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.*
“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.’
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is the first of a series of Waterloo related posts we’ll be running in honour of the upcoming anniversary of the Battle on June 18th. We hope these posts will demonstrate how the Battle affected those in all walks of life, including the British ex-pats who, like Fanny Burney, were resident in Brussels at the time of the Battle.
A version of this post appeared in the Burney Letter, Vol. 21, No. 1, a publication of The Burney Society, Spring 2015; by Victoria Hinshaw.
“Upon reflection, I will write no account of these great events, which have been detailed so many hundred times, and so many hundred ways, as I have nothing new to offer upon them; I will simply write the narrative of my own history at that awful period.”
With this modest declaration, Frances Burney, Madame D’Arblay, describes her famous account of Brussels during time leading up to, during, and after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. In vivid terms, she chronicles the tension and anxiety felt by the helpless people waiting for their fate to be decided.
General Alexandre d’Arblay (1748-1818), Burney’s beloved husband, even at the age of 66, served King Louis XVIII in his personal Guard. The d’Arblays occupied a residence in Paris, and had an active life there. But when Napoleon escaped from Elba in March 1815 and headed for Paris, assembling a powerful army as he came, Louis fled. He had been restored to the throne for just over a year and now abandoned Paris and crossed Belgian border to the relative safety of the United Netherlands. d’Arblay had to accompany the King, but he insisted his wife should accompany their friend the Princess d’Heinin into Belgium as well, not a simple task it turned out. Many British families lived in Brussels at the time, having taken advantage of the Peace of 1814 to enjoy a stay on the continent, which they had been unable to visit during the Napoleonic Wars. Like most of the world, they were shocked when Napoleon Bonaparte suddenly returned to France; Paris was about 160 miles from Brussels.
Once she reached Brussels, Madame d’Arblay found many friends among the French evacuees and the ex-pat English as well. When her husband was able to join her for several weeks, she was blissful. They even got to travel a bit and sightsee at the Palace of Lachen: “my dearest friend (the General, her husband) indulged in one morning’s recreation, which proved as agreeable as anything at such a period could be to a mind oppressed like mine. He determined that we should visit the Palais de Lachen, which had been the dwelling assigned as the palace for the Empress Josephine by Bonaparte at the time of his divorce. My dearest husband drove me in his cabriolet, and the three gentlemen whom he invited to be of the party accompanied us on horseback. The drive, the day, the road, the views, our new horses-all were delightful, and procured me a short relaxation from the foresight of evil.
“The Palace of Lachen was at this moment wholly uninhabited, and shown to us by some common servant. It is situated in a delicious park d’Anglaise, and with a taste, a polish, and an elegance that clears it from the charge of frippery or gaudiness, though its ornaments and embellishments are all of the liveliest gaiety. There is in some of the apartments some Gobelin tapestry, of which there are here and there parts and details so exquisitely worked that I could have ‘hung over them enamoured.”
While together, the couple also had the opportunity of attending a concert at which they observed the Duke of Wellington, Commander of the Allied Armies. “Our last entertainment here was a concert in the public and fine room appropriated for music or dancing. The celebrated Madame Catalani had a benefit, at which the Queen of the Netherlands was present, not, however, in state, though not incognita; and the king of warriors, Marshal Lord Wellington, surrounded by his staff and all the officers and first persons here, whether Belgians, Prussians, Hanoverians, or English.
I looked at Lord Wellington watchfully, and was charmed with every turn of his countenance, with his noble and singular physiognomy and his eagle eye. He was gay even to sportiveness all the evening, conversing with the officers around him. He never was seated, not even a moment, though I saw seats vacated to offer to him frequently. He seemed enthusiastically charmed with Catalani, ardently applauding whatsoever she sung, except the “Rule Britannia”; and there, with sagacious reserve, he listened in utter Silence. Who ordered it I know not, but he felt it was injudicious in every country but our own to give out a chorus of ‘Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!’ “And when an encore began to be vociferated from his officers, he instantly crushed it by a commanding air of disapprobation, and thus offered me an opportunity of seeing how magnificently he could quit his convivial familiarity for imperious dominion when occasion might call for the transformation.”
The d’Arblay’s idyll ended when the General was sent off to Luxembourg to recruit soldiers for the royal cause. Frances was left alone to worry and share the concerns of her friends, some bordering on hysteria, as tension steadily increased in the next few weeks. Everyone knew the battle was approaching.
