In the summer of 2003 I was just completing the first year of my PhD. In August I made a visit to Kent Record Office. It was the hottest British summer on record; my train out of London Bridge was delayed by the effect of the heat on the metal tracks, and once I got to my destination I remember trying very hard not to fall asleep or drip sweat all over the 200-year-old manuscripts I was reading.
My focus for the day was the correspondence of the 2nd Earl Camden, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the time the rebellion of 1798 broke out. Among his papers was a letter from John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, dated August 1796. Chatham hadn’t really appeared much on my research radar. His father was Pitt the Elder, and his brother was Pitt the Younger. I knew him mostly as the commander of the disastrous Walcheren Expedition of 1809 (when 40,000 British troops were sent to Holland and then retreated after 10,000 of them contracted malaria), and for being incurably lazy (his nickname, during his lifetime, was ‘the late Lord Chatham’). Like most historians of the period, I suspect, I viewed him as something of an aberration in the brilliant Pitt family, thoroughly overshadowed by his father and brother, both still considered among the greatest political leaders Britain has ever had.
In December 1794, Pitt the Younger sacked his brother from the cabinet post of First Lord of the Admiralty. Chatham’s letter to Camden, written eighteen months after that event, immediately roused me from my heat-exhausted state:
‘I have thought over, again and again, the subject into which you enter so kindly [his 1794 dismissal], and which I assure you I feel very sensibly … I have never had a full and decided conversation, with my Brother on ye subject, because he has very cautiously and constantly avoided it, and I have been unwilling to urge it … [but] at the same time, so many things occur which bear more or less on my situation, that probably some further explanation must take place. I am sorry I cannot agree with you, in looking forward to it, with a prospect of finding in it much relief or satisfaction. It may be a little better or a little worse, but that is all, for the mischief done me, is irreparable, and tho’ my Brother, whenever he gives himself time to reflect, must (if he possesses any of the feelings which I always believed him to have) regret the step into which he was surprised, he can never set it right’ (Chatham to Camden, 7 August 1796, Kent Record Office, Camden MSS, CKS-U840/C254/4).
Chatham’s emotion, pain, and anger grabbed me from across the centuries. Most of Chatham’s correspondence was pretty cagey and matter-of-fact; this was very, very different. What had motivated Chatham to commit a cry of such naked distress to paper? What ‘mischief’ was he talking about, and who had ‘surprised’ Pitt into the ‘step’ of taking Chatham from the Admiralty? Did Pitt ever manage to ‘set it right’?
The more digging I did, the more fascinated I became. Little did I know this was the beginning of an obsession that would span fourteen years, resulting in a historical novel and a nonfiction biography. The biography was published earlier this year (The Late Lord: the life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, Pen & Sword Books). The novel, which in fact was written first, was released by Endeavour Press on 6 October.
Earl of Shadows takes Chatham’s letter of August 1796 as a springboard to ask what it must have been like to be the son and brother of such famous men. The story focuses on John’s relationship with his brother, but the story is very much about John and not William. The publishers described it as ‘a meticulously researched and moving account of sibling rivalry in a world of duty and honour’, and this is (I hope) a very accurate description, but the book also touches on universal themes of identity, forgiveness and loss of trust – and the redemptive power of love.
I like to think I have done my bit to restore Lord Chatham in the eyes of history. I can’t entirely rehabilitate him, of course: there is a very good reason he is not as well-known as the more famous members of his family. But I do hope I have helped counteract automatic dismissals of him as ‘stupid’ and ‘useless’ (both words used to describe him by the Pitt family historian, Sir Tresham Lever). I hope I have drawn attention to the qualities that drew me to him (his principled nature, his loving marriage, his dignity in the face of sustained attacks on his character) while not concealing his faults (his stubbornness, his insecurity, his lack of imagination). I hope I have presented him as a three-dimensional figure, and his centrality in British political and military history makes me wonder why nobody has focused on him before.
I’m more than happy to have been the first, of course.
Two brothers are locked in a life-long struggle to fulfill their destinies.
John and William are the elder and younger sons of 18th century political giant William Pitt. The father is a man of great principle and a great orator. Twice Prime Minister, he accepts the title Earl of Chatham in recognition of his services to the British nation. But his death on the floor of the House of Lords deals a devastating blow to the family.
Forced to forego his military career, John inherits the title and a debt-ridden estate. William inherits the gilded tongue that will make him the brilliant rising star. John sees the problem looming, but the little brother cannot succeed without the big brother’s support. At the most critical moment John runs away from his responsibilities and his brother. It proves to be a fatal mistake.
Can John ever make amends and find forgiveness? Or will he continue to hold onto a pain that has almost become part of himself? Can he escape the long shadow of destiny?
Earl of Shadows is a meticulously researched and moving account of sibling rivalry in a world of duty and honour at the heart of one of Britain’s most iconic political families. It brilliantly underlines the notion that history is about more than just the winners – that there is another, more human, story to tell.
‘Absorbing, historically accurate portrayal of family conflict, soaring ambition, and redeeming love. An impressive fiction debut by a highly talented author.’ — Margaret Porter, bestselling author of ‘A Pledge of Better Times‘
Jacqueline Reiter has a PhD in late 18th century British history from Cambridge University. She has been researching the Pitt family for many years, focusing particularly on the life of the 2nd Earl of Chatham, whose nonfiction biography she has also written. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and their two young children, both of whom probably believe Lord Chatham lives in their house.
The first-ever fully immersive Downton Abbey experience is coming stateside! Downton Abbey: The Exhibition will make its US debut in New York City on Saturday November 18, before traveling throughout the US. Tickets are now available to purchase at www.downtonexhibition.com.
The Exhibition will connect fans with their favorite characters, costumes, locations and historic events of the era, as well as showcase never-before-seen footage.
Visitors will be transported on an incredible journey through the grand home of Downton Abbey as the exhibition peers into the world of the Crawleys and those that served them below stairs. From Mrs. Patmore’s hectic kitchen and the gossip-fuelled servants’ quarters, to the family’s glamorous dining room and Lady Mary’s bedroom, fans will get the chance to walk through some of the series’ most recognizable and beloved sets. Visitors will even come up-close to over 50 of the show’s official costumes worn by their favorite actors including Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville and Dame Maggie Smith.
“This is a unique opportunity to step into Downton Abbey – to wander through the sumptuous rooms the family inhabit, the kitchen and servants quarters below stairs and to get right up close to many of the iconic costumes and props,” said Gareth Neame, Managing Director of Carnival Films and executive producer of Downton Abbey.
Downton Abbey: The Exhibition will also provide a fascinating look at all aspects of the post-Edwardian period in which Carnival Films’ popular TV series is set and offer an in-depth insight into the remarkable historic events which would go on to shape the world. From World War I to the Roaring Twenties, visitors will have the chance to learn about British society, culture and fashion.
What do you think about the idea of a traveling Downton Abbey exhibition? Will you attend if it comes to a city near you? Let us know your thoughts.
What better place to spend Waterloo Day than in London? More precisely, at Apsley House. Well before the day, I had planned to meet my old mates Dawn Wood and Andrew Clark at Apsley House, where they were slated to do a series of talks on Regency dress and Napoleonic uniforms over the two day weekend.
Upon walking through the front door of the House, I saw one of the house guides, Alex, who I’ve known for some time now. We chatted for a few minutes and then I headed up the stairs to the Striped Drawing Room.
Upon reaching the landing, I spied a bloke in full Napoleonic uniform – it was my pal, Michael Paterson, who is a part of the City of London Portsoken Volunteers re-enactment group.
“Kristine? What are you doing here?”
“Where else would you expect me to be on Waterloo Day?”
“Ah, right. Silly question.”
It would have been handy had I snapped a photo of Michael to insert here, but I didn’t. This is John Mead, also with the Portsoken, and an historical tailor who makes all of the Regiments’ uniforms. Michael was on hand to present a talk on Napoleonic soldiers, which was fabulous. He had the crowd enraptured.
Before long, Dawn found me and we caught up for a bit before it was time for her talk.
Into the Striped Drawing Room we stepped and Dawn launched into her costume presentation, enthralling the crowd with details of exactly what it took to dress a Regency lady – from the inside out. Beginning in her chemise, Dawn then described each garment she donned, giving us the history of each, detailing the materials that would have been used and the care involved in each piece.
I first met Dawn a few decades ago when she was with a re-enactment group called The Salon, now disbanded, who put on a Regency soiree for one of my tour groups at Gunnersby Park. She and I, and her husband, Andrew, have been friends ever since and they will be on hand in Bath for Number One London’s Georgian Tour, April 2018. Dawn is a modiste who recreates historic costume and dress, while Andrew is an expert on uniforms and all forms of military weapons and accouterments. Here he is in full Napoleonic kit as Captain Clark.
