Commentary Explorer Results
Commentary for Volume 2, Chapter 2: The Return of Napoleon
Reasons for thinking Napoleon would head for Italy:
Neil Campbell had written on 25 February that ‘I think it is almost certain that Napoleon is prepared to join Murat, in the event of the latter throwing down the gauntlet in defiance of the sovereign of Europe’. (Quoted in Mackenzie The Escape from Elba p 212).
Wellington hears news from Burghersh:
Burghersh’s letter does not appear to be printed, but see Wellington’s reply dated 13 March (WD VIII p 3) and Wellington to Castlereagh 12 March 1815 (WD VIII p 1-2) which explicitly says that he received the news form Burghersh on the 7th. It is rather odd though that there is no reaction from him until the 12th.
Neil Campbell had also sent Wellington a copy of his report to Castlereagh (WSD vol 9 p 583-4).
Wellington’s role in drafting the Declaration of the Allies:
Humboldt wrote that ‘Emperor Franz found the appeal to the general public to kill Bonaparte like a mad dog distasteful. He had this phrase changed to read that only those attached to his government, etc, are free to slay him. The English, also, objected to making the slaying of a tyrant a matter of private sport. Thus, the entire part that made the whole so particularly appealing to me was omitted’. (Quoted in Spiel The Congress of Vienna p 49).
This seems to be the only explicit statement of Wellington’s role in softening the declaration although this is probably what is referred to when he wrote to Lord Burghersh, ‘Here we are all zeal, and, I think, anxious to take the field. I moderate these sentiments as much as possible, and get them on paper …’ (Wellington to Burghesrh Vienna 13 March 1815 WD VIII p 3).
Talleyrand professed himself delighted with the text of the declaration and makes no mention of changes. (Talleyrand to Louis XVIII 14 March 1815 Correspondence of Talleyrand and Louis XVIII p 387-9).
British subsidies to the Allies:
Inevitably the question of subsidies made an early appearance in the discussions. The Emperor Alexander, who only a few weeks previously had threatened to plunge Europe into war over Poland, now declared that ‘he could do nothing without the assistance of money from England’. Wellington lacked the authority to make firm promises, but suggested a renewal of the Treaty of Chaumont with the implication that subsidies might resume on the same level as in 1814. This did not satisfy the allies, who pressed for an increase, but it formed the basis of an agreement which was signed by Clancarty at the end of April after formal authority had arrived from Castlereagh. The British government promised to pay £5 million per annum to mobilize and put into the field almost one million men. This was an astonishing effort and reflects the remarkable strength and resilience of the British economy and financial system which had not only weathered the storms of war, but had flourished: Pitt had never had more than a fraction of this sum at his disposal. (Sherwig Guineas & Gunpowder p 335-9).
The British Opposition’s reaction to Napoleon’s return:
Austin Mitchell The Whigs in Opposition 1815–1830 p 82-86 has a good account of their reaction: Grenville thought that peace with Napoleon was impossible – explains his reasons, and Fitzwilliam agreed. But the Foxite Whigs generally opposed war, partly because they opposed intervention in other countries and believed that the lack of resistance indicated that Napoleon was the choice of the French people; while they felt that Napoleon should that least be given a chance to prove his good faith – pre-judging him made the war morally wrong. They also believed that the country was exhausted and could not afford another long war. Tierney told the House ‘it was probable that the war on which we were entering would be a protracted war, as it was engendered in a degree of animosity which had not been witnessed since 1793. Did the right honourable gentleman think that there was any possibility that this war would be a short one? … he saw no probability of anything of the kind; the war could be determined by nothing but the overthrow of the people of France.’ That was four days before Waterloo.
Grey and Grenville both expected that the disagreement would lead to a public rupture of their alliance but were anxious to postpone this as long as possible, and felt no acrimony and therefore endeavoured to avoid the question so as not to draw attention to their difference. Whitbread’s amendment embarrassed them and divided party – Tierney supporting Whitbread, but the bulk of part against. The division became clear in the Lords a little later.
The Vote on Whitbread’s Amendment:
The House divided 37 for the amendment, 220 against so the government’s majority was never in doubt. The minority were radicals or radical Whigs: Whitbread, Burdett, Horner, Romilly, Tierney, Althorp and Sir Ronald Fergusson. I can’t see any surprises in the list, but many of the names are obscure – see Parliamentary Debates vol 30 col 463 for the full text.
Lord Wellesley’s views:
Lord Wellesley’s speeches in Parliament in April concentrated on attacking the Vienna settlement and the ‘neglect’ of the government in consenting to Napoleon’s exile to Elba, and then in letting him escape. However he did make clear that he hoped that the renewal of war could be avoided (7 April) and that he opposed any commitment to wage war to restore the Bourbons or even, though this is less explicit, to remove Napoleon (12 April). (Parliamentary Debates vol 30 col 876-882 – moves a step closer to the memorandum). He does not seem to have taken part in the subsequent debates although he is listed in the minority supporting Grey’s amendment on the Address to the Prince Regent on 23 May (Parliamentary Debates vol 31 col 316-71).
The general purport of Wellesley’s views was recognized at the time with Lord Liverpool commenting to Canning, ‘Were you not surprised at Lord Wellesley adopting the peace policy, and joining with the Whigs? I hardly know how to account for it’. (Liverpool to Canning 13 June 1815 WSD vol 10 p 464-5).
John Severn, in his sympathetic biography of Lord Wellesley, admits that he had ‘lost his political bearings completely … That this was due to pique can hardly be denied’. (Architects of Empire p 378).
