Jean Baptiste Decoster

Stephen Weston (1747–1830)
Two sketches of France, Belgium, and Spa: in two tours, during the summers of 1771 and 1816…
London: printed for Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1817
E.30.23, frontispiece

Weston’s book contains an account of Jean Baptiste Decoster (or Coster, 1760–1826), and a portrait of him after a sketch by J. G. Masquerier forms the frontispiece. Decoster, a peasant with first-hand knowledge of the local terrain, claimed to have been forced to serve as Napoleon’s guide throughout the battle. He afterwards took fees from tourists to escort them around the field, and Weston numbered him among the reasons to visit Waterloo: ‘to see the man who led Napoleon, and be led by him; who heard all, saw all, and can tell all’. There were rumours that Decoster was a charlatan who had spent the battle in hiding, but the essential truth of his story is accepted by many historians.