Category Archives: Battle of Waterloo

“On Waterloo’s Ensanguined Plain” – Walter Scott Goes Souvenir hunting

scott-1

Walter Scott was one of the first tourists to visit the battlefield of Waterloo, arriving there in August, just weeks after the battle. He had the laudable idea of publishing an epic poem on the theme with the proceeds to go to a fund for the widows and orphans of British casualties. Scott was fortunate in being shown around the battlefield by senior officers who had fought there and later, in Paris, met Wellington himself.

This short extract gives a taste of the poem –

Ay, look again–that line, so black and trampled, marks the bivouac,

Yon deep-graved ruts the artillery’s track, so often lost and won;

And close beside, the hardened mud still shows where, fetlock-deep in blood,

The fierce dragoon, through battle’s flood, dashed the hot war-horse on.

These spots of excavation tell the ravage of the bursting shell –

And feel’st thou not the tainted steam, that reeks against the sultry beam,

From yonder trenched mound? The pestilential fumes declare

That Carnage has replenished there her garner-house profound…

scott2

Unfortunately it was badly received and critics panned it. One wit wrote:

On Waterloo’s ensanguined plain
Full many a gallant man was slain,
But none, by sabre or by shot,
Fell half so flat as Walter Scott.

scott-4 scott-5

When I recently visited Abbotsford, Scott’s home in the Borders, I discovered that he had taken more than impressions and notes away with him. In my book  To The Field of Waterloo: the First Battlefield Tourists I had written of the insatiable souvenir-hunting of the visitors and I suppose I should not have been surprised to discover that Scott had collected a very superior set of trophies for the vast and eclectic collection that decorates the walls of the house. Photographs of some of them illustrate this post, handsome examples of the arms and armour of Napoleon’s vast army.

Save

Save

4 Comments

Filed under Battle of Waterloo, Literature, Waterloo, Wellington

The Road to Waterloo: Week 17. The Battle is Fought, The Tourists Arrive, Napoleon Flees, The Regent Weeps

