Was an Inaccurate Map Partly Responsible for Napoleon’s Waterloo Defeat?

A French documentary maker contends that a map error ones on the reasons that Napoleon’s army was defeated by the Duke of Wellington’s forces during the Battle of Waterloo.  The documentary by Franck Ferrand entitled, “Napoléon : le défi de trop ?” explores the finding by Belgian illustrator and historian, Bernard Coppens who noticed a discrepancy between the original hand drawn map and the printed versions showing the location of the  farm of Mont-Saint-Jean.

The map error occurred when the printing process introduced a kilometer (roughly two-thirds of a mile) offset the farm of Mont-Saint-Jean where the Duke of Wellington’s forces were.   As a result, Napoleon aimed his canons in the wrong direction, failing to impact the opposition.


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“We compared the printed map used on the battlefield with the original hand-drawn one it was copied from,” Mr Ferrand said. “We realised it was a printing error. Not only was the farm in the wrong place, but the map showed a bend in the road that did not exist.” 

“Napoleon was relying on a false map for his strategy in his last battle. This explains why he mistook the lie of the land and was disoriented on the battlefield. It is certainly one of the factors that led to his defeat, although not the only one.”  Mr Ferrand explained: “The strategic farm of Mont-Saint-Jean is shown one kilometre from its real location. One kilometre was the range of his cannons so you can see what a difference it must have made.”

More: Map error hastened Napoleon’s Waterloo defeat 

The far left map is the original hand-drawn map, which was used to make the two printed version on the right which were used by Napoleon and his army at Waterloo. In the original map, the Mont Saint-Jean farm is situated to the right of the road, while on the printed versions, the farm is shown as being to the left of the road.

The far left map is the original hand-drawn map, which was used to make the two printed version on the right which were used by Napoleon and his army at Waterloo. In the original map, the Mont Saint-Jean farm is situated to the right of the road, while on the printed versions, the farm is shown as being to the left of the road.