Wellington's Hidden Heroes - The Dutch and Belgians at Waterloo, Veronica Baker-Smith

Wellington's Hidden Heroes - The Dutch and Belgians at Waterloo, Veronica Baker-Smith

During the Waterloo campaign the Duke of Wellington commanded an Allied army, one third of which was provided by the newly formed Kingdom of the Netherlands, a forced union Belgium and the old United Provinces, ruled by King William I of Orange-Nassau. The army, which was largely made up of troops and officers who had recently been fighting for the French, was led by his son, Prince William of Orange, who has sometimes received a rather bad press in English language histories (and fiction).

This newly formed army played an important role in the Waterloo campaign. It was especially key at Quatre Bras, where Netherlands troops were the first on the scene, and the willingness of the Prince's officers to ignore their orders played a crucial part in the successful defence of the crossroads. The army also fought well at Waterloo, although many contemporary British accounts were fairly hostile to it. Wellington didn’t entirely trust this part of his army (hardly surprisingly given that many of its officers were also members of Napoleon's aristocracy). Many 19th century British accounts were very scathing about the Netherlands contribution, as were many British eyewitnesses. Wellington wasn't amongst them - he had a high opinion of the Prince of Orange, but his decision to stay out of all the arguments about Waterloo in the years after the battle means that his original battlefield report, which largely ignored the Dutch and Belgian role, was his main public account of the battle.

This book covers the formation of the new army, the reasons for Wellington and his officer's lack of trust in it, and the actual performance of the army in its two main battles, making good use of Dutch and Belgian sources. The result is an excellent account of the contribution of the newly formed (and short-lived) United Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Allied victory in the Waterloo campaign, and one that brings an often neglected part of Wellington's army into focus.

One flaw in the book is the author's tendency to exaggerate the bias against the Dutch and Belgian troops in English language history. Most recent histories are fairly balanced, while Fortesce, writing in the 1920s, described the Prince of Orange as a 'gallant young prince', and acknowledged the crucial role of the Netherlands troops at the battle of Quatre Bras. The author also claims at one point that you won't find British accounts critical of the performance of the British heavy cavalry at Waterloo (when discussing criticism of the performance of the Dutch cavalry at one point). In contrast I'd say you'd struggle to find an account of the battle that isn't rather critical of the British cavalry, which famously got out of control and turned a successful charge into a near total disaster. 

1 - The Netherlands
2 - The Creation of the Netherlands Army
3 - The Armée du Nord
4 - Coalition
5 - Language
6 - Brussels
7 - The Netherlands Commanders
8 - The Prince of Orange
9 - Strategies
10 - The French Advance
11 - The Battle of Quartre Bras
12 - Preparation
13 - Waterloo Acts I and II
14 - Waterloo Acts III and IV
15 - Waterloo Act V
16 - The Pursuit
17 - The Myth of Waterloo
18 - Concealment
19 - Aftermath - the Netherlands

Author: Veronica Baker-Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 208
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2015

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