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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!)

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

The Road to Waterloo – Week Three: the French King Dithers, Princess Charlotte Sniffles

While Napoleon held court in LLouis_XVIII_of_Franceyons, the alarmed Londoners must have fallen on the Sunday papers and would have been lulled into a false sense of security by reports from Paris that Napoleon had received no support following his landing. The weather in France had apparently made telegraphic signals difficult to use, but even so, the French court seems to have been trying to convince itself that all was well.
By all accounts King Louis XVIII (left) was driving his advisors distracted by his lack-lustre approach to the crisis. He had either deluded himself that all Frenchmen in their right minds would  be  ecstatic at the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty and that Napoleon had therefor no hope of securing support, or, more likely, he was simply so lacking in any sort of leadership qualities that he stuck his head in the sand and hoped it would all go away.
The date that Napoleon left Lyons is unclear, but the best estimate seems to be Monday 13th, the day that further falsely reassuring dispatches arrived in London. That same day, at the Congress of Vienna, the Great Powers of Europe (Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia) and their allies declared Napoleon an outlaw. The possibility of a peaceful outcome seemed to be fading, especially as on Tuesday Napoleon proclaimed the Bourbons unfit to reign and Princess Charlottecalled on all French troops to join him.
Londoners who had been planning a visit to the continent, and who were reassured by the news from the Paris press, might have studied with interest an advertisement for packet boats from London via Gravesend to Ostend. They sailed every Sunday and, potential passengers were assured, took less than 24 hours. Private cabins were available.
Meanwhile, at Windsor, Princess Charlotte (right) was reported to be slightly indisposed and confined to Cranborn Lodge. She had been visited by the Queen & Princesses from Windsor Castle.
In London the Lord Mayor, as was usual, set the price of a wheaten quartern loaf at 11¾ d and the Earl & Countess of Jersey, one of the influential Patronesses of Almack’s, arrived in London for the Season from their Oxfordshire seat. Business as usual, in other words, and no sign of alarm.
On Thursday 1Ney6th Napoleon reached Avallon where two more regiments defected to his army and, finally, a more realistic report arrived in London from Paris to the effect that all troops sent against Napoleon had joined him, and that he had entered Lyons on 10th March. By Friday, the news was even gloomier – Bonaparte was in Paris, the papers declared, inaccurately, also reporting that the King had fled. Rioting over the Corn Law was reported from Norwich, but spirits rose on Saturday when another falsely encouraging report arrived from Paris.
Meanwhile Napoleon arrived in Auxerre where he was met by Marshal Ney (above) who had promised the King to bring the invader back to Paris “in an iron cage.” The two men embraced and Ney rejoined his old commander.
Despite the worrying news, or lack of it, from France, at least there was no rioting on the streets of London and audiences venturing out could be entertained to a rather strange combination of performances at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane – King Richard III, with Edmund Kean as the king, followed by “A new Farce called ‘Past Ten O’clock & a Rainy Night.’” Edmund Kean as Richard III The print to the right shows Kean in the role and below is a detail of the Ackermann’s Repository plate of Drury Lanethe theatre in 1809. The artist must have been standing right outside the Bow Street Runners’ HQ. The theatre is little changed today and you can visit it on walk 7 in Walking Jane Austen’s London.

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The Road to Waterloo Week Two – Londoners Riot & The News Arrives

With the government in London, and the Allies at the Congress in Vienna, still unaware that anything was amiss, Napoleon continued his march northwards. On Sunday 5th he arrived at Sisteron, where he was not greeted with any great enthusiasm, but he pushed on to Gap where he arrived on Monday and was joined by the 7th Regiment of Infantry under its colonel, Charles de la Bédoyère.
By Tuesday 8th Napoleon reached Laffrey, 77 kilometres from the coast and 26 kilometres south of the significant city of Grenoble. The road was barred by a battalion of the 5th Regiment of the Line. Napoleon rode out in front, within pistol range, dismounted, walked forward, threw back his greatcoat to show his uniform and challenged the soldiers to shoot their Emperor. Instead they cheered and surged forward to surround him – it was a significant moment.
That day news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba reached the Congress in Vienna – but without any information about where he was.
Meanwhile Londoners had violence of quite a different kind to be concerned about – the Corn Law Riots. With the end of war there was a drop in demand for wheat for the army. At the same time the removal of the danger to merchant shipping allowed grain imporPic010ts to flow in unimpeded and the price of wheat fell. This was a serious threat to landowners, just as it was a great relief for the poor, for whom bread constituted a major part of the diet, especially in the industrial towns.
The Corn Importation Bill was put before parliament in February and prohibited the import of foreign wheat at under 80 shillings a quarter, and also set minimum prices for other grains. It proved to be the start of one of the most furious political debates in British history and one that continued to divide opinion for thirty years.
Landowners argued that low wheat prices would prevent farmers from making a profit, they would have to cut labourers’ wages and the whole economy would suffer from a decline in purchasing power. It would also put the country at the mercy of foreigners. The cartoon below shows landowners refusing foreign wheat. The women and children harvesters are from a bat-print dish of about 1820.

