This is the telescope used during the Battle of Waterloo by the Duke of Wellington. A telescope was an important tool for any officer, but doubly so for a general. The telescope would magnify the image (30 times) enabling Wellington to pick out a unit and even an individual amid the confusion of battle.

The battlefield of Waterloo was only 2.5km (1.6 miles) long, and was packed with over 200,000 soldiers. Wellington used this telescope to see where the enemy troops were massing, and to react to important events, such as the British strongpoint of Hougoumont being set on fire by the French. During the day, the presence of concealed troops could be determined by the glint from their bayonets, swords or lances.

Communication at the time of Waterloo was by line of sight or in person using messengers. To organise his troops, Wellington would have to send a rider carrying handwritten orders to their commanding officer. There was no guarantee that this officer would receive the orders or carry them out correctly, and the fighting might change drastically before the messenger arrived.

Here are some guidelines for distance and visibility, showing at what range Wellington could have picked out the events of the Battle:

  • 300m: Design of flags, hence unit identity
  • 450m: Individual figures and the colour of uniforms
  • 600m: Groupings of files (formations of troops)
  • 800m: Individual movement suggesting possible intentions
  • 1,200m: Artillery pieces and infantry formations where the smartness of the formations suggests the quality of the troops
  • 1,500m: Infantry in line looking like a solid black line; cavalry in line seen as a notched black line
  • 4,000m: Main features of houses
  • 8,000m: Troops massing, shown by darker hillsides
  • 10,000m: Windmills and towers can be seen

After the British victory at Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington became a major celebrity. Objects used during the battle were precious souvenirs. The Duke gave this telescope to Sir Robert Peel, an important British politician and twice Prime Minister. The inscription on the brass plate reads:

‘Telescope by Berge of London used by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, presented by the Duke to Sir Robert Peel.’

The Duke of Wellington was made Constable of the Tower of London, responsible for the defence of all of the city. This telescope is now kept in the Royal Armouries museum at the Tower.

Find it here

This object is in the collection of Tower of London