SIR FREDERICK CAVENDISH PONSONBY

This post was originally published on June 18, 2010.

When one thinks of the great British soldiers at the Battle of Waterloo, one naturally conjures up visions of the Duke of Wellington, Alexander Gordon and, of course, the Marquess of Anglesey, but one rarely thinks of Sir Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby, whose Waterloo experience is, in my opinion, one of the most remarkable.

Here is the exceedingly dry manner in which Sir Frederick is summed up in The Waterloo Roll Call By Charles Dalton:

Aftds. Maj.-Gen. Sir Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby, K.C.B. and K.M.T., Gov. of Malta. 2nd son of Frederick, 3rd Earl of Bessborough, by Lady Henrietta, 2nd dau. of 1st Earl Spencer. Bn. 6th July, 1783. Cornet 10th Lt. Dgns. 1800. Maj. 23rd Lt. Dgns. 1807. At head of this regt. distinguished himself at Talavera, in 1809. Lt.-col. of the regt. 1810. At Barossa, with a squadron of German dragoons, he charged the French cavalry covering the retreat, overthrew them, and took two guns. Lt.-Col. 12th Lt. Dgns. 1811. Again signally distinguished himself at the battles of Salamanca and Vittoria.

From this, one would have nary a clue of the truly death-defying experience of this officer, a favorite of the Duke of Wellington’s. Ponsonby was the the second son of the 3rd Earl of Bessborough and Henrietta (Harriet) Spencer, whose sister was Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Sir Frederick’s own sister was the notorious Lady Caroline Lamb. Talk about your Regency soap opera – Lady Bessborough had had a brief affair with Richard Brinsley Sheridan and another with Lord Granville Leveson Gower, with whom she had two children before marrying him off to her niece, Lady Harriet Cavendish.

But I digress . . . . . .

In 1815, Frederick was 33 years of age when he was called to accompany Lord Castlereagh (above) to the Congress of Vienna, which sat after Napoleon’s first abdication to restore the balance of power in Europe and to divide the spoils. The Congress was showing signs of violent disagreement, when to the horror and amazement of Europe, Napoleon escaped from Elba and landed at Cannes. The French Army rallied to him regiment by regiment as he marched through France toward the capital. He entered Paris on March 20, while the King and his family fled. Those English familites who had gone to Brussels to economize after the war knew that they were in a terrible position when Napoleon, who by then commanded an army of 535,000 men, marched to join it on the Belgian frontier on June 12.

At Waterloo, Sir Frederick was attached to the 12th Light Dragoons, who were ordered, along with the 16th Light Dragoons, to charge down a slope to support the withdrawal of the Union Brigade of heavy cavalry, which was being led by his second cousin, William Ponsonby, who lost his life that day. It would have been all too easy for Sir Frederick to have met his own death, as well. In fact, he would presently, and within a very short span of time, be presented with several ways in which he could have lost his life.

The best account of what occurred is the one given by Sir Frederick himself, as written in a letter to his mother by Lady Shelley:

Dear Lady Bessborough,

You have often wished for some written account of the adventures and sufferings of your son, Colonel Ponsonby, on the field of Waterloo; the modesty of his nature is however no small obstacle in the way. Will the following imperfect sketch supply its place until it comes? The battle of the 18th of June was one morning alluded to in the library at Althorpe, and his answers to many of the questions which were put to him are here thrown together, as nearly as I can remember in his own words.

“The weather cleared up at noon, and the sun shone out a little just as the battle began. The armies were within 800 yards of each other; the videttes, before they were withdrawn, being so near as to be able to converse. At one moment I imagined I saw Bonaparte; a considerable staff was moving rapidly along the front of our line. I was stationed with my regiment, about 300 strong, at the extreme of the left wing, and directed to act discretionally; each of the armies was drawn up on a gentle declivity, a small valley lying between them.

