‘Napoleon has humbugged me, by God…. I have made arrangements to meet him at Quatre Bras, and if I find myself not strong enough to stop him there, I shall fall back towards Blücher and fight him there.’

                                                                                          – The Duke of Wellington

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English: Map of the Battle of Quatre Bras. 2006. Source: Gregory Fremont-Barnes (main editor) – The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, page 800. Adapted from Chandler 1999, 353.

Vital to both sides, the crossroads at Quatre Bras would have allowed Wellington to advance towards his Prussian allies at Ligny. This combined force would have outnumbered the French. However, Napoleon’s plan was to divide the Allies by crossing the border into the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (Belgium). This disruption would give Napoleon time to advance and defeat Blücher, before turning his attention to triumphing over the Anglo-Dutch army.

The story did not unfold by design and instead the Anglo-Dutch met the French at Quatre Bras, 16th June 1815. After a fiercely contested battle, neither side was forced from the field. Wellington gained a tactical victory, whilst Napoleon a strategic one, having prevented the Allies coming to Blücher’s aid.

Meanwhile, the Prussian retreat from Ligny left the flank of Wellington’s army open to attack, therefore, the following morning Wellington withdrew for Waterloo. This painting by Ernest Crofts is a depiction of the allied army marching towards Waterloo, with Wellington leading the procession.

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Ernest Crofts: ‘Wellington’s Retreat from Quatre Bras’ (VIS.1614). On loan to the Royal Armouries by Museums Sheffield. Now in the Royal Armouries’ ‘Waterloo: The Art of Battle’ exhibition.

Born in Leeds in 1847, Crofts studied in Düsseldorf under Emil Hünten, a former pupil of Horace Vernet. Here, Crofts unlike many of his contemporaries, witnessed soldiers in battle during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). On his return to Britain, Crofts continued his studies under Alfred Borron Clay, another painter of military scenes. By the time Crofts had ended his studies, his speciality had, too, become military and historical subjects. His various works include portrayals of English Civil War scenes, and a series of works relating to the Battle of Waterloo. In 1878 Crofts was elected an associate member of the Royal Academy, and a full academician in 1896.

Wellington’s March from Quatre Bras to Waterloo, is on display at the Royal Armouries as part of our Waterloo exhibition ‘The Art of Battle’ (22 May 2015-23 August 2015), alongside contemporary pieces of arms and armour.