Mood of the Country:
The ministers were confident that the public supported them. Castlereagh told Wellington on 3 April that ‘Whatever technical difficulties we may have in arguing the declaration in Parliament, we shall have none in making the country feel that it is a most important bond of union amongst the Powers for the salvation of Europe.’ (Castlereagh to Wellington 3 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 17-18). And Liverpool told Canning on 13 June that ‘Upon the war, the country, with the exception of the old Opposition, has been nearly unanimous’. (WSD vol 10 p 464-5). London radicals certainly did not support the war and Charles Abbot records that just as the campaign was beginning in Belgium, Castlereagh was chased through the streets of London by a mob of Burdett’s supporters (Diary of Charles Abbot vol 2 p 546-7 15 June 1815; see also Letters of Sir Walter Scott vol 4 p 70-1 Scott to Southey 20 June 1815 on the London radicals). But the London radicals were even less representative of the country as a whole than the Parliament. Caricatures are no sure guide either – their audience was metropolitan as well as affluent, but Dorothy George’s comments are interesting.
The agonizing uncertainties of the Hundred Days come to life in the prints which reflect a public opinion divided, perturbed, but fundamentally staunch. Shades of opinion range from the extreme of condemnation for Napoleon (a majority) to Bonapartist prints (very few) but there is little sympathy for Louis XVIII whose humiliation is burlesqued. From March to June they show how prudent was the ministerial policy of refusing to say that they aimed at the King’s restoration. (English Political Caricature vol 2 p 161).
Castlereagh spelt out the connection in a letter to Sir C. Stuart on 19April 1815:
It is essential to the interest of Europe that the public opinion of Gt Britain should be kept together. Without a conviction of the necessity of war in the sober judgement of the Continent, we should have a Peace Party here, as we had in the early years of the war before the last, which would soon disqualify us, augmented as the public burthens are, from giving our Allies an effectual support’. (Quoted in Webster Foreign Policy of Castlereagh p 544-545).
British war aims:
Castlereagh spelt out the official position to Clancarty on 8 April:
‘You will fully appreciate the importance of not having it imputed to the Treaty of Vienna that Louis XVIII, by being made an ally against Buonaparte, has been made master of the confederacy for his own restoration. His Majesty cannot wish the British government to feel more decisively the importance of his restoration than they do, and most assuredly every effort will be made so as to conduct the war as to lead to this result; but they cannot make it a sine qua non. Foreign Powers may justly covenant for the destruction of Buonaparte’s authority as inconsistent with their own safety, but it is another question avowedly to stipulate as to his successor’. (WSD vol 10 p 698).
Castlereagh made the same points in a letter to Wellington, adding ‘We deem this declaration not less advantageous to the King’s interests in France than to the maintenance of the contest in Parliament against Buonaparte’. (Castlereagh to Wellington 8 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 44-5).
Liverpool to Canning 19 April says that while the restoration of the Bourbons cannot be a sine qua non ‘we are bound in honour and justice not to countenance any project which is inconsistent with the rights of the legitimate Sovereign, and which might be adopted by many as a compromise if it appeared in any way be not repugnant to the views of the Allies’. (WSD vol 10 p 105-6). So Liverpool rejected Wellington’s idea that the Duc d’Orleans be considered as a compromise. (Wellington to Castlereagh 11 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 60-62).
A few days later (24 April) Wellington was so discouraged by Clancarty’s reports from Vienna that he thought there was no hope of the restoration. (This was when he believed that Napoleon would be overthrown by the Jacobins and the army at the beginning of May). However he agreed with Castlereagh that a restoration remained the best outcome for Britain ‘as the measure most likely to insure the tranquility of Europe’. (Wellington to Castlereagh 24 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 146-7).
By 5 May Wellington was feeling more optimistic (possibly because, not despite, Napoleon not having been overthrown) and told Henry, ‘I am inclined to hope that we shall establish the Bourbons after all, which will certainly afford us the best chance of peace’. (Wellington to Henry Wellesley 5 May 1815 WSD vol 10 p 231).
All of which shed light on Wellington’s curious letter of 20 May to Metternich in which he speaks optimistically of the coming campaign but apprehends serious difficulties subsequently, and expresses the wish that Britain and Austria at least had publicly pledged themselves to the restoration of the Bourbons back in March (WD VII p 98-99). Of course the purpose of the letter was to signal his, and Britain’s commitment to the Bourbons and to try to pre-empt any late intrigue for a compromise rather than to express an unwavering view he had held throughout but it is still at variance with Britain’s official position. Evidently Wellington felt that the Jacobins and Orléanists in France had missed their chance to overthrow Napoleon, and felt that they should not come to power on the coat-tails of the allied armies.
Wellington and the management of British subsidies:
Wellington had a large role in allocating subsidies to the minor states – authority delegated to him by the British government partly to increase his influence and prestige, and partly because he was on the spot (or nearer to it) and also handling the negotiations over the military contributions from the small states.
Wellington and the Portuguese Troops:
According to Torrens, ‘The arrangement, however, which the Duke of Wellington would like of all others, is the transport here of 15,000 Portuguese infantry under Lord Beresford, whose rank of Marshal on the Continent would supersede that of General, which the Prince [of Orange] holds in the Dutch service, without touching the old difficulty of British Generals being superseded by others in our service who have foreign rank. I ought to have mentioned before that the Portuguese plan of reinforcing this army is one upon which the Duke lays a deal of importance, and he wishes government to consider it seriously’. (Torrens to Bathurst, Ghent, 8 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 41-43).
Wellington explained another advantage of the Portuguese a few days later: ‘There is likewise this advantage in Portuguese troops, viz, that we can mix them with ours and do what we please with them, and they became very nearly as good as our own. The others must remain separate. They have their Generals and staff, and they must form separate divisions, if not separate corps’. (Wellington to Bathurst, Brussels, 12 April 1815 WD VIII p 25-26).
