Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Road to Waterloo Week 14: Napoleon Presents Eagles, Haymaking Begins & The Cavalry Passes in Review

On the first, and only, sunny Sunday of the entire 100 Days, Napoleon held a great military parade at La Place du Carrousel in Paris. 25,000 troops passed before him, comprising five regiments of line, four of the Young Guard and a party of recruits, not yet in uniform. They shouted Vive l’Empereur as they marched and he came down from his podium to join the Guard. Paris was full of troops now, as they marched through towards the border.
By the end of May the total armed forces available to Napoleon had reached 198,000 with 66,000 more in depots training up but not yet ready for deployment.

Finally the much-postponed Champ-de-Mai arrived, on June 1st. Champ de Mai The sun had deserted Paris again and it was a cold, grey day as 200,000 people assembled in the Champ de Mars, most of them unable to see what was going on within the wooden arena built for the ceremonial. The court, the university, the magistrates, all turned up in their robes and then had to wait for hours until Napoleon finally appeared in a purple mantle that was too tight and too short and which gave him great problems as he came down the steps to his throne. One observer described him as looking “ungainly and squat”. Declarations and promulgations were read, speeches were made and a Te Deum sung. Napoleon then processed to a throne on a pyramid, surrounded by soldiers brandishing swords and flags while he distributed eagles to the National Guard and the army.

I was thrilled to see two of the actual eagles Napoleon distributed at the “Bonaparte and the British” exhibition at the British Museum. They were captured at Waterloo and sixty seven of them were presented to Wellington by a grateful King Louis. The banners are beautifully worked in silver bullion thread on silk.

EagleA British observer noted that all the enthusiasm came from the troops – the ordinary people were mainly silent.
In London the ton were making ready to depart to country estates, spas or seaside resorts.  “Fashionable Departures” noted in the Morning Post for June 1st included the Duke and Duchess of Newcastle, off to Lincolnshire; the Duke of Marlborough to Sion Hill; Mr Drake, MP, for Tunbridge Wells and, more ominously, “Captain Mackenzie for the continent.” The sun was shining at last and farmers were getting ready for haymaking. Below is an idyllic country scene of harvesters

Pic009
Near Brussels things were clearly moving towards a confrontation. On 29th May the Earl of Uxbridge held a review of British cavalry near Ninove, a major event which was attended by Blücher, the Duke of Brunswick, the Prince of Orange and the King of the United Netherlands as well as a large number of Russian and Prussian generals. The day before there was a parade in Brussels and Wellington hosted a dinner. The next day the cavalry assembled in the meadows – almost 7,000 in number. “46 of the finest squadrons of cavalry ever seen were drawn up in a place in their lines, with 6 troops of Horse artillery and a Brigade of rockets,” with thousands of spectators, including “all the haut ton of Brussels,” according to one spectator.
It was followed at 5 o’clock by a banquet for a hundred guests, all accompanied by “the finest wines.” Apparently the meal ended and the party broke up at 8 o’clock, far too early for Marshall Blücher, (shown below left) a man who enjoyed hard drinking.

Blucher
Despite this clear indication that the fighting could not be far off, the British in Brussels thought that the Allied troops would march off to meet the French close to, or over, the border. Visitors to Brussels and to Flanders generally, continued to arrive on sightseeing trips, quite confident of their personal safety.

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The Road to Waterloo Week 13: War Is Declared at Last, the Prince Regent Builds and the Mob Protests

France was still in the grip of a miserable, cold, foggy Spring but Napoleon would have been encouraged by Britain’s reluctance to declare war, giving him more time to wrestle with his constitutional and political problems and continue to expand his army.
An insecure British government was facing Radical opposition within the Commons and on the streets, the economy was shaky and everyone was depressed by the weather. The price of bread was rising, the farmers were having a tough time because of the rain and the King’s health kept him out of the public eye – “his disorder continues without any sensible alteration,” according to the bulletins.

Carlton House detail
Only the Prince Regent seemed to be in a good mood – or perhaps he was keeping his spirits up with an orgy of lavish building works. A gothic-style dining room was added to Carlton House along with a library in the same style and a golden drawing room. Above is a detail of the Blue Velvet Room at Carlton House, a good example of the Regent’s lavish taste. At the same time John Nash was working on a “cottage” for the Regent in Windsor Great Park, a large and elaborate house the cottage orné style, with thatched roofs, verandas, and a conservatory. (It was demolished by William IV and the Royal Lodge now stands on the site). Nash was also working on further plans for the Pavilion at Brighton. Below is an example of the cottage orné style, although this is a much smaller example than Nash’s would have been. The drawing is from Ackermann’s Repository (November 1816)

