The battle of Waterloo should not only be characterized as one of the most tragic battles of our history, but also as the symbolic end of Napoleon's ideas, the closing of the period of Bonapartist dynasty and glory, the last "gamble" of a great emperor. However, in order to fully comprehend the closing of Napoleon's period, we should firstly describe historical and political background of Napoleon's reign before the battle of Waterloo and then the battle itself.
Napoleon Bonaparte, who came to the power of France klate in 1799, was to become one of the greatest emperors, the man who wanted to rule the world and obtain unlimited power. He started his career as a Jacobin, member of a radical political party of the time aimed to bring republic in France, and a follower of Robespierre in 1793, he had mellowed into Bonaparte the republican in 1796-7, bringing to France peace, reconciliation and Revolution's social reforms, but after 1804 he was transformed into the Emperor Napoleon, more authoritarian, concerned to protect his dynasty and eager to dominate Europe itself. A final transformation in his character, occurred in 1815, when the circumstances which we will describe bellow, forced him a new metamorphosis into Napoleon the Liberal.
In 1813, a decisive conflict occurred in central Europe, where the armies of the eastern powers converged. Napoleon faced a coalition army of 320.000 troops outside Leipzig in October 1813, in a battle known as the "Battle of Nations" which lasted for three days. Napoleon's army was cut to pieces in a headlong and murderous retreat over the river Elster. It is estimated that only a quarter of Napoleon's army lived to fight another day. The great Bonaparte's Empire collapsed and Napoleon himself was deposed from his throne, obliged to accept an unconditional abdication. The defeat at Leipzig, reduced France's frontiers as imposed by the Treaty of Vienna, and defined also the rest of European frontiers. Napoleon was sent to the Mediterranean island of Elba, not as a prisoner but as an independent sovereign. On Elba, Napoleon bussed himself managing the island's small budget, keeping also in touch with events in France, so as to return in case of an opportunity would arose. At the end of February 1815, Napoleon had escaped from Portoferraio on the island of Elba, and on March 1st, he landed with over 1.000 men Frejus, at the south coast of France. He then went to Paris without any resistance, condemning France to another tragic battle, of Waterloo, against the coalition of the powers of Europe. It is important to state, that after the Treaty of Vienna, the above mentioned coalition was about to break off but when the news of Napoleon's escape arrived, they have considered his return as an obstacle to Europe's peace and had to encounter him once more.
After Napoleon's return and arrival to Paris and before the battle of Waterloo (period well known as the Hundred Days), elections occurred in France and Napoleon has managed to find new sources of support in these period. There were rumors that the rest of European powers wanted to establish royalty again in France, thus the people have seen Napoleon as their liberator and the supporter of Revolution's main ideas.
In June 1815, Napoleon attacked the allied armies massed in the borders of Belgium, meaning the Prussian troops under Field Marshall Gebhard von Blucher and Duke of Wellington's army of English, Dutch, Belgians, Hanoverians and Brunswichers. Napoleon was hoping to divide the Prussians from Wellington's army but the coalition managed to maintain coordination on the battlefield. Napoleon did indeed force the Prussians to retreat but he could not exterminate them. During the morning of June 17, Napoleon has detached his Marshal Grouchy with some thirty thousand troops (including part of his cavalry) with the specific orders to follow Blucher's army and prevent retreating and joining with Wellington's forces. Blucher, the Prussian commander, had his horse shot from under him and then his deputy ordered a retreat northwards, which would still keep the Prussians in touch with Wellington's army. This order, Wellington later told the King of Netherlands, was "the decisive moment of the century". Meanwhile, Grouchy had been looking for Blucher's army and discovered it at last on the road to Wavre. At Wavre the main Prussian army was joined by the corps of Generals Bulow and Thielmann. Grouchy sent this intelligence to Napoleon along with some misleading details : part of the Prussian army, he wrote, was falling back, towards Liege, so he would prevent the rest from joining Wellington on the morrow. Actually, almost the entire Prussian army began its march toward Brussels at dawn on June 18. Wellington waited in the vicinity of the small village of Waterloo, about 15 kilometers south of Brussels. His squares of well-trained Anglo-German infantry repeatedly repulsed the French cavalry changes of the well known Napoleon's strategy. The timely intervention of the Prussians, also secured the defeat of Napoleon. The allies lost over 20.000 people and the French about 35.000 killed, wounded or even taken prisoners. Tragic human as well as material losses occurred. The actual losses between 1800 and 1815 in France, can in fact be estimated at less than 1 million, perhaps 40 per cent of the total population of France and the maximum per cent of the total dead occurred at Waterloo - 8 1/2 per cent, without including the ones who died either from wounds, diseases or from exhaustion and exposure to the cold.
Although, Napoleon had promised to defend French liberties, wishing probably to exploit the popular movement in his favour after his return from the island of Elba, the Battle of Waterloo, was his "last gamble", the end of his power and of France's too. Napoleon later on abdicated and gave himself up to the English, hoping to end his days in Britain or in United States. This time, however, the allies were not so lenient. Napoleon was imprisoned on the Atlantic island of St. Helena to which he died in 1821. One could not decide, whether this was a conclusion or an introduction to the history of Bonapartism in 19th century France !