On 5 May Wellington told Bathurst that he thought that the Portuguese should get their subsidy (£220,000) whether or not they came to Belgium so long as they took the field somewhere. (WD VIII p 62-3).
No effective action likely in the Pyrenees:
A further reason that Wellington was eager to have the Portuguese army join him in Belgium was that he did not believe that an effective effort could be made in the Pyrenees. As early as 24 March he had told Beresford ‘it is nonsense to suppose either that Great Britain can make an effort on the side of Spain, or that, without Great Britain, Spain and Portugal will or can do anything’ (Wellington to Beresford, Vienna, 24 March 1815 WSD vol 14 p 539-40). Samuel Whittingham proposed sending a Spanish division to join Wellington but Torrens thought that the cost of transport made the idea not worth pursuing, and in any case it is by no means clear that the Spanish government would have given its consent. Spain had been seriously offended by her relegation to the status of a second class power at the Congress, and resented the appropriation of the Duchy of Parma as a consolation prize for the ex-Empress Marie Louise because the legitimate claimant to the Duchy being a family connection the Spanish Bourbons. Given the additional irritation of the slave trade question and the hostility of the press in London to King Ferdinand, it is unlikely that the Spanish government felt any eagerness to make much active effort in the allied cause whatever its hostility to Napoleon. (Whittingham to Wellington, London, 19 April 1815 enclosed in Richard Hart Davis to Sir Henry Torrens 19 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 95-96; Torrens to Wellington 21 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 130; see also Henry Wellesley to Wellington ‘Private’ Madrid, 31 March 1815 WP 1/452. Sherwig Guineas & Gunpowder p 337-340 says that on 22 June 1815 Castlereagh proposed to subsidize 20,000 Spanish troops to operate in southern France. The Spanish government accepted in mid July but Napoleon was defeated and they never crossed the frontier.)
Murat goes to war:
Napoleon’s only hope of finding an ally lay with Murat in Naples but this miscarried. Murat did not hang back – on the contrary he declared was on Austria and proclaimed himself liberator of Italy on 15 March, five days before Napoleon reached Paris. He has been much blamed for this by Napoleon’s defenders who suggest that his precipitate action destroyed any chance that the allies would accept Napoleon’s assurances of his peaceful intentions. However such hopes seem to have always been illusionary: the rulers of Europe were convinced from the outset that Napoleon’s return meant war if he could not be dealt with by the French government. Meanwhile Murat made rapid progress through central Italy encountering little resistance but also little active support. By early April he was in Bologna but the Austrian forces were concentrating and his own army showed no great zest for the campaign. On 3 May he was completely defeated at Tolentino and fled, first to Naples and then to France where Napoleon refused to receive him. A few months later he made a foolhardy attempt to regain his kingdom with only a handful of followers and was arrested without difficulty then court marshaled and shot on the 13 October 1815. (Atteridge Marshal Murat p 352-61, 368-70. Wellington was critical of Lord William Bentinck for not co-operating with the Austrians: Wellington to Castlereagh 10 May 1815 WD VIII p 75-6 and was concerned that Murat might command Napoleon’s cavalry: Wellington to Uxbridge 19 May 1815 WD VIII p 94).
Wellington arrives in Brussels and takes command:
Wellington told Castlereagh in a letter dated 8am 5 April that he arrived ‘last night’ (WD VIII p 15) and other letters from him confirm this. He told Bathurst on 6 April, ‘I have not yet formally taken upon myself the command’. (WD VIII p 17). The General Order announcing his assumption of the command is dated 11 April (WD VIII p 25n printed only in part.
It seems clear that the delay was due, at least in part, to the need to negotiate with the King of the Netherlands over the extent to which his forces could be merged into the allied army. In the end Dutch-Belgian troops remained entirely in their own divisions and were concentrated in two of the three corps unlike the Hanoverians who were dispersed a brigade included in most ‘British’ divisions just as the Portuguese had been.
The Prince of Orange and the British:
Wellington’s arrival was greeted with great relief especially by the British in Belgium and by the government at home who had been unnerved by the almost miraculous speed of Napoleon’s success, and who feared that he might launch an immediate invasion of the Low Countries. They had no confidence that the 22-year-old Prince of Orange, who commanded the allied army, was the man to handle such a crisis. It was difficult for experienced officers, who remembered the Prince’s arrival in the Peninsula four years before, to take him seriously or even treat him with due respect. For example when the Prince rebuked Alexander Gordon for making public news of Napoleon’s progress that the government was endeavouring to hold back, Gordon responded: “I’d have your Royal Highness to know that I am perfectly aware of when to speak and when to hold my tongue, and that I think it is more serviceable to our good cause to tell the truth than to conceal and falsify facts, however unfavourable to us” (Quoted in Broughton Recollections of a Long Life vol 1 p 238). And Sir John Colborne who was the Prince’s military secretary, reported home that, ‘The P[rince’s] character is very little known. [H]e was tame and modest once, but now the thing is quite different. His great failings are excessive vanity and obstinacy.’ (Colborne to Bunbury, Brussels, 24 March 1815 Bunbury Papers B.L. Add Ms 37,052 f 91-4).