cottage ornee
The Whigs were attacking the head of the diplomatic corps, Lord Castlereagh, and, through him the Congress of Vienna, dominated by Russia, Prussia and Austria who, they said, were a threat to independent nations. Vociferously led by Samuel Whitbread they argued that Napoleon had the support of the French people and it was wrong to go to war simply because Britain did not like him. Whitbread argued that the Emperor was now peace-loving, Castlereagh countered that once he had assembled 400,000 troops it would soon become apparent how peace-loving he was.
The harassed government was faced with mobs on the streets protesting about the Corn Law, the Income Tax, the slave trade and the Prince Regent’s extravagance, but they finally decided that Napoleon was secure on the French throne and that war was inevitable. The Allied Treaty, signed at Vienna on 25th March, was laid before the House at last – if Parliament ratified it, it became a declaration of war. It was approved in the Lords by 156 votes to 44 and in the Commons by 331 to 92 on 25th May. War was now inevitable, the only question was – when?
The firebrand Samuel Whitbread fell strangely silent after this, his place as the radical leader taken by Francis Burdett and Henry Hunt. Whitbread may have been in financial difficulty and earlier in the month he had resigned his management of Drury Lane Theatre, in which he had invested a great deal of money.
At Drury Lane on the 24th, there was a benefit performance by Edmund Kean, announced as a never-before performed tragedy by Shakespeare. The newspapers the next day were respectful of Kean, but sarcastic about the play.
“MR KEAN took his benefit last night. A tragedy by SHAKESPEARE – “never acted” had been announced as the performance of the evening; but “insurmountable difficulties” opposing the execution of this design, (no great wonder, bye the bye, for what play, undoubtedly SHAKESPEARE’S, can we at this time of day, take upon ourselves to assert, had never been acted?) the tragedy of the “Revenge”, was substituted, and MR KEAN appeared for the first time as the representative of Zanga.”

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The Road to Waterloo Week 12 – Income Tax is Here to Stay, A Famous Dipper Dies and Naploleon Digs In

The Fédéres, the hard-core revolutionary group, had attracted tens of thousands of supporters by the second week in May – but this was out of a nation of thirty million and the level of true support for Napoleon was still unclear, not only abroad but also in France. On Sunday 14th May twelve thousand Fédéres marched past Napoleon in the Tuileries, just before the usual Sunday military parade. They were unarmed and appeared in their working clothes – “labouring dresses and dustmen’s hats” according to one observer. While they waited for the muskets that Napoleon promised them (and his Ministers were very dubious about providing) they continued to work on the barricades. Napoleon would ride out every morning to inspect the works which created vast muddy ramparts from Montmartre to Vincennes. Champ de Mars Since early April work had been going on to create a huge temporary amphitheatre on the Champ de Mars. This was intended to house the Champ de Mai which would include a national congress – or perhaps a celebration of the new constitution or… Plans wavered, were changed, fiddled with… but the work went on, with platforms and flag staffs, a vast throne on top of a pyramid and hordes of eagles. Eventually it was held on June 1st. The Champ de Mars still remains as a public park in Paris, located between the Eiffel Tower to the northwest and the École Militaire to the southeast. It was named after the Campus Martius in Rome – the field of Mars, the Roman god of war. The space was intended as a drilling and marching ground for the French army. The print shows the École Militaire end of the Field. In England feelings were unsettled. War had still not been declared, but military encampments were springing up all over the south of England, 6,000 horses had been purchased and sent to the Thames ports and 1.5 million cartridges were shipped out of the Ordnance Wharf at Chatham. To further lower the public mood the weather was atrocious, the price of bread was rising, the King’s health was very poor and the promised abolition of the Income Tax had not occurred – in fact on May 12th a Act had been passed to extend it for another year. Newspapers recorded petitions against the war, but the opinion columns made it clear that a declaration was inevitable. Marth Gunn A notable personality had passed away the week before and on Monday the Morning Chronicle recorded the funeral of Martha Gunn, a famous ‘dipper’ or bathing woman from Brighton. “The whole town was in motion to witness [the funeral]. Her remains were followed to the grave by about forty relatives and friends, chiefly bathers. The ceremony throughout was conducted with the greatest order and solemnity.” The print shows the sturdy figure of Martha – she must have needed that solidity and layer of fat to stand in the sea day in, day out, helping to dunk bathers who had been prescribed regular immersion in the sea by their doctors. Dipping The detail from a coloured print shows two sturdy dippers assisting a completely naked female bather, with another striking out from her bathing machine unaided. This is from Political Sketches of Scarborough (1818) and it is interesting that the bathers are nude and that no-one on shore shows the slightest interest in them.

