[ISHMap-List] Did Napoleon lose to Wellington because of a bad map?

Barber, Peter Peter.Barber at bl.uk
Thu Oct 9 11:56:50 CEST 2014

I have no precise answer, though as Matthew will know by 1812 the British  Quartermaster General’s Office at Horseguards Parade., Whitehall,  was sometimes producing  lithographic maps of military engagements in Spain  within two or three weeks of their  occurrence (for further details, see A. Crispin Jewitt,  Intelligence Revealed: Maps, Plans and Views at Horse Guards and the War Office, 1800-1880 (British Library, 2011) and the French Depot de la Guerre  would probably have been able to act even more swiftly with events taking place around Brussels.

But the following map, which the BL acquired about 30 years ago (and which, interestingly, doesn’t show Waterloo) may be relevant:

  *   Title: NETHERLANDS AND NEIGHBOURING AREAS: map entitled 'Carte de la Belgique et des quatre départemens réunis de la rive gauche du Rhin ... Dressée au Depot gl de la Guerre dans les mois de Mai et Juin 1815', produced by César François Cassini de Thury at the Dépot Général de la Guerre, Paris (63585 A); 1815. Printed , with MS. additions. French. Scale [ circa 1:346826]].The manuscript additions to the map, presumably a revision of Cassini, extend from the Rhine to approximately the French frontier. A dotted blue line added to the completed map runs close to, but corresponds neither with the French frontier of 1814 nor with that of 1815. Two scale bars of 16 lieux (= 205mm.); one loose (63585 B). The original linen backing (63585 C) apparently included a stamp of Honoré, Comte Reille, Marshal of France (1775-1860), who guarded France's northern frontier for Napoleon in 1815 and took part in the battle of Waterloo. See also H. Berthaut, La Carte de France 1750-1898 (Paris 1898), I, pp. 48-62. In the Soult family archive until circa 1982. Purchased of Roger Mason from T. S. Blakeney Fund, May 1985. Ink and watercolour on paper. Cut into squares and mounted on linen for folding. 1280 x 1670mm.
  *   Collection Area: Western Manuscripts
  *   Reference: Add MS 63585 A-C
  *   Creation Date: 1815
  *   Extent and Access:
Extent: 3 items
  *   Contents and Scope:

Maps and Plans: Netherlands. Southern Provinces: César François Cassini de Thury, cartographer: Napoleon I of France: `Carte de la Belgique et des quatre départemens réunis de la rive gauche du Rhin' by César François Cassini de Thury at Dépot de la Guerre: 1815: Fr: Partly printed: Map scale 1:346826.

  *   Related persons, etc: Cassini de Thury, César François, Unspecified, cartographer
Napoleon I, 1769-1821, Emperor of the French
  *   Related places: Netherlands Southern Provinces, the Netherlands, Unspecified

  *   See Contents <http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?query=toc,contains,%22IAMS032-001997062%22&indx=1&dym=false&onCampus=false&group=ALL&institution=BL&ct=search&vl(freeText0)=IAMS032-001997062&vid=IAMS_VU2>
  *   Author: Cassini de Thury, César François, Unspecified, cartographer <http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?docId=IAMS047-000029957&vid=IAMS_VU2&indx=1&dym=false&dscnt=1&onCampus=false&group=ALL&institution=BL&ct=search&vl(freeText0)=047-000029957&vid=IAMS_VU2>
  *   Author: Napoleon I, 1769-1821, Emperor of the French <http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?docId=IAMS047-000087161&vid=IAMS_VU2&indx=1&dym=false&dscnt=1&onCampus=false&group=ALL&institution=BL&ct=search&vl(freeText0)=047-000087161&vid=IAMS_VU2>
  *   Netherlands Southern Provinces, the Netherlands, Unspecified <http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?docId=IAMS048-001642081&vid=IAMS_VU2&indx=1&dym=false&dscnt=1&onCampus=false&group=ALL&institution=BL&ct=search&vl(freeText0)=048-001642081&vid=IAMS_VU2>
Best wishes


From: ishm-bounces at lazarus.elte.hu [mailto:ishm-bounces at lazarus.elte.hu] On Behalf Of Matthew Edney
Sent: 08 October 2014 21:28
To: ishm at lazarus.elte.hu
Subject: [ISHMap-List] Did Napoleon lose to Wellington because of a bad map?

Dear All:

This just came across the transom …


The argument is that Napoleon used a printed map derived from a manuscript map, and both were wrong, so that Napoleon misplaced his artillery.

I don't know enough about the events of the battle, but I'm pretty sure that the French were not printing battle maps at this point . . . does anyone have a better and non-journalistic account?




Matthew Edney

Osher Professor in the History of Cartography (USM)

Director, History of Cartography Project (UW)

See http://www.maphistorydirectory.org/index.php/User:Edney.Matthew

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