The Prince’s apparent determination to exercise the authority entrusted to him rather than act as a mere figurehead caused consternation in London, which was heightened by the discovery that the Prince had not confided his plans to his subordinates, his staff, or even his father, the newly proclaimed King of the United Netherlands. (Charles Stuart to Castlereagh ‘Private and Confidential’ Brussels, 31 March 1815 FO 37/38 (unfoliated)). Bathurst begged the Prince to consult Sir Henry Clinton, the senior British officer in Belgium but the Prince stood on his dignity and rebuffed the suggestion, fortified in the knowledge that Clinton’s ‘talents and correct military ideas are only known at the Horse Guards’ (Colborne to Bunbury, Brussels, 31 March 1815 B.L. Add Ms 37,052 f 115-6 (including the quote); the Prince to Bathurst, 31 March 1815 HMC Bathurst p 343-4). The British ministers were so nervous that they begged Lord Hill (formerly Sir Rowland Hill), who happened to be in London, to proceed to Brussels with all speed taking with him peremptory orders to the Prince to withdraw his most advanced positions and not to give battle unless forced to do so (Bathurst to Hill 29 March 1815 Sidney Life of Hill p 299 see also ibid p 298-301). Hill arrived on 2 May, and although gossip said that he found the Prince ‘as obstinate as a pig’, it seems that the Prince was at least willing to listen to an officer he knew Wellington respected. Hill himself, once he got to Brussels, was astonished at the alarm and panic of the English community there who, he reported, had ‘been making themselves as ridiculous in the Low Countries as in Italy; the moment they heard of Bonaparte getting to Paris they all took flight, and publicly prognosticated that the French army would be in Brussels in a week. I think the English are never so respectable as when they are shut up in their own island and at war with the whole world.’ (Hill quoted in Teffeteller The Surpriser p 184 which also gives details of Hill’s appointment; gossip in Broughton Recollections vol 1 p 238; on the panic of the English community in Brussels see also The Capel Letters 96-98 and Spencer and Waterloo p 88).
In this climate the Prince’s supersession even by Wellington might have been awkward, but the young man yielded to his old commander with considerable grace, even urging Wellington to come as soon as possible. (The Prince to Wellington 17 March 1815 and to Bathurst 17 March 1815 WSD vol 10 p 702, vol 9 p 600). He had taken immediate steps to put the army on a war footing and to repair and provision his fortresses. The Dutch government had halted the departure of 4,000 men intended for colonial garrisons, although the Prince made an error of judgment in proposing active intervention in France, and the occupation of certain French fortresses, before Napoleon had even reached Paris. Fortunately the speed of events overtook this scheme which risked arousing nationalist sentiment in France without the prospect of doing any good. Once Napoleon was in power the Prince maintained his troops in southern Belgium but, as he finally assured Bathurst on 3 April, he intended to withdraw then at the first sign of a serious French offensive and concentrate the army for battle further north (The Prince to Bathurst 3 April 1815 WO 1/205 p 13-16). He was balancing the need to guard the country against small French parties, or even a local uprising in favour of Napoleon, with the risk to the troops, and there is no reason to believe that his judgment was astray, although that is not to say that he would have executed his plans successfully if he had been put to the test.
The Prince’s letter of 31 March to Bathurst is worth quoting:
I am extremely sorry to find by your letter of the 28th that your Lordship, after having entrusted to me the command of the British army, has so bad an opinion of me as to think that I cannot act without the guidance of Sir H[enry] Clinton. This general is in my confidence in as far as I thought it right that I [sic] should be, but having the honour of being the commander of this army, the whole responsibility resting upon me, I do not conceive it necessary to follow all his ideas if they do not meet mine, and nothing shall ever make me alter my opinion upon matters of this importance if I think myself in the right. My advanced position consists in cantonments near the frontier, with a line of cavalry posts in its front watching all the roads by which the French might advance. The Prussians will probably cross the Meuse at Namur tomorrow. The Dutch are collecting fast about Louvain and St Tron, and if Kleist will but act, as he assures me that it is his intention, in concert with me, we will be able to fight Buonaparte with about 80,000 men between Brussels and the frontier. After your Lordship will be acquainted with this disposition, I should think that you will not apprehend any danger for the British army under my command. I beg at the same time to assure you that no one can be more anxious for the success and preservation of the British army than myself and that I will neglect no measure of prudence to secure both as far as it will be in my power. (HMC Bathurst p 343-44).
This hardly warrants Torrens’s comment, a week later, ‘I found the Prince of Orange considerably cured of his huff at the interference with his generalship. Indeed he talked the matter over with me very good naturedly, and only complained of having been misunderstood’. (Torrens to Bathurst, Ghent, 8 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 41-43). The Prince also supported Wellington’s objections to the King’s plan to unite all the Dutch Belgium troops into two large units (WSD vol 10 p 167-8 quoted below).
British fear of betrayal by Dutch-Belgians:
As well as letters cited in notes, Wellington commented on 28 April 1815 that the King,‘is surrounded by persons who have been in the French service. It is very well to employ them, but I would not trust one of them out of my sight, and so I have told him. They manifest the greatest anxiety to get us out of Antwerp and Ostend; but unless I am ordered to evacuate those places, I don’t know anything of the persons he has named to those situations’. (Wellington to Bathurst 28 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 167-8). These suspicions were hardly unreasonable, and Wellington was wise to take precautions even though they may not have been warranted.
Wellington a Field Marshal of the Netherlands:
On 4 May Wellington told Bathurst that he had warned the King that if he was not more co-operative he would have nothing more to say to him and ‘will carry on my concerns with his son as I do with Blücher or any other foreign general’. (WSD vol 10 p 218-19).
On 6 May Wellington sent Bathurst copies of ‘the King’s decrees, by which you will see that the army is placed entirely under my command’. And asked permission to accept a commission as General. (WD VIII p 64).
On the 8th Wellington enclosed copy of a commission appointing him Field Marshal in Dutch army asking permission to accept (WD VIII p 70).
And on the 9th Bathurst replied with formal permission from the Prince Regent to accept any such commission. (WO 6/16 p 167-8).
According to Ron McGuigan the commission was formally dated 23 May 1815.
Wellington’s intention of mixing allied and British forces:
Torrens reported that ‘The Hanoverian levies are much superior to what I expected. The Duke means to mix them, as well as the Dutch, with our troops, according, in some degree, to the arrangements adopted with the Portuguese; and though this formation is opposed at present by the King of the Netherlands, I imagine this Majesty will yet be induced to accede to it’. (Torrens to Bathurst, Ghent, 8 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 41-43).
