The London and Waterloo Tour – Brussels, Beyond Sprouts

Brussels today is the capital of the European Union, a fitting role for the city which has been an important trading center and part of many empires — Burgundian, Austrian and French, to name only three in the last fifteen centuries.

Capturing Brussels was the immediate objective of Napoleon Bopnaparte as he marched his army north out of France in June of 1815 after his escape from his first exile in Elba. He knew the British and Prussian armies were there or heading in that direction. It was in Brussels that he hoped to re-establish his empire by annexing part of the United Netherlands, as the areas of Holland and Belgium were known at the time.

Napoleon also knew that there was some sympathy for him in an area he had once possessed. Some local armies included men who had fought for Napoleon a few years before.

Stories about Napoleon’s disdain for the abilities of the Duke of Wellington, commander of the Allied forces, may also be true. Bonaparte is reported to have said, “…Wellington is a bad general…this is going to be a picnic.” How wrong he was.

In the year since the Allies first defeated Bonaparte in 1814 and restored the Bourbon monarchy in Paris, Brussels had become a popular residence for many Englishmen. Some aristocratic families were trying to cut costs and live less expensively. For example, the Duke of Richmond had moved his family and many servants to a large house in Brussels where they could entertain and still watch their finances. The Capel family was another who escaped creditors yet were able to live quite comfortably in Brussels. Some of the British were simply tourists flocking to the continent after the Napoleonic Wars had made travel difficult for many years. Particularly in the weeks leading up to the battles in June, Brussels was the scene of a lively social life, balls, soirees, breakfasts, promenades, as though no one had a care in the world.

Waterloo, the village for which the decisive battle is named, is just ten miles south of the center of the city. The battlefield is preserved, though the land is partially farmed just as it was 195 years ago.

The main part of Brussels is divided between the Lower and Upper Towns. The Hotel de Ville (City Hall), scene of a great welcoming ball for the Duke of Wellington, is in the Lower Town, in the Grand Place, the most famous location in Brussels.

However beautiful this scene is, perhaps an even more familiar symbol of Brussels is the Mannekin Pis, the little statue that is often dressed in costumes and rivals the city’s chocolates, lace and tapestries for worldwide fame.

In the Upper Town, many fine mansions surround the Parc de Bruxelles where the uniforms of Dutch, Belgian, Prussian, Hanoverian and British soldiers could be seen on parade in 1815. The nearby Palais Royal and the Musee Royaux des Beaux-Arts date from a few decades after Waterloo. When Belgium became an independent country in 1830, the great powers chose as its king Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, once the husband of the British Princess Charlotte of Wales.

Kristine and I are looking forward to strolling the parks, the colorful streets and the lively cafes of Brussels as we search for the location of the Duke of Wellington’s headquarters and the site of the famous Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, from which so many brave officers left directly for the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo.

The painting of the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball in Brussels held on 15 June 1815 hangs in the country home of the Dukes of Richmond, Goodwood, in West Sussex. The artist is Robert Alexander Hillingford (1825-1904). 
Another Englishman who was resident in Brussels at this time was the diarist Thomas Creevey, who left the following account of the Ball and the events that followed:
On the 15th there was a ball at the Duke of Richmond’s, to which my daughters, the Miss Ords, and their brother went; but I stayed at home with Mrs. Creevey. About half-past eleven at night, I heard a great knocking at houses in my street—la Rue du Musee—just out of the Place Royale, and I presently found out the troops were in motion, and by 12 o’clock they all marched off the Place Royale up the Rue Namur. … I sat up, of course, till my daughters and their brother returned from the Duke of Richmond’s, which they did about two o’clock or half after. I then found that the Prussians had been driven out of Charleroi and other places by the French, and that all our army had been just then set in motion to meet them. The Duke had been at the ball—had received his intelligence there, and had sent off his different orders. There had been plenty of officers at the ball, and some tender scenes had taken place upon the ladies parting with them.”
For the remainder of the Battle, the town’
s residents were on pins and needles to know the status or outcome of the Battle. Dependable news and reports were few and far between. They could hear the artillery and they saw wounded troops coming back by the wagonload, not to mention some Prussian troops who had simply turned tail and fled the fight. Eventually, the news of the British-Prussian defeat of Napoleon spread. Many homes and public buildings were turned into hospitals to care for the wounded. 
      Below is the more likely view we 21st century travelers will have of Brussels this June. 

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, Part Three

How could a family keep up a house and estate this large? Such a question plagues the families who have the responsibility of great houses, though probably just a few with a property near this size. Many houses have been presented to the National Trust, but the Trust requires that properties given to them be accompanied by a large endowment for their maintenance and operation.  Public funds are available to houses based on their historical significance, their degree of need, and the necessity of opening to visitors (which in itself involves many expenses for washrooms, parking, guarding, refreshments, repairs, etc. etc.).

Blenheim Palace attracts many visitors in itself, but never enough paying customers just to see the house and gardens. So, like many other stately homes in Britain, the estate is now a business, home to all sorts of  events.

John Spencer-Churchill, 84, the 11th Duke of Marlborough, and his 4th wife, Her Grace Lily, Duchess of Marlborough 

The Blenheim Horse Trials are justly famous, but only one of many sporting events held on the grounds. To amuse the children, the 11th duke began a railway, a maze, the Butterfly House, an adventure playground and the Churchill Exhibition.

The estate is the venue for all sorts of concerts, fairs, sporting events  and can be hired for weddings.

Bike Blenheim is one of many  charity events. Or attend one of the flower festivals, antique or craft shows, art exhbitions, and more.

Sad to say, but apparently true, the historical and cultural treasures of the great country estates with their incredible gardens — all these riches are not enough to attract sufficient numbers of paying customers to meet the bills.  One has only to think of how many stately homes are now part of schools and colleges, hotels,
country clubs, or worst of all, demolished. In the latter category are hundreds of once thriving estates dating from the time when owning land was the key to wealth.

One more opportunity for earning money is to serve as the setting for movies and television programs.  You have seen parts of Blenheim Palace and its grounds in scenes from many films, such as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, The Young Victoria, The Oxford Murders, and currently filming, a version of Gulliver’s Travels.

The Blenheim Railway
David Littlejohn wrote a book called The Fate of the English Country House in 1997.  If you are interested in this complicated set of issues (private fortunes vs. public support, national heritage vs. contemporary welfare, etc. etc.), find a copy of Littlejohn’s book. You’ll never tour quite the same way again.

Or go to this website for the story of 1,776 demolished country houses. It’s a sad story.

But aren’t we lucky that so many wonderful estates remain for us to visit. We’ll blog about more soon.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, Part Two

Sir Winston Churchill by Arthur Pan

The most famous name associated with Blenheim in modern times is Winston Spencer Churchill, grandson of the seventh duke. He was born at Blenheim in 1874, son of Randolph Churchill (a second son) and his American wife, Jennie Jerome.

Jennie was staying at Blenheim when she went into labor and the baby arrived, typical of his later impatience, two weeks before his due date. Winston proposed to Clementine Hozier in the Blenheim garden folly known as the Temple of Diana.

Sir Winston and Lady Churchill are buried in the graveyard of St. Martin’s Church in the nearby village of Bladon.

As an archetypical English country house, Blenheim today is a museum of art and historical memorabilia, featuring such attractions as the victory dispatch the first duke wrote to Sarah on a restaurant menu, elaborate tapestries depicting his campaigns, ducal coronation robes, and the memorabilia of three centuries.

The gardens at Blenheim have been redesigned many times and currently reflect a variety of styles from formal, at left, to the rolling hills of Capability Brown’s tastes.

In the long library, there is a chart of the family’s genealogy, a familiar object in most English Stately Homes. However, instead of  just showing the family’s lineage back to William the Conqueror, this Spencer-Churchill (Marlborough) family traces its origins to Charlemagne.

Below, see the long library set up for a wedding.
Blenheim is one of many stately homes which can be rented for a lavish ceremony and reception.

As I mentioned in my first post on Blenheim, it is not a house designed for a family to live in. Wandering through the remarkable but sadly bleak trappings of Blenheim, one is struck by how much the first Duke of Wellington learned from Blenheim’s dominion over the entire Marlborough family. When offered a great Waterloo Palace as a gift from the nation after his victory over Napoleon (much as the first duke of Marlborough had been promised a great estate after his victory at Blenheim), Wellington proceeded cautiously. The Iron Duke knew what a burden Blenheim had been to its owners. What Wellington did, the story of Stratfield Saye, we will save for another blog post.

The Great Hall is 67 feet high with stone carvings by Grinling Gibbons. The arms on the stone arch are those of Queen Anne.  The ceiling,  painted in 1716 by Sir James Thornhill,  shows the Duke of Marlborough kneeling to Britannia.
The door leads into the saloon.

The Saloon is also known as the state dining room and is now used by the family once a year on Christmas Day. The magnificent ceiling was painted by Louis Laguerre. Various nations are represented in wall paintings, whilst the ceiling shows the 1st Duke in victorious progress but stayed by the hand of peace.

Another view of the saloon.

In the Green Writing Room, below, the Blenheim tapestry depicts the first Duke of Marlborough accepting the surrender of the enemy in 1704, the accomplishment for which he was honored with the dukedom and the estate.

                              A detail of the Battle of Blenheim tapestry.

The above tapestry showing Marlborough on the way to the battle hangs in the First State Room.

The Green Drawing Room, Red Drawing room and the Green Writing Room ceilings are the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor and the walls feature beautiful portraits of members of the family.  The tapestries are superb examples of the weaver’s art; ten Victory tapestries grace the walls of the State Rooms.
The Second State Room
The architects of Blenheim designed the house as a monument not as a family home, much to the disapproval of Sarah, first Duchess of Marlborough, who wanted a livable residence.  Continued maintenance of the estate has caused many generations of family to become the slaves of their legacy. The house is vast but the rooms, to me, almost seemed claustrophobic, crowded and anything but comfortable.
Nevertheless, it is worth a visit, even with the steep entrance fees.  But go soon, because it is ever more becoming a theme park. We will write about that in a future post on Blenheim, Part Three. 

The Forgotten Queen

This is the birthday of Caroline of Brunswick (17 May 1768 – 7 August 1821), Princess of Wales, Queen Consort of King George IV, one of the saddest characters in the last 200 years of British royal history.  Many have pointed out the parallels between Caroline’s life and the more recent sad Princess of Wales, Diana.

 Both married men who loved another woman (or women, in the case of George), both were loved by the public, both engaged in questionable romantic relationships outside of their royal marriages, and both died well before their husbands.

 George, Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and then King George IV, already had a wife when he found himself out of funds again, and had to appeal to his father, George III, and governmental leaders in Parliament for an increase in his allowance.

Some probably knew of the marriage ceremony in which Prince George had illegally wed Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert. But since the wedding of a royal heir required the permission of the king, the marriage did not exist officially.  So in return for an increase in his allowance, Prince George agreed to wed Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, his cousin from a German principality. The wedding took place April 8,1795.

The marriage was a disaster from the beginning. Prince George did not care for the appearance or the hygiene of his bride.  She thought he was much fatter than his pictures and a drunkard. Worse, he flaunted one of his mistresses, Lady Jersey, by making her Caroline’s lady-of-the-bedchamber, which Caroline did not appreciate. (See Kristine’s post on the Two Lady Jerseys posted April 2, 2010). George and Caroline separated almost immediately and lived in distant households for the rest of their lives.

However, nine months later, Princess Charlotte was born on January 7, 1796, and became the heir to the throne after her father and grandfather. To the right, Caroline and Princess Charlotte of Wales by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1802.

We will tell Charlotte’s sad story another day, but it suffices to say that both Caroline and Charlotte led unhappy lives because Prince George tried to ignore their very existence. Eventually, Charlotte married and later died in childbirth in 1817.

By then, Princess Caroline, her mother, was living in Italy at the Villa d’Este on Lake Como. (Victoria will post about this the Villa, now a hotel, soon.)
Caroline was living the high life, it was said, and had a very close friendship with a certain Signor Bartolmeo Pergami, which was widely caricatured.

After George III died in 1820, George IV had Caroline tried for adultery in the House of Lords. Though many believed she was guilty, it was not proved, to the King’s great irritation. He refused to allow Caroline to enter Westminster Abbey for his coronation in July of 1821.  She died just a few weeks later on August 7, 1821.  To the left, a detail of the Trial of Queen Caroline by Sir George Hayter.

There were inquiries into the cause of Caroline’s death, but again, nothing could be proven. She was buried in Brunswick.

To the left, a portrait of Queen Caroline by James Lonsdale. Caroline always had a popularity with many of the people who despised her husband for his profligate ways, overspending and general excesses in everything.  Jane Austen famously wrote, “I will always support her as long as I can, because she is a woman, and because I hate her husband…I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first.” (From letter of 16 February 1813 to Martha Lloyd)

Flora Fraser published her excellent book The Unruly Queen: the Life of Queen Caroline in 1996. It tells most of the story in detail with many more pictures. But, of course, the questions remain, nearly 200 years later. Was her behavior as bad as George IV’s was? Probably not. He was the penultimate spoiled child, self indulgent to the extreme.  But no one probably will ever know the full story of Caroline, the forgotten queen.

Youthful Politicians

Much has been made of the youth of new British Prime Minister David Cameron, 43, and Nick Clegg, deputy PM, also age 43. Perhaps it is a time of young men in power. Here are their facebook pages: Cameron and Clegg.

 Clegg is on the left and Cameron on the right, in the picture that is, and probably in their politics.
To lots of observers this seems like a real wonder. In fact, I think some early stories on both sides of the Atlantic talked about the youngest PM ever. Nonsense!!

Those of us who love history remember learning about several young PMs, not to mention U.S. Presidents. For example, William Pitt (1759-1809), usually characterized as ‘the Younger’ became Prime Minister at age 24. Yes, 24!!!

The portrait at right is attributed to Gainsborough. Pitt served two terms, separated by a few years. He died short of age 50, probably of stress and the effects of overimbibing his Port.

Some of the recent news stories about PM Cameron referenced Robert Jenkinson, Lord Liverpool (1770-1828), who took office as Prime Minister in 1812 at age 42. He occupied the office for fifteen eventful years, through the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna, the disruptions of the postwar period and most of the rule of George IV as the Prince Regent and King after 1820. After a stroke in 1827, he resigned office and lived on just a short time, dying at 58, relatively young when one considers the age of Sir Winston Churchill who was PM for the second time until he was 81 and died at age 90.

Tony Blair, just a few years ago, became PM at age 43, though he was practically on the eve of the more respectable 44. Born in 1953, he retired as PM in 1997 at age 54.

U.S. President Barack Obama was 47 at his election. The youngest U.S. President was Teddy Roosevelt, at age 42.  John Fitzgerald Kennedy was 43, Bill Clinton, 46, and Grover Cleveland at 47 matched the current president.

Take a virtual tour of No. 10 Downing Street here.