And here he is in mufti as Mr. Clark. Very versatile is Our Andrew.
Once the presentations were over with, I nipped off to the Waterloo Chamber, where in honour of the Waterloo Anniversary they had set a dinner table with the Prussian Dinner Service commemorating the achievements of Wellington’s life, as it would have been at one of Wellington’s annual Waterloo Banquets.
You’ll find an article on the china here. Upon entering the Chamber, who did I run into again but Alex, who asked me about Wellington’s relationship with the young Queen Victoria. As I was telling him about William IV’s fateful birthday dinner, at which the King stood up and gave spleen to the Duchess of Kent in front of all the guests at table, including Wellington, a gentleman came to stand beside us and listened to my story. Then he interjected something. Then he became a part of our conversation and we chatted about Wellington for about fifteen minutes. Then the man said, “I suppose this is the point in the conversation where I should mention that I’m Graham Wellesley, 8th Earl Cowley.”
Naturally, this pronouncement caused Alex and I to look at one another like two deer caught in the headlights. What a turn up. Oh, dear.
“You’re Henry’s grandson then,” said I. He’s actually Henry’s eight or ninth great grandson, but why split heirs.
“Yes,” replied the Earl. “Fancy your knowing that.” Alex shot me a look, but kept silent. Wise man.
“May I ask you a question?” I asked the Earl.
“Why has no one elaborated on the story of Henry and Anne and the kidnapping?”
And we were off again. The conversation lasted at least another fifteen minutes before the Earl excused himself and left Alex and I alone once more.
“I didn’t refer to Wellington as ‘Artie’ in front of the Earl, did I?”
“No. Not in front of the Earl. I don’t think,” Alex semi-reassured me. Really, I must stop doing that. Obviously, one never knows who one may run into at Apsley House. Speaking of which, upon returning once more to the Striped Drawing Room, who did I find but my mate, Loretta Chase. You can just see the top of her beautiful blonde head in the photo below.
Loretta and I had already seen each other several times in London during this trip and I’d invited her to join me at Apsley House on the day. Imagine my surprise when she told me that she’d never been to the House in all her visits to London. I had promised to take her on a Cook’s Tour. I suggested we start on the ground floor and so we sashayed our way downstairs. Where I again ran into Alex.
“Leaving?” he asked.
“No, no, just giving my friend Loretta a tour of the House.”
“Oh, right then.”
“Don’t they think it’s strange that you’re giving me a tour of Apsley House?” Loretta asked as we turned a corner.
“Nope. Not in the least. I suppose they’re used to it by now.” We saw the entry hall –
and the inner hall –
and the statue of Napoleon –
and the upstairs hallway –
and several other rooms before we found ourselves in the Waterloo Chamber.
Where I showed Loretta a secret feature of the room. I wish I could share it with you, but I’ve promised Loretta that she can use it as a plot device in an upcoming book, so I can’t talk about it until that’s published. (Sorry!)
At the end of the day, I left Apsley House replete after seeing old friends and making a few new ones and headed off to dinner in the company of Dawn and Andrew, who both agree with my sentiment – where else would anyone spend Waterloo Day?
Our next stop was the farmhouse at Hougoumont. Honestly, what can one say about the battle at Hougoumont in a single blog post? What can one say about Hougoumont anywhere, at any time? Again, it’s one of those places where one simply wants to be, to commune with one’s thoughts uninterrupted, to remember, to review and to ruminate on the enormity of it all. In fact, as though in unspoken alliance, Denise, Ian and I did drift away from one another, each to walk the ground in our time.
Again, I am not a battle or battlefield expert, so I turn to Wikipedia for the short version of events on the day at Hougoumont, the photos are my own:
“Wellington recorded in his despatches “at about ten o’clock [Napoleon] commenced a furious attack upon our post at Hougoumont.”
“The initial attack by Maréchal de Camp Bauduin’s 1st Brigade of the 6th Division emptied the wood and park, but was driven back by heavy British artillery fire and cost Bauduin his life. The British guns were distracted into an artillery duel with French guns and this allowed a second attack by Maréchal de Camp Baron Soye’s 2nd Brigade of the 6th Division. They managed a small breach on the south side but could not exploit it. An attack on the north side by elements of the 1st Brigade of the 6th Division was more successful.
“This attack led to one of the most famous skirmishes in the Battle of Waterloo — Sous-Lieutenant Legros, wielding an axe, managed to break through the north gate. A desperate fight ensued between the invading French soldiers and the defending Guards. In a near-miraculous attack, Macdonell, a small party of officers and Corporal James Graham fought through the melee to shut the gate, trapping Legros and about 30 other soldiers of the 1st Legere inside. All of the French who entered, apart from a young drummer boy, were killed in a desperate hand-to-hand fight.
“The British and German Garrison were running low on ammunition and a Driver of the Royal Waggon Train distinguished himself by driving an ammunition cart through the French lines to resupply the troops despite his horses receiving wounds. The French attack in the immediate vicinity of the farm was repulsed by the arrival of the 2nd Coldstream Guards and 2/3rd Foot Guards. Fighting continued around Hougoumont all afternoon with its surroundings heavily invested with French light infantry and coordinated cavalry attacks sent against the troops behind Hougoumont.
“Wellington’s army defended the house and the hollow way running north from it. In the afternoon Napoleon personally ordered the shelling of the house to cause it to burn. Seeing the flames, Wellington sent a note to the house’s commander stating that he must hold his position whatever the cost, resulting in the destruction of all but the chapel, (below).
“Du Plat’s brigade of the King’s German Legion was brought forward to defend the hollow way, which they had to do without any senior officers, who were then relieved by the 71st Foot, a Scottish light infantry regiment. Adam’s brigade, further reinforced by Hugh Halkett’s 3rd (Hanoverian) Brigade, successfully repulsed further infantry and cavalry attacks sent by Reille and maintained the occupation of Hougoumont until the end of the battle.”
Gates and field to the east of the Farmhouse, above and below.
“The Hougoumont battle has often been characterised as a diversionary attack to cause Wellington to move reserves to his threatened right flank to protect his communications, but this then escalated into an all-day battle which drew in more and more French troops but just a handful of Wellington’s, having the exact opposite effect to that intended. In fact there is a good case that both Napoleon and Wellington thought Hougoumont was a vital part of the battle. Certainly, Wellington declared afterwards that ‘the success of the battle turned upon the closing of the gates at Hougoumont.’
“Hougoumont was a part of the battlefield that Napoleon could see clearly and he continued to direct resources towards it and its surroundings all afternoon (33 battalions in all, 14,000 troops).
“Similarly, though the house never contained a large number of troops, Wellington devoted 21 battalions (12,000 troops) over the course of the afternoon to keeping the hollow way open to allow fresh troops and ammunition to be admitted to the house. He also moved several artillery batteries from his hard-pressed centre to support Hougoumont.”
Views to the south, above and below.
In the final installment of this series, I spend Waterloo Day with friends at Apsley House. Coming soon!
One of the reasons I wanted to return to Waterloo was to see the new museum and exhibits that were put in place for the celebrations of Waterloo 200. The photos above in no way do justice to the scale and scope of the exhibits. The huge hall in the top photo displays a soldier from all of the British regiments on the right, the French on the right, and goes on for quite a ways.
In addition, the 4D film of the Battle was incredible – the closest any of us will ever get to the sights and sounds of the day. As you’ll see by the photo above, the design of the theatre puts you right in the middle of the action, complete with surround sound. Denise, Ian and I were the only ones in the theatre, in fact we had the whole place to ourselves. I knew we’d be seeing a 4D film, I understood this when I put the special viewing glasses on, and I anticipated the action when I took my seat. Still, I jumped a foot when the horse seemed to come charging directly at me. I think I may have even screamed a little.
Our next stop was the museum at Wellington’s Headquarters, the house Wellington returned to directly after the Battle and where he discovered his ADC Alexander Gordon laying mortally wounded. Gordon remains a touchstone of the personal losses attached to Waterloo, but there were many others who died or were horribly wounded that day, whom Wellington knew on a personal level. Waterloo cost Britain the best of its Army and exacted a toll on Wellington that will never be fully known.
“The following is an account by John Robert Hume who was visiting the Duke of Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo –
“I came back from the field of Waterloo with Sir Alexander Gordon, whose leg I was obliged to amputate on the field late in the evening. He died rather unexpectedly in my arms about half-past three in the morning on the 19th. I was hesitating about disturbing the Duke, when Sir Charles Brooke-Vere came. He wished to take his orders about the movement of the troops. I went upstairs and tapped gently at the door, when he told me to come in. He had as usual taken off his clothes but had not washed himself.
