I was reading a facsimile copy of the 1852 edition of George Jones’ ”Battle of Waterloo With Those of Ligny and Quatre Bras Described by Eye-Witness and by the Series of Official Accounts Published by Authority” recently, and my eye came across this on page 9 In the chapter on Circumstantial Details:
”There is a mistaken idea in this country, that the French, that even Napoleon Buonaparte himself, was popular in Belgium. This was a moment when Hypocrisy itself would have found it impossible to dissemble; and the dismay which reigned upon every face, and the terror which filled every town and village, when it was believed that the French were victorious - the execrations with which their very names were uttered - the curses, ‘not loud but deep’ half repressed by fear, betrayed how rooted and sincere was the hatred from the tyranny from which they had so recently escaped. There may be miscreants of of all ranks in Belgium, as in other countries, whom the hope of plunder and the temptations of ambition will bring over to any party, where these can be obtained; but by the great body of the nation, from the highest to the lowest, the French government is abhorred, and Napoleon himself is regarded with detestation, the strength of which we can firm no idea of in this country. Their very infants are taught to lisp these sentiments, and to regard him as a monster”
This has set me thinking about the following points (in no particulate order):
1. The xenophobia of British accounts and the fear of betrayals that appears not to have materialised. Given the shared language of the part of Belgium they found themselves in and the service records of some of the Belgian officers it doesn’t seem to need much stoking.
2. Although some Belgian individuals rallied to Napoleon, those Belgians who entered the new country’s service overwhelmingly did so loyally. Indeed the story of defections is one of French officers deserting Napoleon. Not the other way around.
3. How genuine was Napoleon’s expectations of the Belgians? Was it just a Pollyanna style symptom of his narcissism or perhaps propaganda intended not so much for the Belgians but his own men?
4. Many are now reassessing the roles played within the Allied victory, if we are to take the above quote at face value should we not rehabilitate the civilian population also?
In mulling these over, I’d very welcome inputs from forumites, of whatever sympathies, and indeed any other points or evidence germane to the subject of Belgian attitudes in this period.
As ever, by deepest thanks to anyone who contributes.
@david Tomlinson if you don't mind, email me: email@example.com
As a general update to any interested, the research continues. Vandamme's papers (outside what was gathered in 1830s) almost certainly perished in the home of Col. Levi (Duthilt editor) in the first world war. He borrowed them from the library at Lille in April of 1914, and the library has this documented, including that they were not returned. In Levi's personnel files, he reveals that his home was destroyed in the war - it was in the north of France.
Thousands of Gérard's papers were found, but end prior to hostilities - did include Bourmont's last letter of June 14 signed as a Lt. General - spoiler alert, he was a traitor. He also conveniently redirected many resources on the frontier to repair the Charleroi roads - this may have been absolutely necessary and he was ordered to do this - but it also conveniently enabled his baggage and personal staff a window to depart.
A dispatch from Gérard to Soult was addressed to Laon. We knew this from another letter as well - more support that Soult was expected in Laon.
Baudus' drafts of his Waterloo notes are interesting - in his first sloppy-copy he fantasized about killing Napoleon at the end of the battle. This was excised from his final copy, which was subsequently then copied for Houssaye. As I have documented, there are many reasons to doubt the "easy as breakfast" quote that originates form these notes - including that Baudus avoided it in his own published writings. (and that the quote exist elsewhere without that detail.) It is shameful how this quote has been used so extensively for over 100 years without any scrutiny.
We have been given access to a huge collection of letters Baudus/family wrote during the period, and found the account of accompanying Soult to exile - it lacked anything remarkable.
Gourgaud gave away a lot of primary source material late in his life - some of which appeared in 19th century auctions and a trickle made it to the archives. The "Mr. X" that Houssaye mentions provided key pieces for June 16 may be one of these individuals - was X shorthand for a name, or did the individual wish to remain anonymous? We have checked Houssaye's hand written notes (From Thiers) to verify this is what he said and scoured for more details... none... this remains a mystery - anyone know?
The Hulot report to Gérard was printed in the late 19th century, and the editors claimed details relating to Bourmont were edited out. A copy Hulot kept for himself, and which the article was based on, did not show any edits. Curious - its possible there were additional pages or a Bourmont/Hulot letter that was not found - there are several of those.
Bourmont's papers have been donated to archives... but family won't allow access yet as they are cataloging them or something. We write annually - and I do appreciate that they respond.
The effort is ongoing, and thousands of items have been acquired digitally. There might be some good stuff - but I am overwhelmed to analyze. As far as vetting my work - no serious scholar has ever been denied copies of anything I have... I wish I could say this was true for others in this field, but I do keep a list of those that I will never help again.
In my Analysis volume of the recent set - I quoted the wrong paragraph the from paragraph from the June 8 Gressot letter. The entire letter is transcribed so anyone who has it can read the whole thing - its pretty obvious what the key factoid is.
Reminder, there is still a Soult registry and half of Bertrand's registry still in a private collection somewhere... the Soult registry would be particular interesting for additional details of the concentration. Bertrand's predate June, but as he was famous for his personal shorthand, they could help identify people/events from June.