‘”At one o’clock, observing, as I thought,unsteadiness in a column of French infantry of 1,000 men or thereabouts, which was advancing with an irregular fire, I resolved to charge them. As we were descending at a gallop we received from our own troops on the right a fire much more destructive than theirs, they having begun long before it could take effect, and slackening as we drew nearer. When we were within 50 paces of them, they turned, and much execution was done amongst them, as we were followed by some Belgians who had remarked our success. But we had no sooner passed through them, than we were attacked in our turn before we could form, by about 300 Polish Lancers, who had come down to their relief—the French artillery pouring in amongst us a heavy fire of grape-shot, which, however, for one of our men killed three of their own. In the melee I was disabled almost instantly in both my arms, and followed by a few of my men who were presently cut down—for no quarter was asked or given—I was carried on by my horse, till receiving a blow on my head from a sabre, I was thrown senseless on my face to the ground. Recovering, I raised myself a little to look round, being I believe at that time in a condition to get up and run away, when a Lancer, passing by, exclaimed : ” Tu n’es pas mort, coquin,” (You’re not dead, naughty) and struck his lance through my back. My head dropped, the blood gushed into my mouth; a difficulty of breathing came on, and I thought all was over. Not long afterwards (it was then impossible to measure time, but I must have fallen in less than ten minutes after the charge) a tirailleur came up to plunder me, threatening to take away my life. I told him that he might search me, directing him to a small side pocket, in which he found three dollars, being all I had. He unloosed my stock, and tore open my waistcoat, then leaving me in a very uneasy posture. He was no sooner gone, than another came up for the same purpose, but assuring him I had been plundered already, he left me. When an officer, bringing on some troops (to which probably the tirailleurs belonged) and halting where I lay, stooped down and addressed me, saying he feared I was badly wounded, I replied that I was, and expressed a wish to be removed into the rear. He said it was against the orders to remove even their own men, but that if they gained the day, as they probably would, for he understood the Duke of Wellington was killed and that six battalions of the English army had surrendered, every attention in his power should be shown me. I complained of thirst, and he held his brandy bottle to my lips, directing one of his men to lay me down on my side, and placed a knapsack under my head. He then passed on into the action, and I shall never know to whose generosity I was indebted, as I conceive, for my life. Of what rank he was I cannot say; he wore a blue great-coat. * By-and-bye another tirailleur came, and knelt down and fired over me, loading and firing many times, and conversing with great gaiety all the while. At last he ran off, saying: ‘Vous serez bien aise d’entendre que nous allons nous retirer. Bon jour, mon ami.’ (You will be glad to hear that we are going to withdraw. Good day, my friend)

“Whilst the battle continued in that part, several of the wounded men and dead bodies near me were hit with the balls, which came very thick in that place. Towards evening, when the Prussians came up, the continued roar of cannon along their and the British line, growing louder and louder as they drew near, was the finest thing I ever heard. It was dusk when the two squadrons of Prussian cavalry, both of them two deep, passed over me in a full trot, lifting me from the ground, and tumbling me about cruelly—the clatter of their approach and the apprehensions it excited may be easily conceived. Had a gun come that way, it would have done for me. The battle was then nearly over, or removed to a distance. The cries and groans of the wounded all around me became every instant more and more audible, succeeding to the shouts, imprecations, and cries of ” Vive l’Empereur,” the discharges of musketry and cannon, now and then intervals of perfect quiet which were worse than the noise. I thought the night would never end. Much about this time one of the Royals lay across my legs—he had probably crawled thither in his agony—his weight, convulsive motions, his noises, and the air issuing through a wound in his side, distressed me greatly—the latter circumstance most of all, as the case was my own.

