Gallica Belgica was the name of a Roman province in northern Gaul. The region often called “the low countries” has been the scene of many wars, involving the French, the Habsburgs, the Austrians, the Spanish, and various Germanic peoples. Cities in the region were important trading partners of Britain across the North Sea.
Under Napoleon, France absorbed parts of the low countries, which were brought together as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815 in a settlement agreed at the Congress of Vienna but carried out in effect by the man who became King William I of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, a prince of the House of Orange-Nassau.
In 1815, King William insisted that his son, the young William, Prince of Orange, be given a leading role in the upcoming battles against Napoleon. The Duke of Wellington and his staff thought little of the military experience and capabilities of Slender Billy (who incidentally had been a suitor of Princess Charlotte of Wales — for more about her, see below). The unfortunate Prince was wounded in the battle; the Lion Mound, constructed 1820-26 at the site of the battle, is a memorial to him.
The Prince of Orange went on to be King William II of the Netherlands from 1840 to his death in 1849. The southern provinces had revolted and set up the Bellgian government in 1830-31. Shortly before William II died, Holland became a constitutional monarchy, which is the form of its government today.
In 1830-31 the southern areas of the Kingdom of the Netherlands gained independence and set up the independent nation of Belgium as a constitutional monarchy. Chosen as first King of Belgium was Leopold I, formerly Prince of Saxe-Coburg, husband of the late Princess Charlotte of Wales
Princess Charlotte of Wales (1796-1817),was the daughter of the Prince Regent and his wife Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales (1796-1821). The current Belgian royal family descends from Leopold and his second wife, Louise of Orleans (1812-1850), but Leopold retained important influence over British affairs.
The town of Waterloo is a few miles south of the capital of Brussels, something now of a commuter bedroom community. The Duke of Wellington had investigated the ground south of Waterloo, near the farm of Mont St. Jean, and chose it as the site where he would stand and repel the attacking French armies of Napoleon. Wellington spent the night before the battle in the village inn, now the Wellington Museum.
The battle ground was a mile or so south of Waterloo, near the farm of Mont St. Jean.
The battlefield started as farmland, high with crops of rye and wheat, much as it is today. Heavy rains of the night before had inundated the area, making a sea of mud into which the crops were trampled by guns, horses, and men’s feet.
Two farms occupied the ground between the slight Ridge at Mont St. Jean and the opposing ridge before which Napoleon arrayed his troops on the morning of June 18, 1815. The smaller farm was La Haye Sainte, the largest Chateau Hougoumont. Both are still there.
If you can travel to Waterloo and visit the other fascinations of Belgium, we highly recommend it!