Category Archives: Wellington

The Road to Waterloo Week Five – The Allied Troops Gather While Mrs Bell Corsets the Corpulent

Bells Weekly

On Easter Sunday, the 26th, Bell’s Weekly Messenger stated that no-one had arrived in England from France since the 20th March and that most of the information about Napoleon’s invasion that had been reported so far had been inaccurate. Almost half the newspaper (an 8-page journal) was devoted to news of Bonaparte, and had the facts up to his arrival in Paris more or less correct.
The journal reported that dispatches had been sent on the 23rd from the Admiralty to all the ports in England and speculated that this was giving orders for a general impress of seamen, while every regiment of the line was under orders to prepare for active service and were expected to be marching to the coast to be embarked for Belgium.
Meanwhile, amongst the entertainment offered to Londoners this week, were two of a martial nature looking back to past Allied victories against the French.
At Sadler’s Wells: “Easter Monday, a new Scotch Dance composed by Mr Ellar, called a LOWP AN’ AWA’ – A new Pantomime (by Mr C. Dibden, music by Mr. Reeve) called The MERMAID; or Harlequin Pearl Diver – Clown, Mr. Grimaldi. A new Musical Piece, written by Mr C. Dibden, called LAW’S TWO TAILS; or Entail and Red Tail. Signor Francesco Zanini, from Paris, will make his first appearance in England as an Equilibriste Philharmonique. To conclude with a Naumachia on Real Water, representing the Battle of the Nile.”
At the Panorama, Leicester Square: “Just opened, a VIEW of the LAST BATTLE fought by the ALLIES, near the Butte St. Chaumont, previous to their entering Paris; with a view of the City, and Montmartre in the distance. The splendid BATTLE OF VITTORIA will continue for a few weeks. Admittance to each painting, One shilling. – Open Ten till Dusk.”
Mrs Bell, aMrs Bell adt her shop, the Magazine des Modes, 26, Charlotte Street, was advertising her Bandage Corset for pregnant ladies and those “inclined to Corpulancy”, while, for the more slender ladies, The Circassian Corset, made “without superfluities of Steel, Whalebone or Hard Substances, are declared by Physicians to be the only Corset that should be worn, as they give Ease, Gracefulness, and Dignity to the Shape, which no other Corset is capable of.”
Monday was the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet, preceded by the grand procession from Mansion House to Christ Church, Newgate Street to hear a sermon preached by the Bishop of Oxford. The toasts at the banquet included, “Church and King”” (considerable applause), “The Prince Regent” (“the approbation expressed by the company did not appear to be so strong as on former occasions”) and “The Duke of York and the Army” and “The Duke of Clarence and the Navy” (to great applause.) the dancing commenced at 10 o’clock and continued until “a late hour”. The image below (from Ackermann’s Repository 1810) shows the portico of Mansion House on the right and Cornhill stretching away in the middle of the scene. The Bank of England is out of sight on the left and the royal Exchange is behind the buildings in the centre.

 

 

Mansion House
In Friday’s paper, an enterprising furniture salesman managed to get the following inserted as editorial: “The rage for French furniture and elegancies has been very prevalent amongst the Nobility and higher classes of this country, who have made large purchases at Paris, which, from recent events, it is probable they will never receive, this will of course enhance the value of what is to be sold next week at Mr. Squibb’s.”
On Wednesday the 19th, Wellington left Vienna to take up command of the combined armies. On Saturday, April 1st, it was reported from the Brussels papers that “the march of troops through this town is incessant” and that 50 ships had already arrived in Ostend, full of British troops. Londoners could be left in no doubt that the situation was now serious.

3 Comments

Filed under Buildings, Entertainment, Fashions, Napoleon, Prince Regent, Waterloo, Wellington

The Road to Waterloo Week Four – Napoleon Arrives In Paris & the London Exchanges Shiver