“May 13, 1815. My best friend left me to begin his campaign; left me, by melancholy chance, upon his birthday (67th). I could not that day see a human being — I could but consecrate it to thoughts of him who had just quitted me yet who from me never was, never can be, mentally absent, and to our poor Alexander (their son), thus inevitably, yet severely cast upon himself.”
For the month following his departure, she visited with friends, strolled in the park, attended church, and observed everything with her keen eye for detail. She also spent many hours alone, writing and worrying about her son, not doing as well at Cambridge as his parents expected, and particularly about her husband. One of Burney’s most fascinating observations was her view of the Belgian people, for the most part stoic and phlegmatic. As she observed, they had been traded back and forth between warring factions for centuries, spending most of the last decade as part of Napoleon’s Empire. How indeed could they get excited about another change in status? They seemed placidly to accept their fate, to Frances’s incredulity and sometimes consternation. “But even in the midst of the unconcerned populace, tensions rose as the streets were crowded with military vehicles horses and soldiers everywhere.”
She had a near-encounter with the notorious Lady Caroline Lamb*, whose affair with Byron had shocked London. Burney writes, “… I just missed meeting the famous Lady Caroline Lamb … whom I saw crossing the Place Royale,… dressed, Or rather not dressed, so as to excite universal attention, and authorise every boldness of staring, from the general to the lowest soldier, among the military groups then constantly parading the Place, — for she had one shoulder, half her back, and all her throat and neck, displayed as if at the call of some statuary for modelling a heathen goddess. A slight scarf hung over the other shoulder, and the rest of the attire was of accordant lightness. As her ladyship had not then written, and was not, therefore, considered as one apart, from being known as an eccentric authoress, this conduct and demeanour excited something beyond surprise, and in an English lady provoked censure, if not derision, upon the whole English nation.”
Aside from amusement at Burney’s disapproval of the attire, it is interesting to speculate about whether she thought of herself as an ‘eccentric author’ and thus ‘beyond surprise.’ This was a time of considerable unease for her. “During this melancholy period when leisure, till now a delight, became a burthen to me, I could not call my faculties into any species of intellectual service; all was sunk, was annihilated in the overpowering predominance of anxiety for the coming event.”
We take up Burney’s account of Brussels again on the day of the Battle of Quatre Bras. “I was again awakened at about five o’clock in the morning Friday, 16th June, by the sound of a bugle in the March aux Bois: I started up and opened the window. But I only perceived some straggling soldiers, hurrying in different directions, and saw lights gleaming from so many of the chambers in the neighbourhood: all again was soon still, and my own dwelling in profound silence, and therefore I concluded there had been some disturbance in exchanging sentinels at the various posts, which was already appeased: and I retired once more to my pillow, and remained till my usual hour… ”
Continuing, she writes, “my ears were alarmed by the sound of military music, and my eyes equally struck with the sight of a body of troops marching to its measured time. But I soon found that what I had supposed to be an occasionally passing troop, was a complete corps; infantry, cavalry artillery, bag and baggage, with all its officers in full uniform, and that uniform was black…. I learned it was the army of Brunswick. How much deeper yet had been my heartache had I foreknown that nearly all those brave men, thus marching on in gallant though dark array, with their valiant royal chief at their head, the nephew** of my own king, George III., were amongst the first destined victims to this dreadful contest, and that neither the chief, nor the greater part of his warlike associates, would within a few short hours, breathe again the vital air!”
“What a day of confusion and alarm did we all spend on the 17th!…That day, and June 18th, I passed in hearing the cannon! Good heaven! what indescribable horror to be so near the field of slaughter! such I call it, for the preparation to the ear by the tremendous sound was soon followed by its fullest effect, in the view of the wounded, the bleeding martyrs to the formidable contention that was soon to terminate the history of the war. And hardly more afflicting was this disabled return from the battle, than the sight of the continually pouring forth ready-armed and vigorous victims that marched past my windows to meet similar destruction.”
Burney writes that they had received “Many offers of escort out of Brussels were discussed and several attempted but none were successful. The military had confiscated all vehicles and barges destined for the roads and canals to Antwerp or Ostend.” Amidst reports on her conversations with those trying to escape, she wrote: “I found upon again going my rounds for information, that though news was arriving incessantly from the scene of action, and with details always varying, Bonaparte was always advancing…Yet no clamour, no wrangling, nor even debate was intermixed with either question or answer; curiosity, though incessant, was serene; the faces were all monotony, though the tidings were all variety. I could attribute this only to the length of time during which the inhabitants had been habituated to change both of masters and measures, and to their finding that, upon an average, they neither lost nor gained by such successive revolutions…No love of liberty buoyed up resistance; no views of independence brightened their imagination; and they bore even suspense with the calm of apparent philosophy, and an exterior of placid indifference.”