“As I entered, he sat up in bed, his face covered in the dust and sweat of the previous day, and extended his hand to me, which I took and held in mine, whilst I told him of Gordon’s death, and of such of the casualties as had come to my knowledge. He was much affected. I felt tears dropping fast upon my hand and looking towards him, saw them chasing one another in furrows over his dusty cheeks. He brushed them suddenly away with his left hand, and said to me in a voice tremulous with emotion, “Well, thank God, I don’t know what it is to lose a battle; but certainly nothing can be more painful than to gain one with the loss of so many of one’s friends.”
On the wall of the bedroom in which Gordon died is a typed transcript of the letter Wellington wrote to Lord Aberdeen the day after his brother’s death –
My Dear Lord,
You will readily give me credit to the existence of extreme grief with which I announce to you the death of your gallant brother, in consequence of a wound received in our great battle of yesterday.
He had served me most zealously and usefully for many years, and on many trying occasions; but he had never rendered himself more useful and had never distinguished himself more, than in our late actions.
He received the wound which occasioned his death when rallying one of the Brunswick battalions which was shaking a little; and he had lived long enough to be informed by myself of the glorious result of our actions, to which he had so much contributed by his active zealous assistance.
I cannot express to you the regret and sorrow with which I look round me, and contemplate the loss with which I have sustained, particularly in your brother. The glory resulting from such actions, so dearly bought, is no consolation to me, and I cannot suggest it as any to you and his friends; but I hope that it may be expected that this last one has been so decisive, as that no doubt remains that our exertions and our individual losses will be rewarded by the early attainment of our just object. It is then the glory of the actions in which our friends and relations have fallen will be some consolation for their loss.
— Believe me &c Wellington, Bruxelles, 19th June, 1815,
P.S. Your brother has a black horse given to him I believe by Lord Ashburgham which I will keep till I hear from you what shall be done with it.
In Part 3, we’ll continue on to the farmhouse at Hougoumont.
A few weeks ago, I was in London with my traveling mate, Denise Costello. We rented a flat in the King’s Road and settled in for a nice, long stay, our agenda pretty much wide open. Oh, we had things on our wish list, but they were arranged more as a list of suggestions than an actual itinerary. Except for Waterloo. I felt the need to revisit the Battlefield as it had been seven years since my last visit. I asked Denise if she’d be up for a jaunt to the Continent and it turns out she was. She’s pretty much up for anything, which is why she’s one of my “go to” travel companions.
Another of my favourite travel pals is Ian Fletcher, author of Galloping at Everything, in addition to other titles about Waterloo and the Peninsula and Napoleonic Wars. He’s also one of the UK’s most well respected battlefield guides. It took a lot of convincing, but Ian eventually agreed to take us to Waterloo and show us the highlights. To give you an idea of just how difficult it was for me to convince him to accompany us, I share with you the conversation we had:
Me: Will you take us to Waterloo for three nights in June?
So Denise and I tatted up and were enclosed in a car with Ian, inside of a metal container, being transported beneath the Channel by speeding train before we knew what hit us.
Upon arrival in Calais, we headed south to Brussels and motored through towards Waterloo, chattering all the while about the Battle, the generals and Wellington. As one does.
The Lion’s Mound gets me every time. I’m aware that Wellington, upon seeing it for the first time, was said to have remarked, “They’ve ruined my battlefield.”
I do get it, but for me, the first sight of the Mound when I arrive at Waterloo fills my head with all the things I associate with the Battle: Freddy Pakenham, the Scots Greys, Lady Capel, Creevey, the Duchess of Richmond, amber waves of grain, Alexander Gordon, Henry Paget, Waterloo teeth, Copenhagen, the state of the field after the Battle, etc., etc. Images, words, people swirl inside my head and I’m overwhelmed to be standing on this ground.
As we crossed over the road to the portion of the Battlefield that had been Wellington’s left flank, Ian described the events that unfolded on the day in 1815, ultimately leading the the cavalry charge of the Royal Scots Greys. As Ian isn’t to hand as I write this, I’ll use Wikipedia to describe those events:
“The Scots Greys, which had been reduced in size because of the end of the Peninsular War, were expanded. This time, there would be 10 troops of cavalry, a total of 946 officers and men, the largest the regiment had ever been until that time. Six of the ten troops were sent to the continent, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel James Inglis Hamilton, to join the army forming under the command of the Duke of Wellington. The Scots Greys, upon arrival in Ghent, were brigaded under the command of Major-General Ponsonby in the Union Brigade, with Royal Dragoons and the Inniskillings Dragoons.
“The Scots Greys, with the rest of the Union Brigade, missed the Battle of Quatre Bras despite a long day of hard riding. As the French fell back, the Scots Greys and the rest of the Union Brigade arrived at the end of their 50-mile ride.
“On the morning of 18 June 1815, the Scots Greys found themselves in the third line of Wellington’s army, on the left flank. As the fights around La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont developed, Wellington’s cavalry commander, the Earl of Uxbridge, held the cavalry back. However, with the French infantry advancing and threatening to break the British centre. Uxbridge ordered the Household Brigade and the Union Brigades to attack the French infantry of D’Erlon’s Corps. The Scots Greys were initially ordered to remain in reserve as the other two brigades attacked.
“As the rest of the British heavy cavalry advanced against the French infantry, just after 1:30 pm, Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton witnessed Pack’s brigade beginning to crumble, and the 92nd Highlanders falling back in disorder. On his initiative, Hamilton ordered his regiment forward at the walk. Because the ground was broken and uneven, thanks to the mud, crops, and the men of 92nd, the Scots Greys remained at the walk until they had passed through the Gordons. The arrival of the Scots Greys helped to rally the Gordons, who turned to attack the French. Even without attacking at a full gallop, the weight of the Scots Greys charge proved to be irresistible for the French column pressing Pack’s Brigade. As Captain Duthilt, who was present with de Marcognet’s 3rd Division, wrote of the Scots Greys charge:
“Just as I was pushing one of our men back into the ranks I saw him fall at my feet from a sabre slash. I turned round instantly – to see English cavalry forcing their way into our midst and hacking us to pieces. Just as it is difficult, if not impossible, for the best cavalry to break into infantry who are formed into squares and who defend themselves with coolness and daring, so it is true that once the ranks have been penetrated, then resistance is useless and nothing remains for the cavalry to do but to slaughter at almost no risk to themselves. This what happened, in vain our poor fellows stood up and stretched out their arms; they could not reach far enough to bayonet these cavalrymen mounted on powerful horses, and the few shots fired in chaotic melee were just as fatal to our own men as to the English. And so we found ourselves defenceless against a relentless enemy who, in the intoxication of battle, sabred even our drummers and fifers without mercy.
“A lieutenant of the 92nd Highlanders who was present would later write, “the Scots Greys actually walked over this column.”
“As the Scots Greys waded through the French column, Sergeant Charles Ewart found himself within sight of the eagle of 45e Régiment de Ligne (45th Regiment of the Line). With a chance to capture the eagle, Ewart fought his way towards it, later recounting:
“One made a thrust at my groin – I parried it off and … cut him through the head. one of their Lancers threw his lance at me but missed … by my throwing it off with my sword … I cut him through the chin and upwards through the teeth. Next, I was attacked by a foot soldier, who, after firing at me charged me with his bayonet, but … I parried it and cut him down through the head.
“With the eagle captured, Sergeant Ewart was ordered to take the trophy off, denying the French troops a chance to recapture their battle standard. In recognition of his feat, he was promoted from sergeant to ensign.
“Having defeated the column and captured one of its battle standards, the Scots Greys were now disorganised. Neither Ponsonby nor Hamilton were able to effectively bring their troopers back under control. Rather than being able to reorganise, the Scots Greys continued their advance gaining speed, eventually galloping, and now aimed at Durutte’s division of infantry. Unlike the disordered column that had been engaged in attacking Pack’s brigade, some of Durutte’s men had time to form square to receive the cavalry charge. The volley of musket fire scythed through the Scots Greys’ ragged line as they swept over and round the French infantry, unable to break them. Colonel Hamilton was last seen during the charge, leading a party of Scots Greys, towards the French artillery. However, in turning to receive the Scots Greys’ charge, Durutte’s infantry exposed themselves to the 1st Royal Dragoons. The Royal Dragoons slashed through them, capturing or routing much of the column.
“Having taken casualties, and still trying to reorder themselves, the Scots Greys and the rest of the Union Brigade found themselves before the main French lines. Their horses were blown, and they were still in disorder without any idea of what their next collective objective was. Some attacked nearby gun batteries of the Grande Battery, dispersing or sabring the gunners. Disorganized and milling about the bottom of the valley between Hougoumont and La Belle Alliance, the Scots Greys and the rest of the British heavy cavalry were taken by surprise by the counter-charge of Milhaud‘s cuirassiers, joined by lancers from Baron Jaquinot’s 1st Cavalry Division.
