvre 39:10
According to the movie in the battle itself, we do see the tide turning a few different times that cavalry they call them the Scots grays in the movie, they get routed by French Lancers, and then Wellington orders his army to retire 100 paces and the French cavalry see this and they Oh, they’re retreating. They launch an attack without infantry support, and this ends up going badly and then Napoleon’s furious. Apparently he was lying down for time due to his illness. How overall Do you think the movie did showing the Battle of Waterloo itself? In broad sweeps,
Alexander Mikaberidze 39:39
he does very well. I mean, and all of these this title war, you know, the title battle where you have the charge of the British heavy cavalry, and then they named infamous cavalry charge all of this idea of what happens. There’s this wonderful painting by Elizabeth Thompson of the chart of the Scotland forever that shows the charge of the Scots grave And I think the movie does an excellent job in showing that famous charge. And then what happened to it? Just imagine the scene of these two brigades of combined strength of about 2000 men, led by this, you know, 47 year old to Oxbridge right, shouting and you see that in the valley that conveys the the full power and awesomeness of the calorie, you know, bearing on you. And then he also does a very good job at showing you maybe not explaining but showing you neighs countercharges, the famous or infamous in many respects, the decision that Nate had made to attack with some 67 squadrons. Because he thought that the British were teetering on the edge of withdrawing or imploding the, in the line. And I think one of the most powerful scenes in the movie is the scene when the French cavalry begins to charge. And then you see the camera pan out. And it shows you these massive British squares on the reverse slope. And you can imagine the strange on calorie right charging up and then stumbling upon these squares and you cannot but wonder how many of them said, you know, oh, oops.
Alexander Mikaberidze 41:33
Have you stopped up on it? Because these squares are virtually impenetrable. There are very few cases of squares, discipline, infantry forms and squares being penetrated. And this broken into and certainly not the, not when you’re dealing with a superb military like the British one. There is this beautiful scene right where you have about 10 squares that the movie shows you and the cavalry just circling around them and getting shot at on before ultimately, withdrawing. Now, we know that the Polian was not involved in this decision that he’s actually named, misjudged and attacked, and the opponent was indeed quite furious at it. But the damage was already done.
Dan LeFebvre 42:22
Near the end of the battle. In the movie, we see the French nearly when there’s even a scene where Napoleon tells solt to write a letter back to Paris declaring that we’ve won the battle No, we’ve won the war. But then bluer and depression show up in the battle just turns around and the French get routed, it turns into a massacre. One of the final scenes in the battle depicts a bunch of French soldiers being surrounded by the British and they refuse to surrender. And then they’re gunned down by cannons. Is that a pretty accurate representation of how the battle ended?
Alexander Mikaberidze 42:55
Again, broad sweeps? Yes. So the boy a bit exaggerated in terms of the maybe the the extent of the disarray of the British, British were and but Napoleon, certainly by late afternoon expected to win this battle. He was in the position in the wake of capturing the core positions in the battlefield, for example, to capture the law high stand, he expected that the the center of Wellington’s line will be penetrated. And once that is achieved in Wellington would have been forced to retreat. So without the Prussians arriving, Wellington most probably would have been forced to fold back. Now, this would not have been a route it would not have been the defeat, let’s say on the scale of Napoleon dropping Austrians and Russians and our students, but it would have been an important setback for the British. There would have been forced to retreat probably on the road to Brussels, and Napoleon would have been able to keep Prussians and the British separate so who knows how things would have turned out. But here that decision, the decision that blew her and his officers named after leaney, of not retreating, but rather committing to Wellington, to help at Waterloo place through and here I think the movie also does a good job of showing you how you see the core that Napoleon sent under the general Roshi, essentially Marshall gushee. Now he’s just been promoted on the Marshall Roshi to pursue the process towards the City of Vancouver. You see the army proceeding? Now there is the famous story of these, you know of Gucci eating strawberries and, and hearing the cannonade at the inner distance coming from the direction of Waterloo. And these generals, you know, jarrar coming to him and saying, Hey, he’s here, the candidate. That’s our guys fighting. We need to go Because one of the, one of these unwritten rules in the French army was to march to the sound of guns, right? If you hear sound of guns, you go and help. And the movie supposedly, again shows you this gooshie ignoring it. I think that’s where you see a kind of, we can quibble how movie portrays it because krushi will be scapegoated for Waterloo, you know, you will be portrayed as the man responsible for it, that Napoleon has done everything right. And, you know, if not, for crucian, his eating strawberries, things would have turned out differently. The reality is a bit more complex, you know, the instructions to krushi were not clear enough. We can, you know, debate the extent of veracity of the movies portrayal, but the core element the movie shows is correct, and that is bluger would be able to evade guru she’s core. And you see that striking moment when Napoleon is told about troops appearing on display, right on his right flank, and he looks through the buying glass and sees them coming up. He hopes that it’s grucci. But it’s actually Prussians and you see this wonderful scene of showing this crushing army lining up, then you see this black flags, right with white crosses. It’s a separate point of pride for myself that the actor who is portraying blue hair is a Georgian, very famous Georgian actor assemble Zacarias and he to me, he conveys this intensity, of course, Napoleon with all the parts of his being, I mean, he wanted this guy dead. And so he comes in, there’s this moment when the clothes off and blew her space. And he says, you know, children, show no mercy. And then in charge that the Prussians launched against the French right flank, Napoleon tries desperately to redeploy to shore up this flank. But it’s, it’s too late. I mean, these, these armies, by tie indeed, has been fighting for most of the day. And here we have this fresh Prussian army from 50,000 men that will come bearing down. And so he is, is defeated. The last scene of the battle, as you said, is the scene that probably is one of the most famous moments of Napoleonic Wars, and that is the last square right though this Imperial Guard, the way the movie shows is, is kind of romanticized. And of course, the the battlefield experience would have been different. Not the least, you know, this whole, you know, cavalry surrounding this cohere and then Calvary separating and
as far as I can, yeah.
