Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Model Victory - Waterloo and the Battle for History

This was one of the books I picked up at the at the book auction which was part of the NWS Xmas dinner.  I took away with me on holidays, as it was a paper back of just a few hundred pages (288).

I didn't know what to expect and found it a bit disappointing.  The recap of the battle was too extensive and didn't fully seem right - probably I've read too much about the battle plus have my own opinions.

I would have liked more on the model construction.

Back ground to Captain Siborne's life would also have helped to put things in context, particularly regarding the value of money during the period the model was developed.

The history of the model was interesting.  I recall seeing at least part of it in 1986 at what I think was the Army Museum in London, but the visit was overshadowed by IRA bomb threats.  My memory is that the model was rather dark, but I really need to see it again.

The politics of the model was interesting.  A bit of background to the relationship between Great Britain and Prussia at the time (as well as Wellington's career post Waterloo) would have helped set context.  This could have been done by reducing the battle narrative although might have made for a drier book.  Books on Waterloo are readily available as noted in the Further Reading list.

However the position that Wellington took, that depiction of the battle belonged to the victorious general and could not be constructed from the participants' recollections was well covered, as was Siborne's machinations to complete the model and get compensation. To that end it had a very modern feel to it.  I could well imagine Wellington, as say Prime Minister, deciding that a country provided a clear and present danger and ordering an invasion and then ignoring, ridiculing and subverting anyone who had a differing view, even after the whole thing unfolded as a farce.  I might be being a tad harsh, but with great men go great egos and they must be protected more than the truth.  


  1. Interesting. I read a book on Siborne's model called Wellington's Smallest Victory by Peter Hofschroer (sp?) who argued that the Prussian contribution to the battle was never properly acknowledged by Wellington and that (I think I have this right) Siborne had to collude in that view? Or something.

    1. Yes, Siborne wanted to create the "crisis" of the battle which was the defeat of the Imperial Guard by British Guard (and a few extra regiments). His detailed research showed that the Prussians were quiet advanced at this stage and that did not fit well with the views of the powers that be. Siborne later reduced the number of Prussians to try and make the model fit with the popular view that Waterloo was Wellington's victory.

      Napoleon, of course, was the master of this kind of spin.

      I will look out for the Hofschroer book. I have a number of his other books and found them enjoyable.

  2. Review of Peter Hofschroer's book.