“As Ponsonby tried to rally his men against the French cuirassers, he was attacked by Jaquinot’s lancers and captured. A nearby party of Scots Greys saw the capture and attempted to rescue their brigade commander. However, the French soldier who had captured Ponsonby executed him and then used his lance to kill three of the Scots Greys who had attempted the rescue. By the time Ponsonby died, the momentum had entirely returned in favour of the French. Milhaud’s and Jaquinot’s cavalrymen drove the Union Brigade from the valley. The French artillery added to the Scots Greys’ misery.
“The remnants of the Scots Greys retreated to the British lines, harried by French cavalry. They eventually reformed on the left, supporting the rest of the line as best they could with carbine fire. In all, the Scots Greys suffered 104 dead and 97 wounded and 228 of the 416 horses. When they were finally reformed, the Scots Greys could only field two weakened squadrons, rather than the three complete ones with which they had begun the day.
“Following the victory of Waterloo, the Scots Greys pursued the defeated French Army until Napoleon’s surrender and final abdication. The Scots Greys would remain on the continent until 1816 as part of the army of occupation under the terms of the peace treaty.
Poppies can be seen growing everywhere upon the field of Waterloo.
Denise and Ian took a trip up to the top of the Lion’s Mound, while I stayed behind and walked the base. I’d already seen the view from the top during the 2010 Waterloo re-enactment. I was one of hundreds who perched atop the Mound to view the action, except that it had been bucketing down with rain when I was there.
Afterwards, we headed out to the other sites in the area connected to the Battle.
Frederica, Duchess of York, passed away on August 6, 1820, at Oatlands. For an account of that melancholy event, we turn to the Annual Register 1820 –
“On Sunday morning, at nine o’clock, died her royal highness Frederica Charlotta Ulrica, duchess of York, in the 54th year of her age. The death of her royal highness was preceded by a long and painful indisposition, which renders the event that releases her from suffering less a subject for regret. . . .”
“On Tuesday last the duchess experienced a relapse of her indisposition, of which the duke received information while in London. His royal highness, in consequence, got his levee over with all possible speed; and after he had seen all the gentlemen on his list, he hastened in his single-horse chaise from his office in the Horse Guards to York-house, where his travelling chariot and four horses were in readiness. The duchess recovering from the attack that evening, his royal highness returned to London. On Saturday the duchess was seized with another attack, which we are sorry to add proved fatal. An express was sent off from Oatlands to apprize the duke. The
duke found the duchess in a very alarming state, and in which state she continued during the night. . . .
“Thus died Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherine Duchess of York, in the 54th year of her age; a Princess whose meek spirit, and universal benevolence, will long be
remembered by all who came within the sphere of her observation. In person she was rather below the middle size, with blue eyes, fair hair, and a clear complexion, which, of late years, began to exhibit a sickly hue.
“Long previously to the mournful event of Her Royal Highness’s death, she had expressed an anxious wish that her remains should be deposited, not in the general mausoleum of the royal family, but in a small vault, which was prepared by her own orders under Weybridge church. His Royal Highness the Duke of York, upon being applied to upon the subject of the funeral, at once determined that the desire of his lamented consort in this respect should be complied with; and gave directions that she should be deposited in the silent mansion, which she had herself approved; and this too, also, according to her request, with as little ostentation as was consistent with the awful ceremony.
“The vault in question is situate on the south side of Weybridge church, immediately under the pew usually occupied by the humbler domestics of Oatlands. It is constructed of brick, and is capable of receiving only two coffins. The entrance is on the outside of the church, so that the body was, in the first instance, to be deposited in the aisle of the sacred edifice; and, after the first part of the burial service, to be conveyed in the usual manner to the place of interment . For the convenience of those who took part in the procession, a platform of boards was laid down from the church-porch to the mouth of the vault. This was about eight feet wide, and bounded on each side by a hand-rail, covered with black cloth. Immediately over the vault, and extending about twenty feet from the church-wall, was a covered way, which was also hung with black.”
The Duchess of York was much beloved in Weybridge and adjoining towns, as she had for many years been benefactress to many in their times of need. Local residents, therefore, wished to erect a monument to the Duchess and for the tale of how this came about, and the connection between that monument and London’s notorious Seven Dials, we turn to The History of the Catnach Press by Charles Hindley (1887) –
“Several years ago Mr. Albert Smith, who lived at Chertsey, discovered in his neighbourhood part of the Seven Dials—the column doing duty as a monument to a Royal Duchess—when he described the circumstance in a pleasant paper, entitled ‘Some News of a famous Old Fellow’ in his “Town and Country Magazine.” The communication is as follows :—
“Let us now quit the noisome mazes of St. Giles’s and go out and away into the pure leafy country. Seventeen or eighteen miles from town, in the county of Surrey, is the little village of Weybridge.
“One of the lions to be seen at Weybridge is Oatlands, with its large artificial grotto and bath-room, which is said—but we cannot comprehend the statement—to have cost the Duke of Newcastle, who had it built, £40,000. The late Duchess of York died at Oatlands, and lies in a small vault under Weybridge Church, wherein there is a monument, by Chantrey, to her memory. She was an excellent lady, well-loved by all the country people about her, and when she died they were anxious to put up some sort of a tribute to her memory. But the village was not able to offer a large some of money for this purpose. The good folks did their best, but the amount was still very humble, so they were obligated to dispense with the service of any eminent architect, and build up only such a monument as their means could compass. Someone told them that there was a column to be sold cheap in a stonemason’s yard, which might answer their purpose. It was accordingly purchased; a coronet was placed upon its summit; and the memorial was set up on Weybridge Green, in front of the Ship Inn, at the junction of the roads leading to Oatlands, to Shepperton Lock, and to Chertsey. This column turned out to be the original one from Seven Dials.
“The stone on which the dials were engraved or fixed, was sold with it. The poet Gay, however, was wrong when he spoke of its seven faces. It is hexagonal in its shape; this is accounted for by the fact that two of the streets opened into one angle. It was not wanted to assist in forming the monument, but was turned into a stepping stone, near the adjoining inn, to assist the infirm in mounting their horses, and there it now lies, having sunk by degrees into the earth ; but its original form can still be easily surmised. It may be about three feet in diameter.
“The column itself is about thirty feet high and two feet in diameter, displaying no great architectural taste. It is surmounted by a coronet, and the base is enclosed by a light iron railing. An appropriate inscription on one side of the base indicates its erection in the year 1822, on the others are some lines to the memory of the Duchess.
“Relics undergo strange transpositions. The obelisk from the mystic solitudes of the Nile to the centre of the Place de la Concorde, in bustling Paris—the monuments of Nineveh to the regions of Great Russell Street—the frescoes from the long, dark, and silent Pompeii to the bright and noisy Naples—all these are odd changes. But in proportion to their importance, not much behind them is that old column from the crowded dismal regions of St. Giles to the sunny tranquil Green of Weybridge.”
William IV was born 21 August 1765 (d. 20 June 1837) and became King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of Hanover from 26 June 1830. William, the third son of George III and younger brother and successor to George IV, was the last king and penultimate monarch of the House of Hanover. Today, we’ll take a look at one of William IV’s birthday celebrations, which didn’t turn out very well for himself or for his young niece, Queen Victoria.
For the Princess Victoria, a childhood which promised both privilege and affection was overshadowed by the mechanizations of Princess Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, and by Sir John Conroy, both of whom used her as a pawn during a royal power play.
Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent, had chosen John Conroy as his Military Equerry in 1817 and after his death, Conroy offered his services to the Duchess. He also acted as Comptroller to Princess Sophia, one of George IV’s younger sisters. Conroy, his wife and two daughters moved into Kensington Palace and Conroy was soon working his influence over the Princess and future queen, as well as over her mother. He pushed to have the Duchess of Kent named Regent should both George IV and the Duke of Clarence die before Princess Victoria reached her majority at age eighteen. For years, Conroy worked to banish all influence upon the Kents except his own. In 1830, Adelaide, Duchess of Clarence, warned the Duchess of Kent that certain people had noted that Conroy “tries to remove everything which might obstruct his influence, so that he may exercise his power alone, and alone, too, one day reap the fruits of his influence.”