Wellington told Clancarty on 6 April: ‘The King is doing well here – He was remarkably well received on his arrival, and the People appear contented – His Majesty is a little obstinate, and appears very unwilling to consent to the only organization of his Troops, by which they can be made useful to the cause, or can be an Honor to him & their Country. But I hope I shall prevail upon him.’ (Wellington to Clancarty, Brussels, 6 April 1815 WP 1/457).
But on 28 April Wellington reported to Bathurst that the King was determined to put 7,000 or 8,000 men under the command of Prince Frederick, ‘a very fine lad of eighteen years old. He then intends, as I understand, that all the remainder should be under the Prince of Orange, notwithstanding the remonstrances I before made with the Prince’s consent against this arrangement, as placing in too great a mass all the youth and treason of the army’. (Wellington to Bathurst 28 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 167-8).
Arguments for and against an early opening to the Campaign:
On 7 April Wellington thought that ‘it would not be advisable to enter France before the arrival of the Russians, as the consequences of a partial check might be dangerous, and the enterprise should not be undertaken without such an overwhelming force as to ensure success as far as possible.’ But only three days later he wrote to Clancarty in Vienna that, ‘the Ministers of the Allied Powers, and the August Sovereigns, will see how important it is that no time should be lost in commencing our offensive operations. … there is a period approaching before which it is desirable that our forces should enter France, and that France should see what she has to expect from the government of the usurper’. (Harrowby to Castlereagh, Brussels, 7 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 31-35 (reporting Wellington’s views); Wellington to Clancarty, Brussels, 10 April 1815 WD VIII p 21-23 cf Memorandum 12 April 1815 WD VIII p 26-27 and Wellington to Clancarty 13 April 1815 WD VIII p 27-28. For Castlereagh’s views see Castlereagh to Wellington 26 March 1815 Webster British Diplomacy p 317-18 and Castlereagh to Clancarty 3 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 697-8). This indecision was never entirely resolved but the commencement of the allied offensive was constantly postponed although by early June Wellington was able to hope that by the middle of the month the Russian and Austrian armies would be ready to begin the campaign. (Wellington to Sir Henry Wellesley 2 June 1815 WD VIII p 118). In fact it was likely that it would have been further delayed until the beginning of July to enable the Austrians and Russians to complete their preparations, (Hofschröer 1815 vol 1 p 108).
Wellington and the British government:
Wellington’s relations with the British government were by no means free of friction either, even though the ministers made great efforts to please him. As it was impossible for Wellington to come to London even for a few days, the government sent two members of cabinet, Lord Harrowby and William Wellesley-Pole, together with Henry Torrens, to consult with him in Brussels. The delegation reached Brussels on 6 April, only two days after Wellington’s arrival, so it is clear that no time was wasted. After spending the whole of the 7th in talks the party accompanied Wellington to Ghent on the 8th where he paid his respects to Louis XVIII.
Harrowby reported to Castlereagh on the 7th that they had arrived at Ostend on the morning of the 5th but were delayed there some hours by want of horses. They left Torrens at Ostend to inspect the fortifications and reached Ghent in the early hours of the 6th sleeping at Lord F. Somerset’s. They waited upon Louis XVIII ‘who kept us an hour and a-half in conversation … nothing passed much worth your notice’ – gives details. ‘We were, as became us, chiefly listeners’. They arrived at Brussels about ten [presumably pm on the 6th] and heard from Wellington details of everything that had happened at Vienna since his last dispatch. ‘This morning [the 7th] they had ‘a long conversation with him.’ Harrowby then left to write this account, leaving Pole and Torrens to discuss military questions with him. Harrowby’s summary relates to the negotiations at Vienna, the mood of the allies, subsidies etc. (Harrowby to Castlereagh, Brussels, Friday 7 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 31-35).
Torrens prepared a detailed memorandum while at Dover on the 4th, explaining the troops available to reinforce Wellington’s army which begins by acknowledging the poor quality of the army in Belgium. He gives some interesting details of the effect of reductions in establishments of cavalry regiments and the militia issue. He looked to the return of the expedition to Mississippi by the middle of May at the latest, which should produce 6,000 men for Wellington (those fit to serve, and troops at home released by arrival of others, not fit for active operations). The troops form Nova Scotia – two good regiments – should arrive until the beginning of August at the earliest. Even then Torrens’s calculations did produce a force of more than 46,726 British infantry and cavalry (of which 6,765 were cavalry). This included the KGL, but not artillerymen. (Not clear if it is rank and file or all ranks). (Memorandum by Torrens, Dover, 4 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 20-24).
On 16 April Torrens refers to his return to England on ‘Wednesday last’ which would have been the 12th. (WSD vol 10 p 83-84).
See also WSD vol 10 p 40-41.
