“The Plains of Waterloo (V)”


"On the sixteenth day of June, my boys, in Flanders where we lay," the troops are ordered to meet Napoleon at Waterloo. Napoleon urges on his men; Wellington just fights. When the British emerge victorious, they drink to King George

Supplemental text

Plains of Waterloo (V), The
  Partial text(s)

          *** A ***

As printed by W. H. Logan, The Pedlar's Pack of Ballads and Songs,
pp. 106-109. 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.

(10 additional stanzas)


Laws mentions this piece in connection with Laws J3, "The Plains of Waterloo (II)," quoting Mackenzie's claim that this is the literary original of that ballad. Earlier editions of this index lumped the two (based on a lack of reliable texts of Laws J3 for comparison).

But, as Bennett Schwartz points out, they are not the same song as they stand now, and this piece may not even be the actual source of the Laws ballad; the material they both contain is largely commonplace. Thus we split them, though fragments might go with either one, and there will be editors who lump. - 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.

The other general mentioned in the song, Jerome, was Napoleon's younger brother. At Waterloo he commanded Ney's left, and failed completely to rout the British from their stronghold of Hougoumont. - RBW

Historical references

  • June 18, 1815 - Battle of Waterloo

Same tune

  • Behold He Comes (per broadside Murray, Mu23-y1:033)

Cross references


  • Murray, Mu23-y1:033, "The Battle of Waterloo," James Lindsay Jr. (Glasgow), 19C


  1. Logan, pp. 106-109, "The Battle of Waterloo" (1 text)
  2. Ford-Vagabond, pp. 61-65, "The Plains of Waterloo" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Ord, pp. 299-301, "The Plains of Waterloo" (1 text)
  4. Peacock, pp. 1016-1017, "The Plains of Waterloo" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. ST LJ03A (Partial)
  6. Roud #1106
  7. BI, LJ03A


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1869 (Logan)
Keywords: war Napoleon battle
Found in: Britain(England,Scotland) Canada(Newf)