Wednesday, 22 June 2011

ABC Wednesday W is for Waterloo and Wellington and Wet Weather

The Battle of Waterloo, on 18th June, 1815, was the authoritative finale to 26 years of fighting between France and the rest of Europe. It marked the end of France’s ascendancy and the beginning of Germany’s. The victors were the British, Germans, Belgians, Dutch and Prussians.  Napoleon’s reign as Emperor of France was ended and he was sent into exile on St Helena where he died in 1821. Louis XVIII was restored to the French throne.
Portrait of the Duke of Wellington by John Jackson 1830-31
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Three nights before the Battle of Waterloo began the Duchess of Richmond gave a ball in Brussels. Many officers of the English and Prussian armies were invited to attend, including Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, commander-in-chief of the allied army. As the evening progressed and the guests were enjoying the Duchess’ hospitality, word came to Wellington that Napoleon was advancing on Brussels at the head of the French army.

In order not to alarm the assembled company Wellington kept the information secret but quietly sent the officers to their regiments one by one, finally leaving the ball himself for the battlefield.

However, in the section of Lord Byron’s poem ‘Childe Harold’ that addresses events at the ball, the guests hear a booming sound in the distance but continue to dance until they eventually realise they are hearing cannon fire. This part of the poem actually refers to the night before the Battle of Quatre Bras, the prelude to the Battle of Waterloo, on 16th June.

The Eve of Waterloo

  There was a sound of revelry by night,
      And Belgium's capital had gathered then
    Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright
      The lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men.
    A thousand hearts beat happily; and when
      Music arose with its voluptuous swell,
    Soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again,
      And all went merry as a marriage-bell:
      But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!

    Did ye not hear it? No; 'twas but the wind,
      Or the car rattling o'er the stony street.
    On with the dance! let joy be unconfined!
      No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
    To chase the glowing hours with flying feet!
      But hark!--that heavy sound breaks in once more,
    As if the clouds its echo would repeat;
      And nearer, clearer, deadlier, than before!
      Arm! arm! it is--it is the cannon's opening roar!

    Ah! then and there was hurrying to and fro,
      And gathering tears, and tremblings of distress
    And cheeks all pale, which, but an hour ago,
      Blushed at the praise of their own loveliness;
    And there were sudden partings, such as press
      The life from out young hearts, and choking sighs
    Which ne'er might be repeated: who could guess
      If ever more should meet those mutual eyes,
      Since upon night so sweet such awful morn could rise?

    And there was mounting in hot haste: the steed,
      The mustering squadron, and the clattering car,
    Went pouring forward with impetuous speed,
      And swiftly forming in the ranks of war;
    And the deep thunder peal on peal afar;
      And near, the beat of the alarming drum
    Roused up the soldier ere the morning star;
      While thronged the citizens with terror dumb,
      Or whispering with white lips, "The foe! They come! They come!"

    And Ardennes waves above them her green leaves,
      Dewy with Nature's tear-drops, as they pass,
    Grieving, if aught inanimate e'er grieves,
      Over the unreturning brave--alas!
    Ere evening to be trodden like the grass
      Which, now beneath them, but above shall grow
    In its next verdure, when this fiery mass
      Of living valour, rolling on the foe,
      And burning with high hope, shall moulder cold and low.

    Last noon beheld them full of lusty life,
      Last eve in Beauty's circle proudly gay;
    The midnight brought the signal-sound of strife,
      The morn the marshalling in arms,--the day,
    Battle's magnificently stern array!
      The thunder-clouds close o'er it, which, when rent,
    The earth is covered thick with other clay,
      Which her own clay shall cover, heaped and pent,
      Rider, and horse--friend, foe--in one red burial blent!

As the battle was reaching its culmination, the Duke of Wellington was riding with the Earl of Uxbridge when a cannon ball struck the earl. Wellington said, ‘By God, you’ve lost your leg’ to which the earl replied, ‘By God, so I have.’ The rest of the leg was amputated in a nearby house whose owner buried it in the garden. It remained a point of interest for many years.

Wellington had many nicknames. Possibly the best known is ‘The Iron Duke’. Officers under his command called him ‘The Beau’ because he dressed in fine clothes. Regular soldiers called him ‘Nosey’ or ‘Old Hookey’ because of his prominent nose. Others called him ‘Arty’ or ‘Our Atty’. He wore custom-made boots which gave their name to Wellington boots though I think today’s wellies are probably a far cry from his footwear.

Although he was fastidious about his own clothes he was not concerned about his officers’ mode of dress except in one particular – umbrellas. In 1814 he had noticed many officers carrying umbrellas to shelter from the rain. Wellington made it clear that he did not approve of their use in battle, saying, ‘in the field it is not only ridiculous but unmilitary.’ Standing orders for the Battle of Waterloo stated unequivocally, ‘Umbrellas will not be opened in the presence of the enemy.’

The Duke of Wellington’s horse, Copenhagen, is buried at Stratfield Saye, the seat 
of the Dukes of Wellington in Hampshire.

To enjoy more Ws click here.


  1. Loved the umbrella quote from Wellington - would make a good sign! Thanks so much.
    ABC Team

  2. I've been fascinated by the phrase "to meet one's Waterloo" as a synonym for failure, but also a comeuppance.

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  3. Excellent, Janice, both you and Lord Byron.
    I agree with Mrs. Nesbitt about the umbrella quotation. And yet, wasn't a furled umbrella (concealing a weapon) an essential accoutrement for the British spy of movie history?
    — K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  4. I was just noticing that the TLS will be running an article by Rory Muir called 'Wellington and his scum' -
    next week. Just for your information - I am wondering what that is all about!

    That is a lovely header...

  5. How curious that Wellington did not approve of umbrellas.

  6. Great post - as usual. I have never been to a dinner party like that, although I just attended a wedding that 'bombed'.

    This was a great post and I am really curious what you'll have waiting for us for "X"!


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