Corn LawSamuel Whitbread, the brewer, pointed out that by this argument, the recent war had been a good thing as it had prevented the French exporting their wheat and that on those grounds, “it would be better to set Boney up again.” He was about to get his wish.
In the industrial towns, which were virtually unrepresented in parliament, there was furious opposition to the Bill. Petitions flooded in – for example one from Bristol signed by 40,000, and the petition from the City of London speaking of “unexampled distress and privation.” The newspapers were full of column after column detailing the petitions. Parliament panicked and the Bill was hurried through – within three weeks it was already receiving its third reading.
On Monday 6th the chanting of the mob outside Parliament could be heard in the Chamber “No Corn Bill! No Corn Bill!”
Although the mob was dispersed, violence broke out that night, supporters of the Bill had their houses attacked and violent disorder continued through the nights of Wednesday and Thursday. The army was called in, mob rule and revolution was feared and the Society pages noted that the Marchioness of Camden’s rout & card party at the family town house in Arlington Street was thin of company because of the unrest in the streets. Even the bad news of the retreat of British forces on 18th Jan, after an initially successful attack on New Orleans on 23 December, was lost in the furore over the riots and the Bill.
Then on Friday Napoleon entered Lyons in triumph and the garrison, in the process of being reviewed by King Louis XVIII’s brother, the Comte d’Artois, changed sides, pulling faces at the helpless prince. The same day the news of his escape finally reached London. The Corn Law Bill was pushed out of the headlines.Nathan_Mayer_Rothschild
In the words of the next day’s Morning Chronicle, “An extraordinary sensation was yesterday produced by the intelligence from France, of the landing of BONAPARTE at Frejus… the first notice of this most memorable event was announced by Mr Rosschild  [Nathan Mayer Rothschild, shown left], the Exchange Broker, who sold stock to the amount of 600,000l. on the receipt of the news by express from France.”
At the same time as the Rothschilds’ efficient intelligence network delivered the news, the British government received dispatches from Lord Fitzroy Somerset in Paris and the confirmation that Napoleon was in France reached Vienna.
Thanks to the stage and mail coach network the news spread across the country with incredible speed. James Oakes of Bury St Edmunds wrote in his diary on the 10th, “This morning by mail the acct came of Bonaparte’s making good his landing in France with 10 or 20,000 men.”
That day, the 10th March, the Corn Law was passed by 245 votes to 75 – without any disturbances on the street whatsoever.

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The Road to Waterloo Week One – The Emperor Escapes

