Tag Archives: Napoleonic Wars

Nelson’s Triumph or Bonaparte in the Dumps!

nelson

 

I always enjoy finding links to British history when I’m abroad and the Mediterranean is a fruitful source of mid-late Georgian connections. My last holiday, in Sicily, produced connections to Nelson and the Battle of the Nile.

On  October 4th 1798 The Times carried as its most prominent advertisement:

Nelsons’ Triumph or Bonaparte in the Dumps

New fireworks analogous to the glorious Battle, off

the Mouth of the Nile, on the 1st of August last, between

the British and french fleets.

…consisting of Song, Dance and

Pantomime; a view of the Egyptian country and also a

view of the two Fleets in real action…

The country had been waiting for the news of this battle since April that year when Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson had been dispatched to Toulon to engage the French fleet which was at anchor there. However, the French slipped through and Nelson’s ships took a battering in a storm. In June more ships joined the British squadron and Nelson was given orders to track down the French.

There followed a game of blind man’s bluff with Nelson unable to pin down the enemy. When Bonaparte invaded Malta on June 10th criticism at home became acute, although The Times stoutly defended the Admiral. Nelson learned of the invasion almost two weeks later, along with the news that the French fleet was off Sicily. When he arrived he was given inaccurate information about the enemy who were only 50 miles distant, and sailed on to Alexandria, then Syria, missing the French who took Alexandria on July 1st. The army proceeded to march south to capture Cairo while Nelson, still with no news of the French, sailed into Syracuse on the south cost of Sicily for supplies on July 21st.

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I was in Syracuse, one of my favourite Italian cities, last week and found traces of Nelson’s visit. The Great Harbour at Syracuse is magnificent and was in use as a great naval centre since the city – or, rather Ortygia, the original island – was founded in 733BC as a Greek colony. Two immensely significant sea battles took place in the harbour in 413BC when the Athenian fleet attempted to take the city with 73 triremes. Nelson would have been aware of this significant episode in the Peloponnese War, although whether he had time to think about it is another matter! Above – The masts of sailing ships are a ghost of Nelson’s fleet amongst the modern yachts in Syracuse’s Grand Harbour

He had his fleet’s water casks refilled at the beautiful Spring of Arethusa (below), a remarkable fresh water spring right on the shore of the Grand Harbour. It’s reliable flow was the reason for the initial settlement on the island and today it is the only place outside Egypt where papyrus grows wild – I wondered whether it was growing there in Nelson’s time and whether he could have seen it as an omen.

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The magnificent Baroque palazzo where the Admiral stayed while the re-victualing was in progress can be seen in the cathedral square, close to the Spring. It is known as the Beneventano del Bosco Palace, home to Baron Guglielmo Benevento Maria del Bosco and is still in the family today. (Tallest building on the right below)

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On July 25th Nelson led his fleet east in a desperate search for Bonaparte. On August 1st the Alexander and the Swiftsure saw the tricolour flying over Alexandria and that afternoon Nelson received signals that the French were lying in Aboukir Bay. He did not delay and at 5.30pm Nelson signalled to the fleet “form a battle line as most convenient” and engaged the enemy. At 10pm L’Orient, the French flagship exploded – Nelson had won the Battle of the Nile.

By August 11th rumours of a battle reached London, but via the Paris papers which were claiming a French victory. By Monday 13th The Times reported “it seems however to be generally believed that an action has taken place, of which we hourly expect to receive advice.” By the 17th the story was that Nelson had captured L’Orient with Napoleon on board but it was not until October 1st that The Times could write “The Government is yet without any official news from Admiral Nelson, but several reports were in circulation on Saturday which tend to corroborate the account of the victory.”

Nelson became an international celebrity as a result of this victory and was created Baron Nelson of the Nile. (By all accounts he was disgruntled by this and thought a viscountcy more appropriate!) The print at the top of this post is a Gilray cartoon “Extirpation of the Plagues of Egypt” showing Nelson clubbing tricolour crocodiles.

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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.

