Sunday, 11 October 2015

From The Vault Of History

Yesterday I had my first public talk as a result of the Waterloo book. I’d done a sort of interview for a historical society in September, but this was my first one that I needed to prepare for. I had decided that I wouldn’t summarise the book as everyone should read it, and that the talk needed a different approach, giving added value.

I had been invited to cover for my friend and co-author at a famous Rotterdam book store, where I often used to go in my school days. So that was an added bonus. The location was really interesting, in the vault of an old bank building where the book shop is housed temporarily. It really added to the historic atmosphere.

There were about thirty people in the audience, mostly above retirement age. The atmosphere was pleasant from the start and I got off to a good start by introducing a picture of a group of youngsters from Rotterdam, recreating the battle in uniform for the jubilee in 1865. That was my handle for explaining that the memory of Waterloo was alive in the Netherlands long after the battle. In fact, Waterloo day was commemorated up to the Second World War. I then elaborated on commemoration in other countries and up to 2015.

I then used Prussia as the story to explain the wider context of the battle. The picture below of king Friedrich Wilhelm III shows how deeply the confidence of even the most powerful monarchs in Europe was shaken by Napoleon, and therefore why they were determined never to let him be that kind of threat again. Then the reforms, 1813 and finishing of with Blücher in 1815.

Blücher was also the introduction to the challenge of being in command of an army (see my original blog post). Of course everybody was interesting in what sex had to do with it. Napoleon’s  troubles with his marshals and what that meant for him politically and militarily rounded off my talk.

I spoke longer than I had intended (an important lesson), but the crowd joined in early on and the questions were very good, ranging from those who definitely knew their Napoleon from their Napoleon III and those who only had their history lessons to fall back on. 

Considering that about a third of the audience then came up with a book to sign or ask further questions, I guess the talk was reasonably successful, also for the book shop. Now hopefully this will result more invitations.

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