1 Sunday 26th February – Saturday 4th March 1815

Two hundred years ago today the King of Elba – Napoleon Bonaparte – was putting the final touches to his audacious plan to escape from his tiny island kingdom and take back his empire. He knew his position was increasingly insecure – at best he faced an impoverished exile, for he knew King Louis was unlikely to keep paying his pension. At worst he feared assassination or imprisonment. The print below is a detail of one published by Phillips in 1814 showing Napoleon on his way to Elba.
At the Congress in Vienna the great powers negotiated over the future of Europe while in London people argued aboElbaut the falling price of wheat, worried over the problem of unemployed ex-soldiers – many of them seriously disabled – begging on the streets and enjoyed some of the fruits of peace such as cheap bread for the poor, continental tourism for the rich.
I was intrigued to discover just what Londoners knew about the crisis on the continent as it unfolded and how they were spending their time when they did know that the “Corsican Monster” was on the loose again, so in addition to my usual blogs about life in Georgian London I will be posting a weekly account every Thursday of London life in the shadow of war and the countdown to the Battle of Waterloo.
On Elba that Sunday morning the weather was fine and calm. Rumours were rife on the island that Napoleon was escaping, although they did not appear to have reached the naval ships who were, rather casually, keeping an eye on him. Napoleon gave his morning levée dressed with great care in the coat of a grenadier officer in the Guards and wearing the Légion d’Honneur. He spent the day in last-minute preparations and paperwork and finally, after nightfall, accompanied his suite down to the harbour, to board the brig Inconstant along with the grenadiers of the Guard and his suite – about five hundred people in all. Other troops – Polish lancers, gunners and so forth, were loaded into the Saint Esprit, a merchant ship and the Caroline, a small flat-bottomed ship that could be run up on to a beach. In total there were about 1,100 men, four cannon, and forty horses. A cannon fired and, on a dangerously light breeze, Napoleon was carried slowly away from Elba.
Meanwhile, in London, divine service was held at Carlton House by the ReverendPanoramas Blomberg and Clerke and the newspapers were speculating that another row of properties were to be purchased by the Prince Regent in Brighton to allow for the expansion of the Pavilion. The likely cost was commented upon – unfavourably.
On Monday, while Napoleon’s little flotilla was creeping north-west on the very lightest of winds, missing British warships by the skin of his teeth and incredible good luck, Henry Aston Barker, proprietor of the Panorama, Leicester Square was advertising that “The beautiful VIEW OF MALTA will positively CLOSE on Saturday 11th March. The splendid Battle of Vittoria will also be closed in a few weeks. Open from 10 till dusk. Admission to each painting 1s.” Interest in the French wars was, perhaps, fading. In this print the entrance to the Panorama can just be seen to the side of Isaac Newton’s drapery business with “Rome, Malta” over the door.
Ironically most newspapers carried an advertisement informing readers that “PRINCE LUCIEN BONAPARTE’S MAGNIFICENT COLLECTION OF PICTURES is now open to the Public, and will be Sold by Private Contract, individually, at the New Gallery, no.60 Pall-mall. Admittance 1s. Descriptive catalogue 1s 6d.”
The local papers had, understandably, more parochial concerns. Readers could discover that a reward of £100 was offered for the discovery of the murder of Mary Hall, wife of Henry Hall, labourer at Dagnall in Buckinghamshire, with a free pardon to any accomplice making such discovery, or be amazed by the item in the Birmingham Daily Post announcing under the heading “Early Closing” that the “drapers of the town of Bromsgrove have resolved in future to close their establishments at ten instead of eleven o’clock on Saturday nights.” Such liberality to the employees! The London papers also reported that, “In consequence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer not having proposed any new tax on beer the principal brewers of Portsmouth and neighbourhood have met together and have decided to lower the price of beer this day to 5d per pot.”
Far more seriously, from Vienna, the Times reported, ”The discussions on the slave trade have been very warm at the Congress. Lord Castlereagh was extremely anxious to take with him its abolition, but he met with opponents worthy of him. It was in vain that he made a pompous display of philanthropy; it was thought to be visible that he was more occupied by the interest of his own country, than by the love of humanity.”
For those for whom the cost of beer was of little importance, Mr T W Lord advertised dancing lessons: “to give instruction in the most fashionable style and by his easy & superior methods they are soon perfectly qualified to appear in the first circles. The German Waltz may be attained in Six Lessons.” The print below is from La Belle Assemblee (1817) and shows a waltz class in action.BA 1817 waltz
Meanwhile Napoleon’s ships continued unmolested, or even challenged, and at 1 p.m. on March 1st they passed Antibes and anchored at Golfe Juan. The first troops to land met no opposition and just after 4 p.m. Napoleon was rowed ashore to set foot once more on French soil. Antibes was too well defended to attack, so Napoleon went into Cannes, where he met neither opposition, nor much enthusiasm, and led his army north up the rough road that led to Grasse and the north.
By hard marching over very difficult terrain he reached Digne, 87 miles from the coast, on Saturday 4th March. He was greeted with enthusiasm – and the news of his landing finally reached Paris by telegraph. London and Vienna were quite unaware of what had occurred.
On 5th March I’ll blog about the next week, as London, in the grip of the Corn Law riots, continued in ignorance of the invasion, the King of France dithered and the news of Napoleon’s escape reached Vienna – and the Duke of Wellington.