These are just a few of her observations, but I have attempted to choose the most relevant ones. At last, we come to the day of the main battle.”But what a day was the next — June 18 — the greatest, perhaps, in its result, in the annals of Great Britain!…” Despite the streets full of people, “when every other hour changed the current of expectation, no one could be inquisitive without the risk of passing for a spy, nor communicative without the hazard of being suspected as a traitor.” Her friend Mr. Boyd “…feared all was lost-that Bonaparte was advancing-that his point was decidedly Brussels-and that the Duke of Wellington had sent orders that all the magazines, the artillery, and the warlike stores of every description, and all the wounded, the maimed, and the sick, should be immediately removed to Antwerp. For this purpose he had issued directions that every barge, every boat should be seized.
“The dearth of any positive news from the field of battle, even in the heart of Brussels, at this crisis, when everything that was dear and valuable to either party was at stake, was at one instant nearly distracting in its torturing suspense to the wrung nerves, and at another insensibly blunted them into a kind of amalgamation with the Belgic philosophy. At certain houses, as well as at public offices, news, I doubt not, arrived; but no means were taken to — promulgate it — no gazettes, as in London, no bulletins, as in Paris, were cried about the streets; we were all left at once to our conjectures and our destinies. What a dreadful day did I pass! dreadful in the midst of its glory! for it was not during those operations that sent details partially to our ears that we could judge of the positive state of affairs, or build upon any permanency of success. Yet here I soon recovered from all alarm for personal safety, and lost the horrible apprehension of being in the midst of a city that was taken, sword in hand, by an enemy — an apprehension that, while it lasted, robbed me of breath, chilled my blood, and gave me a shuddering ague that even now in fancy returns as I seek to commit it to paper.”
Eventually Burney heard an account from a witness to the battle; “Mr. Saumarez’s narration was all triumphant and his account of the Duke of Wellington might almost have seemed an exaggerated panegyric if it had painted some warrior in a chivalresque romance. . . . I could not but be proud of this account: independent from its glory; my revived imagination hung the blessed laurels of peace. But though Hope was all alive, Ease and Serenity were not her companions: Mr. Saumarez could not disguise that there was still much to do, and consequently to apprehend; and he had never, he said, amongst the many he had viewed, seen a field of battle in such excessive disorder. Military carriages of all sorts, and multitudes of groups unemployed, occupied spaces that ought to have been left for manoeuvring or observation. I attribute this to the various nations who bore arms on that great day in their own manner; though the towering generalissimo of all cleared the ground, and dispersed what was unnecessary at every moment that was not absorbed by the fight.”
As she returned to her lodging, “Three or four shocking sights intervened during my passage, of officers of high rank, either English or Belge, and either dying or dead, extended upon biers, carried by soldiers. The view of their gay and costly attire, with the conviction of their suffering, or fatal state, joined to the profound silence of their bearers and attendants, was truly saddening; and if my reflections were morally dejecting, what, oh what were my personal feelings and fears, in the utter uncertainty whether this victory were more than a passing triumph!”
Though confident of victory, no one knew at the moment that for all practical purposes, Napoleon’s reign was over and peace would soon be restored to Europe.
“It was not till Tuesday, the 20th, I had certain and satisfactory assurances how complete was the victory. At the house of Madame de Maurville I heard confirmed and detailed the matchless triumph of the matchless Wellington, interspersed with descriptions of scenes of slaughter on the field of battle to freeze the blood, and tales of woe amongst mourning survivors in Brussels to rend the heart. While listening with speechless avidity to these relations, we were joined by M. de la Tour du Pin, who is a cousin of Madame de Maurville, and who said the Duke of Wellington had galloped to Brussels from Wavre to see the Prince of Orange and inquire in person after his wounds. Prince Blucher was in close pursuit of Bonaparte, who was totally defeated, his baggage all taken, even his private equipage and personals, and who was a fugitive himself, and in disguise! The duke considered the battle to be so decisive, that while Prince Blucher was posting after the remnant of the Bonapartian army, he determined to follow himself as convoy to Louis XVIII.”