On 6 April Wellington wrote to Bathurst ‘It appears to me that you have not taken in England a clear view of your situation, that you do not think war certain, and that a great effort must be made, if it is hoped that it shall be short. You have not called out the militia, or announced such an intention in your message to Parliament, by which measure your troops of the line in Ireland or elsewhere might become disposable’ (Wellington to Bathurst Private Brussels 6 April 1815 WP 1/457 printed with names suppressed in WD VIII p 17-18). This was quite unfair as Harrowby, Pole and Torrens were able to explain on the following day. The government had not called out the militia because Britain was not, legally, at war, although 17,000 men of the old militia remained embodied and would play an essential role in home defense (Fortescue History of the British Army vol 10 p 234-5). In the meantime every effort was being made to send troops to Belgium as Robert Peel the Chief Secretary for Ireland reported to Dublin from London: ‘The Government here is determined to take 5,000 men from us, and run any risks. Lord Whitworth and I have laid before Lord Sidmouth the state of the country. His answer is unanswerable by us. “I know the danger in Ireland, but the Government think it better to take the chance of danger there, for the chance of success which an addition of 5,000 men will give to Lord Wellington”’. And again, at the beginning of May, when announcing the government’s decision to withdraw a regiment of cavalry from Ireland, Peel explained that the alternative was to take the only regiment in Manchester, almost the only regiment in the whole of the north of England, and added, ‘You cannot conceive the denudation of England of troops; there is hardly an effective man in it’ (Peel to Gregory 15 April and 3 May 1815 in Parker Peel vol 1 p 175-6). Not only had large numbers of troop been sent to north America but large reductions following the peace had already been put in place. By the end of 1814 the British government had some 47,000 fewer men with the colours than when Napoleon had abdicated less than nine months before. These cuts fell hardest on foreign corps and second line troops but cavalry and artillery were also sharply reduced (7,000 artillerymen and drivers) and many excellent second battalions were disbanded (Fortescue History of the British Army vol 10 p 228).
Calling out the Militia:
This was to have been a complicated question. Torrens had himself encouraged Wellington’s complaints writing to him on 31 March that, ‘If the Irish government were not so apprehensive of the state of that country, more infantry could be taken from that establishment; but, as the matter stands, nothing of the kind can be done until the militia are called out again’. (WSD vol 10 p 9-10; see also Torrens’s Memorandum of 8 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 49-51 which considers what troops would be released for service by calling out the militia).
Wellington’s poor impression of the government’s response to the crisis persisted with him writing to Henry Wellesley on 28 April: ‘They promise me more men from England; but it appears to me as if they were afraid there to touch the question of war, and they have most unaccountably delayed all their warlike preparations. The consequence is that the peace opinions are gaining ground fast, and I agree with you in thinking that if we only leave Buonaparte alone, we shall have him more powerful than ever in a short time …’ (Wellington to Henry Wellesley, Brussels, 28 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 168-9).
As usual, Wellington’s complaints need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Wellington’s demands and British Resources:
Torrens’s Memorandum of 8 April spells out what he could realistically hope to send Wellington: fewer than 8,000 cavalry even including Hanoverian Landwehr cf Wellington’s demand for 15,000 although another 2,800 might be released if the militia were called out. [And in fact Wellington had 9,448 British and KGL cavalry at Waterloo; 9,964 if Hanoverians are included – Bowden Armies at Waterloo p 272 – which possibly shows that Wellington’s complaints were effective].
Nor could Torrens see how many more than 30,000 infantry could be found before the 10,000 arrived from Canada in September. [Wellington had 21,704 British and KGL infantry at Waterloo add 3,671 at Hal and Brussels = 25,375. Bowden Armies at Waterloo p 272, 318. Even if an allowance is made for casualties from Quatre Bras and men falling out, the total would still not be over 30,000 men].
Wellington asked for 150 guns. Mulgrave, the Master-General of the Ordnance, expressed great eagerness to supply him (HMC Bathurst p 344) but, according to Wellington, said they could only manage 84 pieces (42 British, 30 KGL – not clear if the other 12 were allied or en route). (Wellington to Bathurst 21 April 1814 WD VIII p 38-39 cf Bathurst to Wellington 29 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 183-4).
According to the return in Siborne (3rd edition p 534) the army in June had 18 British batteries (including 3 siege batteries) = 102 guns
3 KGL batteries 18 guns
120 British and KGL (or 108 deducting siege guns).
+ 84 Dutch-Belgian, Hanoverian and Brunswick guns
Total of 204 guns, or 192 excluding siege train.
Here too Wellington’s demand was extravagant but may have forced the authorities at home to try harder.
Wellington and the Ordnance:
Frazer’s comments suggest that the Ordnance was unco-operative: ‘I am now squabbling with the powers at home for men and horses; for men, those “tools,” perchance to be “the broken tools of ambition”. The shift and sly evasions used at home, to parry arguments not to be controverted, are whimsical, and might amuse were one not too much in earnest, and too fully convinced of our being complete’. (8 May 1815 Frazer Letters p 507).
And there is the vexed issue of drivers – a large shortfall being made up, according to Frazer, by men picked up off the streets of Belgium (Frazer Letters p 490) – or possibly he means that these were just used as temporary grooms?
Yet only a few days later Sir George Wood wrote home, ‘I do believe there never was in the world such a proportion of Artillery so well equipped. The result must be felt by Europe’. (quoted in Duncan History of the Royal Artillery vol 2 p 412).
And the state of the horse artillery – Frazer’s force – was singled out for praise at reviews etc. So did Frazer had a substantial grievance or was the bureaucratic shuffling irrelevant to the wider result?
Duncan also points out (History of the Royal Artillery vol 2 p 418-19) that it was Frazer, not Wellington, who was primarily responsible for the adoption of 9 pounders in lieu of 6 pounders for many batteries of horse artillery.
It has also been suggested that Wellington’s criticism of Wood was at least in part due to his failure to secure the artillery captured from the French at Waterloo (Lipscombe Wellington’s Guns p 389-90).
Build up of the British Army:
On 25 March there were just under 18,000 British and King’s German Legion rank and file, and 14,000 Hanoverian troops making a total of almost 32,000. By 25 April this had risen to over 30,000 British and King’s German Legion; while by 25 May there were almost 40,000 British and King’s German Legion rank and file and just under 15,000 Hanoverians, making a total of 54,000, so that in two months the army had increased by more than 22,000 men. A further 20,000 men (almost all British) were added to the army in the two months from 25 June to 25 August as troops arrived back from Canada and measures put in place in the spring bore fruit. Including the Dutch-Belgians and other allied contingents Wellington had an army of approximately 110,000 men when the campaign began in June, although this included some garrisons and reserve forces not part of the field army. (General Returns in WO 17/1760 (unfoliated); Bowden Armies at Waterloo p 319).