“It was not a dark night, and the Prussians were wandering about to plunder, and the scene in “Ferdinand Count Fathom” came into my mind, though no women, I believe, were there. Several Prussians came, looked at me, and passed on. At length one stopped to examine me. I told him as well as I could, for I could speak but little German, that I was a British officer, and had been plundered already. He did not desist, however, and pulled me about roughly before he left me. About an hour before midnight I saw a soldier in an English uniform coming towards me. He was, I suspect, on the same errand, but he came and looked in my face. I spoke instantly, telling him who I was, and assuring him of a reward if he would remain by me. He said that he belonged to the 40th Regiment, but that he had missed it. He released me from the dying man, and being unarmed, he took up a sword from the ground, and stood over me, pacing backwards and forwards.

“‘At 8 o’clock in the morning some English were seen at a distance. He ran to them, and a messenger was sent off to Colonel Harvey. A cart came for me—I was placed on it, and carried to a farmhouse, about a mile and a half distant, and laid in the bed from which poor Gordon, as I understood afterwards, had been just carried out. The jolting of the carriage and the difficulty of breathing were very painful. I had received seven wounds; a surgeon slept in my room, and I was saved by continual bleeding—120 ounces in two days, besides a great loss of blood on the field.

“The lances from their length and weight would have struck down my sword long before I lost it, if it had not been bound to my hand. What became of my horse I know not. It was the best I ever had.”

As it happened, Lord and Lady Bessborough had been on a Continental tour in the months prior to Waterloo and were coming slowly home when the news reached them on July 8 that their son had been desperately wounded at the Battle of Waterloo. Lady Bessborough (at right) made a forced journey to Brussels to nurse him, and Lady Caroline Lamb joined her there. To her credit, Lady Bessborough nursed her son as he recuperated, but Lady Shelley’s letter quoted above indicates that mother and son had not the opportunity, or the inclination, to then discuss Posonby’s harrowing experience.

A few days later, that old gossip Creevey wrote:  “On Tuesday the 20th . . . Barnes and Hamilton would make me ride over to see the field of battle, which I would willingly have declined, understanding all the French dead were still on the field—unburied, and having no one to instruct me in detail as to what had passed—I mean as to the relative positions of the armies, etc. However, I was mounted, and as I was riding along with Hamilton’s groom behind me about a mile and a half on the Brussells side of the village of Waterloo, who should overtake me but the Duke of Wellington in his curricle, in his plain cloaths and Harvey by his side in his regimentals. So we went on together, and he said as he was to stop at Waterloo to see Frederick Ponsonby and de Lancey, Harvey should go with me and shew me the field of battle, and all about it. When we got to Waterloo village, we found others of his staff there, and it ended in Lord Arthur Hill being my guide over every part of the ground.”

If Creevey’s tour of the ground so soon after the battle seems goulish, here’s a letter written by the recuperating Sir Frederick’s own sister, Lady Caroline Lamb (above), to the Viscountess Melbourne from Brussels, 1815. It is a pouty letter which brilliantly displays Caroline’s petulance and immaturity in the face of so much heartbreak.

“Dearest Lady Melbourne  . . . The great amusement at Bruxelles, indeed the only one except visiting the sick, is to make large parties etc; go to the field of Battle and pick up a skull or a grape shot or an old shoe or a letter, etc.; bring it home. W[illia]m has been, I shall not go —unless when Fred [Ponsonby] gets better,etc; goes with me. There is a great affectation here of making lint etc.; bandages—but where is there not some? etc; at least it is an innocent amusement. It is rather a love making moment, the half wounded Officers reclining with pretty ladies visiting them—is dangerous. I also observe a great coxcombality in the dress of the sick— which prognosticates a speedy recovery. It is rather heart-breaking to be here, however, etc; one goes blubbering about—seeing such fine people without their legs etc.; arms, some in agony, etc; some getting better. The Prince of Orange enquired much after all his acquaintance; he suffers a great deal, but bears it well. The next door to us has a Col. Millar, very patient, but dreadfully wounded. Lady Conyngham is here—Lady C. Greville—Lady D. Hamilton, Mrs. A. B. Smith, Lady F. Somerset, Lady F. Webster most affected; Lady Mountmorress, who stuck her parasol yesterday into a skull at Waterloo. . . .”