Even so, the ordeal of Brussels and its inhabitants was not finished. Burney writes, “the duke now ordered that the hospitals, invalids, magazines, etc., should all be stationed at Brussels, which he regarded as saved from invasion and completely secure. It is not near the scene of battle that war, even with victory, wears an aspect of felicity-no, not even in the midst of its highest resplendence of glory…For more than a week from this time I never approached my window but to witness sights of wretchedness. Maimed, wounded, bleeding, mutilated, tortured victims of this exterminating contest passed by every minute: the fainting, the sick, the dying and the dead, on brancards, in carts, in waggons, succeeded one another without intermission. There seemed to be a whole and a large army of disabled or lifeless soldiers! All that was intermingled with them bore an aspect of still more poignant horror; for the Bonapartian Prisoners who were now poured into the city by hundreds.
“Everybody was wandering from home; all Brussels seemed living in the streets. The danger to the city, which had imprisoned all its inhabitants except the rabble or the military, once completely passed, the pride of feeling and showing their freedom seemed to stimulate their curiosity in seeking details on what had passed and was passing. But neither the pride nor the joy of victory was anywhere of an exulting nature.” She heard stories from participants, but nothing could quell her horror. “I met at the embassy an old English officer who gave me most interesting and curious information, assuring me that in the carriage of Bonaparte, which had been seized, there were proclamations ready printed, and even dated from the palace of Lachen, announcing the downfall of the Allies and the triumph of Bonaparte ! But no satisfaction could make me hear without deadly dismay and shuddering his description of the field of battle. Piles of dead! — Heaps, masses, hills of dead bestrewed the plains.
“Thousands, I believe I may say without exaggeration, were employed voluntarily at this time in Brussels in dressing wounds and attending the sick beds of the wounded. Humanity could be carried no further; for not alone the Belgians and English were thus nursed and assisted, nor yet the Allies, but the prisoners also; and this, notwithstanding the greatest apprehensions being prevalent that the sufferers, from their multitude, would bring pestilence into the heart of the city.”
Frances Burney, Madame d’Arbly, remained in Brussels for almost a month after the battle. She learned that the wars were over on June 26. “We were all at work more or less in making lint. For me, I was about amongst the wounded half the day, the British, s’entend! The rising in France for the honour of the nation now, and for its safety in independence hereafter, was brilliant and delightful. On the following Sunday I had the gratification of hearing, at the Protestant chapel, the Te Deum for the grand victory, in presence of the King and Queen of the Low Countries — or Holland, and of the Dowager Princess of Orange, and the young warrior her grandson. This prince looked so ill, so meagre, so weak, from his half-cured wounds, that to appear on this occasion seemed another, and perhaps not less dangerous effort of heroism, added to those which had so recently distinguished him in the field.”
These are only a portion of Frances Burney’s memoirs of the period. They were chosen from the on-line version of the Diary and Letters of Madame d’Arblay edited by her Niece Charlotte Barrett, Volume IV, available on Google Books. Also used was Fanny Burney: Selected letters and Journals edited by Joyce Hemlow, published in 1986. A postscript to her time in Belgium was Madame d‘Arblay’s audacious journey to reach her husband in July, 1815. While still in the King’s service, he had been injured by the kick of a horse, a wound to his leg from which he never fully recovered. Alone and without complete papers and passports, she set out from Brussels, determined to get to him. Traveling conditions in the region were disrupted and confusing, but she was intrepid and eventually, she was reunited with “her best friend.” Over the next few weeks, while she nursed him, they assembled their belongings in Paris, secured his release from the King’s service, and returned to England.
*Lady Caroline Lamb (1785-1828) was the daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bessborough and his wife Harriet/Henrietta; niece of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire; wife of Frederick Lamb, future Lord Melbourne and future Prime Minister. Lady Caroline‘s brother Frederick Ponsonby of the 12thLight Dragoons, was severely wounded in the Battle of Waterloo. She published her first novel, a roman a clef about Byron, in 1816.
**Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel (1771-16 June 1815), known as The Black Duke, was also the brother of the Prince Regent’s wife Caroline of Brunswick; he died at the Battle of Quatre Bras.
Frances Burney (1752-1840) wrote four novels, many plays, and her renowned Journals, currently being re-issued. For more information on Fanny and her family, visit the website of The Burney Centre at McGill University, Montreal, here.
” A person, my dear, will probably come and speak to us; and if he enters into conversation, be careful to give him a favourable impression of you, for,” and she sunk her voice to a whisper, ‘he is the celebrated Mr. Brummell.”
