A Bronze Pipe Tobacco Tamper of a Waterloo Combatant, Recovered From at La Haye Sainte. In The form Of a Cannoneers Block and Tackle
Recovered alongside the farm’s cast iron fireback and some other relic items of combat, such as soldiers thimbles, plus grenades, cannon balls etc. discovered around La Haye Sainte (named either after Jesus Christ's crown of thorns or a bramble hedge round a field nearby).
It is a walled farmhouse compound at the foot of an escarpment on the Charleroi-Brussels road in Belgium. It has changed very little since it played a crucial part in the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815.
La Haye Sainte was defended by about 400 King's German Legion troops during the Battle of Waterloo. They were hopelessly outnumbered by attacking French troops but held out until the late afternoon when they retired because their ammunition had run out. If Napoleon Bonaparte's army had captured La Haye Sainte earlier in the day, almost certainly he would have broken through the allied centre and defeated the Duke of Wellington's army.
The capture of La Haye Sainte in the early evening then gave the French the advantage of a defensible position from which to launch a potentially decisive attack on the Allied centre. However, Napoleon was too late—by this time, Blücher and the Prussian army had arrived on the battlefield and the outnumbered French army was defeated.
A view of the battlefield from the Lion's mound. On the top right are the buildings of La Haye Sainte. This view looks east, with Allied forces behind the road to the left (north) and French forces out of shot to the right(south)
The road leads from La Belle Alliance, where Napoleon had his headquarters on the morning of the battle, through where the centre of the French front line was located, to a crossroads on the ridge which is at the top of the escarpment and then on to Brussels. The Duke of Wellington placed the majority of his forces on either side of the Brussels road behind the ridge on the Brussels side. This kept most of his forces out of sight of the French artillery.
In the nineteenth century things started to speed up for pipe smokers. General Lassalle declared that “a hussar that does not smoke is a bad soldier!”. Following the advice of his General, Napoleon arranged for the creation of a tobacco pipe that would be specifically designed for soldiers in combat.
Photo in the gallery of a French Wellington satirical pipe bowl, also recovered from Waterloo, now in Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington's former home.
This is the clay head of a French pipe, found on the battlefield of Waterloo. The front of the pipe is an unflattering caricature of the Duke of Wellington, with a bowl in his cockaded hat to hold the burning tobacco. The stem of the pipe is carved into a depiction of a French soldier, disrespectfully thumbing his nose at the Duke – perhaps this is the face of the Frenchman who made this mocking piece of personal propaganda.
At the time of the Napoleonic Wars, political satire and caricatures of political and military leaders became extremely popular across Europe – often showing the elite in ridiculous situations, full of insulting or sexual references. In a time of wars and revolutions, these depictions gave ordinary soldiers and civilians a way of understanding the world and expressing their voices. Buying or making political items like this pipe gave ordinary people the feeling that they were taking a side in these momentous events.
Wellington’s craggy features and large nose are particularly exaggerated, mimicking his popular nickname of “Nosey”. The soldier’s thumbing his nose behind Wellington’s back is a traditional gesture of disrespect, known at the time as “cocking a snook” at someone.
At the time of the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington was the most famous soldier in the British Army, having fought a long and successful campaign against the French in the Spanish Peninsular. He was less well-known in France, but was still notorious enough to be the target of satire and derision, from all quarters of society. Napoleon, who had never faced the Duke of Wellington in battle before Waterloo, was inclined to insult his adversary – possibly in order to inspire confidence among the French commanders. Napoleon called Wellington “the sepoy general”, referring to the latter’s service in India, and supposedly declared that beating the Allies would be “as easy as eating breakfast” on the morning of the Battle of Waterloo.
This pipe would have had a longer wooden stem, which has rotted away. Smoking tobacco was extremely popular among soldiers, for comfort, warmth and to suppress hunger. The health risks of tobacco were not yet understood, and smoking was thought to be good for the nervous system and strengthening to the lungs. One British Captain, Robert Percival, claimed that his men stayed healthy “by drinking strong arrack alcohol and smoking tobacco.”