So much has been written – and is being written – about the battle of Waterloo itself that this post is not going to go into any details but will concentrate on what was known to be happening in London. The detail below shows the fighting on the left wing of the battle.
Waterloo left wing bottom strip
On the 18th Londoners were going about their normal Sunday business – attending church, followed, for the gentlemen, by reading the papers which had no up-to-date news from Flanders. Readers could safely turn to lighter matters such as the report in thElopemente Marriages column: “Some days ago, at Gretna Green, Capt. Bontein, of the Life Guards, son of Sir G.B. to the daughter of Sir E. Stanley. The parties rode out from Lady Bontein’s to take an airing before dinner; they took post-chaise and four at Barnet, and proceeded to Gretna Green, wither they were unsuccessfully pursued by Lady Stanley. The only objection to the match, was, it is said, the age of the bride, who is under fourteen and has a handsome fortune. The parties have since been re-married in London.” Where, presumably, Captain Bontein was enjoying the company of his child bride and her handsome fortune while his comrades plunged into battle.cattle on street
A glimpse into the state of the London streets, with vast herds of livestock being driven through them daily, is captured in the report that, “On Friday-forenoon, a large bullock that ran from a drove in Newgate-street, ran into the shop of Messrs. Baldwin & Co. booksellers, and the parlour door being open, he walked in, where there were three or four ladies sitting who were very much frightened…they were at length rescued… by a drover…all the furniture had to be piled in one corner to make room for the animal to turn around: he then walked out very deliberately.” The picture shows a detail from a print of Soho Square (Ackermann’s Repository 1812)
By Monday 19th there was still nothing in the newspapers, but rumours of three days’ fighting around Brussels were beginning to spread by word of mouth from the Channel couriers.
Meanwhile, on the battlefield, the first tourists had arrived from Brussels, despite the desperate needs of the wounded in the city and on the battlefield, the state of the roads and the appalling scenes. In his Journal of the Waterloo Campaign, Kept through the Campaign of 1815, Cavalié Mercer, who commanded G Troop Royal Horse Artillery during the battle, records some of the very first tourists. On the morning of the 19th he recalls surveying the field, helping get water to the wounded and seeing his men were fed, surrounded by mangled corpses and the wounded. “We had not yet finished our meal, when a carriage drove on the ground from Brussels, the inmates of which, alighting, proceeded to examine the field. As they passed near us, it was amusing to see the horror with which they eyed our frightful figures; they all, however, pulled off their hats and made us low bows. One, a smartly-dressed middle-aged man, in a high cocked-hat, came to our circle, and entered into conversation with me on the events of yesterday. He approached holding a delicately white perfumed handkerchief to his nose; stepping carefully to avoid the bodies (at which he cast fearful glances en passant), to avoid polluting the glossy silken hose that clothed his nether limbs…With a world of bows my man took leave, and proceeded, picking his steps with the same care as he followed the route of his companions in the direction of Hougoumont.”
Finally some hard news reached the London papers on Tuesday 20th June, albeit four days out of date. Under the headline, “Commencement of Hostilities” the Morning Post reported, “Yesterday afternoon an Officer arrived with dispatches from the Duke of WELLINGTON, announcing the important fact of BONAPARTE having, soon after his arrival on the frontiers, put his army in motion, and attacked the Prussian outpost at Givet. This took place on the morning of the 16th, on the evening of which day a Prussian officer arrived in Brussels to communicate the intelligence to the Duke of WELLINGTON. His Grace lost not a moment in putting his whole army in motion…A general battle has in all probability ere taken place. In Heaven we trust that our confident hopes in regard to it will be speedily and completely realised.”
The Morning Post on the 21st reported rumours of a great battle and stated that, “an Officer was on the road to London with the official accounts, and in the meantime the report brought by MR SUTTON, the Packet Agent [ie in charge of the mail boats] was sufficiently circumstantial to prove its authenticity.” The article repeated the news about the 16th and stated that Wellington had brought Bonaparte into “a sanguinary contest” on the 17th. News of the death of General Picton was given, but all the details were unclear.
By now Napoleon had reached Paris and late that same evening Wellington’s exhausted aide Henry Percy arrived in London, having started out a few hours after the battle with the Duke’s dispatches and two captured eagles. He travelled day and night, with the eagles poking out of the chaise window, and reached Horse Guards between eleven and midnight. He found no-one in authority but eventually tracked Lord Liverpool down who insisted they go immediately to tell the Prince Regent who was dining with the Duke of York at Mrs. Boehm’s house (now no.14) in St. James’s Square.
Lord Liverpool, followed by footmen carrying the eagles, announced to the Prince Regent, “I have brought Major Percy, who comes with the news of a great victory for your Royal Highness.”
“Not Major Percy, but Lieut.-Colonel Percy,” said the Prince as Percy knelt and kissed his hand. ” We have not suffered much loss, I hope.”
“The loss has been very great indeed,” replied Percy and the Regent burst into tears. Major Percy was finally to escape and go to bed for the first time since the battle.
The second edition of the Morning Post on the morning of the 22nd carried “Official Bulletin of the Complete Overthrow of Bonaparte’s Army With a List of the British Officers Killed or Wounded.” The dispatch was brief and to the point, the list of casualties very long – and that was just the officers. Londoners would have been left in no doubt that a great victory had been won at enormous cost. The Morning Post wrote, “With hearts gratefully elate (sic) and all thanks due to Heaven for the event, we have this day the supreme happiness of announcing one of the most complete and comprehensive victories ever attained, even by British valour…While Bonaparte… coward at heart…narrowly effected his escape.”
As Londoners were reading the news, in Paris Napoleon was abdicating in favour of his son.
after the battle

8 Comments

Filed under Accidents & emergencies, Agriculture, Battle of Waterloo, Love and Marriage, Napoleon, Prince Regent

The Road to Waterloo: Week 16. The Young Men Frolic, Napoleon Invades, the Duchess Holds her Ball – the Conflict Begins

