To begin, this is one of a handful of historical scenes Bellairs has described for us in this book alone. How many other young-adult books do you know that dedicates a full of page or two to descriptions of historical moments that most children reading wouldn’t know about in the first place? Early on there was the whole bloody mess about the assassination of David Rizzio and here in chapter four we’re witnesses to someone’s re-worked versions of the Spanish Armada and Battle of Waterloo. It’s natural to say that John had read about these moments in history but one has to wonder why those scenes? And as fun as these off-the-usual-path scenes were, why is it John never chose to write like this again in any his novels? (Jonathan re-assembled the usual suspects for an illusion of Lord Nelson during the Battle of the Nile, though this occurred in Strickland’s The Beast Under the Wizard’s Bridge.)
In an autobiographical sketch found in the Fifth Book of Junior Authors (1983), John admits that he read history by C.V. Wedgwood and Garrett Mattingly. Both prominent historians, Wedgwood (1910-97) specialized in 17th Century England and Continental Europe and Mattingly (1900-62) won a Pulitzer Prize for a bestseller about the Spanish Armada. Knowing John’s voracious reading habits it’s easy see how Rizzio, the Armada, and Waterloo – and countless other people, events, and places – could have been initially encountered...but what would get referenced as part of his novels...well, that’s something only John alone could probably answer. Still we’ve heard from numerous fans who’ve said these and other historical references prompted them to pick up a book (or even earn a degree) to learn more about it.
(One final note, House seems to predate a certain song mentioning "Waterloo" by a number of months, so we can assume he wasn’t influenced by any signing Swedes.)
Enough on this what-inspired-who stuff...let’s get back to the battle, shall we?
Jonathan explains to Lewis what’s happening as the illusions begins:
"Blücher is a Prussian general who is coming to aid Wellington. Napoleon has sent Grouchy off to keep Blücher busy.”Even though his name is spelled Grouchy, “it’s pronounced ‘Groo-shee’....”, as Mrs. Zimmermann points out. And who is he?
Emmanuel de Grouchy, 2nd Marquis de Grouchy (1766-1847) was born in Paris, entered the French artillery in 1779, and by 1801 was employed by Napoleon in military and political positions of importance. Grouchy served in Austria, Prussia, and Spain; wounded in 1814, the next year he joined Napoleon and was made marshal. During the campaign of 1815 he commanded the reserve cavalry of the army, and was appointed to command the right wing to pursue the Prussians.
Following the Battle of Ligny on June 16, Napoleon ordered Grouchy to follow the retreating Prussians. Grouchy was unable to close with the Prussians on June 17 and, the next day, was ordered to prevent the Prussians from reforming; this became known as the Battle of Wavre, fought June 18-19 about eight miles east of Waterloo. Despite hearing the cannon sound from nearby Waterloo, he decided to follow the Prussians as specified in his orders. Grouchy won out over the Prussians at Wavre but his actions kept some 30,000 troops from reaching Waterloo and the armies of the Seventh Coalition united to defeat Napoleon.
It’s interesting: Bellairs has all the right names of the Waterloo campaign but Grouchy fought the Prussian army at Wavre against General Johann von Thielmann, not Blücher. Prussian Gebhard von Blücher and the Duke of Wellington rode together at Waterloo against Napoleon. Bellairs easily could have misremembered who was where or, just as likely, wanted to ensure he was able to get his “grouchy French leader” joke into the book.
What happened to Grouchy after Waterloo? Text from Napoleon and the Marshals of the Empire (1855) touches on the remainder of his career:
The name of Grouchy has become so odious to the admirers of Napoleon, that a long career of devoted service and unquestionable bravery has been forgotten in the misfortune or fault of a single day.
He out-lived a court-martial and was exiled in America, but eventually returned to France and regained some of his honor.