Wellington's Smallest Victory

The Duke, the Model Maker and the Secret of Waterloo

 

The Story behind the Writing of " Wellington 's Smallest Victory – The Duke, the Model Maker & The Secret of Waterloo" - The latest book from Peter Hofschröer (published by Faber & Faber, London )

 Captain William Siborne, writer of the classic history of the Waterloo Campaign and maker of the Waterloo models has always been one of the most controversial Waterloo historians. Here, Peter Hofschröer tells the story behind the writing of his most recent book .

Siborne was born in Greenwich in Kent , England in 1797. His father was a gentleman and a militia officer, who joined a line regiment during the Napoleonic Wars. Following in the paternal footsteps, Siborne graduated from the Royal Military College , what later became the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, in 1814. He missed the Waterloo Campaign, joining the Army of Occupation in France in August 1815. Placed on half-pay during the army reduction of 1817, he next found a fulltime position as Assistant Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief Ireland at the Royal Military Asylum in Kilmainham, near Dublin , in 1826.

A brother officer once described Siborne as "…a perfect gentleman and a most able officer. A man of fine intellect and judgement, truly unpretending in his manner and very well informed". For a man of such great intellect – Siborne wrote the standard text of his time on topographical surveying and military model making – the processing of routine paperwork was tedious and boring. When, in 1830, he was offered the opportunity of constructing a model of the Battle of Waterloo, he jumped at the chance. This model was planned to be the central exhibit in a new military museum in London and a monument to the great achievements of the Duke of Wellington. Yet instead of bringing Siborne the fame and fortune he anticipated, it earned him Wellington 's enmity and resulted in his ruin.

Wanting to portray Wellington 's greatest achievement, Siborne decided to recreate the scene at the Crisis of the Battle , at just after 7 p.m. , when the Duke was beating off Napoleon's final attack on his centre. Siborne considered that a fitting memorial to this success of British army. But what he did not anticipate was Wellington 's reaction when the Duke saw that he would be sharing the limelight with the Prussians, who, at this time, were staging their final assault on the village of Plancenoit , in the right rear of Napoleon's position. Wellington 's army started the day 68,000 men strong. By evening, it had suffered substantial losses, and 48,000 Prussians had reached the battlefield, making the attack that decided the battle. Wellington saw this as undermining his reputation, particularly as the detailed research that Siborne had conducted revealed flaws in the Duke's official account of the battle, the Waterloo Dispatch of 19 June 1815 .

Siborne suffered the consequences. The funding of the model was blocked, he did not receive the promotion promised for this work and he was subjected to a vicious smear campaign that went on for years. Not only was his integrity brought into question, but also his ability. Even removing 40,000 of the 48,000 Prussians did not regain him Wellington 's favour. He died a broken and impoverished man. But history had been manipulated in a blatant fashion. The model, which today is on display in the National Army Museum in London , retains this fundamental flaw.

It was not just in his lifetime that Siborne was subjected to such injustice. Certain recent writers have accused him of corruption, of poor research and of failing to refer to sources in languages other than English. It was this recent affair that led Peter Hofschröer to deciding to write the story of Siborne and the model to put the record straight. During the course of examining Siborne's papers, he discovered the true story behind the construction of the model and the writing of his classic history of the Waterloo Campaign. It was clear from Siborne's correspondence that he had in fact contacted the Ministry of War in Paris for information, as well as the headquarters of the armies of various German states. The correspondence conducted with the Prussian General Staff was particularly detailed. Furthermore, Siborne had used his contacts in the British royal household to obtain a copy of the Prince of Orange's papers. The charge that Siborne had failed to refer to non-English sources was not true. Furthermore, there is no evidence whatsoever to support the charge that Siborne had altered the model according to subscriptions paid by British regiments. The only alteration of significance to the model was the removal of 40,000 Prussians and it is clear that Siborne did this unwillingly, as an act of desperation made in the hope that Wellington would see that funds were released to pay off Siborne's considerable debts.

Twice now has Siborne been subjected to malicious charges. Hopefully, this publication of this book will put the record straight once and for all.

On sale at all major Bookstores, can also be purchased at www.amazon.co.uk

Peter Hofschröer has a BA (Hons) in German and History from King's College London. He specialised in Napoleonic history some years ago and has written on the Prussian and Hanoverian armies in the Osprey Men-at-Arms series as well as on Leipzig and Lützen & Bautzen in 1813 in the Campaign series. He has contributed numerous articles to magazines and journals such as the BBC History Magazine , Military History , War in History , the Journal of the Society of Army Historical Research , Military Illustrated , Age of Napoleon , First Empire , and the Osprey Military Journal . He has also contributed to the BBC History Website and is a historical advisor to various TV companies. He was involved in the production of the computer game based on the Waterloo Campaign Fields of Glory , published by MicroProse. His much acclaimed 1815 – The Waterloo Campaign , a two-volume study of Waterloo , was published in 1998 and 1999 by Greenhill Books. For this work, he was awarded the 1999 Literary Award of the Napoleonic Society of America. He has contributed to Napoleon's Marshals , edited by Dr. David Chandler and will be a contributor to the forthcoming New Dictionary of National Biography , to be published by Oxford University Press and the Encyclopaedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, to be published by ABC Clio . He has been awarded a Fellowship of the International Napoleonic Society and has twice received the Memorial Medal of the League of Bismarck, once in bronze, once in silver. He regularly presents papers at gatherings such as the Consortium on Revolutionary Europe, the Wellington Congress, at the NAM , RUSI, etc. He also talks at events such as the Cheltenham Literary Festival and the International Napoleonic Fair.

His latest book, Wellington 's Smallest Victory – The Duke, The Model Maker and the Secret of Waterloo , is the story of Captain William Siborne.

Published by Faber & Faber Ltd, London.

Hardback, B-format, 240 pp with 14 B&W illus, 8 pp colour plates section, maps.

Due April 2004.

ISBN: 0571217680

Price: £14.99

 

For further information, please contact Peter Hofschröer

Tel: +43 3617 3123 – Fax: +43 3617 3177 – E-mail: phofschroer@yahoo.com