No doubt Londoners sitting down on Sunday morning, 19th March, read with relief the excellent  – and completely inaccurate – news from the continent. As Bell’s Weekly Messenger’s headlines said, quoting the Paris papers of the 15th – “Gratifying Change In The State Of Affairs –Bonaparte Still At Lyons – Marching of troops On Duchess_of_Courland_kauffmanAll Sides Against Him – Vigour of the Bourbons.”
In fact King Louis, whose reactions so far had been so far from vigorous as to be positively flabby, had fled Paris by night, heading for Brussels. The Duchess of Courland (shown left as a young woman in a portrait by Angelica Kauffman) set out at the same time to take the news to the Congress at Vienna. Meanwhile Napoleon continued to advance on Paris, despite further British headlines – “Reported Defeat of Bonaparte – Defection Of His Troops – His Probable Destruction.”
Meanwhile the London newspaper reader could pass on with relief to such good news as the signing of the peace treaty with the Americans and the assurances that Syphilis could be completely cured by doses of Velos’s Vegetable Syrup which “acts salutarily on the whole system, throws off all its impurities, and also removed the various forms of diseased Liver, Scrofula and Scurvy, that are so frequently left to medicines which aggravate their ravages.”
Bell’s Weekly Messenger’s “Died” column reported a curious selection of deaths in scrupulously alphabetical order, including:
O’Halloran, Sir Caesar Felix O’Neill, “the notorious swindler in Giltspur-street Counter.” [debtors’ prison]
Ripon, Mr Thomas of Nottingham, aged 75. “He was no more than 54 inches high. On a prodigious large head he wore an enormous cocked hat, and acquired a handsome income by former habits of mendicity (sic). ”
Saxe Cobourg, the Prince of, aged 77. “He commanded the Austrian Armies in the campaigns of 1793 and 1794.”
On Monday 20th Napoleon arrived at Fontainbleu and left again at 2 pm for Paris. He was met on the way by the 1st, 4th and 6th Chasseurs à Cheval anLargeNapoleonasGuardColonelbyLefevred the 6th Lancers who had been sent to intercept him. Instead of arresting him they presented arms and joined his forces.
Bonaparte entered Paris at 10.30 pm without a shot being fired and was carried shoulder-high into the Tuileries, eyes closed, a smile on his face.
Perhaps the relieved Londoners who had read that he was in the process of fleeing through France at that very moment flocked to the Adelphi Exhibition in Adam Street, off the Strand to see Robert Lefèvre’s portrait of Napoleon in the uniform of Colonel of the Guard of Chasseurs.
A stir was caused on Tuesday 21st by the escape of the quite impossibly colourful Admiral Cochrane from the King’s Bench prison. He strolled into the Palace of Westminster to take his seat in Parliament, from whence he was returned to custody. On the same day anyone still worried about Napoleon would have been reassured by the arrival of the Hyperion frigate in Plymouth, loaded with troops and en route for Holland.
Then on Thursday the devastating news arrived that Napoleon had entered Paris and the King had fled. The 24th was Good Friday, and in his diary Mr Oakes in Bury Saint Edmunds recorded, “This morning the London papers this morning announced the arrival of Bonaparte at Paris on Monday last, 20th Inst, without opposition. Not a gun fired.” The Duchess of Courland reached Vienna the same day to report the King’s flight to the Allies.
By Saturday the Congress had acted, ratifying the Treaty of Alliance against Napoleon in which each of the great powers (Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia) agreed to pledge 150,000 men for the fight. The Duke of Wellington was made commander-in-chief.Bank
In London the crisis was having its predictable consequences on the Exchange. Bell’s Weekly Messenger reported “… a close holiday at the Bank, but in the private bargains the Three per cent. Consols, the leading Stock, have suffered a decline of one per cent, reckoning from the closing price on Thursday, and one quarter from the closing price yesterday. The causes of the depression are too obvious to require specification.” The view above is of the Bank of England in 1809 (from Ackermann’s Repository). It is a view from the north, standing in Lothbury and looking down Princes Street on the right towards Mansion House.

The City around the Bank is still a fascinating place to walk – and Walk 8 from Walking Jane Austen’s London will take you from Temple Bar to the chop houses and coffee houses frequented by the Hellfire Club and Benjamin Franklin. (Not necessarily at the same time!)

6 Comments

Filed under Art, Congress of Vienna, Napoleon, Royalty, Wellington

Waterloo Battlefield, the First Tourists & the Fate of Wellington’s Tree

How soon did sightseers arrive on the battlefield of Waterloo? Astonishingly, the answer is, first thing next morning. Some brave – or very foolhardy – gentlemen had ridden out from Brussels while the fighting was still in progress, which might be expected, but Cavalié Mercer, commander of G Troop Royal Horse Artillery, records the first ‘day trippers.’ In his Journal of the Waterloo Campaign, Kept Through the Campaign of 1815, he records how on the morning of the 19th, immediately after the battle, he was surveying the field, helping get water to the wounded and seeing his men were fed. They made a stew of a “quarter of veal, which they had found in a muddy ditch” and ate for the first time in three days, 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.”

