These farm fields are located near Waterloo, Belgium, which on this exact day 198 years ago–June 18, 1815–was the site of one of the most pivotal battles in world history. Napoleon Bonaparte, who had returned to France after escaping from the island of Elba in the Mediterranean (where his enemies had imprisoned him), took his newly-resurgent French army into battle against British forces under the Duke of Wellington. Napoleon had already laid waste to most of Europe for the past 20 years, and the British were determined to do anything to prevent him from continuing his conquests. On this field, nearly 200 years ago, they succeeded.

Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, and captured by the British. Unwilling to make him a martyr to the millions of restive Frenchmen who considered him a hero, the British imprisoned him a second time, on the distant island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic. He died there of stomach cancer in 1821.

The specter of Napoleon appears frequently in my Giamotti trilogy. The main character, Steven Giamotti, seems at times to think he is Napoleon, and he has similar pretensions–though born of Italian stock, he likes to think he’s French, and he’s a serious megalomaniac intent on world domination. In the second novel of the series, All Giamotti’s Children, Waterloo is referred to, and is the title of the final chapter. It has become a synonym for epic defeat.

In this view you can see, at the extreme left, the monument to the battle–the tall mound topped with a memorial. Although the terrain is different, these were farm fields in 1815, and they’re still farm fields two centuries later.