Andrew Watts and Emma Tyler (French Studies) have recently co-edited a book to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo in June 2015. Entitled Fortunes of War: The West Midlands at the Time of Waterloo, the book explores some of the little-known connections between our region and this famous battle, most notably the story of Lucien Bonaparte, who spent part of the Napoleonic Wars in exile in Worcestershire.
On 18 June 1815, the armies of the Seventh Coalition under the command of the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. The battle brought to an end over ten years of war with France, and heralded the collapse of an imperial dynasty across the continent. However, Waterloo also touched the lives of millions of ordinary people, and continued to do so for years afterwards.
Fortunes of War reveals how many West Midlanders were affected, both for the better and the worse, by Napoleon’s relentless empire-building. The book captures the region at a fascinating point in its history, as local industrialists grew rich on the proceeds of the munitions trade, and families waited anxiously for news of loved ones who had gone to war.
Andrew and Emma conceived the idea for this project after discovering that they shared an interest in the Napoleonic period. In her former career as a genealogist, Emma researched the history of Thorngrove House, where Lucien Bonaparte took up residence in 1811 after falling out with his infamous older brother. The Napoleonic Empire also remains central to Andrew’s research on nineteenth-century writers such as Honoré de Balzac and Victor Hugo. The experience of editing Fortunes of War enabled both colleagues to develop their research interests within a uniquely regional context.
The publication of Fortunes of War was celebrated with a launch at the University on 12 May 2015. Attended by more than eighty visitors and members of staff, the event provided Andrew and Emma with an opportunity to share a selection of material from the book. In addition to Emma’s work on Lucien Bonaparte, Andrew discussed how news of the allied victory at Waterloo was reported in the West Midlands press. The evening concluded with a presentation by Guy Sjögren (History), who focussed on Napoleon’s exile on St Helena, where the former emperor was guarded by a regiment of soldiers from Shropshire.
Fortunes of War is available now via the History West Midlands website, priced £11.99 including delivery. A free podcast to accompany the book can also be downloaded from the HWM website.
- listen to the podcast on SoundCloud