Residents in Brussels were the first to reach the battlefield, but almost immediately after news of the victory reached London, civilians began to flock to the area. In To The Field of Waterloo I used the accounts of six visitors in the first year after the fighting to explore why they made the journey and what impressions they carried away with them (along with the souvenirs of battle, poignant, gruesome and glorious.)

Charlotte Anne Eaton, novelist and travel writer, was staying with her brother in Brussels before and during the battle and they visited on July 15th. She recorded her impressions in The Days of Battle or Quatre Bras and Waterloo by An Englishwoman. She had to have a very strong stomach to cope with what they found.

“…the road between Waterloo and Brussels was one long uninterrupted charnel-house: the smell the whole way through the forest, was extremely offensive, and in some places scarcely bearable. Deep stagnant pools of red putrid water, mingled with mortal remains, betrayed the spot where the bodies of men and horses had mingled together in death…” Like all the visitors whose accounts I read, her party eagerly scavenged on the battlefield for souvenirs. “In some places patches of corn nearly as high as myself was standing. Amongst them I discovered many a forgotten grave, strewed around with melancholy remnants of military attire. While I loitered behind the rest of the party, searching among the corn for some relics worthy of preservation, I beheld a human hand, almost reduced to a skeleton, outstretched above the ground, as if it had raised itself from the grave. My blood ran cold with horror, and for some moments I stood rooted to the spot, unable to take my eyes from this dreadful object, or to move away: as soon as I recovered myself, I hastened after my companions, who were far before me, and overtook them just as they entered the wood of Hougoumont.”

In Charlotte Eaton’s case her motive seems to be a desire to remember and celebrate the dead. At Hougoumont (below right), where the ashes from the great funeral pyres were still blowing around, she gathered up some of the “sacred ashes”, resolving to give them a reverent burial when she returned home. And, “As we passed through the wood of Hougoumont, I gathered some seeds of the wild broom, with the intention of planting them at H. Park [Hendersyde Park, Roxburghshire, her family home], and with the hope that I should one day see the broom of Hougoumont blooming on the banks of the Tweed.”

Others simply seemed to want to collect whatever they could find in their passion for souvenirs. The local people lost no time in setting up a battlefield tourism industry – and who can blame them, considering the chaos their lives and livelihoods had been thrown into? They scavenged the battlefield for everything from weapons to bits of uniform to the books and letters of the fallen and discovered that the tourists would buy almost anything. Or, help themselves. One significant victim was the ‘Wellington Tree’. John Scott, a journalist, described its significance in Paris Revisited, in 1815, By Way of Brussels: Including A Walk Over the Field of Battle At Waterloo. (Longman, Hurst etc. London. 1816).

“From St. Jean, the road immediately rises up the back of the ridge, on the height and in the front of which, the infantry of the Duke of Wellington’s army was formed in line. The cavalry, at the beginning of the battle, were posted on the St. Jean side of the eminence. The ascent is easy: you reach the top unexpectedly, and the whole field of battle is then at once before the eye. Its sudden burst has the effect of a shock, and few, I believe, are found to put any question for the first five minutes. The point from whence this complete view of the scene, so often pictured in imagination, first presents itself, is one of the most interesting that it includes. It is the summit of the ridge close to the road, over which hangs an old picturesque tree, with a few straggling branches projecting in grotesque shapes from its ragged trunk. The British position extended on the right and left of the road, for the extent of about a mile and three quarters, along the top of a continued line of gentle eminences, immediately confronted by very similar heights, distant from half to three quarters of a mile along which the French army was posted. … The tree, already mentioned, fixed on the bank above the high road from Brussels to Charleroi, denotes the center of, our position, and, the Duke of Wellington having been near it the greater part of the day, it goes by the name of the “Wellington tree.” I found it much shattered with balls, both grape and musket; all of which had been picked out by visitors. Its branches and trunk were terribly splintered. It still retained, however, the vitality of its growth, and will, probably, for many future years, be the first saluting sign to our children and our children’s children, who, with feelings of a sacred cast, come to gaze on this theatre of their ancestors’ deeds.”

