The Battle of Waterloo was won by the Allies- Britain, Prussia, Russia, Austria and other smaller countries like Belgium- against Napoleon's Grand Armee 195 years ago today. It was a defining moment in history, yet from so long in the past, it's hard today to see how it changed the world- or how things might have been if the French had won. It's just really hard for people in today's world to grasp the battle, what led up to it, just how long Europe had been engaged in this enormous struggle, and why in the world Britain had to get involved at all.
I'm not going to get into all of that- history is easy to find all over the internet if you're curious about it. And if you really want resources, just ask me and I'll give them to you. But I will tell you what Britain's stake was and how their loss would have made everything different. This is just my opinion of what would have happened, and of course nobody really knows. And a lot of people disagree, but here's how I see it.
Throughout the entirety of Napoleon's hold on the Continent, Britain remained the thorn in Napoleon's side. Britain held supremacy on the seas, and Britain controlled a large part of the world- or at least controlled most of the trade. Napoleon might control all of Europe, but the world eluded him as long as Britain lay outside his grasp. He had made attempts at Britain and in 1805 it had looked like he might succeed. He had massed a huge flotilla of flat-bottomed boats to ferry his massed army of over 200,000 across the English Channel. Then suddenly he abandoned the entire project and dashed off across the Continent to answer a newer threat. The truth was, his flotilla had little chance of success and his craft were not suited for a Channel crossing.
And before this, there had been Trafalgar, when the British soundly defeated the French and Spanish fleets. Late in 1806, Napoleon issued the Continental System to counter the British Embargo and to try to isolate Britain from all European trade. Although effective, Britain still had the rest of the world for trade, and France did not.
So Napoleon had to conquer Britain or his Empire was doomed. But in 1815, he was cornered. He had recently escaped Elba and swept through France, gathering supporters in an amazing blitz. The frightened Allies once more prepared for battle, knowing it would take all of them jointly cooperating to keep what they had regained and finally defeat the Corsican Monster. At Waterloo, Mt. St. Jean to be more exact, Wellington was still without most of his Allies when Napoleon attacked. Blucher's Prussians were close but still dangerously separated, and the Austrians and Russians too far away yet to make it in time. But the ferocity of the fighting British Allies kept the day going until the amazing old man, Blucher, finally managed to battle his way to the field of contest, catching the French off guard from their right, and trapped in the pincers. The day was done, and Napoleon fleeing back toward Paris.
What if Blucher had not succeeded in his fierce flurry to reach Wellington? Napoleon was very good at catching his enemy divided, and he had done this once more, so it could have succeeded. What if Wellington had made a few more errors, in site, perhaps (no, he would never have made THAT mistake- he was a genius in picking battle sites). Or what if his troops in the little chateau of Hougoumont had failed in their desperate daylong battle to hold Wellington's right? It would have all been over, and French flags would have flown on the ridge at Mt. St. Jean.
Austria, Russia, Prussia would not have mattered. They would have crumbled as they always had in the past. Although Wellington had wisely made his retreat plan along with his battle plan, the French would have followed them across the Channel in every ship that could be commandeered, and with a good part of the British Army still at sea trying to get to Belgium, the defense of Britain would have been meager. Pitchforks and cudgels just don't do much against muskets and cannons.
When France captured Britain, they would get with it all the navy, the merchant vessels, the trade routes, the colonies- literally the wealth of the world uncontested. Whether they could have held it is another question, since everything they had held had been a precarious balance all along. But the new United States of America wouldn't have contested. All the Spanish and Portuguese world was not strong enough.
In short, France would have become the great world empire, instead of Britain. Not only would we all speak French, but we would be operating under the Napoleonic Code of Law. The French Revolution had in truth been dead in France from the beginning of Napoleon's Empire. Independence as we have known it would have been different, if not dead. And in Napoleon's Empire, people who disagreed or failed to live up to his demands didn't last long. His demands were not always rational, and always any failure had to have its scapegoat. Not to say that doesn't happen now to at least some degree, but it was a way of life in France's domain then.
How much we would have evolved from that, it's hard to say. Modern France is not an example for this because it is based as much on Napoleon's defeat as his successes. But it's pretty clear our world today would be far different. Nor can we even be sure whether we'd like it or not.
So tell me, what's your take on it?