Sir Frederick recovered and went on to enjoy a close relationship with the Duke long after the battle, as shown in the following letter the Duke wrote to Lady Shelley:

London, September 21, 1821


My Dear Lady Shelley, I write to tell you that there is some prospect that the King will go out of town on Saturday, and in that case we might be able to go to you on Saturday evening, and stay till Tuesday or Wednesday. I will let you know positively to-morrow. Shall I bring down Frederick Ponsonby, who was going with me to S. Saye? Ever yours affectionately,  W.

Sir Frederick married Lady Emily Charlotte Bathurst, daughter of Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst of Bathurst and Lady Georgina Lennox, on 16 March 1825. On 27 May 1825, he was promoted major-general, commanding the troops in the Ionian Islands and on 22 December 1826, he was appointed Governor of Malta, holding that post for eight and a half years. Sir Frederick died on 11 January 1837 at the age of fifty-three.

* This French officer was Major de Laussat of the Imperial Guard Dragoons, as Sir Frederick would learn in 1827 when the two met socially and soon after, through a conversation regarding the experiences of each during the Battle, discovered the coincidence of their first meeting upon the field.

THE WELLINGTON CONNECTION: CREEVEY AND WATERLOO

The following is diarist Thomas Creevey’s account of his meeting with the Duke of Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo originally published in The Creevey Papers (1909):

“About eleven o’clock, upon going out again, I heard a report that the Duke (of Wellington) was in Bruxelles; and I went from curiosity to see whether there was any appearance of him or any of his staff at his residence in the Park. As I approached, I saw people collected in the street about the house; and when I got amongst them, the first thing I saw was the Duke upstairs alone at his window. Upon his recognising me, he immediately beckoned to me with his finger to come up.*

Arthur Blundell Sandys Trumbull Hill, 3rd Marquess of Downshire

“I met Lord Arthur Hill in the ante-room below, who, after shaking hands and congratulation, told me I could not go up to the Duke, as he was then occupied in writing his dispatch; but as I had been invited, I of course proceeded. The first thing I did, of course, was to put out my hand and congratulate him [the Duke] upon his victory. He made a variety of observations in his short, natural, blunt way, but with the greatest gravity all the time, and without the least approach to anything like triumph or joy. —’ It has been a damned serious business,’ he said. ‘Blucher and I have lost 30,000 men. It has been a damned nice thing—the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life. Blucher lost 14,000 on Friday night, and got so damnably licked I could not find him on Saturday morning; so I was obliged to fall back to keep up [regain ?] my communications with him.’

“Then, as he walked about, he praised greatly those Guards who kept the farm (meaning Hugomont) against the repeated attacks of the French; and then he praised all our troops, uttering repeated expressions of astonishment at our men’s courage. He repeated so often its being so nice a thing—so nearly run a thing, that I asked him if the French had fought better than he had ever seen them do before.—’ No,’ he said, ‘they have always fought the same since I first saw them at Vimeira.’ Then he said:—’By God! I don’t think it would have done if I had not been there.’

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington c.1815 by Sir Thomas Lawrence

“When I left the Duke, I went instantly home and wrote to England by the same courier who carried his dispatch. I sent the very conversation I have just related to Bennet.  I think, however, I omitted the Duke’s observation that he did not think the battle would have been won had he not been there, and I remember my reason for omitting this sentence. It did not seem fair to the Duke to state it without full explanation. There was nothing like vanity in the observation in the way he made it. I considered it only as meaning that the battle was so hardly and equally fought that nothing but confidence of our army in himself as their general could have brought them thro’. Now that seven years have elapsed since that battle, and tho’ the Duke has become—very foolishly, in my opinion—a politician, and has done many wrong and foolish things since that time, yet I think of his conversation and whole conduct on the l9th—the day after the battle—exactly the same as I did then: namely—that nothing could do a conqueror more honor than his gravity and seriousness at the loss of lives he had sustained, his admission of his great danger, and the justice he did his enemy.