But the tree was not to survive for long. The party with schoolmaster John Evans, author of An Excursion to Windsor in 1810…to which is annexed A Journal of a Trip to Paris in the Autumn of 1816, by Way of Ostend, Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels and Waterloo. (Sherwood, Neely and Jones. London 1817) showed far less respect for the tree as a symbol than Scott did. “…we came in sight of WELLINGTON TREE, situated on a rising ground to the left of the road [seen from the south]. I took a Sketch of it, and some of my companions a bough or two. The bough immediately over the place where THE DUKE had stood, still bore the mark of a cannon-shot! This bough fell under the axe of an Irish officer in our party.” Charlotte Eaton, returning to the battlefield for a second time, records the end of the tree.  “*Footnote: It is on the left of the road in going towards Waterloo, behind the farmhouse of la Haye Sainte. But this tree, which ought to have been for ever sacred, has been CUT DOWN!!!”

Below is a picture of La Belle Alliance, drawn on June 25th.  It became a virtual tourist centre, stuffed with items to buy and with guides, both locals and military, to take visitors over the battlefield.

My other tourists were a young man on a spree with his friends, a lawyer and friend of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Southey, the Poet Laureate. They all had their own motives for visiting and each account recounts different emotions and reactions to what they found.  Perhaps the remarks that moved me most were those of John Scott, searching for – and finding – hope in the shattered, trampled, bloody ground where, somehow, flowers were managing to bloom.

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Battle of Waterloo, Travel, Waterloo, Wellington

George Hoby, Boot and Shoe Maker

I have posted before about shoemakers, cobblers and cordwainers (November 2014), but after a recent Twitter exchange about a George Hoby invoice I thought I would talk about it here, rather than in 140-character snippets! [I tweet as @LouiseRegency].

George Hoby (1759-1832) is probably the best-known London bootmaker, if only because he was the man Wellington went to to get his iconic Wellington boots made up. There is plenty of information about Hoby on-line, so I won’t repeat it here – but it took me ages to work out which corner of St James’s Street and Piccadilly his shop was on. The answer is the western corner which now has a shop selling caviar. Hoby, who died leaving £120,000, would probably have approved!

I own two of Hoby’s original invoices, from 1809 and 1818. Below is the 1808 one, both sides. It would have been folded so that the address was on the outside and sealed with red wax which is still visible on the front.

hoby-wood-front

 

hoby-wood-back Mr George Wood lived in Blandford Court which was on the south side of Pall Mall behind Marlborough House which is within a five minute walk of Hoby’s shop which is probably why the invoice appears to have been hand-delivered. I suspect that Mr Wood was a relative of Lieutenant-General Sir George Wood, ” the Royal Bengal Tiger” and his brother Sir Mark Wood, bt. Sir Mark certainly lived in Pall Mall.

The invoice is on very thick paper and shows that Hoby was ‘By Appointment” to four Royal Dukes – Kent, Cumberland, Sussex and Cambridge. The fact that he did a great deal of mail-order work is indicated by the box of “Instructions” for measuring yourself for boots. There is the hand-written number 311 on the left and 221 at the top right. These might be customer numbers, invoice numbers, ledger references – frankly, I have no idea, but the invoice for 1818 has 644 and 291.

Mr Wood’s bill was for:

Bill delivered £6 7s (ie he appears to be behind with his bills!)

Aug 9 1Pr (pair) Boots Soled & heeled 13s

1 Pr of [?] Bound 2s 6d

Sept 15 1 Pr Shoes 15s

1 Pr Boots soled & heeled 13s

The invoice is smaller than the later one and seems to have been cut off at the bottom because “Sir” can still be seen. It appears to have been sent like this because of the folds in the paper, so possibly the obliging note, shown below, did not apply to gentlemen owing £6 7s!

The 1818 invoice is on good paper, but nowhere near as thick. Hoby has retained the patronage of the four Royal Dukes and added their niece, the heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte and her husband, Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg.

hoby-crowder-front

hoby-crowder-back

This bill is to Major Crowder at the Plough Inn, Cheltenham. Major John Crowder was late of the 7th Regiment of Foot and had served with gallantry (according to his obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine) at Copenhagen and in the Peninsula being wounded twice, once severely. He retired on half pay in 1815 and was promoted Colonel and knighted in 1838, a few months before his death.

The Major’s bill is for:

May 29 1 Pair Boots £2 18s

1 Do (ditto) Dress (presumably dress or evening shoes) 17s 6d

June 2 1 Do Boots £2.18

1 Do Dress 17s 6d

Box (presumably for packing) 2s

On June 2nd a pair of shoes and a pair of boots were returned. These must be the shoes sent out on May 29th, which says something for the postal service!