Conroy’s methods of controlling the Kents became known as the “Kensington System.” He convinced the Duchess to dismiss Baroness de Spath, her Lady-in-Waiting for over twenty-five years, and tried to rid the palace of Lehzen, Princess Victoria’s governess, as well. The fact that Lehzen enjoyed royal favour from the King was the only thing that saved her. In order to control the Duchess, Conroy constantly warned her that George IV was the greatest despot who ever lived and that the King was talking of taking her child away from her. He added that plots to kill the Princess were afoot, prompting the Duchess to place Lehzen by the child’s bed from the time she was put into it until the Duchess herself went to sleep in the next bed. Conroy effectively cut the Princess off from her English relations, insisting she be guarded round the clock from imaginary dangers.
William IV and his wife, Queen Adelaide, were naturally fond of Victoria, desiring to introduce her to Court life. Conroy prevented this, telling the Duchess that no one should be allowed to influence the future Queen but themselves. Petty acts of power followed on both the Duchess and the King’s parts, with the King keeping a tight reign on the purse strings and the Duchess upon her daughter, keeping her away from Court functions whenever possible. Influenced by Conroy, the Duchess planned tours of the country along royal lines for the Princess, in an effort to garner public support. A series of these tours, covering most of England and Wales, took place between 1832 and 1835. The Duchess planned each route so that as many people as possible might see the Princess. Three hundred people attended a ball held in her honour at Burghley House, whilst the mayor and other officials in each town they visited en route waited to greet her. That none of these plans were cleared first with the Palace, and the fact that they amounted to Royal tours worthy of a reigning monarch, infuriated the King. Matters finally came to a head in 1836.
In an attempt to forge better relations with his niece, King William invited she and her mother to Windsor in the summer of 1836 in order to celebrate the Queen’s birthday on August 13th and his own on the 21st (a birthday shared also by Princess Margaret and Kristine Hughes). The Duchess of Kent replied that she preferred to spend her own birthday on August 17th at Claremont, but could be there by the 20th. This snub to the Queen was not overlooked. The King said nothing, allowing her to travel to Windsor in her own good time. However, whilst the Duchess was en route, he paid an impromptu visit to Kensington Palace and found that the Duchess had taken over seventeen rooms which he had previously – and clearly – forbidden her to requisition. The Princess, who’d been delighted with the new apartments, had no knowledge of the story behind the move or the edicts of her uncle.
Fuming at the Duchess of Kent’s latest act of disrespect, the King arrived at Windsor that evening and joined his guests in the Drawing-room, where the first person he spoke to was his niece, Victoria. At the birthday dinner next day, one hundred guests helped the King to celebrate the event. The Duchess was placed at the King’s right hand, Victoria seated across from him. After the meal, the Kings’ health was drunk and he rose to say a few words. And what words they were! Amongst other verbal displays of vitriol, King William expressed the hope that he would live another nine months, until his niece came of age, so that her mother could never become Regent. He went on, “I should then have the satisfaction of leaving the royal authority to the personal exercise of that Young Lady (he pointed to Victoria), the Heiress presumptive of the Crown, and not in the hands of a person now near me, who is surrounded by evil advisers and who is herself incompetent to act with propriety in the station in which she would be placed. I have no hesitation in saying that I have been insulted – grossly and continually insulted – by that person, but I am determined to endure no longer a course of behaviour so disrespectful to me. Amongst many other things I have particularly to complain of the manner in which that Young Lady has been kept away from my Court; she has been repeatedly kept from my drawing-rooms, at which She ought always to have been present, but I am fully resolved that this shall not happen again. I would have her know that I am King, and that I am determined to make my authority respected, and for the future I shall insist and command that the Princess do upon all occasions appear at my Court, as it is her duty to do.”
Princess Victoria burst into tears and, once the guests had left, the Duchess ordered her carriage, but was convinced by the Duke of Wellington to spend the night at Windsor in order to avoid further scandal. The Duke of Wellington’s summation of the episode was right on the money, “Very awkward, by God!”
On May 18th, 1837, the King instructed Lord Conyngham, the Lord Chamberlain, to hand deliver a letter to the Princess from himself at Kensington Palace. Conroy and the Duchess both endeavored to intercept the missive, but Conyngham stood fast and placed it into Victoria’s hands. It said that when she came of age, William meant to ask Parliament to vote her an annual income of thirty thousand pounds per year – a fortune at that time. It also authorized Victoria to set up her own household and appoint a Keeper of her Privy Purse. Victoria would come of age on the 24th, just six days away, and her uncle had given her a precious gift – the chance for freedom from the power plays of the Duchess and Conroy. Losing no time, Conroy advanced the idea of his becoming Princess Victoria’s Private Secretary and enlisted the aid of the Duchess in bringing her around to the notion. Together they made Victoria’s life a misery, but she refused to be coerced. In a last ditch effort, they sent for Lord Liverpool, in the hopes of winning him over to their side and enlisting his aid in convincing Victoria to appoint Conroy as private secretary or Keeper of the Privy Purse.
After having spoken to both Conroy and the Duchess, Lord Liverpool met privately with Princess Victoria. She was calm and businesslike and explained her side of the story. In the end, Liverpool agreed that she should not appoint Conroy to any position after his many slights towards her in the past. He instead urged the Princess to do nothing upon becoming Queen other than to send immediately for Lord Melbourne. He, Liverpool assured her, would advise her well and she was safe in putting her trust in Melbourne alone. He also told her that he admired the way she had handled her mother. Conroy and the Duchess, needless to say, were furious at Liverpool’s advice, with a desperate Conroy suggesting that, “If Princess Victoria will not listen to reason she must be coerced.”
It is no wonder that Victoria once commented, “Kensington life for the last six or seven years had been one of great misery and oppression.” Queen Victoria would later write about her childhood to her daughter Victoria, the Princess Royal, in 1858, saying that she, “had led a very unhappy life as a child – had no scope for my very violent feelings of affection – had no brothers and sisters to live with – never had a father – from my unfortunate circumstances was not on a comfortable or at all intimate or confidential footing with my mother – much as I lover her now – and did not know what a happy domestic life was!” For all of her life, Queen Victoria would insist, “I never was happy until I was eighteen.”
King William IV died on 20 June, 1837. Shortly before six o’clock in the morning, Dr. Howley (Archbishop of Canterbury), Lord Conyngham (Lord Chamberlain), and Sir Henry Halford (Physician to King William), arrived at Kensington Palace. The Duchess of Kent roused her daughter only after being told by the gentlemen that they had come to see The Queen on State business. Queen Victoria recorded the meeting thusly, “I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing-gown), and ALONE, and saw them. Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently I am Queen . . Since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station, I shall do my utmost to fulfill my duty towards my country; I am very young and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced, but I am sure, that very few have more real good will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have.”
As I have mentioned elsewhere in this series, Frederica, Duchess of York and Beau Brummell enjoyed a singular friendship for more than fifteen years. Prior to his banishment from Court, Brummell was a constant visitor to the Duke and Duchess of York’s residence in Surrey, Oatlands. After his fall and his move to France, the Duchess remained a steadfast friend, becoming almost his sole source of income for many years. Generous and faithful, the Duchess regularly sent money to Brummell, often enclosing the sums with little gifts of her own making, embroideries, drawings, or some token trifle that served to mitigate the charity connected with these gestures.
Before the Duchess’s death in 1820, Brummell had been at work upon a folding screen meant as a gift to her, in part to repay her kindness and, one thinks, in part meant as a genuine mark of his affection for her. Upon learning of Frederica’s death, Brummell put the screen aside and never completed it.
For more information about this mysterious screen, we turn to Captain William Jesse’s excellent book, The Life of George Brummell, Esq., Commonly Called Beau Brummell for his account:
“When Brummell found that his Royal Highness had really closed the doors of Carlton House against him, he cultivated with greater assiduity the friendship that had always existed between himself and the Duke of York, who was never known, in good or ill report, to desert a friend; and his conduct, and that of the Duchess, to the Beau in his exile, were striking instances of the steadiness and sincerity of their friendship. “The Duchess,”says Mr. Raikes, “was a person of excellent taste, and a very nice discriminator of good breeding and manners, and the regard which that Princess entertained for Brummell was highly creditable to him. It may, indeed, be said in favour of the manners of that day, that her Royal Highness often remarked how superior they were to the tone of those that existed at the period of her marriage, when the Duke was surrounded by a set of roue’s who seemed to glory in their excesses, and showed a great want of refinement and courtesy in women’s society. At the time Brummell visited at Oatlands, England had been for many years without a Court, and the limited circle that surrounded the Duke and Duchess of York, though differing scarcely from that of a private family, rendered it the only Royal residence that was the scene of constant hospitality; and it might have been appropriately termed a little Court, in which the affability on the one side, and the affectionate deference on the other, were equally remarkable. Here used to assemble, at the end of the week, Brummell, and all the most agreeable men of the day, intimately acquainted with each other, and sincerely attached to their Royal host and hostess.
