Here for students of history is a plan of events between the naval battle of Trafalgar and the final battle in the European conflict against Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo. The career of Arthur Wellesley, the boy from Eton who became Duke of Wellington marches alongside the campaigns.
In 1784 Wellesley left Eton College to study with a private tutor at Brighton, England. In March, 1787 he became an Ensign in the Army; on 15 December he was promoted to Lieutenant. In 1789 the French Revolution (q.v.) hit France. In 1791 Wellesley became a Captain. In April, 1793 he was gazetted Major, and on 30th September of the same year a Lieutenant-Colonel. In April, 1802 while soldiering in India, Wellesley became a Major-General. On 1 September, 1804 Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of the French, and William Pitt (q.v.) became Prime Minister in Britain. On 20 October, 1805 Napoleon defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Ulm, and on the day after, Nelson and the British Navy won the sea battle of Trafalgar against a combined Franco/Spanish fleet. Nelson died of his wounds.
On December 2, in freezing weather Napoleon beat both Austria and Russia at Austerlitz. In April, 1806, Napoleon decreed a total blockade of British ports, called the ‘Continental System’. On 9 July, 1807, Napoleon and the Tsar of Russia Alexander signed the Treaty of Tilsit. Spain was invaded by the French, and the Emperor’s brother Joseph declared King of Spain, deposing the rightful one. There were immediate risings across Spain and the Iberian Peninsula.
On 15 April, 1808, Wellesley was made Lieutenant-General, and put into temporary command of an expeditionary force to Portugal in July. On 21 August Wellesley won a semi-Pyrrhic victory at Vimeiro, and was superseded in command by order of the British Cabinet.
In January, 1809, after a spirited retreat, Sir John Moore was killed at La Coruña in Galicia. Most of his army surrendered. Wellesley was instantly sent from London to command forces in Portugal against the French. On 12 May he crossed the river Douro and captured Oporto, and between 27 June and 4 July the British armies entered Spain. By 28 July the decisive battle of Talavera had been fought and won. Wellesley was made Viscount Wellington.
The British then retreated to the Lines of Torres Vedras in September, where they would rest and re-group.
In 1810 Napoleon began to foresee future troubles with Russia, and married Princess Marie-Louise of Austria, cancelling his own plans to take command in the Peninsula. His famous Marshals continued however, taking the city of Ciudad Rodrigo in Spain, and Almeida in Portugal. On 14 October French forces approached the defended lines at Torres Vedras and decided against an attack. Instead they retreated back into Spain, taking Badajoz on the way. On 31 July Wellington was made full General.
In January 1812 the British laid to siege to Ciudad Rodrigo, held by the French, and stormed it on the 19th. In February of that year Wellington became an Earl (English) and a Duque (Spanish). By 6 April Wellington had put French-held Badajoz to the siege, and taken it, but in May, Napoleon threw everything into the cauldron by invading Russia. It was at this moment that the United States chose to declare war on Britain. Meanwhile, on 22 July Wellington won the again decisive Battle of Salamanca, followed by his entry into Madrid, where he was given a hero’s welcome except by those Spaniards who did not like him. Of these there were many.
On 18 August he became a Marquess, and was named Generalísimo of the Spanish armies by the Government in exile, despite opposition from the gentlemen mentioned before. Between 19 September and 21 October he laid siege to Burgos. On 19 November the French under Napoleon and his Marshals began the famed Retreat from Moscow, defeated more by the Russian winter than by military might. Wellington retreated once again to Portugal, where he was made Duque da Victoria.
After the Battle of Vitoria in June, 1813 Wellington was gazetted Field-Marshal. On 25 July the first assault on San Sebastián was abandoned, and Wellington besieged the city. On the same day substantial French forces invaded the passes of the Pyrenees, where the Battle of Sorauren took place between 28 and 30 July. Between 16 and 19 October Napoleon himself was defeated at the Battle of Leipzig. The surrender of Pamplona and the battles of the Nivelle, the Nive and St. Pierre were to come at the end of this year.
On 27 February, 1814 the Battle of Orthez took place, and a Bourbon Prince was to be found at Wellington’s headquarters: the feeling was that Napoleon might be defeated after all, and France would need a King after her Emperor was gone. Peace negotiation with Napoleon at Châtillon proved useless, but by 1 March the Treaty of Chaumont against Napoleon known as ‘The Quadruple Alliance’ was signed, and the Allies entered Paris on 31 March. Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated. With the notable Battle of Toulouse the Peninsular War ended.
The Bourbon Louis XVIII returned to France, and Napoleon was sent to cool his heels on the island of Elba, though he was not exiled for long. Marquess Wellington became Duke of Wellington at last.
On 23 June, 1814, the ‘Iron Duke’ or ‘Nosey’ as he was called by those who dared, returned to England for celebrations, and on 5 July was appointed British Ambassador to the French Court. With the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on 24 December, 1814, the strange affair of the war with America ended. No-one was quite certain why it had occurred, including Wellington and the King of England. It is to be assumed that the Americans knew the reason.
On 3 January, 1815 a secret treaty was signed between Britain, France and Austria, and the USA was not informed, which annoyed the Americans and probably led to the Battle of New Orleans on the eighth. This battle was even odder than anything else, as the Treaty of Ghent (finishing the War) had been signed beforehand. A numerically superior British force led by Edward Packenham was thrashed outside the city of New Orleans by US forces commanded brilliantly by Andrew Jackson. He was made a national hero, and everyone assumed the War of 18123 was now officially over.
By 1 March Napoleon had successfully evaded his guardians on Elba and landed again in his beloved France. Europe threw up its hands in horror. Was there to be a second, or third Napoleonic War? When and where would it all end? On 7 March the French Congress was told about Napoleon and instantly outlawed him, but Bourbon King Louis rushed away from Paris as fast as his legs could carry him (19 March). On the next day Napoleon entered the Tuileries, and the famous Hundred Days’ War started. The Treaty of Chaumont was immediately renewed, and Wellington, rather angry, left his Embassy in Paris for a new HQ in Brussels.
In April and June Wellington assembled a massive allied army, while on 15 June Napoleon, with his army recovered strongly, crossed the Belgian border, taking Charleroi on the way. On that same day the Duchess of Richmond’s celebrated Ball took place in Brussels, interrupted by Wellington who took all his officers away from the waltz.
On 16 June the Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras took place. On 17 June the Prussians under Blücher (q.v.) retreated to Wavre, but greatly to the surprise of Napoleon managed to re-group and advance at high speed to join with Wellington, and Napoleon himself at:
The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June, 1815 (q.v.).
Bibliography: Wellington, the Years of the Sword by Elizabeth Longford (1969)