The Hundred Days and Waterloo: ‘the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life’
Speaker: Dr Roger Knight
The Duke of Wellington’s dictum about the closeness of the Allied victory over France at Waterloo has long been remembered. What is less well-known is the frantic rush to pull together an army in the Low Countries to oppose Napoleon. The ex-Emperor’s unlikely escape from Elba to the south of France in March 1815, and his risky and successful unopposed march north over the mountains to Paris, caught the Allies unawares. The armies of Russia and Austria were at the other end of Europe, many months of marching away. The British army was partially demobilized, or in Ireland and the majority of the navy’s ships were laid up. Wellington’s Peninsular veterans had been sent to America and the West Indies, where fortunately peace with the United States had just been signed in December 1814. Now it was up to the more obscure parts of the British war machine to make the logistics work – the Transport Board, the Army Medical Board and the Board of Ordnance. And what should they prepare for?
Roger Knight’s interests for most of his museum and teaching career have been in the field of naval history. He read history at Trinity College Dublin and completed his Ph.D at University College, London, on the Royal Dockyards in England at the time of the American Revolutionary War. For most of his career he worked in the National Maritime Museum, starting in the manuscripts department in 1974 and leaving as Deputy Director in 2000. From that time until 2014 he was Visiting Professor of Naval History at the Greenwich Maritime Institute, University of Greenwich. In 2005 he published with Allen Lane, Penguin, The Pursuit of Victory: the life and achievement of Horatio Nelson, and, as part of a Leverhulme grant on the victualling industry at the time of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, he published with Martin Wilcox, ‘Sustaining the Fleet: War, the Navy and the Contractor State, 1793-1815 (Boydell, 2010). His most recent book was Britain against Napoleon: the Organization of Victory, 1793-1815, again published by Allen Lane, in 2013.