- Wellington’s Smallest Victory: The Duke, the Model Maker, and the Secret of Waterloo
In his two-volume work, 1815—The Waterloo Campaign, independent historian Peter Hofschröer presents plausible evidence that Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, purposely misled his Prussian allies in the days immediately prior to the battle of Waterloo. He further argues that rather than Wellington's Anglo-Dutch army, Field-Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher's Prussian army actually defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Such allegations certainly caused controversy and earned Hofschröer a place of infamy in certain circles on both sides of the Atlantic. In Wellington's Smallest Victory, Hofschröer continues his indictment of one of Britain's most famed warriors by investigating the long, but interesting, saga of the creation of the greatest visual history of the struggle that took place on the fields of Belgium on 18 June 1815: William Siborne's Waterloo Model.
Just as the exiled Napoleon strove to tell his full story for posterity and in doing so laid the foundation for the Napoleonic Legend, Hofschröer suggests that the Iron Duke likewise generated a "Wellingtonian Legend" and thus endeavored to insure that the history of the Waterloo Campaign reflected it. As Hofschröer relates, the Duke and his supporters spared no measure to protect the version of the battle that Wellington himself penned just hours after the conclusion of the epic struggle. The famed "Waterloo Despatch" contained Wellington's first and final word on the events from 14 to 18 June 1815. Accordingly, the contents of the Despatch became the official [End Page 555] history of the campaign, at least as far as Wellington—one of the most powerful men in Great Britain—was concerned.
Hofschröer astutely points out that success on the battlefield meant that Wellington now had a reputation to protect and possibly even lose.
Consequently, when Lieutenant Siborne's model portrayed the Prussians as having a much more prominent role in the battle than the Duke described in his Despatch, Wellington and his minions subjected the model maker to a smear campaign that brought him to the brink of financial ruin, ravaged his health, and forced him to renounce his own meticulous research.
In fourteen chapters, Hofschröer utilizes both public and private documents to weave a well-written examination of Siborne's trials and tribulations during an almost ten-year odyssey to construct the Waterloo Model. Moreover, the work touches on an intriguing array of topics. Hofschröer offers the reader a history of the documentary, of transportation and roads in Great Britain, of entertainment, and of various buildings in London. Chapter 4 in particular provides an engaging combination of face-of-battle anecdotes with a discussion on the evolution of military map-making and topographical surveying. Hofschröer explains how Siborne carefully surveyed the battlefield to create "a unique historical document of the battlefield" much as it was on 18 June 1815 (p. 70). In Chapter 5, the author presents an exhaustive account of the techniques Siborne employed to construct the model as well as all of the materials used. Hofschröer uses Chapter 6 to discuss how politics and the troubled relationship between military and civilian authorities affected the progress of Siborne's model. Anyone who has ever waited on a reimbursement check from the government will certainly be able to sympathize with Siborne's plight.
Although well-researched and written in an engaging manner, the author's use of long block quotes becomes somewhat tedious. Moreover, footnote 2 of Chapter 2 states that the "Waterloo Despatch" "is reproduced in full in the Appendices"; yet, this reviewer could find no appendices. This omission may have been a last-minute decision by the publisher. Aside from these minor complaints, Hofschröer's book is a substantial addition to the field of Waterloo studies and British history in general. It will appeal to a variety of readers...