4 min read

11 iconic objects from the Battle of Waterloo 2

To mark the Battle of Waterloo anniversary on June 18th we look at ten of the fascinating, 200-plus objects collected by the Waterloo 200 website, which was launched in 2015 to commemorate the momentous battle

Cuirass with cannonball hole

a photo of golden breastplate with a large hole punched through it

Copyright Musée de l’Armée (Dist. RMN-Grand Palais). Photography Relic Imaging Ltd.

One of the most famous and powerful historical objects from the battle, this French cuirass, a breastplate worn as body armour by French cavalry, was holed by a cannonball that smashed through the unlucky soldier’s chest. The Waterloo campaign was the first occasion that British troops found themselves face to face with Napoleon’s armoured cavalry, whose cuirasses and metal helmets made them a daunting foe.

The armour belonged to 23-year-old trooper François-Antoine Fauveau – but there is a twist to the tale. Family legend has it that when his call-up papers arrived, François-Antoine was on the point of getting married, so his brother joined up, and died, in his place. Whoever was wearing it on 18 June 1815, this cuirass serves to emphasise the brutality of Napoleonic warfare at a most personal level.

Ensign Howard’s cap

a photo of a tall felt cap with a bullet hole in the side

Ensign Howard’s Cap. Copyright The Duke of Wellington’s Regimental Museum. Photo Relic Imaging Ltd

This is the uniform cap of Ensign James Howard, an officer in the 33rd Regiment of Foot. The hole comes from a French musket ball that was shot through the cap at the Battle of Waterloo. Astonishingly, the bullet missed Howard’s head entirely and the soldier only found the musket ball hole after the battle. Writing home he said: “It must have been within the eighth of an inch of my head. I intend on bringing the cap to England.”

The Waterloo Map

a photo of a faded map on parchment

The Waterloo Map. Courtesy Royal Engineers Museum. Photography Relic Imaging Ltd.

The original map used by the Duke of Wellington and his staff to plan and fight the Battle of Waterloo. It was carried on the battlefield by the British Quartermaster General, Sir William Howe De Lancey, who was mortally wounded by a cannonball near the end of the battle.

It was created for the Duke by the Royal Engineers from ten smaller maps pasted together to create a single image after he called for a detailed map of the area around Waterloo on the 16 June 1815, just two days before the battle.

Napoleon’s Hat

a photo of a bicorn hat with small rosette on it

Napoleon’s Hat. Copyright Deutsches Historisches Museum

This hat, worn by the Emperor Napoleon when he commanded the French Army at the Battle of Waterloo, was captured by Prussian soldiers after the French defeat, as Allied troops looted the abandoned baggage of the French Emperor.

Integral to the image of a hard-working, down-to-earth general that Napoleon tried to create, the hat helped create an instantly recognisable profile that was instantly recognisable to French soldiers, most of whom were devoted to their Emperor.

The diary of Edmund Wheatley

a photo of a diary with one page of handwritten text and a sketch of a soldier resting

Wheatley’s Diary. National Portrait Gallery

Edmund Wheatley, an officer in the King’s German Legion who fought at the Battle of Waterloo, kept a diary with sketches that vividly describes three years of constant warfare in Spain and France. This sketch shows Wheatley “skulking like an outlaw in a thicket” after the Battle of Waterloo. Wheatley had been injured and captured by the French but escaped by hiding in some woods south of the battlefield.

Turner’s Waterloo

a drak painting showing wounded and dying soldiers on a battlefield lit by moonlight

The Field of Waterloo exhibited 1818 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

This painting, by JMW Turner, depicts the battlefield of Waterloo and the terrible casualties inflicted during the fighting. The aftermath of Waterloo held a morbid fascination for many artists, providing as it did a terrible spectacle and a scene of human suffering that rather fitted the moralising and sentimental attitudes of the age. There were 41,000 casualties at Waterloo.

Napoleon’s Death Mask

a photo of a death mask in brown

Napoleon’s Death Mask. Copyright English Heritage

This is the death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte, a cast of the French Emperor’s face made from his corpse. Before the invention of photography it was common practice to make plaster or wax casts of the faces of famous people after they had died. Napoleon died on 5th May 1821, imprisoned on the island of St Helena at the age of 51.

Banner from the Peterloo Massacre

photo of a banner with Liberty and Fraternity written across it

Banner from the Peterloo Massacre. Copyright Touchstones Rochdale

Waterloo 200 covers the entire period of revolution, protest and reform from 1775 – 1848. This protest banner was one of many carried to a reform meeting convened by the Manchester Radical Union at St Peter’s Field in Manchester on 16 August 1819.

By mid-afternoon as many as fifteen people, including four women and a child, were either dead or fatally injured. A further 400-700 suffered serious wounds, including Thomas Redford, who carried this banner. The incident, which involved infamous intervention of the local militia, became known as the Peterloo Massacre.

Wellington’s death mask

a photo of a white death mask of an old man

Wellington’s Death Mask. Copyright English Heritage

This is the death mask of the Duke of Wellington, a plaster model of his face taken on the day he died, on 14 September 1852. The Duke was 83 years old at the time of his death, probably from a stroke. Although over 30 years had passed since the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and his political career had not been popular, the Duke was still a national hero, and his death led to widespread mourning.

The last Waterloo veterans

a black and white photo of a group of old soldiers

The last Waterloo veterans. Copyright Royal Collection / Queen Elizabeth II

This rare photograph shows five surviving veterans of the Waterloo campaign at the Royal Military Hospital, Chelsea. “Waterloo Men”, as veterans of the battle were nicknamed, became local celebrities as the 19th century went on and there were fewer and fewer survivors of the famous campaign.

See the entire collection of over 220 fascinating objects and the stories they tell on Waterloo 200, which as well as the battle, explores the Age of Revolution (1775-1848), a period that saw political, social, economic, scientific and intellectual upheavals fundamentally change European and American societies.

2 comments on “11 iconic objects from the Battle of Waterloo

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *