The Wellington Connection: Mistaken Identity

copyright the Brussels Bronte Group

From: Three Years With the Duke, or Wellington in Private Life (1853) by Lord William Pitt Lennox (younger son of the Duke of Richmond)

The theatre in the Park (in Brussels 1814) was opened, under the management of Mr. Penley, with a company of English players. The comedy of John Bull was the first performance, and attracted a most crowded and fashionable audience. Throughout the day, it had been hinted at the box-office, that the Duke of Wellington would probably attend the evening’s performance, and a private box had been kept back under this hope. The Duke’s avocations, however, prevented his making his appearance upon this occasion, as he had already informed the manager, when asked to patronise the play. This nearly led to a ludicrous mistake—a young officer and myself had been dining in company with the Duke, and, with that good-nature and consideration for which he was famed, he gave us permission to attend the theatre, telling us we might take his carriage after it had set him down. Upon reaching the Park, the carriage was recognised, and a crowd immediately followed it. As we gained the entrance of the theatre, the name of Wellington rent the air. This was communicated to the manager, who thrust his head out from behind the curtain, to give a signal to the leader of the band to play, “See the conquering hero comes!” The report spread like wildfire. The performances ceased—all eyes were anxiously fixed on the vacant box.

In the meantime, we had jumped out of the carriage, had tendered our money, and were surprised at the obsequiousness of the box-keeper, who, thinking we were the precursers of the Duke, begged us to walk into the lobby. The manager, or some official personage, had rushed into the private box to prepare the seats, and there awaited the welcome visiter. We now began to see the mistake that we had unwittingly caused; and, anxious to explain it, we approached the now open box-door. No sooner were our uniforms visible, than the band struck up the heart-stirring melody. In vain did we try to correct the error: the audience had risen, en masse; shouts re-echoed throughout the house; the curtain was drawn up, and the company came forward to sing the national song of “God save the King:” but no Duke of Wellington appeared.

For some minutes the cheers continued, when at length it was announced from the stage, that a slight mistake had occurred— that the avocations of the noble Duke had prevented his attendance; and, after the excitement had a little subsided, my young friend and myself sneaked quietly into the box, placing ourselves behind the curtain, fearful of calling the attention of the public to two mere urchins, who so unintentionally had nearly received the honours due to their chief.

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