Adventures in Bookland: Waterloo The Hundred Days by David Chandler
It was more than a hundred days. That’s one thing I learned from this book. For some reason, I’d always assumed that the hundred days meant the period from Napoleon escaping exile on Elba to his defeat at Waterloo, but the official Hundred Days actually runs from 20 March 1814, when Napoleon entered Paris to resume his rule of France, to 8 July 1814, when Louis XVIII was officially restored and the the official Hundred Days comes to an end. The dates I’d thought made up the Hundred Days – 26 February to 18 June – actually make 112 days. Still remarkable.
In fact, reading Chandler’s book, I think these must rate as the most extraordinary three months in modern history. From exile to emperor to exile again. Only Napoleon. So while his monstrous ego embroiled Europe in nearly two decades of war, Bonaparte stands apart from the 20th century’s blood-soaked conquerors. He was the last gasp of martial glory as well as the precursor to total warfare. The Napoleonic Wars were the last time when a captured officer might give his word not to seek to escape and this word be accepted, allowing the officer freedom within the confines of his honour. But the Napoleonic Wars were also the start of unrelieved guerilla warfare and economic war. They bring an end and a beginning, and nothing encapsulates that better than the wild rollercoaster of the Hundred Days. The two wars of the 20th century brought to terrible fruition much of what had been set in motion in the Napoleonic Wars.
David Chandler’s book is an excellent account of these momentous events, moving briskly through Napoleon’s return, his diplomatic manouevring to escape the tightening Allied noose, and then the build up to the battles – for there were more than one – of Waterloo. And as the Duke rightly said, “It was a damn near run thing.”