Quality of the Allied Army:
There is interesting confirmation of the poor quality of the allied army, at least in March, in a letter from Kleist to the King of Prussia quoted in Hofschröer 1815 vol 1:
The English army in Belgium is neither strong nor it particularly good condition. Twenty-two quite incomplete English battalions including the German Legion have twenty poor cannon and amount to less than 15,000 men of the worst English troops. The Hanoverian corps has but one battery. One cannot say better of the Belgians. They are a wretched collection of riff raff. The entire army cannot consist of more than 30,000 men with 40 bad cannon. (Hofschröer 1815 vol 1 p 85).
And while slightly less forthright, Torrens himself acknowledged these deficiencies in his Memorandum of 4 April 1815:
Dover, 4th, April, 1815.
The army in Belgium under the command of the Prince of Orange was formed of such weak corps and the inefficient second battalions as had been originally sent to Holland upon a sudden emergency and in the absence of better troops; and also of the corps of cavalry and infantry of the King’s German Legion which were collected in Brabant upon the close of operations in the south of France, with the ulterior view of being marched to Hanover for reduction. The troops thus composed, in addition to the Hanoverian levies, were considered a sufficient auxiliary force for the military possession of the Netherlands pending the deliberations of the Congress at Vienna; and as it was impossible to foresee that any active service would be required of this nominal force, no measure was adopted for its augmentation or for the relief of any of the corps by more efficient regiments, which were necessarily appropriated to the pressing demands of the American war. The termination of the period of service of several of the men of the German Legion also rendered many of the regiments of that corps nearly as inefficient in point of numbers as the British battalions; and owing to a stop having been put to the recruiting, this evil has had a daily increase. (WSD vol 10 p 20).
However few days later Torrens commented with surprise that, ‘The Hanoverian levies are much superior to what I expected’. (Torrens to Bathurst, Ghent, 8 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 41-43). On 17 May Charles Colville wrote home that ‘my Hanoverians (one field Regt. and three of the Landwehr), [are] fine young men, but badly officered’. (Colville Portrait of a General p 194).
Wellington reported on the Dutch-Belgians after inspecting them with the King in late April: ‘
The Nassau troops are excellent; and the Dutch military are a very good body of men, although young. The Belgians young, and some very small. The cavalry remarkably well mounted, but don’t ride very well. The whole well clothed and equipped for service; as far as I could judge form what I saw of their movements, well disciplined.
They are completely officered by officers who have been in the French services. It was an extraordinary circumstance that the only corps which cried “Vive le Roi!” were the Belgians which appears in these good days to be the common cry of treason. (Wellington to Bathurst, Brussels, 28 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 167-8).
Sir John Fortescue (History of the British Army vol 10 p 244) writes that ‘Altogether the Duke was within the bounds of moderation when he described his army as infamous … his British troops were for the most part inferior to any that he had seen in the field since 1794’.
After the campaign Wellington s reported to have told Palmerston that ‘he had not above sixteen or eighteen thousand British infantry at Waterloo; that he started with the very worst army that was ever got together; but that four or five regiments who had been in the Peninsula soon gave a tone and character to the whole army, and the result was known’. (Palmerston Selections from Private Journals of Tours in France p 13-14).
Numerous and inefficient staff:
Wellington told Torrens on 14 April: ‘I am very much distressed about the numerous & very incapable Staff we have got here. I have begun by turning off all the subaltern officers employed as D.A.A.Gs and D.A.Q.M.G.s, contrary to regulations; and I propose to strike off all the Barrack masters, Commandants of towns, &c, excepting where we have hospitals. But we have still a good many incapable & unfit upon the Staff, whom I must remove to make room for those more capable of doing the duty’. (WP 1/458 printed with significant changes in WD VIII p 31).
Torrens replied: ‘I am not surprised at what you say relative to the numerous & inefficient Staff, as I was well aware of the extent & irregularity of the appointments which have taken place in Brabant, for the last six months in particular! The Duke desires me to say, that He fully approves of your discontinuing all the Subaltern Officers who have been employed as D[eput]y Ass[istan]ts in the two Departments, & also of your striking off all the Barrack Masters & Commandant where there are no hospitals. It was these numerous appointments which swelled the Monthly expenditure of the Army to so enormous a degree’. (Torrens to Wellington Private 17 April 1815 WO 3/609 p 133-4).
The seventeen Assistant Quartermaster Generals serving with the army when the campaign began in June included Alexander Abercromby, Felton Hervey, Charles Broke, George Scovell, and James Shaw[-Kennedy] all distinguished and talented veterans of the Peninsula. Wellington never relied so much upon the Adjutant-Generals department and the list of its members is not so obviously distinguished, but as it was headed by Sir Edward Barnes, Sir John Elley and Colonel Waters there is no reason to suppose that it was at all inferior to the department led by Charles Stewart in the early years of the Peninsular War. (Dalton Waterloo Roll Call p 9-11, 33-39; Fortescue History of the British Army vol 10 p 241-2; Sir James E. Edmonds ‘Wellington’s Staff at Waterloo’ p 240 which states that thirty-one of thirty-three officers holding senior positions on Wellington’s staff at Waterloo had seen considerable service in the Peninsula).
