Thursday, 14 January 2016

La Haye Sainte

The farm of La Haye Sainte was built before 1536 by the Moitomont’s family from Braine l'Alleud. In 1618 they sold the farm to Jean Glibert. At that time the farm had 60 hectares of fields and meadows. The farm has been sold and gone through a couple of family heirs since then but at the time of Waterloo, the farm was rented to a man called Pierre Moreau. Moreau fell into despair having seen the farm after the battle and from 18th August 1815 until late into the 19th century the farm was in habituated by the family of Martin Viseur. In 1889 Théodore de Dobbeleer moved in and his descendants still run the farm to this day.


The whole complex of the farm of La Haye Sainte measured about 360 yards long and 80 yards wide. The farm consisted of a series of white washed outbuildings and walls made from red brick around a cobbled courtyard which was a typical layout in that farming region. The main entrance stood parallel on the Brussels road where the main gate was vaulted by a small roof.  On the inner side on top of the main gate was a dovecot. Going right of the main gate of the farm were a few small pigsties. On the Left hand side of the gate near the corner of the south/east wall was a small duck pond and a little further on a large barn with a grey slated roof with which was attached to the southern/western wall of the farm.
Through this barn there was a passage way for carriages, and it was for this reason that the barn had two gates, one in the east and one in the west-side. The first one ended in the courtyard, the second one in the fields adjoining the farm. In the northern part of the farm was mostly formed by the 17th century dwelling-house. Between this house and the pigsties was a small door leading out to the main road. This door too was covered by a small roof.  There were no windows on the east wall of the house. On the southern side of the house there are two doors the main door has some stone steps leading into the house. There are three large barred windows. On the grey slated roof there were two rows of dormer-windows; those of the upper row, four, were a bit smaller than those in the lower row, three in all. There was a large chimney stack on the east side of the roof with two smaller chimneys on the north and south side. On the northern side of the house there was a covered brick porch with another three large barred windows. The roof was the same as the south side.
Against the house there was a small stone construction, containing a natural well, which has since the battle dried up. In the same wall there were a door and three larger and one smaller barred window’s. On the west side of the house was formed by stables which continued in an L-shape towards stables on the west side and which ended at the large barn. The front of the stables were directed towards the courtyard there were ten doors, smaller square openings and some larger rectangular ones. The extreme south end of the stables was formed by a vaulted gate, which led from the courtyard to the fields on this side of the farm. The northern wall of the stables probably contained a few openings but there were no windows on the west wall. In 1815 the roofs of buildings might have been covered with red slate tiles.


The farm itself measured 60 yards long and 50 yards wide. On the north side of the farm there was a kitchen-garden which was bordered by hedges on its north and west side. On the east side there was a single storey dwelling perhaps a gardener’s cottage.  It had a pointed roof with grey slated tiles with white walls. Between the garden and the farm building itself there was a small open area and a terrace. The kitchen-garden measured 70 yards wide and 40 long.  
In 1815 there was an orchard on the south side of the farm; it leaned against the Brussels road and its east side was a bit longer than her west side. Having a width of 80 yards, here it measured 200 yards long. The orchard was completely bordered by a hedge, except for its north side facing the farm. Today, the orchard is a meadow and there are still some hedges on the south and eastern sides of the field.

La Haye Sainte stood in the middle of Wellington’s line during the battle of Waterloo and was situated on the Charleroi to Brussels road nearly a mile from Hougoumont. During the battle the farm escaped relatively unharmed; only the barn had been set on fire during the battle. This is the reason why it has kept so many of its original features.


The first soldiers to occupy the farm were the Hanoverian Light Infantry on the evening of 17th June. In the pouring rain they killed all of the livestock and ducks that were in the farm yard and they ripped down the doors to the barn and the main doors to the courtyard for firewood to cook with. They also raided the wine cellars in the farm house. The Hanoverians moved out in the early morning of the 18th.
To take their place the King’s German Legion were told to hastily fortify the farm in the morning of the battle. The troops were from the 2nd Light Battalion commanded by Major Georg Baring and a part of the 1st Light Battalion of the KGL. Although the barn doors had been pulled down and used as firewood, the main gates to the complex were still in-tack and put back into place.
All of Barings pioneers had been ordered to go to fortify Hougoumont and so that left him to do the best he could, making loop holes with their bayonets and firing steps from anything they could find against the farms inner walls.
Major Baring posted three of his six companies in the orchard, two in the buildings and one in the garden. Baring was supported by the ½ Nassau Regiment and the light company of the 5th Line battalion of the KGL during the battle.

Both Napoleon and Wellington realised the importance of the farms position and it was fought over and around for most of the day.

The first attack came from d’Erlon’s Corps at about 1 pm marching in columns the French stormed towards the orchard while a second French battalion column headed past the orchard for the main farm buildings itself. Threatening to be cut off the 200 riflemen among the fruit trees ran back to the wide open barn, Major Baring's horse collapsed with a broken leg. The riflemen pushed pass the French at the west barn entrance in a fierce scuffle and thanks to the men in the farm yard passing forward loaded Baker rifles to those in the barn, they were able to produce unbroken fire that the French didn’t dare enter the farm.
The French managed to surround La Haye Sainte and despite taking heavy casualties from the farm, they attached the centre of  Wellington’s line.
At 3 pm Napoleon ordered Marshal Ney to capture La Haye Sainte, while he was engaged with the 8,000 cavalry attack on the allied squares on the Brussels side of the ridge. He then failed to take the farm.
At 5.30 pm Napoleon re-issue orders for Ney to take the farm as the French had by then worked up close to the buildings by this time. By 8 pm Marshal Ney, heavily supported by artillery and some cavalry which was left after the failed charge, took personal command of the infantry regiment and with a company of engineers, captured La Haye Sainte after a furious assault.
The light battalion of the KGL which occupied the farm, had used up all of its ammunition and had to evacuate and retreat. Wellington was unable to send in reinforcements as they were still in square over the ridge. The French had manged to bring up some guns and started to fire from the farms cover, but riflemen of the 95th who were in the sand pit to the east of the farm, started to pick the gunners off and the guns soon fell silent.
By 7 pm thanks to the French garrison in La Haye Sainte, the imperial Guard was able to climb the ridge and attack the allies on the Brussels side of the ridge. This final attack was beaten back and then it became a rout an hour later as the French army realised that the Prussians were coming fast from the east. During the French retreat, La Haye Sainte was recaptured some time before 9 pm when Blucher met Wellington at La Belle Alliance.

The Storming of La Haye Sainte by Richard Knotel