 

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A Sea Journey, Regency Style

I don’t usually host guest blogs, but I couldn’t resist sharing the research fellow historical novelist Joanna Maitland has done on travel by packet boat. There’s more about Joanna at the end of her post . Over to you, Joanna –
It’s 1811, it’s wartime (pesky Bonaparte), and you have to go on a sea voyage. To Buenos Aires. Perhaps you’ve been sent there, like Sir Horace in Georgette Heyer’s wonderful story The Grand Sophy, but, unlike Sir Horace, you don’t have the luxury of travelling in peacetime).
How do you go about it?packet routes
First you get yourself all the way down to Cornwall, probably by mail coach, unless you’re so rich you can afford to travel post. By mail coach, it will take you 18 hours from London to Exeter plus another 14 or so to Falmouth. Quite a trip and that’s only the start!
Packet ships carry the mail, and passengers, from Falmouth to all sorts of places. Buenos Aires is one of the routes they are offering.
Your trip to Buenos Aires is expected to take 35 days out (and 52 days back, assuming you make it there in the first place). Your passage will not be cheap. You can travel steerage for £46 but you probably won’t enjoy it. If you want the “luxury” of a private cabin, the price is £86 one way (and £107 to come back).
The ship is very small and the passenger cabins aren’t exactly spacious. That blacked-in space on the plan will be yours!packet shp plan
Cabins have no portholes and they open onto a communal dining room. You’ll need to open your door to the dining room if you want any natural light. If you prefer privacy, you’ll need to light your candle or feel your way around in the dark.
Facilities are somewhat basic, too (see below right), but at least you won’t have to provide your own food and you’ll even get to eat with the officers! You will have to provide your own bedding, though, part of your 400 lb baggage allowance. And on the way back, in spite of that hefty price hike, you will have to provide your own food as well.facilities
During your 35-day voyage, you might have a run ashore at Madeira, but probably nowhere else, and you’ll have to take your exercise on the deck, trying to thread your way through the guns, and the ship’s boats, and the livestock (which you’ll be eating later). Remember, there’s to be absolutely no fraternising with the crew while you’re on deck. No climbing the rigging, either.
But, hang on, it’s wartime. What if your ship is attacked? What happens to you then? Just in case you’re wondering, these are your captain’s orders (and – sorry – they don’t mention you, the passenger, at all):
“You must run where you can.You must fight when you can no longer run and when you can fight no more you must sink the mails before you strike [your colours].”
So your ship will run from the enemy and you’ll get away, will you?
Well, you might. During the French wars, from 1793-1815, 68 packet ships were captured by enemy ships or by privateers. Three or four a year, on average. Since the total packet fleet in 1808 was only 39 ships, that’s OK-but-not-brilliant odds for your forthcoming trip. Still, some packet captains are stout fellows who are prepared to fight. Like Captain John Bull, shown here.
capt john bullCaptain Bull’s packet ship, the Duke of Malborough (see below), did fight in 1814 off Cape Finistere against a privateer. Sadly, one passenger was a casualty. Even more sadly, it transpired that the attacking ship was not a privateer at all, but a ship of the Royal Navy! They do indeed call it the fog of war.ship D of Marl
Bon voyage, intrepid traveller!
All information and exhibits from the splendid displays at the The National Maritime Museum, 

Joanna Maitland’s latest Regency ebook novella, His Silken Seduction , does not include a packet voyage but it does take readers as far as war-torn France and the excitement of Napoleon’s Hundred Days. It’s available for preorder at a special price until publication day.

joannapic6After many years publishing Regencies with Harlequin Mills & Boon, Joanna is very excited about branching out into new fields as an independent author with His Silken Seduction: His Silken Seduction Cover MEDIUM WEBher second book will be a timeslip, Lady In Lace. Details of all her books are at Liberta Books the site that Joanna and fellow author Sophie Weston, Joanna have just set up. Here readers and writers can meet and share enthusiasms and Joanna hopes to welcome fans, old and new, and readers of all sorts of fiction to the website.

 

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

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

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

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

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