Continuing the Accounts of the Death and Burial of Queen Caroline, August 1821
Queen Caroline had long been a popular figure with the masses. During her funeral procession, riots broke out in the London streets. The following account was published in the Manchester Guardian on 18 August 1821:
“Before six o’clock a crowd assembled at Hyde Park Corner. The anxiety of the people as to the course the funeral procession [for Caroline of Brunswick] would take was here most strikingly displayed. The crowd were unwilling to depart from a place where there was a favourable chance of joining or viewing the procession; but there was the greatest agitation and alarm lest it should pass another way.
“The procession reached Kensington at half past nine. It was after eleven that it moved on into Hyde Park, and an attempt was made to pass, but this failed, for the people, apprehensive that the hearse would not pass through the City, shut the gates.
“About twelve o’clock the procession entered the Park, and during its passage through it a scene of confusion and outrage ensued of which the annals of this or any other Christian country can present few parallels. Vast numbers of persons on foot and on horseback passed with great speed along Park Lane. Their object was suspected by the Guards to be to reach that gate before them, with the view of meeting the procession, and forcing it to turn back. To prevent this, the Guards galloped through the Park to gain Cumberland Gate before them. The procession moved at a very quick pace through the Park. Suddenly, it halted, and it was understood that the people had closed the gates. It became necessary to force a way for the procession through whatever impediments might present themselves. The people were equally bent on turning the procession, and forcing it into the route of the city. Here a contest arose, and here, we deeply regret to say, blood was shed!
“Some stones and mud were thrown at the military, and a magistrate being present, the soldiers were sanctioned in firing their pistols and carbines at the unarmed crowd. Screams of terror were heard in every direction. The number of shots fired was not less than forty or fifty. So completely did the soldiery appear at this period to have lost the good temper and forbearance they previously evinced, that they fired shots in the direction in which the procession was moving. Immediately upon the cessation of the firing, the latter part of the procession joined the rest of the funeral train. The rain, which had lately abated, again poured in torrents, as the procession advanced.”
Harriet Arbuthnot, diarist and close friend of the Duke of Wellington wrote in her Journal:
“August 1821: 15th Most disgraceful riots have taken place in London at the Queen’s funeral. The people were dissatisfied at the procession being settled not to go thro’ the City and actually, by force and violence, by breaking up the roads and blocking them with carts and carriages, forced it into the City. One man was killed and many wounded, and nothing prevented a dreadful slaughter but the exemplary patience and forbearance of the military…”
A few days later, she wrote: ” 21st – Mr. Arbuthnot writes me word from London that he thinks all the mischiefs at the Queen’s funeral were caused by Sir Robert Baker’s folly and cowardice, that the Riot Act was not read and the soldiers fired without orders; but, after all, men with arms in their hands cannot be expected to stand and be pelted to death without retaliating. Inquests are sitting upon the two men who were killed, and nothing ever was so absurd as the proceedings. Sheriff Waithman acts as Counsel for the dead men and treats the Coroner and everybody with the utmost impertinence; the Life Guards were paraded today that the witnesses might try and identify the man who fired, but all picked out different people and most of them men who were not on duty, so that it is quite a farce…”
On the 30th of August, Mrs. Arbuthnot wrote: “…There was a great riot at the Knightsbridge barracks at the funeral of the two men who were killed on the day of the Queen’s funeral. The people hissed and hooted the soldiers and at last attacked one who was amongst them unarmed. His comrades defended him and a general battle ensured. Nobody was much hurt.”
Mrs. Arbuthnot added a month later:
“Sept. 14 1821: The Duke of Wellington dined with us and told me that he was quite sure Sir Robert Wilson was at the bottom of whole riot at the Queen’s funeral. The Ministers have evidence that he offered five shillings to the first man who wd break up the roads, and gave beer to the mob to excite them; he also abused one of the soldiers and d—-d him, on which the soldier loaded his pistol and cocked it, which preparation rather alarmed Sir Robert, and he made off. he is to be dismissed the Service as soon as the King returns, and he is expected today. I asked the Duke why he was not tried for treason for obstructing the King’s Highway, but he said people were afraid of appearing as witnesses from the violence of the mob.”
