“The Plains of Waterloo (II)”


The singer tells of all the places he has fought, ending with his part at Waterloo (from which he is grateful to have emerged alive). He tells of Napoleon's success on the first two days of the battle and of Wellington's victory on the final day

Supplemental text

Plains of Waterloo (II), The [Laws J3]
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

Battle of Waterloo

As printed by W. H. Logan, The Pedlar's Pack of Ballads and Songs,
pp. 107-109. Immediate source not listed.

On the 16th day of June my boys, in Flanders where we lay,
The bugle did the alarm sound before the break of day;
The British, Belgians, Brunswickers, and Hanoverians too,
They Brussels left that morning for the plains of Waterloo.

By a forced march we did advance, till three in the afternoon,
Each British heart with ardour burned to pull the tyrant down,
Near Quatre-Bras we met the French, their shape to us seemed new,
For in steel armour they were clad, for the plains of Waterloo.

Napoleon to his soldiers said, before that they began,
"My heroes, if we lose the day, our nation is undone;
The Prussians we've already beat, so we'll beat the British too,
And display victorious eagles on the plains of Waterloo."

Our immortal leader Wellington no speech to us did make,
We were Peninsular heroes, and oft had made them shake, --
At Vittoria, Salamanca, Toulouse, and Burgos too; --
They beheld their former conquerors on the plains of Waterloo.

In bright array Britannia stood, and viewed her sons that day,
Then to her much loved hero went, and thus to him did say, --
"If you the wreath of laurel twist from your opponent's brow,
Through ages all you shall be called the Prince of Waterloo."

The bloody fight it then began, and the cannons they did roar,
We being short of cavalry, they pressed us full sore,
Three British cheers we gave them, with volleys not a few,
Which made them wish themselves in France, and far from Waterloo.

This day both armies kept their ground, when scarce a shot was fired,
The French did boast a victory gained, because we had retired;
This noble act of generalship them from their strongholds drew,
When we got some share, by fighting fair, on the plains of Waterloo.

On the 18th, in the morning, both armies did advance,
On this side stood brave Albion's sons, on that the pride of France;
The fate of Europe in our hands, each man his sabre drew,
And "Death or Victory!" was the word on the plains of Waterloo.

Upon our right they did begin, Prince Jerome led the van,
With Imperial Guards and Cuirassiers, thought nothing could withstand:
But British steel soon made them yield, though our numbers were but few,
We prisoners made, but more lay dead, on the plains of Waterloo.

Then to our left they bent their course, in disappointed rage,
The Belgian line fought for a time, but could not stand the charge!
Then Caledon took up her drone, and loud her chanter blew,
Played Marshal New a new strathspey to the tune of Waterloo.

Here's a health to George our Royal King, and long my he govern,
Likewise the Duke of Wellington, that noble son of Erin!
Two years they added to our time for pay and pension too,
And now we are recorded as men of Waterloo.


The notes in Laws regarding this piece are somewhat confusing. He quotes Mackenzie to the effect that this song "is plainly derived" from the much longer, more elaborate broadside piece we've listed as "The Plains of Waterloo (V)."

That the two are on the same theme is undeniable. But Bennett Schwartz, who has examined the matter with care, notes "I do not believe it was Laws's intent to consider these both the same, but rather to consider only the derivative as traditional. I think an argument can be made that J3 is not a derivative of this broadside at all."

Schwartz adds,

There are three other broadsides in Bodleian Library site Ballads Catalogue that describe the battle and go under the name "Plains of Waterloo." I do not believe they are the source of J3 either. Specifically,

"The Plains of Waterloo" beginning "The ancient sons of glory were all great men they say" (shelfmarks Harding B15(239b), Harding B 28(76), Harding B 11(3017), Harding B11(3018), Harding B 11(3019))

"The Plains of Waterloo" beginning "Assist me you muses while I relate a story" ( Harding B25(1501)[a hard-to-read copy])

"The Plains of Waterloo" beginning "On the Eighteenth Day of June, my boys, Napoleon did advance" (shelfmarks Firth c.14(7), Firth b.25(507), Firth c.14(28), Harding B11(91), Harding B 25(1503), Harding B 11(3020), Harding B 15(239a)) [Roud #5824]

Mackenzie's opening stanza for this song is presumably characteristic:

Come all you brisk and lively lads, come listen unto me,

While I relate how I have fought through the wars of Germany.

I have fought through Spain, through Portugal, through France and Flanders too;

But it's little I thought I'd be reserved for the plains of Waterloo. - BS, RBW

Although the "Battle of Waterloo" took place on June 18, 1815, it was actually the culmination of a several-day campaign. Napoleon, who had just returned from Elba, knew that all Europe would soon turn against him. His only hope was to defeat his enemies piecemeal -- starting with the Anglo-Dutch army of Wellington (the hero of the Peninsular campaign) and the Prussian army of Blucher.

Even though Napoleon started levying troops immediately, Wellington and Blucher together outnumbered the forces at his command by better than three to two. He had to separate them. He undertook this by dividing his army into two wings, the left under Ney and the right under Grouchy. (This was probably Napoleon's worst mistake of the campaign. He left his three of his best Marshals -- Soult, Suchet, and Davout -- in minor roles, while making the uninspired Ney and the inexperienced Grouchy his field commanders).

Napoleon struck first on June 16. Ordering Ney to attack Wellington's rearguard at Quatre Bras, Napoleon took Grouchy's reinforced right and attacked Blucher at Ligny. Ney's attack accomplished little, but Grouchy beat Blucher handily at Ligny.

Napoleon had apparently achieved his objective; Blucher was forced to retreat -- which took him away from Wellington. Napoleon therefore swung the larger part of his army back to deal with the British.

Unfortunately for the French, Blucher didn't retreat far. Even worse, Grouchy didn't follow him closely. Ney's errors topped things off. Given field command by Napoleon at Waterloo (June 18), Ney was unable to dislodge Wellington before Blucher returned to the battlefield. Since Grouchy did *not* show up, Blucher and Wellington swept Ney from the field, ending Napoleon's dreams forever. - RBW

Historical references

  • June 18, 1815 - Battle of Waterloo

Cross references


  • O. J. Abbott, "The Plains of Waterloo" (on Abbott1)
  • Amos Jollimore, "The Plains of Waterloo" (on MRHCreighton)


  1. Laws J3, "The Plains of Waterloo II"
  2. Mackenzie 73, "The Plains of Waterloo," "Wellington and Waterloo" (2 texts)
  3. Ives-NewBrunswick, pp. 117-119, "The Battle of Waterloo" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. DT 547, PLNWLOO3
  5. ST LJ03 (Full)
  6. Roud #1922
  7. BI, LJ03


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1869 (Logan)
Keywords: war Napoleon battle
Found in: US(MW) Canada(Mar,Ont)