HE didn’t meet his Waterloo, but Prince Charles yesterday met a descendant of the military genius whose defeat to the British changed the course of history.
And he used the occasion to honour for the first time all the British troops who fought and died in the Battle of Waterloo with a memorial dedicated to their actions 200 years ago today.
Charles walked in the footsteps of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte yesterday to mark the anniversary, and was introduced to Prince Charles Bonaparte, the French politician and great-great-nephew of the man regarded as one of history’s greatest military strategists, who was defeated by an Allied army led by the Duke of Wellington and a Prussian army commanded by Gebhard von Blucher.
Watched by relatives of the Duke and the Prussian leader, Charles, joined by the Duchess of Cornwall, unveiled a monument recognising the sacrifices made by the men and officers.
It was sited in the courtyard of Hougoumont, a Belgian farmhouse where British soldiers fought to keep out Napoleon’s troops and changed the course of European history with their actions.
At one point a Frenchman, a giant called Sous Lieutenant Legros, wielding an axe, burst through the farm’s north gate with 40 French infanteers, but the Coldstream Guards, led by Lieutenant Colonel James MacDonnell, managed to close the door behind them to keep the others out.
If the farm had fallen, Napoleon’s troops could have swept behind Wellington’s lines and such was its importance that the Duke later said the outcome of Waterloo “turned on the closing of the gates at Hougoumont”.
Other monuments recognise various regiments that fought at Waterloo but the simple artwork by sculptor Vivienne Mallock, showing two soldiers shutting the gates, is the first for all British troops. The farm has been restored after a multi-million-pound facelift led by the Hougoumont Project which was established to save it after if fell into disrepair.
Camilla has a direct connection with the monument as her great-great-great-grandfather, John Whitehill Parson, served with the 10th Regiment of Light Dragoons and fought at Waterloo.
Charles and the Duchess were earlier joined by the 9th Duke of Wellington, as they surveyed the rolling fields in Belgium where tens of thousands of men fought and died.
First they walked along a dusty dirt track between the fields to the site of La Belle Alliance farm, now gone, where Napoleon set up his headquarters.
In the distance was Lion’s Mound, the towering artificial hill built to mark the site of the famous battle on June 18, 1815.
Nearly 180,000 men fought for more than 10 hours in the battle which featured more than 35,000 horses and some 500 cannons.
Yesterday’s events are being followed today by a national service at St Paul’s Cathedral in London to commemorate the anniversary.
And the Royal Regiment of Artillery, which played a significant role in the landmark battle, will be marking the anniversary.
At 11am, floral wreaths will be laid at the graves of 40 Royal Artillery personnel who fought, followed by a minute’s silence.
It replicates a ceremony held in 1915 to mark the 100th anniversary.