Story behind the famous Battle of Waterloo quotation that never was

By Jean-Christophe Piot

When French general Pierre Cambronne, the commander of one of Napoleon's elite Old Guard regiments, was surrounded by British troops at the Battle of Waterloo he is said to have declared: “The Guard dies but does not surrender.” These heroic words were held up at the time as epitomising the nobleness of the spirit of “eternal” France. The snag, however, is that not only did General Cambronne in fact surrender, he also denied ever saying those words. However, the quotation was deemed sufficiently important that it later became the subject of an official investigation by the French state. Jean-Christophe Piot, a journalist specialising in historical topics, explains.

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The scene was Waterloo, just south of Brussels, and the date was June 18th 1815, in other words the location and date of the famous battle that sealed the fate of Napoleon Bonaparte's brief second reign as emperor of France.