Richmond 2
On June 11th Napoleon marched an army of approximately 120,000 men to war against Wellington’s 93,000 and Blücher’s 115,000 men. Wellington was still poised to invade France and was uncertain whether the French would halt at the frontier or whether he would have to meet them once they had crossed it. His main anxiety was to protect the “hinge”, the weak point between his army and Blücher’s.
Nick Foulkes in his engrossing social history of the months leading up to the battle, Dancing Into Battle, notes a “holiday atmosphere” amongst the Allied officers and the upper classes living in and around Brussels. “They may have been assembled to fight the most daunting military commander of the age, but in many cases the regiments were filled with and run by boys still in their teens and on their first trip abroad. They were young, they had foppish uniforms and they were having the time of their lives.”
Horse racing was a particular favourite amongst the young officers. The Earl of Albermarle (sixteen at the time) recalled that, “Races on a grand scale came off at Gramont on 13th June…Everyone was determined to make the most of the holiday.” The crowds numbered thousands.
The impact of so many spirited young men on Brussels was, probably, predictable. Wine, women, parties, petty vandalism (no statue was safe) and pranks kept the officers busy when they weren’t with their troops, and the charismatic teenage ensign James, Lord Hay, ADC to General Maitland, was one of the leaders of the mischief. “Very poor I hear…[but] very good looking I know and particularly gentlemanlike,” sighed one smitten young lady. He took to jumping the boundary fences of the Parc, the smaller-scale Brussels equivalent of Hyde Park, and reveled in being chased by the park keepers and the local gens d’armes. It was only when complaints were made to Wellington that he stopped.
On the 15th the French crossed the Sombre at Charleroi which placed their forces in the gap between the cantonment areas of Wellington’s army, to the west, and Blücher’s army to the east. Napoleon had found the weak spot in the Allies’ defenses with his usual tactical brilliance – Wellington had concentrated his forces at Nivelles, twelve miles from the Prussians who were at Ligny.
The news of the French move to the frontier reached the London papers on the 15th and the country must have been bracing itself for the news of the coming clash. The Morning Post reported receiving “advices from Paris of the 11th inst. stating that BONAPARTE had left the city for the head-quarters of the Army of the North and that orders for laying an embargo on all shipping had been sent off to several ports in the channel. The communication between this country and France was therefore expected to be immediately cut off. All accounts agree in stating that hostilities would commence about this time, and the present day (the 15th) is mentioned by some as the particular day, on which a blow would be struck, every arrangement for that purpose being complete. There has been no arrival of French Papers since Monday.”
Thursday 15th was, of course, the date set for the Duchess of Richmond’s famous ball, shown in an entertaining, but particularly inaccurate picture at the top of this post. The Duke, perhaps maintaining his pretense of insouciance, assured her it could go ahead, although by the evening rumours were already circulating around Brussels. Some officers were already leaving the city to go to their troops, others were coming in, unaware as yet of the increasing certainty that Napoleon was on the move. In the event the news hit the revelers at some time around 11pm. Lord Uxbridge announced, “You gentlemen who have engaged partners, had better finish your dance, and get to your quarters as soon as you can.” In full dress uniforms and evening slippers the young officers headed south.
By the 16th Wellington’s forces were still all attempting to concentrate around Quatre Bras to meet Marshal Ney’s troops – not all of them made it in time for the battle. Meanwhile Napoleon led the main French force against the inexperienced Prussian troops at Ligny. The Prussians suffered heavily, but thanks to Blücher’s generalship, and a chaotic French mix-up which sent 16,000 French troops marching from Quatre Bras to Ligny only to be immediately recalled, the Prussians were able to retreat in relatively good order.

Quatre Bras
On the 17th Wellington had held back Ney at Quatre Bras (above), but with the Prussian defeat at Ligny he now had the French army on his eastern flank. Fortunately the Prussians were retreating northwards to Wavre, not east back to their base, and the armies were able to stay in contact while Wellington fell back to the ridge at Mont St Jean. That evening the heavens opened in a thunderstorm of epic proportions. As Private Wheeler of the 51st Regiment wrote later, “The ground was too wet to lie down…the water ran in streams from the cuffs of our jackets.” The exhausted men of both sides faced spending the night soaking wet, cold and muddy with the prospect of battle the next day.
That day the London papers were confidently predicting that the first action in the conflict would be the Allies invading France. Meanwhile the social round in London continued unabated with the society pages full of routs and balls.

1 Comment

Filed under Battle of Waterloo, Dance, Napoleon, Wellington

The Road to Waterloo: Week 15. Napoleon Swears An Oath, Wellington is Laid Back & London Boycotts French Bonnets

On Sunday 4th June Napoleon presented his new army with regimental colours and on the 6th he ordered his generals to begin to assemble on the Belgian border. Perhaps critically, he decided to leave behind his “Iron Marshall”, Louis-Nicolas Davout, to be Minister of War. One of his most experienced generals, Davout’s presence on the battlefield as chief of staff in place of Marshal Soult might have made all the difference to the outcome of the battle.
On Wednesday 7th Napoleon opened Parliament, swearing on the Bible to uphold the troubled new French constitution which made him a constitutional monarch.
parc mapMeanwhile in Brussels Wellington was putting on a masterly show of relaxed imperturbability, entertaining, attending balls, strolling in the Parc (shown left) and flirting with ladies. Besides this attitude being good for morale in Brussels (except possibly for the husbands of his flirts), he would also have been aware that spies were reporting his behaviour back to Paris and he must have seemed to Napoleon (or Buonaparte as Wellington always dismissively referred to him) to be over-confident or simply dangerously unaware of what he was up against. Meanwhile Wellington let it be known that he was planning a grand ball for the 21st June to celebrate the second anniversary of his victory at Vittoria.
In London readers of Sunday’s Examiner would have found several items of interest in the Deaths column including the report of the decease of Mr Steele of Round Green, Durham, aged 102, leaving over one hundred descendants living. James Hare, labourer of Beaconsfield, died of hydrophobia from a dog bite, despite having been dipped in the sea to cure it. This was a considerable journey from Beaconsfield and, as a result, the paper concluded, the delay resulted in this usually reliable cure for the bite of a mad dog not being effective.
The Examiner also contained a lengthy report on fashions, including the essential information that “The only novelty in colour this month is that called the Maria Theresa, which is as yet too little known to be generally adopted. The most prevailing colours are lilac, peach blossom, imperial-green, Saxon-green, pale pink, straw or primrose.” It quoted the patriotic opinion of The British Ladies Magazine that, “Our fair countrywomen are to be congratulated on the improvement made to the fashions this month. Those frightful French bonnets etc have given place to the more simple but elegant English taste.”

