World changed forever 200 years ago at Battle of Waterloo

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Visit Waterloo Battlefield for Its Bicentenary


WATERLOO, Belgium (AP) — To the victor go the spoils: So Waterloo became synonymous with Napoleon's demise, even if the worst of the battle never happened there.

Ignoring the bloodied grounds of nearby towns, the victorious Duke of Wellington picked the name of the battle as the place where he slept after it was all over. And nothing has been the same since for the once-sleepy village — or for the world.

Prince Charles led a host of dignitaries Wednesday to kick off four days of commemorations Wednesday of the battle that changed the course of history 200 years ago Thursday. Napoleon's defeat in the half-day battle against an overwhelming international coalition ended France's supremacy in the world and opened the British century with the biggest of bangs.

Little wonder the French are still gnashing their teeth two centuries later. "It is not easy for them — psychologically speaking," said military historian Professor Luc De Vos.

Earlier this year, the Belgians wanted to mint a commemorative Battle of Waterloo euro coin which many of the belligerents in the fight now share. Paris blocked the idea.

Belgium promptly turned them into commemorative coins that do not need approval from other eurozone nations before minting.

But France's bruised ego over Waterloo has healed somewhat. Descendants of Napoleon and the French ambassador will show up during the four days of Waterloo commemorations just south of Brussels.

On the battlegrounds themselves, kept intact down to the lush wheat that stands near full ripeness this time of year, everything has been prepared for official ceremonies and re-enactments.

At the heart of the battle was the pivotal French assault on Hougoumont Farm, on whose wooden gate, in the Duke of Wellington's words, the outcome of the entire world hinged.

"Wellington was clear about the critical importance of this moment" said British general Sir Richard Shirreff. "The success of the battle of Waterloo depended on closing the gates of Hougoumont."

It remained closed at the critical point and once the smoke of battle lifted, France's Grande Armee was in retreat and 26 years of Napoleonic warfare to unite Europe under French rule had ended.

On the small battlefield, over 10,000 soldiers lay dead — and as many horses.