“I may add that, before I left him, I asked whether he thought the French would be able to take the field again; and he said he thought certainly not, giving as his reason that every corps of France, but one, had been in the battle, and that the whole army had gone off in such perfect rout and confusion he thought it quite impossible for them to give battle again before the Allies reached Paris.”
* It may seem improbable that the Duke should have made himself so accessible to a mere civilian on such a momentous morning; but there is ample confirmation of Mr. Creevey’s narrative from the Duke’s own lips. In 1836 he described the circumstance to Lady Salisbury, who noted it in her journal  as follows:
“‘ I was called,’ said the Duke, ‘about 3 in the morning by Hume to go and see poor Gordon’ (in the same inn at Waterloo),’ but he was dead before I got there. Then I came back, had a cup of tea and some toast, wrote my dispatch, and then rode into Brussels. At the door of my own hotel I met Creevey: they had no certain accounts at Brussels, and he called out to me :—” What news?” I said :— “Why I think we’ve done for ’em this time.”
The dispatch was begun at Waterloo and finished at Brussels, evidence of which remains in the draft of the original now at Apsley House, which is headed first “Waterloo,” that is struck out and “Bruxelles ” substituted.

WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL COPENHAGEN . . . .Part Two

In retirement Copenhagen must have become somewhat mellowed because he was regularly ridden by friends and children at the Duke’s country estate of Stratfield Saye (above), although Lady Shelley said he was the most difficult to sit of any horse she had ever ridden. The Duchess (of Wellington) often fed him with bread and this it was said gave him the habit of approaching every lady with the most confiding familiarity. Over the years hair had been taken from the horse and made into bracelets for the ladies.

Lady de Ros, the last survivor of those who danced at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels on the evening before the battle of Waterloo, also the last among those who had mounted “Copenhagen,” published a little volume of recollections of Wellington which contained the following extract:

“We often stayed with the Duke at Abbaye, Mount St. Martin, Cambrai, and one morning he announced that there would be a sham battle, and that he had given orders to Sir George Scovell that the ladies riding should be taken prisoners, so he recommended our keeping close to him. I had no difficulty in doing so, as I was riding the duke’s Waterloo charger “Copenhagen,” and I found myself the only one within a square where they were firing. To the Duke’s great amusement, he heard one of the soldiers saying to another: “Take care of that ‘ere horse; he kicks out. We knew him well in Spain,” pointing to Copenhagen. He was a most unpleasant horse to ride, but always snorted and neighed with pleasure at the sight of troops. I was jumping with him when the stirrup broke, and I fell off. In the evening the Duke had a dance, and said to me, “Here ‘s the heroine of the day—got kicked off, and didn’t mind it.”

This passage from a letter by Lady Shelley indicates that she concurred with Lady de Ros regarding Copenhagen’s merits as a mount:  “I dined at three o’clock to-day, in order to ride with the Duke, who offered to mount me on Copenhagen. A charming ride of two hours. But I found Copenhagen the most difficult horse to sit of any I had ever ridden. If the Duke had not been there I should have been frightened. He said: “I believe you think the glory greater than the pleasure in riding him!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first Duchess of Wellington (above), with whom Copenhagen was a great favorite, wore a bracelet of his hair, as did several of her friends. Her daughter-in-law, the second Duchess, who was much admired by the great Duke, accompanied author James Grant Wilson on his last visit to the field of Waterloo and gifted him with a bracelet and breastpin made of Copenhagen’s mane. On his last visit of several days at Strathfieldsaye in September, 1883, Wilson received from the second Duke as a parting gift a precious lock of the Waterloo hero’s hair and a sheaf of the charger’s tail.

 

A portion of the old stables at Stratfield Saye, as seen in 2010.

In his latter days, Copenhagen became blind and his oats were broken for him, and “the Duchess” used regularly to hand feed him bread. When the great horse died in 1836, at the remarkable age of 29, the Duke of Wellington directed that he be given a funeral with full military honors.

