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Edinburgh at Waterloo: After the Battle

Waterloo archive anecdotes


Jul 14, 2015

Following the victory at Waterloo many noteable British citizens crossed the Channel to view the battlefield. One of the earliest visitors was the Edinburgh advocate and author James Simpson who lived in Northumberland Street. In July 1815 he visited the scene of the battle of Waterloo just weeks after the event. He rapidly published ‘A Visit to Flanders being chiefly an account of the Field of Waterloo, ’ which speedily went through nine editions.

Simpson was acquainted with Sir Walter Scott, and was one of those who read the Waverley novels before publication.

Walter Scott, who lived in Castle Street, followed in Simpson's footsteps by travelling to the battlefield in August 1815. Scott returned with a souvenir - a crossed axe badge (illustrated) taken from a French grenadier’s cartridge pouch.

Eight decades later Edinburgh writer Arthur Conan Doyle, born in Picardy Place and who is best known for writing about the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, was inspired by the history of Waterloo to create two fictional characters from the opposing armies.

 

Doyle's French invention, Brigadier Etienne Gerard, was a comical character who first appears in 1896. Gerard's adventures are written in the first person with the Brigadier immodestly recounting his role as a young French cavalry officer in the time of the Napoleonic wars. The Brigadier absolves himself for French failure at Waterloo thus:

‘Of all the great battles in which I had the honour of drawing my sword for the Emperor and for France, there was not one which was lost. At Waterloo, though I was present, I was unable to fight and the enemy was victorious. It is not for me to say there is a connection between those two things . . . but it gives matter for thought and some may have drawn flattering conclusions from it.

In contrast Corporal Gregory Brewster, the British character portrayed in a one man play written by Doyle in 1894, was depicted as a brave Waterloo veteran who had driven a powder wagon through a blazing hedge to save his comrades from defeat. The play, which was called ‘A Story of Waterloo’, opened at the Prince’s Theatre, Bristol with Sir Henry Irving playing Brewster. It then travelled around the UK followed by successful runs in the West End and New York.



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