“I am ignorant of the precise dates at which the two following notes from the Duchess to Brummell were written; but they were copied by myself from her autograph, and are inserted as a proof that he must have stood high in her esteem, and that she corresponded with, and received him, on the most intimate footing. The first was written to acknowledge the receipt of a note announcing the loss of a lottery-ticket, which they had purchased together: the paragraph alluding to the chances of his future life is happily expressed, and the sincerity of the concluding sentence was fully proved in after-years, by her generous conduct towards him when she had the pain of seeing that her good wishes turned out unavailing.
Oatlands, ce 20 Septembre.
Vous avez une manière si aimable d’annoncer les plus mauvaises nouvelles, qu’elles perdent par là de leur désagrémens; je ne puis cependant que m’affliger avec vous de la perte de tous nos beaux projets de fête, qui s’évanouissent avec la perte de notre billet de loterie, dont je vous acquitte la dette ci-joint, et y joignent les vœux les plus sincères que ceci puisse être le dernier mauvais tour que la Fortune puisse vous jouer, et que dans toutes les autres circonstances de votre vie, elle puisse toujours vous être favorable. Ce sera me rendre justice que de vous persuader que personne ne peut s’intéresser plus sincèrement à votre bonheur et à tout ce qui vous concerne.
Je n’ai rien à vous dire de ma solitude qui puisse exciter votre curiosité, n’y ayant vu personne de ceux qui vous intéressent depuis votre départ. J’espère que vous reviendrez bientôt dans ces contrées, et qu’il me sera permis de vous réitérer moi-même ici les assurances de l’amitié sincère et de la considération parfaite avec laquelle je suis
Votre toute affectionnée amie et servante,
The next note from her Royal Highness was to thank him for remembering her fete-day, and sending her a beautiful little dog, which Brummell, with his usual good taste, had selected for his present in preference to anything else, knowing the passion his royal friend had for that animal. Her Royal Highness is said to have had at one time upwards of one hundred dogs at Oatlands, and she sometimes erected monuments over her especial favourites: they are grouped round a fountain in the grounds in front of a grotto, to which, during the summer months, she frequently retired with her work or a book. It is, I believe, near this spot that the inhabitants of the parish in which Oatlands is situated erected a monument to the memory of this amiable woman, to which the humblest amongst the parishioners spontaneously requested permission to contribute their mite.
Windsor, ce neuf de Mui.
On ne saurait etre plus sensible que je le suis au souvenir obligeant que vous avez bien voulu me donner au jour de ma fete, et au charmant cadeau que le Due m’a remis de votre part. Recevez mes remercimens les plus sinceres pour ce joli petit chien, e’est l’emblfime de la Fide’; j’aime a me flatter qu’elle sera celui de la continuation de notre amitié, à laquelle je vous assure que j’attache le plus grand prix.
J’ai une toux de cimetière qui menace ruine; si elle ne m’a pas mis sous terre avant le commencement du mois prochain, je compte me rendre à Londres, dans ce temps-là, et un des motifs qui me fait envisager avec le plus de plaisir ce séjour est qu’il me procurera l’avantage de vous y rencontrer et de pouvoir vous réitérer moi-même combien je suis
Votre toute affectionée amie et servante,
“Though the parties at Oatlands were generally, as I have before remarked, of a very unostentatious character, the Duchess’s birth-day was sometimes celebrated with great splendour, particularly the one of 1811, of which I have heard Brummell speak. The King and Princesses were present, and, after they left, the park-gates were thrown open to the public, consisting principally of the tenants and labourers in the neighbourhood, who assembled in the lower part of the house. Here tables were laid out with refreshments, which were soon cleared; and the punch, six quarts of which were placed upon each, having freely circulated, at nine dancing commenced, the Duchess leading off the first dance, called the Labyrinth, with Colonel, now General, Upton.
“Though Brummell read a great deal, his favourite matinal avocation was working at a large screen, which, when finished, he had destined for the Duchess of York; but the pleasure of recording, by this present, his sense of her great kindness, was denied him, for her Royal Highness died before it was completed; he then laid it aside, and never resumed his labours.
“This work of taste and patience is a masterpiece in its way; and had it ever reached Oatlands, many a fair dame and antiquated spinster would have envied its royal owner. The screen measures five feet and a half in height, and, when opened, is rather more than twelve in length; it is divided into six leaves, and the ground is of green paper. The idea of a general design, with which it was evident Brummell had commenced, seems to have been soon laid aside. The most prominent features of it are the quadrupeds, which form the centre of the upper part of each leaf; these prints are on a scale much larger than the generality of the other drawings. In the first compartment is an elephant, the second bears a hyena, the third a tiger, the fourth a camel, and the fifth a bear. The sixth has no animal upon it. Many of the drawings which cover the remaining surface of the screen are coloured: the engravings are in line, mezzotint, or lithograph, with sketches in chalk, pastile, or pencil; in fact, a specimen of every possible variety of the limner’s or engraver’s art, if oils be excepted, is to be found upon it. It “will therefore be easily imagined, that the general effect produced by such a multitude of objects, of every colour and form, is on the first coup d’vil very confused: but, on a closer inspection, the attention that has been devoted to arrangement of almost every part, becomes easily discernible; each little pictorial episode, and there are hundreds, is encircled by wreaths and garlands of flowers of every description; the rose predominating, much to the credit of the paster’s taste; fruit, and emblems in character with the subject to be illustrated, are also mingled with the flowers; to give an exact description of this glorious piece of fiddle faddle, the trifling industry of a thoroughly idle man, would be both useless and tedious. I shall therefore merely attempt a slight sketch, in the order in which I examined it, commencing with the first compartment.
“On this leaf, as I have before remarked, there is an elephant, under the neck of which is a full-faced portrait of Napoleon, who, in this case, is the subject to be illustrated. By introducing this animal the Beau intended to express the Emperor’s power; but on the throat of the modern king-maker is a butterfly, intended to represent another of his attributes, and to neutralize his greatness. The portrait i
s encircled by the neck, shoulder, and trunk of this Chouni; and the edges of the two drawings, which would otherwise have been discoverable, are concealed by other attributes, as well as by fruit and flowers, cut out and arranged with infinite pains. This plan of concealing the edges was pursued throughout with as much nicety as a sempstress would bestow on the hem of a chemise d’/iomme. Amongst these emblems, and immediately above the Emperor’s head, is a mortar elevated for firing; from the mouth of it proceeds a sword, round which a serpent has entwined itself: a scythe and a flag, with the Russian eagle on it, are crossed above the sword, and the trophy is completed by laurel branches over the emblem of Time. The trumpet of Fame, and a port-fire nearly burnt out, are above the Muscovite colours. The reader can scarcely fail to see the application of these illustrations to Napoleon’s history.
“Below the elephant, and in the centre of the same leaf, are grouped four coloured portraits ; the one on the left hand looking outwards is General U (?), next to him are the late Marquis of Hertford and Lord Sefton, apparently in conversation; and the fourth (to me an inconnu) is on their right, and looking towards them. The general, who has a neckcloth large enough for three, and a rounded shirt collar on the same scale, is smelling a sprig of jessamine; a Cupid lolls on his shoulder, as much at ease as the reading Magdalen at Dresden, and is killing, not the general, but Time, with a book, probably Ovid’s Art of Love. On the body of the gallant officer, who is thus indulging poor Cupid with a ride a pig-a-back, is pasted an unnatural and classical looking landscape, representing a forest in the distance, with a rocky foreground; but the principal subject is a young lady, who having thrown aside her harp, is caressing the antlers of a wounded stag. Back to back with the general is the late Lord Sefton, the defect in whose figure Brummell concealed with a flower, probably with the intention of showing that he considered his physical infirmities were entirely overbalanced by his amiable disposition. This he might well do, for he was one of his greatest benefactors. Between his lordship and the marquis is the head of a very lovely woman, ornamented, without the slightest necessity, by a plume of ostrich feathers. The two peers are so placed that it is difficult to say out of whose pocket the divinity is emerging; most likely that of the latter. Lord Sefton is in Hessians, and wears a very peculiar hat. My Lord of Hertford, whose whiskers look as if they were made of leopard’s skin, is dressed in a great-coat, and carries a large cane between a pair of yellow tan gloves, his left hand being inserted, like Lord Sefton’s right, in his pocket behind. His emblems are also highly appropriate and numerous. First, and in the front, are two Cupids in an azure cloud, one bearing the hymeneal torch, and the other a dove, which is looking him amorously in the face. Cupids, in every variety of position that the coryphee of the grand opera could devise, float around his lordship. They may be literally said to swarm; and judging by their looks, each of them seems to be laden with the sweets of a different hive, more luscious than those of Narbonne or Hymettus. One, much larger and more saucy-looking than the rest, is standing on his lordship’s shoulder, and rests, with folded arms, and the domesticated air of a favourite spaniel, upon his hat. To the right is a charming print, by Bartolozzi or Cipriani, of a young girl attended by the everlasting Cupids; above her is a little archer shooting at doves in a palm-tree, and around are Satyrs carrying Bacchantes and Shepherdesses in their arms. Farther on is a gentleman who sports a pair of yellow knee-breeches, and is presenting a nest of doves to a lady in a scarletbodied dress. All these subjects appear to have been applique with great judgment in honour of the most noble the Marquis of Hertford. The inconnu, the last of the quartett, is the counterpart of a piping bullfinch, and by the emblems that surround him may perhaps have been a celebrated “fanatico per la musica.” These portraits are from Dighton’s caricatures.
