At the beginning of the year 1815, Europe was finally at peace after over 20 years of war. However, all this was to change when the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from exile and launched a military campaign which would end at the Battle of Waterloo.
From 1793 to 1814, French armies had dominated Europe, led by the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1815, France had been defeated by a coalition of nations, including Britain. Napoleon was exiled to a small Mediterranean island, Elba.
Suddenly, in March 1815, Napoleon escaped Elba and gathered an army in France. This began a period known as the “Hundred Days”, when Napoleon led France to fight the other powerful countries of Europe, who allied together to try and stop him.
The kings and governments of Europe at Napoleon’s return were horrified – it was as though their victory in 1814 had been for nothing. Britain, Prussia, Austria and Russia all quickly raised armies and sent them toward France.
Napoleon needed to strike quickly, and defeat his enemies one by one, before their armies could unite to crush him. He marched his newly-rebuilt army north, into Belgium. Here, the British-Dutch army under Wellington, and the Prussian army under Blucher must be defeated each in turn.
At first, the French were victorious, driving the Prussians off the battlefield at a place called Ligny. Next, Napoleon needed to destroy the British and their Dutch and German allies, who were defending a high ridge near the village of Waterloo. But the Duke of Wellington’s army was able to hold out long enough for the beaten Prussians to regroup and attack the French again, uniting the Allied armies.
In one day at Waterloo, Napoleon’s dream of French domination over Europe was finally crushed.