Battlefield Brides – three Waterloo heroes and the women who went to war with them:
Sarah Mallory – A Lady For Lord Randall (May 2015)
Annie Burrows – A Mistress For Major Bartlett
Louise Allen – A Rose for Major Flint (July 2015)

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The Road To & From Waterloo. Week 18. The End for Napoleon, London Parties, The Country Celebrates

The Allies advanced, carrying with them such booty as Napoleon’s beautifully-fitted carriage (shown in the moment of its capture in the print below), while in Paris the first wounded had begun to arrive the day Napoleon abdicated. Some of the Old Guard were spotted on the streets on the 25th and newspapers and posters appealed for linen and rags to make bandages.
Napoleons carriageBeyond the problems of the wounded, things were looking up. French government stocks rose with the news of Waterloo and kept rising – the abdication and the approach of the Allies pushed it even higher. Labretonnière noted that Paris was taking on an “aristocratic look” and the Tuileries Gardens was filled with “brilliant society”. The English visitor, Hobhouse, was asked why he looked gloomy and wrote that it was strange that the only person not looking happy in the crowd was a foreigner when “you consider that the Square Vendome, close by, is covered at one corner with wounded men, laying on straw.”
On the 25th Napoleon moved to Malmaison, the Empress Josephine’s old residence, fifteen miles west of Paris. As the Allies drove on hard for the capital he fled again on the 29th to Rochefort, a port on the Charente estuary in the South West, hoping at first to flee to America, but eventually surrendering to the British..
On Friday 30th June the Allies opened fire on the plain of St Denis, wakening the Parisians with cannon fire. The French Commission of Government dithered, fighting went on – and, finally, the capitulation was signed on July 3rd. It was all over.
In London that Sunday 25th June, one week after the battle, Londoners were not short of reading material. The Examiner printed “The London Gazette Extraordinary” recapping the events from the arrival of Major Percy onwards and also “Miscellaneous Information Respecting the Late Battles”, filled with a hodgepodge of news gleaned from letters, dispatches and downright speculation.
The whole of London Society seemed to be throwing itself into balls, routs and parties, despite the number of deaths and injuries amongst officers aDuke of Brunswickt Waterloo, which must have touched almost every aristocratic and upper class family in the country. The Morning Chronicle’s Mirror of Fashion for Monday 25th June lists eleven forthcoming parties including the Marchioness of Douglas’s “elegant ball and supper”, Mrs Tighe’s “large rout” and Lady Saltown’s “large assembly”. The only mention of mourning I could find was that of the Princess Charlotte on behalf of her father’s cousin, the Duke of Brunswick.(Shown left)
To end this story in a far less sophisticated town – Bury St Edmund’s – there is a rather charming report in the local Bury and Norwich Post recording that, “The glorious news of Lord Wellington’s Victory over Bonaparte was first received here on Thursday evening, amidst the most general joy; and which was most happily confirmed on the arrival of the mail at six the next morning; when by the vigilance of our most worthy postmaster the several newspapers were instantly delivered throughout the town and its vicinity.”

I hope you have enjoyed this series of posts tracing Napoleon’s route to Waterloo and how Londoners reacted to it. I began to be fascinated by the story when I was researching for a Waterloo trilogy of novels – The Brides of Waterloo – with two friends and fellow authors,Waterloo books Sarah Mallory and Annie Burrows. Inspired by the exploits of G Troop, Royal Artillery, the three novels are available as paperbacks and ebooks: why not visit our websites to find out more, including buy-links and snippets about research. http://www.melinda-hammond.co.uk , http://www.annie-burrows.co.uk , and http://www.louiseallenregency.com. Our heroes also tweet at @RandallsRogues!

I also became intrigued by the tourists who flocked to the scanned medbattlefield from the day after the battle. The story of this phenomenon is told in the words of six of them – the Poet Laureate, a lady travel writer, a schoolmaster, a journalist, a friend of Sir Walter Scott’s and an adventurous young man – in To the Field of Waterloo: the First Battlefield Tourists 1815-1816. It is available as an ebook for Kindle http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00VMQWN74/

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00VMQWN74/

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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

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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.

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