“The Hyena in the second compartment is represented as being tamed by the Arts, Sciences, and Religion, symbols of which, mingled with the Muses and the Graces, are seen on every side. In the centre of this leaf is a coloured print, taken from a scene in the ” Fille mal gardée.” There are also various drawings representing historical, mythological, and rural subjects. Amongst the most striking are Telemachus relating his adventures to Calypso, Phaeton driving his car, Time his chariot; a French dragoon at bivouac preparing a fowl for the campkettle; a religieuse at her devotions; a minuet at a French fair; a gentleman and a shepherdess, whose dog has seized the skirt of her dress, and with an anxious look is endeavouring to detach her from her admirer.
“The tiger on the third leaf is surrounded by Cupids, cows, goats, &c, all, with the exception of the first, harmless and peaceful animals. On each side of the royal brute is a coloured print, representing the juvenile amusements of the Dauphin and the Duchesse d’Angoulfime. In the one to the right they are playing at soldiers: she is marching in front of her brother and beating a drum, thus indicating the resolute spirit which she afterwards showed: her dog is scampering before her; and her companion, who is dressed in the national colours, is carrying a flag, on which are inscribed the words Union, Force. She has evidently tempted him away from his ninepins to follow her, and these toys are seen behind him scattered on the ground. In the other print they are playing at battledore and shuttlecock, looking very happy and very merry. The ferocious tiger was well chosen to illustrate the period and the subject to which this part of the screen is devoted; for in this beast of prey are plainly personified the cruelties of the Revolution, and, in the domestic animals, the helplessness of those who suffered by its horrible excesses. The children’s ignorance of the nature of the proceedings of which their flag and their tricoloured sashes were the emblems, and their utter unconsciousness of the anxiety and danger which at that very time surrounded them and all belonging to them, as expressed by their game of battledore and shuttlecock, is truly characteristic of their years. Such happily is generally the case with children. In the midst of the dreadful hurricane in which the crew of the Bridge water so nearly perished, and when not. a ray of hope existed for the safety of a soul on board, where were the little children of one of the passengers, and what were they doing? Were they frightened at the unusual trembling of the ship, as she staggered under the concussions of each succeeding wave, or sobbing in their mother’s arms? No; at that awful moment they were floating their little paper boats in the water that half filled the cabins. Below these prints are many other Cupids also, but by no means so comfortable as the one on Lord Hertford’s shoulder. One poor boy is standing, in a cold wretched night, at the door of a house; his torch is thrown down in the snow, and his dripping pinions are scarcely covered by a scanty red mantle. He seems to be a good illustration of the old song, “In the dead of the night,” and is apparently singing the insinuating line, ‘I’ve lost my way, ma’am ; do pray let me in.’
“Near this mischief-maker is another smoking a pipe. Below the camel, in the fourth compartment, is a man in Cossack trousers: a monkey is sitting on his back, gently exciting his own epidermis: a pensive Cupid is clinging to the coat of the incognito. Near him is a gentleman with a lady in his arms; a Cupid is looking up at them, and pointing to a volume of sermons which he holds in his hand: a butterfly has alighted on the cavalier’s coat, and not far off” is a group of Cupids and satyrs rushing in among bathing nymphs. There is also a female barber.
“The bear in the fifth compartment is stimulating his appetite with a young crocodile: around him are children at play, shepherds, the Graces, Venus, and numerous insects and shells. Lower down are portraits, of Charles Fox, Necker, Sheridan, the Regent Philip of Orleans, and John Kemble. Fox has a butterfly near him; Nelson, Greenwich Hospital; Sheridan, a Cupid carousing on some straw; and Kemble, a ladybird on his waistcoat. Round the arm of a man in Hessians is a green monkey holding a mask, and another monkey is between his legs. There are also likenesses of Lucien Buonaparte, the Princess Charlotte, and the Duke of Cambridge when a young man; and a little piece representing an old cure de village trying, but in vain, to thread the needle of one of his pretty parishioners.
“Byron and Napoleon, placed opposite to each other, occupy the upper centre of the last and sixth leaf: the former is surrounded with flowers, but has a wasp on his throat. This to his friend was base ingratitude on the part of Brummell, for the noble lord spoke of, and would have pasted him, with more charitable feeling. Kean, as Richard, is the last print I shall notice. He is below the Emperor, and his neck is ornamented with two hymeneal torches laid together crosswise by a true-lover’sknot.
“It will be seen by this imperfect description that to understand fully the wit shown in the arrangement of all the groups, it is necessary that the observer should be familiar with the gossip of the day; and there is little doubt that any of Brummell’s contemporaries would, with the greatest ease, recognize all.”
It all sounds dizzy making, do admit, yet who amongst us would not dearly love to see this screen, created by the hands and the cheeky mind of the world’s greatest dandy? Where is it? Can it still exist? Captain Jesse saw it with his own eyes in France, thus his minute description of it, but it’s face is unknown. These are the Captain’s last words on the subject:
“When Brummell left Calais, the screen, according to his valet’s version of the affair, was placed in his hands as part payment of a debt. Subsequently, when Selegue’s affairs became deranged, he was obliged to put it in pawn at an upholsterer’s at Boulogne; and it was at this person’s house that I saw it during my short stay in that town. A nobleman, one of Brummell’s former friends, in passing through, was once anxious to buy it, but the gentleman’s gentleman valued his master’s exertions too highly, and foolishly asked seven thousand francs for it, a bargain which his customer very naturally refused. Since that period, another Englishman offered two thousand; this, however, was declined; and when I saw it, the cabinet-maker was fitting it up very handsomely with a mahogany frame, and intended sending it to London, where he hoped to realise a large sum by the sale of it. This screen must have been a fertile subject of conversation for Brummell’s privileged visitors, and to them only was it ever exhibited. To have heard him while employed in cutting out, cutting up, and pasting his dearest friends, and expatiating upon the group that was under his hands at the time, must have been a treat indeed.”
In Part 5, the final in this Series, we learn about the death of the Duchess of York and about her connections to Seven Dials, London.
In this installment in the series, we turn to contemporary sources for a look at the social circle of Frederica, Duchess of York, and thereby for more glimpses into the personality of the woman herself. What better place to start than with Charles Greville’s Diaries:
August 15th, 1818 — “The parties at Oatlands take place every Saturday, and the guests go away on Monday morning. These parties begin as soon as the Duchess leaves London, and last till the October meetings. During the Egham races there is a large party which remains there from the Saturday before the races till the Monday se’nnight following; this is called the Duchess’s party, and she invites the guests. The Duke is only there himself from Saturday to Monday. There are almost always the same people, sometimes more, sometimes less. We dine at eight, and sit at table till eleven. In about a quarter of an hour after we leave the dining-room the Duke sits down to play at whist, and never stirs from the table as long as anybody will play with him. When anybody gives any hint of being tired he will leave off, but if he sees no signs of weariness in others he will never stop himself. He is equally well amused whether the play is high or low, but the stake he prefers is fives and ponies (Five-pound points and twenty-five pounds on the rubber). The Duchess generally plays also at half-crown whist. The Duke always gets up very early, whatever time he may go to bed. On Sunday morning he goes to church, returns to a breakfast of tea and cold meat, and afterwards rides or walks till the evening. On Monday morning he always sets off to London at nine o’clock. He sleeps equally well in a bed or in a carriage.
“. . . . (The Duchess’s) dogs are her greatest interest and amusement, and she has at least forty of various kinds. She is delighted when anybody gives her a dog, or a monkey, or a parrot, of all of which she has a vast number; it is impossible to offend her or annoy her more than by ill-using any of her dogs, and if she were to see anybody beat or kick any one of them she would never forgive it. She has always lived on good terms with the Royal Family, but is intimate with none of them, and goes as little as possible to Court. The Regent dislikes her, and she him. With the Princess Charlotte she was latterly very intimate, spent a great deal of time at Claremont, and felt her death very severely. The Duchess has no taste for splendour or magnificence, and likes to live the life of a private individual as much as possible.