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The Road to Waterloo Week 11: Voter Apathy Hits Napoleon, London Debates Marrying Actresses and Spring Bonnets Are in the News

Despite everything that was happening politically, and the threat of war, Paris remained at the cutting edge of fashion as these delightful bonnets from Le Journal des Dames et des Modes show. (see also the end of this post)

Paris bonnets 1

This was not a good week for Napoleon. Having sent out his new constitution for a plebiscite it was greeted with profound apathy. Organisation for the vote was poor verging on chaotic. In one Breton village the mayor noted day after day in his diary, “No votes… rang the bell, nobody came.” In the end only 20% of the electorate voted. In Paris it was 13%.
Paris was jam-packed with troops, so perhaps the civilian population thought there was no point in voting and that they were living in a military dictatorship.
Napoleon did have support from a group called the Fédéres, a movement harking back to the days of the Revolution – “Terror advances us, death follows us; conquer or die,” ran the blood-chilling motto of one group. They were strongest in areas which had seen foreign invasion, such as Alsace Lorraine, and this week their influence reached Paris. Napoleon promptly harnessed their fervour to dig earth ramparts and fortifications to defend the capital.
Mrs MountainOn Sunday the London papers described the farewell performance of Mrs Mountain (shown left), not a name a glamorous actress would take today! Mrs Rosoman Mountain (c1768-1841) was the daughter of circus performers named Wilkinson and she made her debut in musical pieces at Covent Garden, then toured the provinces at the end of the century, returning to London in 1800. In that year she sang Polly in the Beggar’s Opera at Drury Lane, beginning a career there as one of the top London performers until ill-health curtailed her appearances.
“Mrs Mountain who has for so long and so deservedly been a great favourite of the public, took her farewell of the Stage last Thursday night, at the King’s Theatre. In the course of the evening Mrs Mountain delivered, or rather attempted to deliver, an Address of respectful gratitude to the public, for the long and warm patronage which she has experienced – her feelings during the recital powerfully affecting her utterance. This Address, as well as the whole of the entertainments, were received with the warmest applause, and she retired, or rather was borne off the stage, amidst the fullest testimony that the occasion admitted, of public respect and esteem. The pressure was so great that much of the iron railing in the passage to the Pit was broken away, and many persons were in imminent danger for some time, but happily no serious accident occurred.” (The Examiner)
On the subject of actresses, on Monday the Morning Chronicle carried an advertisement:
“Green-Room Wives! At the British Forum, removed to the Athenaeum Assembly Rooms, Duke’s-court, Bow-street, facing Covent Garden Theatre, on Tuesday next, the following interesting Question will be discussed, viz: “Is it any Degradation for a Nobleman or Gentleman of rank to marry an Actress? Doors open at seven. Chair taken at eight precisely. Admittance one shilling. Early attendance is earnestly requested, as a Gentleman of distinguished classical attainments has undertaken to open the debate.” In the scene below the audience is leaving Covent Garden theatre and Bow Street is crowded with their carriages.
1822 Covent GardenThe Monday papers also reported that “A little miserable Dwarf was exposed before the Queen and Princesses, the Prince Regent, the Dukes of York and Clarence etc on Friday. His name is Simon Paap, a native of Zandvoort, near Haarlem in Holland. He is 26 years of age, weighs only 27 pounds and is 28 inches in height.” (Morning Chronicle) The “little miserable dwarf” was actually a highly successful performer and I will blog about his London visit at more length in another post.
The country may have been bracing itself for war, but fashionable ladies were still agog to hear about the Paris modes. On Wednesday the Morning Post reported on Paris millinery. Here is another plate from Le Journal des Dames et des Modes, which would have been available in London. Other journals, and London milliners, plagarised it freely!

Paris bonnets 2“Rose is the prevailing colour, and we still see roses in many hats. Fashionable milliners sometimes put at different distances up the bonnet bands of gauze, or ribbands, broadly plaited. The fashion of striped ribbons in one breadth, or in large squares, continues. The edges of these ribbons are almost always white, and the stripes are rose coloured, lilac or green. The white straw bonnets are less common than those of yellow straw. Last year a yellow straw bonnet always has a border of frizzed straw. This year the edging is either of ribbon or a half veil of lace.”
On Saturday the Morning Post’s Fashionable World column informed readers that the next ball at Almack’s would be on Thursday the 18th, and that, “The Duke of Wellington having given a Ball [ie a rout] at Brussels, he will next (it is hoped), give a grand route to the enemy.”
The big Society event of the week, however, appears to have been,“The Hon. Mrs Knox’s Ball. In Upper Grosvenor-street on Thursday night, the above Lady gave a superb Ball and Supper, to a host of fashionables. The mansion is fitted up in all the splendour of modern taste; it was on the above evening lighted up with unrivalled brilliancy. Precisely at eleven o’clock the dancing commenced. There were groups waltzing together in the one drawing room; and two sets, of twenty-five couples each, at the commencement of the country dances, in the other. At two in the morning the company sat down to a sumptuous cold collation, arranged with nouvelle elegance, in several rooms. Dancing re-commenced at three in the morning and concluded at six o’clock.” The guest list included two royal dukes, six duchesses, “the Foreign Ministers”, two marchionesses and endless other nobility.
Fashionable London was certainly managing to divert itself from the threat looming on the continent.

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