When Napoleon met his Waterloo
The debate over the Battle of Waterloo rages on in a not-so-united Europe!
June 18, 1815 seems like a LONG time ago, but tempers flare and national prides soar or plummet remembering the Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated that day at Waterloo in present day Belgium, by a coalition army of the English, Dutch and Prussians, although Wellington takes most of the credit. I will leave the debate about what really happened to the specialists!
I am a not-so-secret admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte for the fact that he managed to restore some of the damage done to France by the Revolution. He singlehandedly revived the great traditions of the French savoir faire in the great Art Décoratif crafts, seen by the revolutionaries as decadent and obsolete and created the highest French honor, the Légion d’Honneur, amongst other things. And he was the first to have a “European Dream.”
“I wished to found a European system, a European Code of Laws, a European judiciary: there would be but one people in Europe,” declared Napoleon nearly 200 years before Europe finally unifies under the new currency of the European Union. The dream of a strong Europe in which the French, Spanish, Italians, and Germans coexist peacefully as a single united body is being realized today, but it is a dream that was held by Napoleon, based on his vast knowledge of history, and hoped for by many great men after him. Finally this dream is beginning to become a reality although some might argue it has perhaps become a nightmare?
So now, on June 18, 1815 Napoleon is defeated. And that, you would think, was the end of that! But no, a new Battle of Waterloo has ensued between the French and the Belgians about the minting of a commemorative euro coin. The Belgians, excited about prestige of the battle having been waged on their territory wanted to literally make mint of that fact.
Yet history has its own currency in Europe, which even a common currency has yet to overcome. Back in March, officials in Paris wrote a letter to the European authorities insisting that the Battle of Waterlo, and altered the shape of European history, had a deep and damaging resonance in the collective French consciousness.
France protested Belgium’s plans for its original coin by saying that basking in France’s defeat threatened to undermine European unity, troubled enough already. The €2 coin, it said, could spur an “unfavorable reaction in France.” In Belgium, the victory embodied in the €2.50 coin is being lauded as if the tiny country had itself triumphed on the battlefield.
Napoleon’s death mask, cast on May 6, 1826 in Saint Helena, now in the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg
Napoleon Bonaparte may be long dead, but his history is an ongoing battle…