From the Hamburg papers, published September 5, 1821, in The Times:
“Brunswick, August 25: Yesterday was performed here the funeral ceremony of the entrance and depositing of the body of the late Queen of England, with all the solemnity and attachment to the House of their Princes which characterises the brave Brunswickers….The citizens of Brunswick…drew the car to the church themselves….Immediately behind it followed several hundred merchants and citizens with tapers. Behind the train of the citizens followed the carriages of the English, Alderman Wood, Lord Hood, Lady Hamilton, Austin, etc. and several carriages belonging to persons of this city attached to the House of Brunswick…There were 20,000 persons who followed the royal corpse, and the greatest tranquillity and order prevailed during the whole of the funeral solemnity. The church was hung with black, and 60 young ladies, all dressed in white with black sashes, received the corpse, and accompanied it, with wax tapers, to the vault. ”
Caroline is buried in the Brunswick royal tomb in the cathedral in Brunswick (in German, Dom St. Blasii et Johannis), a large Lutheran church in the city now known as Braunschweig.
Numerous volumes have been published about the life of Caroline of Brunswick, her trials and tribulations. Below, the 1996 biography by Flora Fraser, published by Knopf.
Ms. Fraser’s conclusion (p.466): “[Caroline’s] high-spirited, even reckless, response to her predicament brought her unprecedented liberty, as she confounded the machinations of her husband and of the governments in England and on the Continent to bring her to book. But in the end Caroline’s breathtaking audacity had fatal consequences, contributing to the loss of her daughter, her crown and her life.”
The married life and death of Queen Caroline (1768-1821 were equally frenzied. Though she was never officially crowned, Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfbuttel was the wife of King George IV and thus, Princess of Wales and after the 1820 death of George III, the Queen of England. She died on August 7, 1821, just a month after her husband’s lavish coronation ceremony which she was physically restrained from attending.
For an account of her death, we turn to excerpts from a letter from Viscount Hood to Henry Brougham, M.P., who had represented the Queen at her recent trial and had gone to York to attend Assizes.
Brandenburgh House, 8th Aug., 1821.
“. . . The melancholy event took place at 25 minutes past 10 o’clock last night, when our dear Queen breathed her last. Her Majesty has quitted a scene of uninterrupted persecution, and for herself I think her death is not to be regretted. . . . She died in peace with all her enemies. Je ne mourrai sans douleur, mais je mourrai sans regret (I shall not die without pain, but I die without regret) was frequently expressed by her Majesty. I never beheld a firmer mind, or any one with less feelings at the thought of dying, which she spoke of without the least agitation, and at different periods of her illness, even to very few hours of her dissolution, arranged her worldly concerns. . .”
King George IV learned the news of the death of his estranged — and much despised — wife while on board a ship bound for his visit to Ireland. Apparently illness had accomplished what he had tried to do so often in life — rid himself of Caroline. Though there were rumors of poison and other nefarious plots, her death was officially ruled to be from natural causes. George IV greatly resented the popular acclaim that Caroline enjoyed; she was a favorite of the people; they probably loved her mainly because they detested the Prince Regent/King and his profligate ways.
Even in death, Caroline left controversy in her wake, as expressed by our old friend, the Diarist Thomas Creevey:
Mr. Creevey to Miss Ord.
“Cantley, Aug. 11.
. . . The death of this poor woman under all its circumstances is a most striking event and gave me an infernal lump in my throat most part of Thursday. . . . (There) is one subject which gives me some uneasiness in the making of her will, the Queen wished to leave some diamonds to Victorine, the child of Pergami, of whom she was so fond. This was not liked by Brougham and her other lawyers, so the bequest does not appear in the will ; but the jewels are nevertheless to be conveyed to Victorine. This, you know, is most delicate matter to be employed on her deathbed in sending her jewels from Lady Anne Hamilton and Lady Hood to Pergami’s child appears to me truly alarming. I mean, should it be known, and one is sure it will be so, for Taylor had a letter from Denison last night mentioning such a report, and being quite horrified at it. On the other hand, when I expressed the same sentiment to Brougham, he thought nothing of it. His creed is that she was a child-fancier: that Pergami’s elevation was all owing to her attachment to Victorine, and he says his conviction is strengthened every day of her entire innnocence as to Bergami. This, from Brougham, is a great deal, because I think it is not going too far to say that he absolutely hated her; nor do I think her love for her Attorney General (Brougham) was very great.”
Creevey is referring to Victorine, the daughter of Caroline’s companion and perhaps lover, Pergami. She was one of several children Caroline doted upon during her lifetime, Whether any of them were her illegitimate offspring was widely discussed but never proved. Several were left legacies in her will.