But the day of the burial was worsened for the Duke, who noticed that one hoof had been removed from the body and flew into a  terrible passion about the mutilation. After the Duke’s own death, the guilty servant who had taken the hoof as a memento came forward to confess and presented it to the second Duke who had it made into an inkstand. As the second Duke explained, “Several years after my father’s death an old servant of the family came to me in the library, and, producing a paper parcel, spoke as follows: `Your Grace, I do not believe that I have long to live, and before I die I wish to place in your hands what belongs to you.’ With no small degree of surprise I inquired what it was, and when he opened the package and produced a horse’s hoof he said: `Your Grace, when Copenhagen died I cut off this hoof. None of us imagined that the duke would trouble his head about the body of the war-horse, but, to our great surprise, he walked down to the stables on his sudden return from London to see him buried. He instantly observed that his right forefoot was gone, and was in a fearful passion. No one dared tell him how it happened. I have preserved the hoof carefully for thirty years, and I now return it to your Grace.’ The inkstand is now on display at Apsley House, London.

Copenhagen’s grave, which can be seen today, is marked by a magnificent turkey oak tree planted in 1843 by Mrs. Apostles, the Duke’s housekeeper. As a mark of respect the second Duke erected a stone marker on the grave where it remains to this day. A few years ago, Victoria and I had the honour of placing roses on the grave during Number One London’s Duke of Wellington Tour.

At one time, the War Museum approached the Duke about disinterring Copenhagen in order to keep his skeleton in the Museum alongside the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse, Marengo. But the Duke thwarted the idea by saying he was not sure exactly where the horse had been buried. Of course, he knew precisely where Copenhagen’s remains were under the turkey oak in the Ice House Paddock at Stratfield Saye, but he obviously preferred to keep his loyal friend at home with him.

When the painter Haydon was working on a portrait of the Duke and Copenhagen after the horse’s demise, he ran into creative difficulties before he could design his rough sketch of the horse and his rider. These would have been greatly increased if Lord FitzRoy Somerset had not been induced by Lady Burghersh to call at the painter’s studio. Here are some extracts from Haydon’s Diary:

“July 8th, 1839.—Lord FitzRoy Somerset called yesterday with his daughter to see my sketch of Copenhagen, whom I had studied from the pictures of other artists who had painted him, and especially that done by Webb in 1824. Lord FitzRoy’s daughter is as good a judge of a horse as he is, and they both thought Copenhagen too leggy and too big in the body, which gave him a heavy look. Lord FitzRoy said:
‘The Duke never holds his own horse. Copenhagen came out to Lisbon with Lord Londonderry, and the Duke bought him for 200 or 250 guineas. . . . the Duke never rode upon a battle-field without being accompanied by an orderly dragoon. At Waterloo his dragoon was killed, and Major Canning asked, ‘What shall I do with the Duke’s little desk, now the orderly is killed?’ ‘ Keep it yourself,’ answered Lord FitzRoy. Presently Major Canning was also killed, and the desk was found next morning with the lock broken open. This was the rough little wooden desk which attracted so much notice at Apsley House when it was first opened to the public.”

A few days later, Count D’Orsay (left), a painter in his own right who had himself painted a portrait of the Duke, called on Haydon, having been asked to do so by Somerset.

“July 10th, 1839.—Count D’Orsay  came to my studio, and pointed out several things to correct in the horse. I hastily executed them, but he took my brush in his dainty gloved hand and lowered the hind-quarters by bringing in a bit of the sky. Such a dress! White great coat, blue satin cravat, hair oiled and curling, hat of a wonderful curve; gloves scented with eau de jasmin, primrose in tint, skin-like in tightness. Yet this primest of dandies took up a nasty, oily, dirty hog-brush, and improved Copenhagen by touching the sky. After he had gone I thought, ‘This will never do ! A Frenchman sketching Copenhagen !’ So I rubbed out all he had touched, and adopted his hints myself with modifications.”