“. . . . . The Duke and the Duchess live upon the best terms; their manner to one another is cordial, and while full of mutual respect and attention, they follow separately their own occupations and amusements without interfering with one another. Their friends are common to both, and those who are most attached to the Duke are equally so to the Duchess. One of her few foibles is an extreme tenaciousness of her authority at Oatlands; one way in which this is shown is in the stable, where, although there are always eight or ten carriage-horses which seldom do any work, it is impossible ever to procure a horse to ride or drive, because the Duchess appropriates them all to herself. The other day one of the aides-de-camp (Cooke) wanted to drive Burrell (who was there) to Hampton Court; he spoke of this at breakfast, and the Duke hearing it, desired he would take the curricle and two Spanish horses which had been given to him. The Duchess, however, chose to call these horses hers and to consider them as her own. The curricle came to the door, and just as they were going to mount it a servant came from the Duchess (who had heard of it) and told the coachman that her Royal Highness knew nothing of it, had not ordered it, and that the curricle must go home, which it accordingly did.”
September 3rd.— “I went to Oatlands for the Egham races. The party lasted more than a week; there was a great number of people, and it was very agreeable. . . . We played at whist every night that the Duke was there, and I always won. The Duchess was unwell most of the time. We showed her a galanterie which pleased her very much. She produced a picture of herself one evening, which she said she was going to send to the Duchess of Orleans; we all cried out, said it was bad, and asked her why she did not let Lawrence paint her picture, and send a miniature copied from that. She declared she could not afford it; we then said, if she would sit, we would pay for the picture, which she consented to do, when all the men present signed a paper, desiring that a picture should be painted and a print taken from it of her Royal Highness. Lawrence is to be invited to Oatlands at Christmas to paint the picture. The men who subscribe are Culling Smith, Alvanley, B. Craven, Worcester, Armstrong, A. Upton, Rogers, Luttrell, and myself, who were present. The Duchess desired that Greenwood and Taylor might be added. From Oatlands I went to Cirencester, where I stayed a week and then returned to Oatlands, expecting to find the Queen dead and the house empty, but I found the party still there.”
And from The Public and Domestic Life of His Late Majesty, George III by Edward Holt (1820) we get a glimpse at the celebrations for Frederica’s birthday in May of 1810 –
“A grand fete was given in honour of her Royal Highness the Duchess of York, at Oatlands. The preparations were unusually costly. The King, Queen, the Princesses Augusta, Elizabeth, Mary, Sophia, and Amelia; the Prince of Wales; Dukes of York, Kent, Clarence, Sussex, and Cumberland, were present. Indisposition only prevented the Duke of Cambridge from attending. The Duke and Duchess of York were in waiting to receive their illustrious relatives: from the bottom of the flight of steps leading into the great hall, the Duke escorted the Queen to the grand saloon. After viewing . and admiring the improvements made on the lawn, &c. the royal party partook of a most sumptuous banquet, served up in a costly service of silver gilt plate. During the time of dinner, the Duke of York’s band, in full uniform, played under the viranda on the green. The King wore the Windsor uniform. The Queen and the Princesses were dressed in plain white. His Majesty, it was remarked, looked uncommonly well, and possessed his usual flow of spirits. Their Majesties and the Princesses departed about eight o’clock, escorted, as usual, by a party of dragoons.
“About nine o’clock great merriment took place: the Duchess having ordered the park gates to be thrown open, the populace, principally composed of the neighbouring peasantry, rushed in, and made the best of their way to the lower part of the house, where a number of tables were set out with provisions of every description. Dancing commenced immediately afterwards. The tables were deserted for the library, where the Duchess led off the first dance, called the Labyrinth, with the Hon. Colonel Upton. Her Highness never appeared to better advantage; she was improved in health, and grown rather corpulent. The very awkward manner in which the country people paid their respects to the Heir-apparent in their going down the dance, excited the risibility of the Royal Party to an extreme degree. It was not until two o’clock in the morning that the music ceased, and then the company retired. The Prince of Wales slept at Oatlands that night. A similar entertainment was given at York-house, in the Stable-yard, the same night.”
And The New Annual Register Nov. 13 (1812) tells us that: “A ball was given by the duchess of York at Oatlands, for the purpose of introducing the Princess Charlotte into company. The “prince led off the dance, and chose his daughter for his partner; and whilst leading her briskly along, his right foot came in contact with the leg of a sofa, which gave the limb a twist, by which two tendons of his foot were broken. His royal highness took but little notice of it that night; but in the morning he found it so much worse, as to be obliged to resort to the assistance of surgeons.”
The incident above is elaborated upon in The Beloved Princess: Princess Charlotte of Wales by Charles E. Pearce (1912) –
” . . . . in November 1811, and in the same month the Duchess of York gave a ball at Oatlands for the purpose of introducing the Princess Charlotte into the world of fashion. This was done not only with the sanction of the Regent, but probably at his suggestion. In any case, it is evident that the Prince’s ideas with regard to Charlotte were not those which caused so much surprise during the following year. Creevey speaks of the Regent’s high goodhumour and fine spirits when at Brighton in the autumn of 1811, and it may be that in the fullness of his new position and powers he was disposed to put aside his worries and relax the tight hold he had hitherto maintained over the turbulent Charlotte. Whatever may have been the reason of the Regent’s complaisance, the young Princess must have felt justified in thinking that the days of her childhood were past.
“Into the gaiety of the ball at Oatlands she threw herself with all the exuberance of her nature. The Regent and his daughter that night were on the best of terms, and they took part together in one of the Scotch dances at that time very fashionable, thanks to the patronage given to Neil Gow, the celebrated Scotch violinist and the composer of numerous reels and strathspeys. The particular dance in which the Regent and Charlotte engaged was known as the ” Highland Flurry,” and it was reported in one of the newspapers that “the Prince led off the dance and chose his daughter for his partner, but whilst leading her briskly along, his right foot came in contact with the leg of a sofa which gave the limb a twist, by which two tendons of his foot were broken.
“As described here, the accident must have been of sufficient gravity to incapacitate his Royal Highness from further exertion during the evening. There is no evidence that it did so, and in fact doubts have been raised whether the Prince received any injury during this particular dance. It is true Fremantle, writing to the Marquis of Buckingham, corroborates with some slight variations the above version of the “accident,” but he does so with his tongue in his cheek after the following fashion: “As you will be interested in knowing the particulars of the Prince of Wales’s attack, I write to say that although it was nothing but a strain of the muscle, he has made so much of it and it affected him so greatly that it has created quite a sensation. It was done while Princess Charlotte was at Oatlands; she was endeavouring to dance a Scotch step called the ‘ Highland Flurry,’ and there was a laugh in endeavouring to make Adam (who was one of the party) teach her. The Prince got up and said he would show her, and in doing so evidently wrenched his ankle. This took place ten days ago, since which he has never been out of bed. He complained of violent pain and spasmodic affection, for which he prescribed for himself and took a hundred drops of laudanum every three hours. . . . He will sign nothing and converse with no one on business . . . and you may imagine therefore the distress and difficulty in which the Ministers are placed. The Duke of Cumberland is going about saying it is a shame and that he could get up and be perfectly well if he pleased.
“The Duke of Cumberland, after his usual fashion, did his best to make the “incident” tell against the Regent, and from the current gossip of the day it would appear that there was no accident at all, but that the indisposition of the Regent arose from a cause other than dancing. A fracas outside the ballroom was hinted at. Apparently this is what the writer (C. B. Wollaston) of the following letter (to be found in the “Journal” of Mary Frampton) refers to: “There have been strange rumours about the Regent, but I verily believe without foundation. The fact is, as Ryder [Secretary of State at this time for the Home Department] told me this morning, that he is in considerable pain from his legs, and obliged to keep them almost entirely in a horizontal position, which is an inconvenient one for writing; but certainly much distress and inconvenience has arisen on all public offices from the want of his signature. It has been said that a report of his being in the same state as his father [i.e. mental breakdown] was traced to the Duke of Cumberland, and that in consequence the Prince has broken off all intercourse with the Duke; but Ryder tells me that he saw the Duke at Oatlands two mornings ago, and that he and the Duke of Kent had been breakfasting in the Prince’s room.
“Mr. John Ashton says of this queer business that “whatever was the matter with him [the Regent] he did not leave Oatlands until the 9th December, or nearly a month. Nobody believed in the royal sprain, but the story that gained credence and was made the most of by the caricaturists was that the Regent had at the ball grossly insulted Lady Yarmouth, for which he was most heartily and soundly thrashed by her husband, Lord Yarmouth.”
In the next installment of this series, we will take a closer look at the Duchess of York’s friendship with Beau Brummell.