George IV was desperate to rid himself of his wife. They had been estranged since shortly after their arranged marriage in 1795, even before the birth of their only child, Princess Charlotte of Wales (1796-1817). Even after Charlotte’s lamented death in childbirth, Caroline had remained abroad, living in Italy until her husband became king. But when she returned to England, she faced an unpleasant situation.
When King George tried to divorce his wife in a trial before the House of Lords in 1820, Henry Peter Brougham (1778–1868), later 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux, defended her. The fact that the case was later dropped gave him great prestige. He became Lord Chancellor of Great Britain under King William IV.
Letter from Henry Brougham, M.P., to Mr. Creevey.
“Aug. 14, 1821.
I have seen Lushington and Wilde repeatedly. They are at this moment in negociation with the Govt. ; or rather throwing up all concern with the funeral on account of this indecent hurry. Their ground is a clear one : they won’t take charge of it from Stade the port in Hanover to Brunswick without knowing that arrangements are ready to receive them. . . . The Govt., only wishing the speedy embarkation, as they avow, for the sake of not delaying the dinner at Dublin, insist on getting it on board as quick as possible, and don’t mind what happens afterwards. … I shall, I think, be satisfied with going to Harwich with it, and not go, as I had intended, to Brunswick.”
Poor Caroline. Though the people mourned her, only those required to accompany her body apparently wanted to do so. She had requested burial in her native Brunswick.
Mr. Creevey to Miss Ord.
” Cantley, Aug. 18th.
“. . . Here is Brougham again. He has been at Harwich, where he saw the body of the Queen embarked about 3 o’clock on Thursday; and then immediately came across the country, and, after travelling all night, got here to dinner yesterday, and proceeds to Durham to-night to join the circuit there. I wish very much I had been at Harwich : according to Brougham’s account it must have been the most touching spectacle that can be imagined the day magnificently beautiful the sea as smooth as glass
our officers by land and sea all full dressed soldiers and sailors all behaving themselves with the most touching solemnity the yards of the four ships of war all manned the Royal Standard drooping over the coffin and the Queen’s attendants in the centre boat every officer with his hat off the whole time minute guns firing from the ships and shore, and thousands of people on the beach sobbing put aloud. … It was as it should be and the only thing that was so during the six and twenty years’ connection of this unhappy woman with this country. . . And now what do you think Brougham said to me not an hour ago? that if he had gone with the Queen’s body to Brunswick, it would have been going too far it would have been over-acting his part ; ‘ it being very well known that through the whole of this business he had never been very much for the Queen ! ‘ Now upon my soul, this is quite true, and, being so, did you ever know anything at all to equal it ?”
Apparently Mr. Creevey did not approve of Mr. Brougham’s dismissal of any affection for the lady he had served as adviser since 1812.
Caroline had long been a popular figure with the masses. During her funeral procession, riots broke out in the London streets. We will continue reporting on Queen Caroline’s death and burial soon.
Just before the 2017 Country House Tour began, Kristine Hughes Patrone, Sandra Mettler, Delle Jacobs and I met up at our hotel and made a visit to Lyme Park, which became an icon for lovers of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice when it was used for the exterior shots of Pemberley in the BBC-Colin Firth-Jennifer Ehle version of Pride and Prejudice produced in 1995.
Below, the film inspired souvenirs in the gift shop — mugs, tea towels, chocolates, and the DVD among other treasures.
The view as we entered did not look like the one above which overlooks the lawns and park. Where were the columns, I wondered?
The north facade looks somewhat like the Elizabethan house it once was, with Georgian additions such as sash windows, etc.
This photo, from Wikipedia, gives a better view of the north facade, which is described in the guidebook as “the exuberant Elizabethan frontispiece executed for Sir Piers Legh VII in about 1570…” There have been about thirteen or fourteen Sir Piers or Sir Peter Leghs in the family’s five-century ownership of the property.
The Courtyard was completed in the early 17th century by Sir Peter IX to the designs of Giacomo Leoni in the Palladian style. On the courtyard sign, we found our instructions.
So we popped into the ticket office and showed our Royal Oak passes before proceeding into the house. Of course we knew that the Pride and Prejudice 1995 interiors were shot at Sudbury Hall, and thus the Lyme Park rooms were entirely new to us. Only exterior shots of Lyme Park were used in that version.