After Copenhagen’s death, the horse the Duke preferred during the last twenty years of his life was a hunter class of animal, a good walker, ridden in a snaffle-bridle, like a huntsman’s horse, without a thought of showing off the animal’s paces. Before age had bent him the Duke’s seat was remarkably upright; lost in thought, he passed along, mechanically acknowledging with his upraised forefinger the many hats raised to salute the Great Duke.

Count D’Orsay’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington.

As he grew old and infirm, instead of bending forward like most old men, he leant back in the saddle and literally hung on by the bridle, generally going down St. James’s Park to the Horse Guards at a huntsman’s shog-trot.

 


Wellington and Copenhagen have been immortalized as a pair in various art mediums. The statue of Wellington astride Copenhagen now at Aldershot was first destined to stand at Hyde Park Corner. Wellington himself sat for the sculptor, Wyatt. Fittingly, much of the bronze in the statue is derived from French cannon captured at Waterloo and remelted in Wyatt’s foundry. Copenhagen, however, had died and a substitute horse, a mare called Rosemary was used as a model, offending many at the time who saw a poor likeness to Copenhagen in the statue. In 1846 the statue was moved with great pagaentry from Wyatt’s workshop to Hyde Park Corner. It was moved on a huge low carriage that had wheels 10 feet (3.0 m) in diameter and had been constructed by H. M. Dockyards at Woolwich. The carriage was hauled by a hundred men of the Scots Fusilier Guards; as it emerged onto the road, it was greeted by enthusiastic cheers from the crowd of sightseers. Twenty nine horses then drew the carriage to Hyde Park Corner. It took some hours to get the statue into position for hoisting and the final lift and fixing into position on the as yet unfinished victory arch was completed the following day.

This lock of hair resides at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke, near the Duke of Wellington’s home, Stratfield Saye, and is said to come from the mane of Copenhagen and to have been presented to Miss Charlotte Pigot by Wellington himself. Miss Pigot was an ancestor of the Hon. Mrs Bunbury, who gave the hair to the Museum. Also on display is one of Copenhagen’s horseshoes and a piece of the Wellington oak, said to have come from the tree under which Wellington established a position at Waterloo.

As a further memorial, the Copenhagen Building in Glasgow, Scotland, was named for the Duke’s horse and his contribrution to British history. There is a memorial to the horse in the lobby.

WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL COPENHAGEN . . .

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.

THE WELLINGTON CONNECTION – THE MARCHIONESS OF WORCESTER

Originally published May, 2014

The first quadrille was danced at Almack’s –  pictured are the Marquis of Worcester, Lady Jersey, Claronald Macdonald and Lady Worcester.

 

The Duke of Wellington’s ties to the Marquis and Lady Worcester were fastened on both sides – Lord Worcester had served as an aide-de-camp to the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsular War, while the Marchioness of Worcester, Georgina Frederica, was the daughter of the Hon. Henry Fitzroy and the Duke’s sister, Lady Anne, and therefore Wellington’s niece. Prior to their marriage, Lady Shelly wrote in her diary, “Georgiana Fitzroy’s marriage was announced. It was to take place on the following Monday, when the Duke was to give her away. I hope that it will turn out well, but I have my doubts! Lord Worcester is only twenty-one, and very wild.”

The marriage proved happy enough but, at the age of 28, Georgina became gravely ill. The following account is from The Letter Bag of Lady Elizabeth Spencer-Stanhope – ” . . . Lady Worcester was not expected to live thro’ last night. She was at the Birthday and at the ball, danced a great deal, felt unwell, and was fool enough to take a shower bath before she went to bed. She was seized with inflammation in her bowels and in great danger immediately. Lady Worcester’s sufferings were most extreme, her complaint a twisting of the guts. She died sensible but screaming. On one side of the bed sat Lady E. Vernon, on the other, Lady Jersey, also screaming with grief. The Duke of Wellington had to drag them by force out of the room. There were eighty people standing round when she died.”