Life of Beau Brummell by Captain Jesse
Born on 7 June, 1778, Beau Brummell endures as a style icon, a matchless wit and an enigma. Was Brummell a caring friend, as experienced by Frederica, Duchess of York, or a sarcastic louse, as portrayed in the following passage from The Cornhill Magazine –
“Brummell’s rise to social autocracy is the more astounding that he had no sort of family to boast of, and that in his day the fashionable drawingrooms and clubs were jealously closed to upstarts and parvenus. Making every allowance for matchless assurance and extraordinary opportunities turned to excellent account, there must have been much in a man who not only became the ami intime of the Prince of Wales, but secured the attachment of a host of friends who stood by him staunchly when in extremity of adversity. Thackeray knew the world well, and he was right when he said that the world is really very good-natured. For whatever the qualities of Brummell, he had no heart to recommend him; he had nothing of that genuine touch of nature which wins affection irresistibly, and makes all mankind akin. He was frivolous, selfindulgent, and ostentatiously selfish. He could attach himself to the dogs who were helplessly dependent; he could pet a mouse and make friends with a cockatoo; but he was cursed with the superficial wit which loved to wound, and he seldom missed an opportunity of saying some bitter thing. If the smart rankled, so much the better. He swaggered cruelly on the strength of his social ascendency, though, to do him simple justice, he spared the strong as little as the weak. Perhaps there never was a less lovable character than that of the dandy who luxuriated for years on disinterested charity and never altogether exhausted it, although he offered his benefactors the most irritating provocation.”
Perhaps in the end Brummell was just like the rest of us – a complex person who could be, and was, many things to many people. Certainly, the Duchess of York and her brother-in-law, the Prince of Wales, had different views on him. However, one view that seems to be universal is that Brummell was the quintessential dandy – or was he? William Pitt Lennox declared that it was a libel to call Brummell a “Dandy,” since he differed entirely from all that species. “Of all my acquaintances, he was the quietest, plainest, and most unpretending dresser,” Pitt wrote. “Those who remember him in his palmy days will bear testimony to the truth of this assertion; it was the total absence of all peculiarity, and a rigid adherence to the strictest rules of propriety in costume, which gained for him the homage due to his undisputed taste. He eschewed colours, trinkets, and gew-gaws; his clothes were exquisitely made, and, above all, adapted to his person; he put them on well too, but for all this there was no striving for effect—there was an unusual absence of study in his appearance.”
A favorite parlor game played by myself, Victoria Hinshaw and Jo Manning is not Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit or even the Oijua Board. No, our favorite game, especially when we are with new people whose opinions we haven’t heard before, always begins with the same question, “Beau Brummell: Straight, gay, bisexual or A-sexual?” I promise you, coupled with a few glasses of port, a cozy chair and the right people, this question can keep you entertained for hours. Granted, you have to have a group of people with the same mind set, people who have actually heard of Beau Brummell and who know the facts surrounding him, but this is not as difficult as it might seem. Two centuries after his death Brummell is still being written about, as both fact and fiction, not to mention the many films which have portrayed his fascinating, fashionable and foible filled life.
Whether portrayed by John Barrymore, Stewart Granger or
James Purefoy, the Brummell flair always manages to come through.
In fact, the Brummell flair is still so powerful, his name still so instantly associated with all things exquisite and fashionable that Brummell, who would be 232 years old today, continues to have his name bandied about in order to sell all manner of goods, including after shave, ties, shirts, suits, watches, razors, early 20th century hand soap dispensers and a Cincinnati office building.
Not to mention a show poodle, which, when you think of it, is infinitely more fitting than a soap dispenser. By the way, there have also been many horses named Beau Brummell – one of them has a race video on YouTube.
No . . . I’m not kidding.
I must say I’ve never heard of Brummell’s having been musicially inclined, though I could be wrong.
And how about . . . . . . .
I’m telling you, I couldn’t make this stuff up . . . . . .
Brummell would be gratified to learn that he can still draw a crowd, as evidenced by this photo of his statue in Jermyn Street.
Brummell was one of the most talked about men of his day and I like to think that, wherever he is now, it amuses him to no end that his name still holds some cachet. And I think it makes him guffaw outright to know that while everyone still recognizes his name – nay uses his name in order to sell all manner of goods – the number of George IV branded items is rather limited. The Duke of York even has more pubs named after him than Prinny does. It’s a shame really – My Fat Friend’s Place would have made a much better name for a restaurant, what?