In the Entrance Hall, Leoni remodeled the original Great Hall but retained evidence of the house’s antiquity.
In addition, Mortlake tapestries from the Hero and Leander series, C. 1625, adorn the walls; the room was used as a ballroom from time to time.
The Library, in the two photos below, is one of those places we want to spend a few days perusing the many shelves of books.
Oh to be let loose on those shelves!
The Dining room was added in 1814 by Thomas Legh in an addition designed by architect Lewis Wyatt on the east front.
The table setting is Edwardian, c. 1908.
The Yellow Bedroom was furnished in the early 18th century, with the elegant bed contrasting with the colorful Flemish tapestries on three walls.
In the adjacent dressing room, we found an exquisite grey silk Regency-era pelisse.
The Saloon sits behind the memorable portico on the South Facade. As the principal receiving room, it is paneled in oak and boasts a fine walnut harpsichord by John Hitchcock of London, from the mid 1760’s.
The Grand Staircase was designed by Leoni in the early 18th century. At the top is a portrait of Thomas Legh (1792-1857) an avid traveler in his Nubian (Egyptian) dress, painted c. 1820 by William Bradley.
The typically Elizabethan-era Long Gallery, above, on the first floor, was designed for exercise on inclement days and as an all purpose room for family activities, such as amateur theatricals, as well as being a picture gallery.
In the second decade of the 19th century, architect Lewis Wyatt designed the Orangery and its colorful terrace.
The Dutch garden should be viewed from above, for which it is magnificently designed.
And from the Dutch Garden, you can clearly see that famous Pemberley facade from the film.
Lyme Park was full of surprises. We expected it to be a classic Palladian house, precisely the modern structure Jane Austen described as Pemberley. Instead, we found everything from remnants of its origin as a medieval hunting lodge through myriad design styles to the eclectic combination of today. Yet it all seems of a piece, fittingly so.
Would you like to visit some of England’s finest stately homes? Number One London has another Country House Tour set for May 2019 – complete details here.
The story of Wentworth Woodhouse (WW) is intensely interesting — and convoluted. Since I am a great devotee of all things British, and especially the great country houses and the people who lived in them, I was particularly excited to visit the estate with Number One London Tours 2017 Country House Tour.
WW has been open to the public for only a few years. I was eager to see it, reputedly the largest private house in Europe, if perhaps one of the strangest.
The land has been in the hands of the family since the 13th century. The present structure was begun in the 1720’s by Thoms Watson Wentworth, 1st Marquess of Rockingham (1693-1750), on the site of a previous house. The baroque style, in red brick, did not find favor with the Marquess and his friends among the Whig aristocracy.
Almost as soon as it was completed, Rockingham built another house, facing West, this time in the Palladian style favored by his social set and political allies. The two back-to-back wings are joined together in an area perhaps saved from an earlier 17th century house. The estate and political influence both went to his son, Charles Watson Wentworth (1730-1782), 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, eventually Prime Minister and holder of numerous public offices.
The 2nd Marquess and his wife had no sons; therefore in 1782, the estate passed to his nephew, William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, and the marquess’s title, Rockingham, became extinct.
If most of these names have a familiar ring, don’t be surprised. Refer instead to Janine Barchas’ book Matters of Fact in Jane Austen.
I can’t resist posting the following picture which shows Dr. Barchas and me at a Chicago JASNA event.
Dr. Barchas traces the origin of many of the family names used by Jane Austen in her novels. Among relatives of the Fitzwilliams were the D’arcys, as used in Pride and Prejudice. Woodhouse is the family name of Emma. Wentworth is Captain Frederick’s family name in Persuasion. The Watsons is one of Austen’s two unfinished novels. Austen’s contemporary readers would have instantly recognized the names of these leading British families, though 200 years later, they come as a revelation. For the source of many other names used by Jane Austen, check the book by Dr Barchas.
The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust was established to preserve and restore the estate, after many years of problems and neglect. Restoration will be a huge and expensive job, probably aided by the frequent use of the property for film and television dramas. We saw it in Mr. Turner, the 2014 film about J. M. W. Turner, the celebrated and eccentric artist, where the Marble Hall was staged as the annual exhibition of the Royal of Arts — note that floor.
The film Darkest Hour has been highly praised. WW stands in for Buckingham Palace where Churchill meets with His Majesty George VI.