The print is from Ackermann’s Repository for June 1815 and shows a lady in a Carriage Dress, apparently viewing pictures at an exhibition.
June 1815 carriage dressOn Monday the most recent Paris newspapers in the hands of the London press were those for June 1st, so as far as readers were concerned, Napoleon and his troops were still in Paris. On Friday the report of the House of Commons showed a remarkable lack of concern about the French threat, with debates about a petition against nude bathing in the Thames, the increase of begging in London and the building of ships by the East India Company. The House spent some valuable time considering the vexed question of the importation of clover seed.
Friday’s papers also included a report of the Prince Regent’s Levée held the previous day at St James’s Palace with the band of the Coldstream Guard appearing in a magnificent new court uniform. The American Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James’s, John Quincey Adams, was “most graciously received” by the Regent and presented his credentials. (To this day, foreign ambassadors are still accredited to the Court of St James’s and not Buckingham Palace.) The U.S. Legation in those days consisted of the Envoy and two secretaries based in a small office in Craven Street. The post was not well paid and Adams and his wife lived a house called “Little Boston” in the village of Ealing to save money to spend on the expensive trappings required by the court. Adam’s later move to the White House must have made an interesting contrast in accommodation.

3 Comments

Filed under Battle of Waterloo, Fashions

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Agriculture, Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon

The Road to Waterloo Week Nine – Mrs Wilmot Flops at Drury Lane, l’Orient Blows Up at Sadler’s Wells & Paris is Flooded By Arms

All the London newspapers began the week by printing long, stolidly indigestible, extracts from the Paris press along with editorial pieces sneering at Napoleon’s attempts at establishing a constitution and reports of arms and ammunition flooding into Paris for the army.
The Times reported that the Duke of Wellington was expected to make his headquarters at Brussels and that he commanded troops in a line from Ostend to Charleroi, but that opinion was very divided on the continent about whether war would – or should – break out. The Duke (shown in a portrait by Thomas Phillips) was reported to be in favour of it.

“Drury Lane Theatre – on Saturday night a most crowded and brilliant assembly were attracted to the representation of a new tragedy by Mrs. Wilmot, a Lady of Fashion, which had been got up with great splendour of decoration and in favour of which there was the most sanguine anticipation. It is a story of the Saxon era of our nation…There were abundant materials for dramatic interest and effect… The plot was pregnant with those high sentiments of honour and gallantry which distinguished our Saxon ancestors… The materials were, in short, ample for the production of a play of great interest but the Lady has rather produced a dramatic poem than a regular drama.” By the third act, despite Mr Kean in the leading role, the audience was getting restless and “the whole of the fifth act passed with the incessant impatience and condemnation.” The unfortunate Mrs Wilmot presumably retired discomforted and the piece was never heard again. The print below shows the fashionable crowd outside the boxes at Drury Lane – and the dashing young ladies hoping to attract one of the dandies on the strut there.

Drury Lane
Rather more successful productions were attracting audiences elsewhere. Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre was featuring a “new serio-comic equestrian pantomime called the Life, Death & Restoration of the High-Mettled Racer; or Harlequin on Horseback. In the course of 21 interesting scenes will be introduced a Real Horse Race and a Real Fox Chase.”
Sadler’s Wells, which had been showing a recreation of the Battle of the Nile “on real Water” had now, presumably reflecting the popular mood, added more ships and the “blowing up of l’Orient” along with an illuminated transparency of Nelson.
On Saturday 29th Generals Ponsonby and Bing, along with their horses, embarked at Ramsgate on the “Duke of Wellington” for Ostend. Colonel Smith’s F Troop of Artillery had also arrived at Ramsgate and were expected to embark on the next tide.
On which note, with the artillery bound for the continent, I will mention the trilogy of Waterloo novels – Brides of Waterloo – which I have written with two fellow authors. They are available for pre-order now. The first, A Lady For Lord Randall, by Sarah Mallory, will come out in May. A Mistress for Major Bartlett, by Annie Burrows, is due in June and my book, A Rose for Major Flint, comes out in July. The novels are linked by their heroes – all artillery officers – and the timeframe runs from several weeks before the battle until several weeks afterwards. Waterloo books

Leave a comment

Filed under Battle of Waterloo, Entertainment, High Society, Historical Romance, Napoleon, Wellington