Copenhagen was the name of the horse the Duke of Wellington rode at the Battle of Waterloo. Born in 1808, Copenhagen was a chestnut stallion of 15 hands and was sired by Meteor, who was second in the Derby of 1786. Copenhagen was a failed race horse who’d won only one minor race at Newmarket in 13 outings. He was then shipped off to Spain during the Peninsular War and it was here that he was purchased by Wellington in 1813.
When not in a battle situation Copenhagen was tetchy and difficult and totally unimpressed with situation or status. His cantankerous temperament gave many a groom a bad moment and even nearly gave the Duke himself a severe injury. He had dismounted after the final battle of Waterloo and moved to the rear and patted Copenhagen on the rump in thanks for a fine day s work. The horse responded with a savage kick, just missing the General who had already just missed death many times that day.
But Copenhagen was a superb battle horse. Unflinching amidst gunfire he repeatedly exhibited great stamina and fortitude. On one occasion he carried the General Duke into a square of infantrymen under cannon fire, both remaining perfectly composed. Later the Duke said of him: “There may have been many faster horses, no doubt many handsomer, but for bottom and endurance I never saw his fellow.” Wellington and Copenhagen were commemorated on the field of Waterloo by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1818. A compliment indeed from an experienced horseman who loved mounted sports at home and had a string of eight chargers for battle.
Copenhagen had been a surprise foal. His dam was Lady Catherine, who was by John Bull, a thoroughbred, and out of a mare by the Rutland Arabian. Lady Catherine was the only halfbred broodmare to be accepted into the General Stud Book (UK’s Thoroughbred register). Her owner had taken Lady Catherine on the British military expedition to Denmark in 1807 not knowing she was in foal. At that time the Duke of Wellington was in charge of a division in the force that occupied the city of Copenhagen and seized the Danish fleet. Once home the mare produced a strong chestnut foal who was named in honor of the Copenhagen siege. The colt was by the famous Meteor who was a son of the even more famous Eclipse, the legendary race horse of the 18th century.
In The Life of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington: In two volumes …, Volume 2 by J. H. Stocqueler we are told that Copenhagen derived his name from the city in which he was foaled, his dam having been taken ont there in the expedition of 1807, by Field-Marshal Grosvenor. . . In the hands of General Grosvenor Copenhagen did not remain long, for he was sold by him to the Marquis of Londonderry, then Adjutant-General to the Peninsular army, who sent him with other horses to Lisbon, in 1813. On the memorable day of Waterloo, though the great captain had been on his back for eighteen hours, yet Copenhagen gave little signs of his being beaten, for on the Duke’s patting him on the quarters as he dismounted after the battle, the game little horse struck out as playfully as if he had only had an hour’s ride in the Park. For endurance of fatigue, indeed, he was more than usually remarkable; and for the duty he had to fulfil as proportionately valuable. However hard the day, Copenhagen never refused his corn, though he eat it after a very unusual manner with horses, lying down. Copenhagen, whose colour was a full rich chesnut, was a small horse, standing scarcely more than 15 hands high; he possessed, however, great muscular power. His general appearance denoted his Arabian blood, which his enduring qualities served further to identify. Though not much suited, from his size, for crossing the country, the Duke did oceasionally ride him to hounds.