Many scenes in the television series Victoria were filmed at WW, including the review of the regiment on the front lawn.
An ariel view of the adjacent houses shows how they are joined, and in that area where they meet are remnants of the earlier 17th-century structure. It is estimated that there are five miles of corridors inside.
Very little is left of the 1630 house but this garden gateway. Inigo Jones was probably the architect of this Wellgate. Below, compare it to the garden gate at Chiswick.
The previous house built in 1608, of which only traces remain, was otherwise incorporated into one (or both?) of the present houses.
Improvements were well underway when we visited in the autumn of 2017. Simply fixing the roof–said to be nearly four acres in size–will take up most of the initial grant from the government of 6.6 million pounds.
The Fitzwilliam family was one of the richest and most powerful in Britain in the 19th century. Coal mined on the estate supported them in near-regal style and employed thousands in nearby villages and as tenants on the land.
The 2014 nonfiction book Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey reads like a novel as it relates the dramatic ups and downs of the estate and its residents. Highly recommended.
If you will permit another aside, the story of the last 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, has interesting features.
His romance with Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy was frowned upon by the very Catholic Kennedy family, especially by her parents, who were none too pleased when Kick converted to the Church of England.
Nevertheless, they married in May 1944. Only her older brother Joe attended the wartime wedding. Just four months later, Billy was killed in action in Belgium. Joe, eldest of the Kennedy brothers, died in August 1944. The widowed Kathleen later began a relationship with Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, who was married and the father of a daughter. Kick and Peter died together in a plane crash on their way to the Riviera in 1948.
She is buried near Chatsworth in the churchyard at Edensor, another of the ill-fated Kennedy children whose lives have been so tragic.
Upon the death of Billy, Andrew Cavendish, second son of the 10th Duke, became the Marquess of Huntington and eventually the 11th Duke of Devonshire. His Duchess, Deborah, nee Mitford, was particularly instrumental in making the family estate of Chatsworth in Derbyshire, into one of Britain’s premier stately homes. Deborah, or Debo as she was familiarly known, was the author of many books, died in 2014 at age 94.
The complex story of Wentworth Woodhouse is far from over. At the death of Peter Fitzwilliam, the estate was undergoing extensive strip coal mining, sometimes right up to the door, which weakened the house foundations as well as ruining the gardens. Postwar austerity and crippling death duties required putting the house on the market, and who, pray tell, might want to own such a white elephant? Most of the furnishings were auctioned and eventually the property was leased to Lady Mabel College for the training of female physical education students.
After several decades of changing ownership and sporadic attempts to halt deterioration, in 2017 the WW Preservation Trust acquired the property and a grant for the renovation of the house. They have a daunting task at hand. When we visited, only a few rooms had furniture, and evidence of sinking accompanied general decline.
This forest of pillars on the ground floor supports the Marble Saloon above.
Most of the rooms are without furnishings or temporarily provided with furniture for meetings, parties, and conferences, by which the Trust hopes to help fund restorations.
But the remaining features of the house are stunning, as in the details of this fireplace surround.
The Van Dyck Room boasts a magnificent chandelier.
The Whistlejacket Room continues the white and gilt decor; it is named for the painting above (though it is a copy) by George Stubbs , c. 1762, of a famous racing stallion owned by the family, Whistlejacket, winner of many races. The original Stubbs work was acquired by the National Gallery in London, where the original now hangs, for £11 million in 1997.
Upstairs, most of the attractive decor came to an abrupt halt. One room was preserved as it would have been for a student at Lady Mabel College in the 1950’s, but I am sorry to say I missed taking a shot there. Most of the upper floor was in need of considerable restoration.
After touring the chapel, we went outside to see where and how the two houses were combined with remnants of the original house built a century earlier.
By this time, I believe our tour participants were gob-smacked by the size and condition of the estate. But even more was ahead.
The gateway, reputedly by architect Inigo Jones, remains from the old house.
The Gardens are in need of considerable restoration also, but the land itself is interesting and worth seeing. Some garden decorations remain.
At last we were far enough away to achieve a perspective on the lovely West facade, the baroque house.
If you have managed to stay with us for this long, I will reward you with the other side of the Inigo Jones Gate:
Would you like a first-hand view of some of England’s most beloved stately homes? We’d love to have you along on the 2019 Country House Tour –
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.