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World changed forever 200 years ago at Battle of Waterloo
Charles, Prince of Wales, front right, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall view re-enactors as they attend the ceremonial opening of Hougoumont Farm in Braine-l'Alleud, near Waterloo, Belgium on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. The fully restored farm opens to the general public on June 18, 2015, which is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. (AP Photo/Emmanuel Dunand/Pool Photo via AP)
The Duke of Wellington, left, holds hands with Prince Charles Bonaparte, center, and Prince Bluecher von Wahlstatt during the ceremonial opening of the Hougoumont Farm in Braine-l'Alleud, near Waterloo, Belgium on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Hougoumont Farm played a critical role in the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo, and the newly restored farm will open to the general public on June 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, Pool)
Charles, Prince of Wales, right, unveils a monument to the Battle of Waterloo during the ceremonial opening of the Hougoumont Farm in Braine-l'Alleud, near Waterloo, Belgium on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Hougoumont Farm played a critical role in the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo, and the newly restored farm will open to the general public on June 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, Pool)
Troops stand in front of the new North Gate during the ceremonial opening of the Hougoumont Farm in Braine-l'Alleud, near Waterloo, Belgium on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Hougoumont Farm played a critical role in the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo, and the newly restored farm will open to the general public on June 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, Pool)
Charles, Prince of Wales, second left, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, center, Belgium's Princess Astrid, right, arrive at Hougoumont Farm in Braine-l'Alleud, near Waterloo, Belgium on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Hougoumont Farm played a critical role in the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo. The fully restored farm opens to the public on June 18th, 2015, which is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, Pool)
Charles, Prince of Wales, second left, and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, speak with troops during the ceremonial opening of the Hougoumont Farm in Braine-l'Alleud, near Waterloo, Belgium on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Hougoumont Farm played a critical role in the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo, and the newly restored farm will open to the general public on June 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, Pool)
Charles, Prince of Wales, left, walks by a newly unveiled Battle of Waterloo statue at Hougoumont Farm in Braine-l'Alleud, near Waterloo, Belgium on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Hougoumont Farm played a critical role in the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo. The fully restored farm opens to the public on June 18th, 2015, which is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, Pool)
Charles, Prince of Wales, left, greets re-enactors as they attend the ceremonial opening of Hougoumont Farm in Braine-l'Alleud, near Waterloo, Belgium on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Hougoumont Farm played a critical role in the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo, and the newly restored farm will open to the general public on June 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Emmanuel Dunand/Pool Photo via AP)
Troops stand in front of the new North Gate during the ceremonial opening of Hougoumont Farm in Braine-l'Alleud, near Waterloo, Belgium on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Hougoumont Farm played a critical role in the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo, and the newly restored farm will open to the general public on June 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Emmanuel Dunand/Pool Photo via AP)
Charles, Prince of Wales, front right, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall attend the ceremonial opening of Hougoumont Farm in Braine-l'Alleud, near Waterloo, Belgium on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. The fully restored farm opens to the general public on June 18, 2015, which is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. (AP Photo/Emmanuel Dunand/Pool Photo via AP)
In this May 10, 2015, photo, historical re-enactors dressed as soldiers of the Belgian-Dutch 7th Battalion of the Line march in formation at a Napoleonic era living history camp in Elewijt, Belgium. The Belgian-Dutch living history group is coordinating their group for participation in the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo which will take place in June 2015. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
In this May 10, 2015, photo, historical re-enactors dressed as soldiers of the Belgian-Dutch 7th Battalion of the Line face off against each other in a mock battle at a Napoleonic era living history camp in Elewijt, Belgium. The Belgian-Dutch living history group is coordinating their group for participation in the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo which will take place in June 2015. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
In this May 10, 2015, photo, historical re-enactors dressed as soldiers of the Belgian-Dutch 7th Battalion of the Line fire their weapons during a drill at a Napoleonic era living history camp in Elewijt, Belgium. The Belgian-Dutch living history group is coordinating their group for participation in the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo which will take place in June 2015. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
In this May 10, 2015, photo, historical re-enactors dressed as soldiers of the Belgian-Dutch 7th Battalion of the Line are commanded by a cavalry officer as they march in formation at a Napoleonic era living history camp in Elewijt, Belgium. The Belgian-Dutch living history group is coordinating their group for participation in the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo which will take place in June 2015. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
In this May 10, 2015, photo, historical re-enactors dressed as soldiers of the Belgian-Dutch 7th Battalion of the Line face off against each other in a mock battle at a Napoleonic era living history camp in Elewijt, Belgium. The Belgian-Dutch living history group is coordinating their group for participation in the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo which will take place in June 2015. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
In this May 10, 2015, photo, the youngest member of a re-enactor group of the Belgian-Dutch 7th Battalion of the Line, Luca Scalzotto, 19, fires his weapon during a drill at a Napoleonic era living history camp in Elewijt, Belgium. The Belgian-Dutch living history group is coordinating their group for participation in the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo which will take place in June 2015. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
In this May 10, 2015, photo, historical re-enactors dressed as soldiers of the Belgian-Dutch 7th Battalion of the Line listen to instruction at a Napoleonic era living history camp in Elewijt, Belgium. As preparation for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo which will take place in June 2015 members of the group will practice their battlefield tactics as well as learn various historical aspects of the battle. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
In this May 10, 2015, photo, historical re-enactors dressed as soldiers of the Belgian-Dutch 7th Battalion of the Line line up for inspection next to their tents at a Napoleonic era living history camp in Elewijt, Belgium. The Belgian-Dutch living history group is coordinating their group for participation in the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo which will take place in June 2015. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
In this May 9, 2015, photo, two women, dressed in Napoleonic era dress, cook a lunchtime soup for re-enactors of the 7th Battalion of the Line at a Napoleonic era living history camp in Elewijt, Belgium. The Belgian-Dutch living history group is coordinating their group for participation in the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo which will take place in June 2015. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
FILE- In this June 20, 2010, file photo, re-enactors march through a field during a living history event of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo in Waterloo, Belgium. More than 5,000 Napoleonic era re-enactors will participate in the upcoming 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo which takes place in June 2015. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)
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On Wednesday, Prince Charles unveiled a memorial at the lovingly restored Hougoumont farm and surveyed the battlefield with the descendants of the troop leaders — the Duke of Wellington and Prince Charles Bonaparte of France.

Through Saturday, some 5,000 re-enactors will roll the drums, fire the guns and cannons and walk through the gunpowder smoke, only to come to the same result: Napoleon lost.

Napoleon "was 46, but in bad health. Wellington was fit. His staff was not functioning well. There was hesitation. At the end of the battle, he only had 70,000 men and his opponents had nearly double," said De Vos.

So off went Napoleon, eventually to die in exile in Saint Helena, a speck of an island in the south Atlantic.

Instead of France, Britain came to rule the waves of the 19th century, reaping a rich harvest in colonies around the globe and firing the furnaces of the industrial revolution in Europe.

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