Apsley House


Mrs. Arbuthnot’s Journal gives us another view of the events leading up to Lady Worcester’s death:
“Lady Worcester died after a week’s illness of inflammation brought on by going into a cold bath after dancing at the ball at Carlton House. She was only 28, one of the handsomest women in England, had made the most brilliant marriage and was flattered, followed and admired by all the world. It is sad to contrast all this brilliancy with the cold and dreary grave that will so soon close over her; and yet she will then have more tranquility, for her prospects were not happy ones. Lord Worcester, overwhelmed with debts, had lately had executions in his house and, if the Duke of Wellington had not given her rooms in his house, she would not have had a hole to put her head into. . . . .

The New Monthly Magazine ran the following report about her death on May 11, 1821 — At Apsley House, the Marchioness of Worcester, of an internal inflammation. Her Ladyship was Georgiana Frederica Fitzroy, eldest daughter of the late Hon. Henry Fitzroy, son of Charles, first Lord Southampton, brother of the Duke of Grafton, by Lady Anne Wellesley, sister of the Duke of Wellington and Marquis Wellesley; and was married to the Marquis of Worcester on the 25th of July, 1814. Her Ladyship was one of the most intimate and favourite friends of the late Princess Charlotte.

And from the Greville Diary – May 12th.—I have suffered the severest pain I ever had in my life by the death of Lady Worcester. I loved her like a sister, and I have lost one of the few persons in the world who cared for me, and whose affection and friendship serve to make life valuable to me. She has been cut off in the prime of her life and in the bloom of her beauty, and so suddenly too. Seven days ago she was at a ball at Court, and she is now no more. She died like a heroine, full of cheerfulness and courage to the last. She has been snatched from life at a time when she was becoming every day more fit to live, for her mind, her temper, and her understanding were gradually and rapidly improving; she had faults, but her mind was not vicious, and her defects may be ascribed to her education and to the actual state of the society in which she lived. Her virtues were inherent in her character; every day developed them more and more, and they were such as to make the happiness of all who lived with her and to captivate the affection of all who really knew her. I have never lost anyone I loved before, and though I know the grief I now feel will soon subside (for so the laws of nature have ordained), long, long will it be before I forget her, or before my mind loses the lively impression of her virtues and of our mutual friendship.

“This is one of those melancholy events in life to which the mind cannot for a long time reconcile or accustom itself. I saw her so short a time ago ‘ glittering like the morning star, full of life and splendour and joy;’ the accents of her voice still so vibrate in my ear that I cannot believe I shall never see her again. What a subject for contemplation and for moralising! What reflections crowd into the mind!

“Dr. Hume told me once he had witnessed many death beds, but he had never seen anything like the fortitude and resignation displayed by her. She died in his arms, and without pain. As life ebbed away her countenance changed, and when at length she ceased to breathe, a beautiful and tranquil smile settled upon her face.”

Emily, Duchess of Beaufort

As stated above, Lady Worcester died on 11 May 1821, and on 29 June 1822, her husband Lord Worcester married Lady Anne’s other daughter, Emily Frances. This opens up a whole can of worms, as it was against the law for a widow or widower to marry a brother or sister-in-law. How did they get around this? It might have been due to the fact that Emily had been Lady Worcester’s half sister – their mother, Lady Anne’s husband, Henry Fitzroy died on the 19 March 1794, and on 2 August 1799 Lady Anne was remarried to Charles Culling Smith. Their daughter Emily Frances Smith was born on the 3 March 1800. Regardless, the Duke of Wellington was not happy with the match, which caused a rift between himself and his sister.

On 23 November, 1835 Emily became the Duchess of Beaufort.  She died on 2 October 1889 at age 89 and was buried at Badminton. Her mother, Lady Anne Smith, died in 1844.