1789-1815: events before the battle
In a Europe where French influence was very considerable, the events of 1789 found an enormous echo. That revolutionary heritage, the spread of Enlightenment ideas and the virtually unbroken period of wars lasting from 1792 to 1815 threw the continent of Europe into a state of upheaval both geopolitically and from the point of view of ideas.
Blowing in from revolutionary France, it was not long before the wind of freedom began unleashing storms in the rest of Europe. The people, frequently under the guidance of intellectual elites, dreamed of freeing themselves from the Ancien Régime and of creating a united nation based on the French model. But this national sentiment was merely exacerbated by French occupation – Napoleonic domination simply intensified awareness of their own identity in the conquered people.
After the failure of the Russian campaign (1812), Napoleon abdicated on 6 April 1814 and thus signalled the collapse of the Empire. When they met in September 1814 at the Congress of Vienna to redraw the frontiers of the Europe of Napoleon, the Austrian, Russian, British and Prussian monarchs claimed that they were seeking to “restore civilisation”, that is to say get rid of anything new that was introduced in Europe by the spirit of the French Revolution.
The return of the Island of Elba on 1 March 1815 and the 100 Days Campaign which united the Allies against Napoleon led to a resumption of the Napoleonic offensive against the coalition of Great Britain, Prussia, Russia and Austria, supported by Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. It was the Belgian campaign that eventually led to the battle of Waterloo.