Alan Forrest

Napoleonic Coda

Napoleon: The End of Glory

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Oxford University Press 324pp £20 order from our bookshop

The Longest Afternoon: The Four Hundred Men Who Decided the Battle of Waterloo

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Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 127pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

As we approach the two-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and the jamboree of commemorations that it will unleash, it is perhaps salutary to ask what it is that we will be celebrating. Waterloo was Napoleon’s last battle, the defeat that condemned him to a second abdication and removal from the European stage. But did it really bring down Napoleon? Or was his career effectively already over in 1814, following his crushing defeat at Leipzig and an invasion of France that brought his enemies to the very gates of Paris? His subsequent escape from Elba and the military adventure of the Hundred Days might appear to suggest that he could have again charmed France and reconquered Europe. But in reality this was little more than an exercise in self-deception. The Great Powers, with Tsar Alexander I of Russia at their head, were determined to oppose any settlement that maintained the French Empire, and they had the military clout to enforce their will. The historian is entitled to ask whether Waterloo was anything more than a footnote to over twenty years of war.

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