The subject is complex, but a very short summary with abbreviations: The superior behavior of the 'Dutch' towards the 'Belgians' did no good. The dictatorial behavior of King William I contributed to this; he would not recognize Belgian independence until 1839. In 1815 there were few clouds in the sky. Many Belgians were happy with this merging solution of British design. The subordination of the southern (Catholic) Netherlanders compared to the (Protestant) northerners culminated in the revolt in 1830. Incidentally, even after 1830, many Belgians did not agree with the secession. And today there is still a Flemish party that is in favor of affiliation with the Netherlands, just like there is a Walloon party that favors affiliation with France.
I seem to recall the Dutch of the United Provinces soon found being absorbed into the French republican sphere of influence did not offer the day of jubilee they had hoped. However, they were quite content being ruled by good King Louis, so much so that Napoleon put an end to that particular monarchical experiment, but from 1815 the Netherlands - barring the unpleasantness of 1830, have been a fairly jolly monarchy.
Februari 1814: Bülow had been more than busy with his military task. So when the Duke of Saxe-Weimar arrived, one of the most urgent projects he had to take care of was setting up some kind of government and structure to be able to utilise the sources of the country itself, in manpower, supplies as well as money and to maintain order. On his arrival one of the first things he did was, together with Bülow, to issue a proclamation to the inhabitants of the Southern Netherlands, urging them to join the cause, to fight against the tyrant Napoleon and for their freedom. This proclamation fed hope to many for an independent Belgium. The rest is history. 😅
"Napoleon's success in gaining the consent of the populace and of elites to his rule was not confined to old-regime France. In the older annexed territories (Belgium, the Rhineland, Luxemburg, Piedmont, Genoa) his achievement was even more striking. Belgium and Luxemburg had been in active revolt against French rule before Napoleon took power, the Rhineland was certainly not contented. Yet the same acceptance of French rule came to prevail here as in metropolitan France; a good deal of support and collaboration was garnered from local notables, officials and the middle class, and little nationalistic or patriotic resentment and resistance had to be overcome . The defeats and burdens of 1812-14 destroyed enthusiasm for the regime to be sure, and it's call was received without regret - but also without rebellion.". P. 2 76-7. Schroeder, Paul W. Transformation of European Po?itics, 1763-1848. (1996). Unlike the collapse of Orangist rule in Belgium.
@Hans - Karl Weiß quite so. What always surprises me is that someone who has lain dead for two centuries excites such emotions. It is impossible for either of us to have met Napoleon, or even to have met someone who met him. We don’t even have a photograph of him. It is therefore the mesmeric effect of the legend we are dealing with, not the man himself. We can forgive the people of Belgium in 1815 for having strong opinions about Napoleon. They had ‘skin in the game’ as it were. But even then, by making him the bogey man for their children it is the persona not necessarily reality, in a rather Monty Python like ‘what have the Romans ever done for us’ sort of way. What is quite clear is that despite the list of 8 sympathisers found in Napoleon’s papers that Jones footnotes, there appears to have been little ambition amongst the people or the armed forces for a return to a Napoleonic hegemony. Admirers of Napoleon of course see it the other way around. Two centuries of lies and propaganda against a great man, a paragon of virtues, more sinned against than sinning. This makes getting behind the current emotion to see the real ‘warts and all’ figure so hard. Paradoxically, it’s also what makes the subject so fascinating! I think Kipling nailed it when he said: “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:” But it’s easier said than done. Let us hope that we can continue to discuss the lives of these long dead historical figures in such a spirit of fellowship and tolerance.
@Kevin F. Kiley I wouldn’t say that this was evidence of a national bias, just one against being robbed by an occupying army, even if it was your nominal ally. Or even your own soldiers, as evidenced by stories of Belgian troops ‘foraging’ at Hal for example. More along the lines of “It’s Tommy this and Tommy that” of later Kipling fame. If anything, such fear causes the opposite effect “welcomed us with ‘Vive l’empereur’ but I cannot flatter myself that they appeared very sincere, or there was a general sentiment in our favour. In truth, they rather seemed to deprecate us not to pillage them than to express their genuine feelings”, a French veteran quoted in Esdaile’s The Eagle Rejected on page 48. What George Jones was expressing was detestation of French government and Napoleon himself. No doubt the quadrupling of taxes, conscription and the depredations on the Continental System on an economy founded in the English trade had rather more effect.
The Belgians didn't care too much for the Prussians either. 'You cannot conceive a country so completely pillaged. Houses actually turned inside out, the road strewed with the feathers of chickens...We are half starved, the Prussians everywhere committed such excesses that the people concealed themselves and all their effects.'-Lieutenant Frederick Johnston, 6th Inniskilling Dragoons. See MK Ritchie and C Ritchie, 'With the Inniskillings in Flanders' in the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, XXXV, Number 144, December 1957, 178.
Indeed English Xenophobia says it all, also not speaking to the people, and falling for Boney propaganda.
Professor Emeritus Charles Esdaile wrote a good book, which I read front to cover, The Eagle Rejected.
Boney ment plunder, suppression, conscription and war only for his glory, so why should he be popular at all, people (also some French) hated his guts for good reason.