A Celebration of Waterloo: The Prince of Orange

The young Prince of Orange

The young Prince of Orange

About the Prince

William Frederick George Louis was the son of William I of the Netherlands and Wilhelmina of Prussia. When his father proclaimed himself king in 1815 (16 March), he became Prince of Orange. After his father’s abdication in 1840, he became King William II of the Netherlands.

Avid readers of Regency historical fiction might recognize him as the rejected suitor of Princess Charlotte. The Prince Regent arranged the match, but his estranged wife opposed it, and when Charlotte finally met him, she did as well. Whether the problem lay with his personal qualities or the necessity of having to live in the Netherlands or both, the young princess eventually had her way, and married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield (later King of Belgium) in 1816.

PRINCE OF ORANGE ON HORSEAt the age of two, William fled with his family from the French to Prussia, where he had a military education and served in the Prussian army. Then he studied at the University of Oxford, where he was quite popular and nicknamed “Slender Billy” by the English public. As a result of his ex-patriot upbringing, there were complaints when he eventually returned to the Netherlands that he seemed more foreign than Dutch.

William joined the British army and became aide-de-camp to Wellington in the Peninsular War in 1811 when he was only nineteen years old. In 1815 he joined the Allied Coalition for the final confrontation with Napoleon at Waterloo, where he commanded the I Allied Corps, which was a conglomeration of armies from Britain, Hanover, the Netherlands, Nassau, and Belgium.

This mishmash included many Belgian soldiers who had formerly fought in Napoleon’s Grand Armée—some of whom wore the same uniforms. A source of confusion? Indeed yes, but what was worse was that some allegiance to France still remained, as well as a very real fear of fighting against their former emperor. Communication between all these nationalities was also a problem. Wellington knew he had a problem there, but with rumors abounding of the swelling numbers of Napoleon’s troops, he couldn’t afford to be too selective as he was hastily assembling his own forces.

The Controversy

At 23, the Prince was considered by many to be too young to have the rank of Major-General and given an entire Corps to command. It was said that he was assigned this position because Wellington desperately needed the 30,000 Dutch-Belgian troops and that his son’s promotion was the price of the Dutch king’s cooperation.

The traditional (i.e., British) view was that 200 of the Dutch-Belgian troops took off in the opposite direction when faced by the French. Non-British sources protest, however, that newly-arrived British infantrymen, confused by the similarity of the French and Dutch uniforms, opened fire on them both, causing the Dutch-Belgians to lose a large number of horses, which caused these unmounted soldiers to fall back and not be available for active duty.

From The Cowards at Waterloo (a Dutch account of the battle: http://www.napolun.com/mirror/napoleonistyka.atspace.com/Waterloo_Cowards.html)

Unfortunately most of the British accounts have tended to magnify out of all proportion the accomplishments of the very modest numbers of British soldiers. These authors are unashamedly biased, their troops are super-human, the Duke practically a deity. Below is a fragment of hugely popular in English speaking countries book “Waterloo” by Cornwell (the adventures of super-soldier Major Sharpe). The readers are fed with some colorful descriptions of Belgian cowardice and ‘Dutch courage’. The Belgians and Dutch flee without fight, their commander Prince Orange is “little Dutch boy” etc. In contrast the British soldiers are all-conquering heroes, and their commanders are either tough as a nail or geniuses (or both).

Where does the truth lie? Probably somewhere in the middle. The Prince of Orange acquitted himself well in the Peninsula as aide-de-camp to Wellington, and he was certainly not the first young man his age to have such a high rank. The language problem throughout the conflict was not limited to his troops, and wasn’t his fault. Prejudice on both sides had to be a factor as well. Just as there are some who say the Prussians under Ziethen did come through in the end and should be given some credit for the victory. It’s hardly surprising that the British accounts give the British the lion’s share, but at the same time it’s advisable to take some conclusions with a grain of salt.

Lost and Found Lady

With that in mind, I had just read Bernard Cornwell’s Waterloo prior to writing this story, so my portrayal of the Prince of Orange and the Dutch-Belgian troops conforms to the traditional views. So keep in mind when you read it that the Prince was likely not a cartoon-character of a man at all, in spite of the way he has been characterized over the years.

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Victoria Hinshaw: Folie Bleue

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About Lost and Found Lady

On April 24, 1794, a girl child was born to an unknown Frenchwoman in a convent in Salamanca, Spain. Alas, her mother died in childbirth, and the little girl—Catalina—was given to a childless couple to raise.

Eighteen years later…the Peninsular War between the British and the French wages on, now perilously near Catalina’s home. After an afternoon yearning for adventure in her life, Catalina comes across a wounded British soldier in need of rescue. Voilà! An adventure! The sparks between them ignite, and before he returns to his post, Rupert promises to return for her.

But will he? Catalina’s grandmother warns her that some men make promises easily, but fail to carry them out. Catalina doesn’t believe Rupert is that sort, but what does she know? All she can do is wait…and pray.

But Fate has a few surprises in store for both Catalina and Rupert. When they meet again, it will be in another place where another battle is brewing, and their circumstances have been considerably altered. Will their love stand the test of time? And how will their lives be affected by the outcome of the conflict between the Iron Duke and the Emperor of the French?

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One thought on “A Celebration of Waterloo: The Prince of Orange

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.


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