Alexander Mikaberidze 47:48
Yeah, say hello to the little friend, again, is rolled out. But I think it conveys this dramatic effect of the determination of the guard to fight to the end, or at least some units, because we know that the guard did fall back. In fact, one of the moments in the battle is, is when the news spreads among the French army that, you know, like the guard retreats, and that was kind of breaking the spirit of the French army that oh, my God, if the guards is retreating, that’s it the battle as long as there is also this wonderful moment in that scene in that last scene, when the French are offered to surrender, and you see the officer in a supposedly this general come round, who you know, so there is a debate whether he indeed said this words, but then some, you know, the legend tells us that he says, you know, the guard dies by never surrenders, but it was, I think, the sources that we can think trust, and he probably simply said, Oh, she matters. He was ultimately captured, and he would be in captivity, and many of the guardsmen will die and perish in this last stage of the battle. watermill is the brutal affair, and it is quite a disaster for the French to give. I think it is one of the most heaviest defeats the French have suffered during Napoleonic Wars. I mentioned that the French army starts with about 73,000 men. The battle claims close to 44,000 casualties. I mean, it’s a staggering drubbing. There is a significant losses on the Li side Wellington’s army lost about 24,000 men. bloomers army again, arrives late in the day but plays a crucial role in defeating French but it’s still lost about 7000 men. So the totals are quite significant. So in in total in one day affair, we see here are some 65,000 men killed and butchered and wounded. You remember that famous scene When, when the cannibals struck one of the British, one of the ones his officers and tore his leg off, right? I think the film does well in conveying the brutality of filters battle, the sheer Carnage that the early 19th century battles, indeed wars.
Dan LeFebvre 50:21
Well, that leads right into my next question, because at the very end of the movie, we do see how the two main characters with Wellington and Napoleon kind of changed over the course of the events in the movie. And in the beginning, you mentioned that at the ball while he was there, he said something to the effect of how he expects his soldiers to die for him simply because it’s their duty. But then at the end, there’s a couple of lines, you know, I hope to god I’ve fought my last battle and next to a battle last, the saddest thing is a battle one. And then as far as Napoleon is concerned, you can tell just that the the loss just weighs very heavily on him. We don’t see a lot of really what happens to him. He just kind of gets in a carriage and rides away. But what was the aftermath of the battle at Waterloo? And how did it affect Napoleon and Wellington?
Alexander Mikaberidze 51:03
Yeah, I think that’s one of those powerful scenes for me. Oh, the movie, the way it shows the aftermath. We often times we have this romanticized notions right of war battles. Especially in the in the historical narratives, we talk about the battles in sense of the glorious heroic exploits, and few us contemplate what it was like to look at the battlefield that would be covered by the 60,000 bodies dead and wounding and dying and calling for help. And, you know, first thing because one of the problems these soldiers often had because they had to fire so many times during the battle, and no, buy those cartridges and have the gunpowder in their mouth and this talk of the mouth being black from the gunpowder and there’s no power, you know, Caribbean was being sold to and they all are thirsting and just the sheer human experience of it. And I think the movie shows you the scene when the camera pans out. And you see in the, in the Wellington, looking at this battlefield covered in dead and dying, it also shows you the, you know them trying to already clean the battlefield by line or arranging these lines of debt. And there’s also this scavengers who are going around. In fact, one of the interesting tidbits of Waterloo is that after the battle, there was a lot of scavenging done and not necessarily in terms of items being stolen. But one of the things that the people did was they went around and to remove the teeth of the dead. Because there was a massive demand for dentures in Europe. And if you’re a dentist you need, you know, you can have like Washington handles wooden dentures.
