Saturday, 20 June 2015

Britain is a country where an old Prince commemorated an old victory over Napoleon in a Battle called Waterloo

Only countries in decline remember long gone victories in battles fought with no combatants still alive and, that being the case, on Thursday, on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, June 18th 1815, the 67 year old, heir to the throne, the Prince of Wales, attended a 'National Service' of Commemoration in St Paul’s Cathedral. Also in attendance were the Prime Minister, President of the European Parliament, Lord Mayor of London, the present Duke of Wellington, senior representatives of the Armed Services, representatives and ambassadors of all combatant countries involved in the Battle. Apart from the aristocratic, political and military elites, the 'Nation' was represented by some descendants of men who fought in the Battle and 200 children and 200 teachers, alongside members of the public who entered a ballot for tickets. As a reflection of the social order, it was entirely right that those who were there by 'Right' were joined by those who were there by 'Lottery', albeit some distance apart.             
During the service, an 'anthologicon' was read, drawn from extracts from contemporary accounts of events before, during and after the Battle by British, French and German readers under-laid by the sound of the organ.
The Dean of St Paul's, the Very Reverend Dr David Ison, said :

"We remember the dead of the Battle of Waterloo on this day two hundred years ago. We give thanks for the legacy of relative peace in Europe in the years that followed. And we recall current conflicts in our world, and pray for the armed forces of this and other nations which strive to bring stability to a troubled world. We pay due honour to Arthur, Duke of Wellington, and those who fought alongside him, and recognise the fortitude of Napoleon Bonaparte and those under his command."

So what exactly was being commemorated in St.Paul's Cathedral ?

It's true that Waterloo put the final nail in the coffin of Napoleon’s ambition to conquer Britain, as well as bringing an end to more than 20 years of war, but what about "the legacy of relative peace in Europe in the years that followed" ?
'Peace' meant the victory of the feudal crowned heads of Europe over the forces of the French Revolution. This Waterloo ushered in the repressive united Europe of the Vienna Settlement : Castlereagh and Metternich, Louis XVIII and Charles X of France and Ferdinand VII of Spain, anti-liberal anti-democratic reactionaries set on consigning the Europe of republics and peoples to the history books.

Lord Byron, visiting the field of Waterloo in 1816, early in his exile from Britain, wrote back to a friend:
“I detest the cause and the victors – and the victory.” A few months later he again railed against the Battle as “the grave of France, the deadly Waterloo”, before asking the question : “But is Earth more free?”

Byron was not alone. William Hazlitt, the most ardent of all British radical admirers of Napoleon, called the Battle of Waterloo : “the greatest and most fatal in its consequences of any that was ever fought in the world”. William Godwin,  another of the Waterloo dissidents, spoke against the “miserable consequences of that accursed field” and continued throughout his life to believe that, however flawed Napoleon might be, he was still to be preferred to the restored Bourbon kings.

Napoleon gave himself up to the British off the west coast of France a few weeks after the battle, but when the ship on which he was sailing arrived in Torbay he was not allowed to leave partly because of fear of onshore popular sympathy if he were to set foot on English soil as he wished. Some years later when asked by his doctor what he would have done if he had managed to invade southern England in 1805 he replied :
“I would have hastened over my flotilla with two hundred thousand men, landed as near Chatham as possible and proceeded direct to London, where I calculated to arrive in four days from the time of my landing. I would have proclaimed a republic and the abolition of the nobility and the House of Peers, the distribution of the property of such of the latter as opposed me amongst my partisans, liberty, equality and the sovereignty of the people.”

 Many Britons felt little affection for the generals and rulers who emerged victorious at Waterloo. William Cobbett, the great political reformer said :
“The war is over. Social Order is restored; the French are again in the power of the Bourbons; the Revolution is at an end; no change has been effected in England; our Boroughs, and our Church, and Nobility and all have been preserved; our government tells us that we have covered ourselves with glory.”

Thus it was two hundred years ago, so it is today : Our Church and Nobility are still preserved and the old elites still cover themselves in past glory and commemorate their victory.


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