Bell’s Life in London gives a different account of the pedigree of the horse. That journal —the highest authority in such matters—says :—”The horse was bred in the year 1808 by the late Field-Marshal Grosvenor; his sire was the famous little racer Meteor, son of Eelipse. Meteor hardly exceeded 14 hands; he was, however, very strong and handsome, with a remarkably good constitution and legs, which enabled him to stand the wear and tear of training for seven years. Meteor was just a little short of the first class or form of racehorses, running well at all weights and distances. His illustrious progeny, Copenhagen, appears to have inherited the stoutness of his sire in no slight degree, although very unsuccessful as a race-horse upon the turf. His dam was a mare whose name was given in the ‘ Stud-book’ as Lady Catherine, by John Bull, a very large, strong bone, the winner of the Derby Stakes in 1792; who, as well as Meteor, was in the stud of Lord Grosvenor, the grandfather of the present Marquis of Westminster. By those who are versed in the mysteries of the ‘ Equine Peerage,’ Lady Catherine was always considered to be entitled to the ‘bend sinister.’ In fact, she was not quite thoroughbred. The newspapers have informed us that the Duke’s charger was named in consequence of his having been foaled in Copenhagen, which we must beg leave to doubt; for, even supposing Field-Marshal Grosvenor to have visited the Danish capital in 1808, either in a military or a civil capacity, which does not anywhere appear to be the case, it is hardly possible that he would have taken a broodmare as a part of his travelling establishment. At that time it was a very common circumstance to name race-horses after some illustrious event happening during the war. Thus we have the names of Albuera, Waterloo, Smolensko, St. Vincent, and many others. For a similar reason Copenhagen most probably reccived that title. At the time Copenhagen was foaled, Meteor was twenty-five years old. Copenhagen was taller than his sire, being very nearly, if not quite, 15 hands, but neither so strong nor so handsome.”
Wellington himself told Croker, “He was not named from my having ridden him at Copenhagen; his dam was a blood mare which Tom Grosvenor had in the expedition to Copenhagen, and he called her foal by that name, so that he must have been foaled after 1806. Grosvenor sold him to Charles Stuart, now Londonderry, of whom, when he left the Peninsula, I bought him, and rode him throughout the rest of the war, and mounted no other horse at Waterloo.”
Speaking of this horse in 1833, Wellington is recorded to have told the following anecdote. He had commenced by saying that although no doubt many horses were faster and many handsomer, yet “for bottom and endurance I never saw his fellow.” ” I’ll give you a proof of it,” he goes on to say : “On the 17th” (morning after Quatre Bras) I had a horse shot under me; few knew it, But it was so. I got on Copenhagen’s back. Neither he nor I were still for many minutes together. I never drew bit, and he never had a morsel in his mouth, till eight p.m., when Fitzroy Somerset came to tell me dinner was ready in the little neighbouring village of Waterloo. The poor beast I saw myself, stabled and fed. I told my groom to give him no hay, but, after a few godowns of chilled water, as much corn and beans as he had a mind for. . . . Somerset and I despatched a hasty meal, and as soon as we had done I sent off Somerset on an errand. This I did, I confess, on purpose that I might get him out of the way; for I knew that if he had the slightest inkling of what I was up to he would have done his best to dissuade me from my purpose, and want to accompany me.
“The fact was, I wanted to see Blucher (right), that I might learn from his own lips at what hour it was probable he would he able to join forces with us next day. Therefore, the moment Fitzroy’s back was turned I ordered Copenhagen to be resaddled, and told my man to get his own horse and accompany me to Wavre, where I had reason to believe old ‘ Forwards’ was encamped. Now, Wavre being some twelve miles from Waterloo, I was not a little disgusted, on getting there, to find that the old fellow’s tent was two miles still farther off. However, I saw him, got the information I wanted from him, and made my way homewards. Bad, however, was the best; for, by Jove, it was so dark that I fell into a deepish dyke by the roadside; and if it had not been for my orderly’s assistance, I doubt if I ever should have got out. Thank God, there was no harm done either to horse or to man! Well, on reaching headquarters, and thinking how bravely my old horse had carried me all day, I could not help going up to his head to tell him so by a few caresses. But, hang me, if when I was giving him a slap of approbation on his hindquarters, he did not fling out one of his hind-legs with as much vigour as if he had been in the stable for a couple of days! Remember, gentlemen, he had been out, with me on his back, for upwards of ten hours (during the day), and had then carried me eight-and-twenty miles besides. I call that bottom! Eh?”
The names of Copenhagen and the Duke became synonymous and even in retirement from war they remained together. Wellington became Prime Minister of Britain in 1828 and rode Copenhagen up Downing Street to No.10 to take up his new position of leadership.
More on Copenhagen in retirement in Part Two . . . . coming soon.