“For those interested in the final showdown of the Napoleonic Wars, there is no shortage of books, movies, apps and goods available to help mark the historic milestone.”
LATER THIS MONTH, thousands will gather on a tiny patch of land 12 miles south of Brussels to mark the 200th anniversary of one of the most famous battles in military history: Waterloo.
Among those present for the four-day event will be a raft of noted dignitaries, re-enactors in period dress and the international media — not to mention scores upon scores of spectators. But while most of tickets for the various mock battles, speeches and commemorations at the historic battlefield are completely sold out, for those interested in the final showdown of the Napoleonic Wars, there is no shortage of books, movies, apps and goods available to help mark the historic milestone. Over the past several weeks, we here at MilitaryHistoryNow.com have dutifully pored over much of it. Here’s what we found:
It’s no surprise that author Bernard Cornwell’s first (and as he told MHN recently) only foray into the world of non-fiction focuses on the Waterloo Campaign – after all, the 70-year-old best-selling British novelists’ most famous character, Richard Sharpe of the 95th Rifles, fought there. The 2014 book, Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles explores Napoleon’s final campaign in vivid and lively detail. If you’re looking for a chronicle of the well-studied campaign told by a master storyteller, this is the book for you. On the other hand, if it’s old-fashioned Cornwellian fiction you crave, you could always reach for a paperback or kindle copy of Sharpe’s Waterloo, the 11th novel in his beloved series. In it, the intrepid English rifleman and his trusty sidekick Patrick Harper find themselves once again neck-deep in intrigue while the legendary 1815 battle swirls around them.
Alan Forrest’s thoroughly original take on the iconic clash of arms focuses less on how Waterloo was fought on the battlefield and more on the way Wellington’s victory was lionized by Victorian-era Britons. Solidly researched and deftly told by the University of York professor, the book manages to bring some fresh new perspective to a 200-year-old story. And at just under 200 pages in length, it’s anything but a ponderous read.
NOTE: The author recently offered MHN readers a sneak peek of his book. See his article here.
Dan and Peter Snow’s Battle of Waterloo Experience is aptly named. The lavishly illustrated boxed volume, which was compiled with the help of Britain’s National Army Museum, is jam-packed with paintings, illustrations, engravings and infographics that put readers in the middle of the action. What’s more, paper sleeves hidden within the book’s 64 pages contain more than a dozen reproduced historic letters, dispatches, documents and fold-out maps, all of which can be pulled free and examined in close detail – very cool! The end result is an entirely captivating ‘scrap book’ of sorts that brings the famous battle to life in new and exciting ways. It’s a must-have for any history enthusiast.
For a fictionalized take on Bonaparte’s final campaign, check out Four Days in June, the 2006 breakout novel by Iain Gale. The British-born journalist-turned-author takes readers to war through the eyes of the real-life protagonists who shaped the story — from a Scottish colonel and a Prussian general to Marshal Ney and the French emperor himself. If you’re looking for a rousing telling of the battle from those who were within range of its musket balls, you’ll want to spend four days this June reading Gale’s book.
From $12 (£8) on Amazon
Call it history’s ‘first draft’ — Osprey Publishing’s The Battle of Waterloo: A Series of Accounts By a Near Observer. Originally published in the months immediately following the battle and rereleased for 2015, the 292-page book includes actual eyewitness testimony from those on the firing line, two-century-old sketches of the killing grounds, official records and documents from the opposing armies and even army casualty lists. If you were any closer to the battle, your clothes would smell of gunsmoke. The title is just one of a series of Waterloo-related releases and repackages from the authoritative five-decade old publisher of illustrated military history books. Check out the full list of Osprey’s Waterloo books here.
Prices vary on Amazon
Speaking of revisiting the classics, check out the quintessential cinematic portrayal of the battle — Sergei Bondarchuk‘s 1970 epic Waterloo. Starring Rod Steiger as Bonaparte and Christopher Plummer as Wellington, the two-hour film tracks the events surrounding the French emperor’s return from exile to his final downfall, and all done in sweeping blockbuster fashion. And ‘sweeping’ is right — as many as 17,000 extras were used to help bring the movie’s breathtaking battle sequences to life. The charge of the Scot’s Greys, Ney’s cavalry assault, the forming of British infantry squares, the arrival of the Prussians and the breaking of the Old Guard – all of it makes the final cut in Waterloo. As far as MHN knows, Waterloo was never released to DVD or BluRay in North America, but a number of imported discs are still widely available. Here’s one from China; here’s another from Russia. Bootlegged versions of the film also appear intermittently on Youtube as well, sometimes even in 1080p HD.
Napoleonic action is the name of the game in Sword & Musket, a new digital app from Scottish software developer HexWar. A bare-bones, yet surprisingly addictive turn-based war game, Sword & Musket allows players to fight their way through the Peninsula War. Although HexWar sources tell MHN that a Waterloo campaign title is forthcoming, until then players will have to get their Welly on fighting their way through Spain — not a bad substitute in our opinion. Five campaigns, 40 missions and more than 60 units are included in the game, which is available for both Mac and iPad.
Rampley & Co
The folks at London’s Rampley & Co want history buffs to mark the 200th anniversary of Waterloo in style with one of the company’s commemorative, high-quality pocket squares. The perfect accent to a navy blue blazer, each of the 256-square-inch, pure silk, hand-rolled hankies is emblazoned with a reproduction of the ubiquitous Sir Thomas Lawrence painting of the Duke of Wellington — the same one that’s on display at Apsley House near Hyde Park in the British capital. Interestingly enough, this isn’t the only history-themed pocket square from Rampley & Co. Others fabrics honour the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar and the Death of Major Peirson at the 1781 Battle of Jersey. Gazuntite!
Billed as an “authentic reconstruction of the battle as a graphic novel”, this 36-page illustrated narrative takes readers to war through the eyes of an army doctor, a Prussian drummer boy, a redcoat, a civilian witness and a member of Napoleon’s vaunted Old Guard. Veteran French cartoonist Marcel “Mor” Morote illustrates.
One Belgian-based craft brewer, Waterloo Beer, hopes you’ll want to drink in the history of Napoleon’s most famous defeat with their full line of heritage pints. Brewed on site at the Mont St. Jean Farm, which served as a field hospital during the deadly 1815 dust-up, the series includes a triple blonde, a strong dark, a local organic Récolte and sweet Cuvée Impériale served in a champagne bottle. If you happen to be in Belgium during the commemorations and plan to quench your thirst with a pint, tweet us with your thoughts (@milhistnow). We’d love to hear what you think. In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for a bottle of Iron Duke Strong Ale from Canada’s Wellington Brewery.