Alexander Mikaberidze 53:11
Or you can have, you know, really the top of the line, real teeth. That hard to procure from, unless you have access to this mass, mass quantities of the death and deed in the wake of the Waterloo, there was a phenomenon that was called the Waterloo teeth. These Glatt really the glut of teeth that comes in the market, with so many of the teeth were produced from the teeth from the dead award when you can actually look it up. Because there’s this quite interesting surviving pieces of dentures that floated for many years off the water. I think the scene with Napoleon retreating from Waterloo is quite powerful. because on one hand, he’s he’s the other thing he’s repented tried. He’s kind of he doesn’t show that kind of remorse that you see in Wellington, and Napoleon and deeds retreats from Waterloo to Paris. He’s, I mean, the movie exaggerates the extent of his illness in many respects. But I think that’s one of those literary licenses that movie makers can take the eye witnesses talk about him on feeling unwell, but the extent of that illness might have been exaggerated in the movie, but we know that he was exhausted. And you see that scene in the carriage when he sits in the carriage goes away. Now the character will take him to Paris, but he will not be able to stay in Paris because by the time he gets to Paris, there is an internal cool underway once the use of Waterloo reaches, and he’s again ousted from power, and he fears that he will be captured in a contained so he moves away from Paris to a small town and there he contemplates what to do next. Now, the movie doesn’t show you this but ultimately He makes a decision to go to the coastline of France, not really knowing for sure what to do, because their plan, at least plans for him to escape the United States. And so he goes to this port town to a small island of eight. And by the time he gets there, the court is blockaded by the British ship. And so he says he will stay for a few weeks there for a few days, you know, contemplating what to do, the locals will offer him fastest ships that might evade the British blockade and take him to United States. I mean, one cannot but wonder what he would have done. Showing LCL
Dan LeFebvre 55:46
history would have been different.
Alexander Mikaberidze 55:48
Yeah, I live in Louisiana. So maybe he should have come to New York. But ultimately, as we know, he will surrender to the British. And the British will then make it this momentous decision of sending him into second exile on this remote island, far more remote.
Dan LeFebvre 56:14
Not gonna make that same mistake again.
Alexander Mikaberidze 56:20
But that second time, so he was sent to this remote volcanic rock in the middle of Atlantic, some 4000 miles from Europe, where Napoleon will spend the last six years of his life onto the protection of the British troops.
Dan LeFebvre 56:37
Is there anything that you wish they had included in the movie that didn’t make it in?
Alexander Mikaberidze 56:41
No, to me, I think the movie works overall. I mean, I consider it is one of the best kind of military movies, especially it’s certainly one of the best Napoleonic movies. I mean, the sheer production value is huge. And Sergei bondarchuk, the Soviet director, who was involved in making this movie has directed the war in peace, and anyone who’s lived through the nine hours or whatever. Right. Moving is known as the, the grandiose scale of the production, which one that you know, brought to Waterloo. You see here, you know, 1000s of extras, I mean, the terms of production is superb. I really appreciate the way they structured the paces quite well. And even though again, from a historical point of view, you can quibble about details of the you know, they skip that and they didn’t elaborate this, and you’re right in pointing out that, you know, they rushed through the opening scenes of the campaign where it all was done in the sentence. But I think for the movie purpose, the narrative is sustained. And most crucially, they did an excellent job in casting. I mean, Rod Steiger as Napoleon. I don’t think anyone can beat him, really. I mean, that’s, that’s the golden standard now, and Christopher Plummer, and one of his best roles as Wellington, and we oftentimes forget that Orson Welles, one of the great actors of age, oh, isn’t this remarkable role of Lee 18, where he is, he’s shown gaining this massive weight, right, he can barely move. There’s so many wonderful, wonderful actors involved. And so to me, they’re little that you can improve on this.
Dan LeFebvre 58:27
Thank you so much for coming on to chat about Waterloo. I know your most recent book is called the Napoleonic wars of global history. But you’ve written a number of fantastic books on the Napoleonic era. For someone listening to this, who wants to learn more? Can you give an overview of your books and a recommendation for which one to start with?
Alexander Mikaberidze 58:43
Thank you so much for mentioning about my books got might I tend to focus on the author of Napoleon’s campaigns, the early ones, a bit of Francophile. So what you’re looking at, is a painful one to contemplate. I’ve written extensively on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, so on that’ll set Balaji no berezina. But for the listeners interested in the Battle of Waterloo, there’s wonderful new work that has appeared in the last 10 years or so by Andrew field by Paul Dawson by Charles esdaile that really reevaluated that battle. For a long time that battle used to be portrayed from more of a French or British point of view. But now we see the battle considered from multiple points of view. And when we’re Jake, for example, a Dutch historian showed us how crucial Dutch contribution to this battle was. The Dutch are only glimpse in this movie, but they played a crucial role at cuarto gras. They contribute at Waterloo and there is this wonderful series that Gareth Glover is editing a British historian, titled Waterloo archive. Now, I think six volumes six facet volumes of bringing eyewitness accounts To show us the depth and complexity of his battle from so many multiple points of view, and the you know, listeners can read those accounts and then compare it to the movie, and I think the comparison will be quite awesome.
Dan LeFebvre 1:00:13
Thank you again so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Alexander Mikaberidze 1:00:15
Thank you so much. Have fun watching the movie.