The message on the bottom of the page has been cut off on Mr Wood’s bill.

Unfortunately we cannot compare the price of boots over the nine years, but shoes seem to have increased by 2s 6d – although, of course, the Major’s may have been of a more expensive type.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

4 Comments

Filed under Fashions, Gentlemen, Shopping, Wellington

“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

1814 – the Summer of Celebrations

The summer of 1814 – and London is en fete to celebrate not only the victory over Napoleon but also the anniversary of Hanoverian rule. For three months Londoners had the opportunity to view, and enjoy, some of the most lavish celebrations the capital has ever seen.

Ack transp

On April 20 there was a triumphal procession for Louis XVII from Hyde Park to Grillon’s Hotel in Albemarle Street where he was staying with his entourage. On June 7 the Russian Czar Alexander I, King William III of Prussia, Marshal Blucher, Prince Metternich, the Prince of Liechtenstein, and Prince Leopold arrived in London and on June 11 the Prince Regent entertained all the Allied Leaders at the opera at Covent Garden. On June 16 they were the guests at a dinner held by the merchants and bankers of London in the City and on June 18 the Prince Regent, Marquess of Wellesley, Lord Liverpool, Marshal Blucher, Prince Metternich, Czar Alexander I, and Catherine Grand Duchess of Oldenburg were guests of honour at a dinner given by the Corporation of London.

On June 20, hopefully having had the opportunity for a rest and some digestion, the Prince Regent, the Duke of York, the King of Prussia, the Czar and  Generals Blucher, Lord Beresford and Hill reviewed 12,000 troops in Hyde Park. At 8pm that evening a re-enactment of the battle of Trafalgar was held in the park on the Serpentine with model ships three feet long (one metre) were deployed to recreate the main events of the battle. At the climax the French ships were sunk as the National Anthem was played.

The evening was staged as a popular entertainment and the park was transformed with stalls, arcades, and follies and pavilions. There were refreshments, taverns and fruit stalls and the crowd could listen to military bands as they watched acrobats or enjoyed the swings and roundabouts.

On June 22 the Allied Sovereigns watched a naval review at Portsmouth before leaving for the continent, but in London the celebrations were by no means over.

On June 28 Wellington was formally welcomed at Buckingham House by the Queen, and on July 1 a great ball was held in the Duke’s honour at Burlington House by White’s Club. It cost £10,000 and amongst the 1,700 guests was Jane Austen’s brother Henry. She was thrilled. On July 7 there was a Service of General Thanksgiving for the victory at St Paul’s Cathedral with Wellington carrying the Sword of State alongside the Regent and as a further sign of his pleasure the Regent held a fete in the gardens of Carlton House to honour the Duke on July 21.

Pagoda

August 1,1814 was the hundredth anniversary of the accession of George I of Hanover to the British throne. The Battle of the Nile was represented by rowing boats on the canal in St James’s Park which was crossed by a new ‘Chinese’ bridge with, in the centre, a seven-storey pagoda. According to Ackermann’s Repository “It appeared a blazing edifice of golden fire, every part being covered in lamps, and glass reflectors at proper intervals relieving the splendour with their silver lustre.” At the height of the fireworks the pagoda caught fire and two men and a number of swans perished, but the crowd thought it was part of the celebrations and cheered wildly.

Meanwhile in Green Park a castle-like structure was built. After firework display that lasted, according to Ackermann’s, “for more than two hours, a discharge of cannon enveloped the whole building in smoke so dense, that no part of it was visible to the innumerable spectators assembled…but when this obstruction cleared away, it burst upon them, metamorphosed into the Temple of Concord, most brilliantly illuminated… and revolving upon its centre.”

Concord

Many shops and businesses also rose to the patriotic occasion and decorated their premises. Ackermann’s Repository at 101, Strand, was decorated by a ‘transparency’ almost 30 feet (10 metres) high and “brilliantly illuminated” from the back “with carbonic gas.”. The lower section shows the seven Christian and Cardinal Virtues with the Royal arms above and the standards of the Allied nations. The upper part is the Temple of Peace with the word REGENT above and all crowned with the Prince of Wales’s feathers. It is shown at the head of this post.

You can  enjoy these two historic parks by taking Walks 4 and 6 in Walking Jane Austen’s London.

 

Save

3 Comments

Filed under Architecture, Entertainment, London Parks, Prince Regent, Royalty, St James's Park, Wellington

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