Fortescue discusses the question at length (History of the British Army vol 10 p 239-42) and concludes ‘Altogether, although there was undoubtedly some friction in the matter of appointments to the staff, and there may have been more young gentlemen than work could be found for, it seems to me that, except in the matter of reducing its numbers, Wellington had his own way and had no right to complain that his staff was without experience. The secret of his ill temper seems to have been that many of his former staff-captains and majors had, by exchange into the Guards, obtained the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and were on that account at first rejected by the Duke of York, though subsequently permitted to take up their appointments. Wellington’s sweeping statements therefore, on this as on some other topics, should not be accepted without much reservation’. (Fortescue History of the British Army vol 10 p 242; Gomm Letters and Journals p 347-8 explains and gives evidence for Fortescue’s point and shows that the Horse Guards were distinctly obstructive).
But see also Napoleonic War Journal of T. H. Browne p 280-1 where it is claimed that Browne was misled by Torrens into accepting a post with Lord Stewart when Torrens knew Wellington wanted him at his headquarters, and that Wellington claimed that this was not an isolated instance. However these claims probably need to be regarded with some skepticism.
See also Creevey Papers p 289 for Wellington’s complaints about Sir Hudson Lowe.
Richmond and Cradock both press to be allowed to serve:
Many senior officers were anxious to serve including Sir John Cradock, still seeking redemption for his suppression in 1809, and the Duke of Richmond who pressed his case urgently but without success. (Wellington to Sir J. Cradock, Brussels, 11 April 1815 WD VIII p 24; Torrens to Wellington 16 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 83-84 and reply 21 April WP 1/458 printed, with Richmond’s name suppressed, in WD VIII p 37-38).
Appointment of Lord Uxbridge:
This was a delicate question less because of his role in breaking up Henry Wellesley’s marriage than because Wellington’s loyalty to Stapleton Cotton, now Lord Combermere, who was equally anxious to take the field. Torrens discussed the question with Wellington and found him happy, even eager to have Uxbridge, although unwilling to go so far so to prefer him to Combermere. At the time it was hoped that there would be room for both – that there would be sufficient cavalry to form two corps – but this soon proved overly optimistic and Uxbridge went out while Combermere remained at home feeling very harshly treated. Wellington may not have chosen Uxbridge, but it is evidently wrong to say that Uxbridge was forced on him. (Torrens to Wellington 1 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 10-11, Anglesey One Leg p 119-121; Torrens to Uxbridge, Private, 13 April 1815; Torrens to Combermere, ‘Private and Confidential’ 13 April and ‘Private’ 18 April 1815 WO 3/609 p 114-116, 116-118, 134-7).
Torrens told Wellington to 1 April ‘There appears to be a very general wish, on his own part as well as that of others, that Lord Uxbridge should be appointed to your cavalry. Will you have the goodness to let me know your confidential wishes and opinion on this subject’ (WSD vol 10 p 10-11).
And Lord Uxbridge wrote to his brother a few days later: ‘I now incline to think I shall serve. It certainly depends upon the Duke of Wellington & as the Duke of Y[ork] tells me that the Prince wishes it so much that HRH wanted to name me at once & that Ministers & Ld Bathurst particularly all urged it, & as Torrens is sent over [to Brussels] amongst other things to take His Grace’s pleasure here on, I conclude then the thing must be so’ (quoted in Anglesey One Leg p 121).
Picton’s reluctance to serve again:
It is often said that Picton was reluctant to serve again in 1815 (see, for example, Richard Holmes Firing Line p 255-6). The evidence for this is a garbled story in Stanhope’s Notes of Conversations with the Duke of Wellington p 68-9 which probably refers to the occasion when Picton went home from the Peninsula in 1813 and was not expected to return, but did so (see Colville Portrait of a General for the story); and a claim in George Elers’s Memoirs p 212-12 which also seems to fit 1813 better than 1815.
Against this we have Torrens’s statement of 16 April that ‘Picton and Cole are most urgent for employment’ (WSD vol 10 p 83-4) repeated on the 18th: ‘Picton and Cole are both in Town, looking anxiously for employment’. (WO 3/609 p 134-7).
Frederick Myatt, in his biography of Picton, says that he was ‘still eager for a little more distinction and therefore very willing to see another campaign’ (Myatt Peninsular General. Sir Thomas Picton, 1758-1815 p 204); and Robert Havard agrees while adding that Picton ‘required [a] personal assurance that he would be employed directly under the Duke with no other officer superior in rank’ i.e. that he would not be expected to serve under the Prince of Orange, or Hill, or any other corps commander (Havard Wellington’s Welsh General p 232). In the event Picton served in the Reserve which was under Wellington’s personal command, but Torrens had suggested as early as April that another corps might be formed under either Edward Paget or Lord Dalhousie, with its divisions commanded by Picton and Lowry Cole. (Torrens to Wellington, 16 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 83-84). Cole was equally keen to serve but once appointed asked for three weeks leave to get married (which he was on 15 June in London), and consequently missed the campaign (Cole Memoir p 137-8).
Wellington and Gneisenau:
Wellington met Gneisenau at Aachen on 4 April on his way to Brussels and reported to Castlereagh that, ‘I found the Prussians very content yesterday at Aix la Chapelle, and I propose to write to Gneisenau this afternoon upon our plan, as soon as I shall have seen how matters are situated here, and on the frontier’. (Wellington to Castlereagh, Brussels, 5 April 1815 WP 1/457 printed with extensive deletions in WD VIII p 15-16 – the contrast between this and their ‘excessive’ indignation a few days later appears to contradict Hofschröer’s suggestion that the Prussians already knew about the Secret Treaty – unless the indignation was pure theatre).
Wellington’s letter to Gneisenau of 5 April is printed (in French) in WD VIII p 16-17 and part of it given in English in Hofschröer 1815 vol 1 p 103.
As well as Gneisenau’s letters to Sir Hudson Lowe, quoted in the text, see his brief letter to Wellington of 6 April (WSD vol 10 p 26) and Röder’s longer letter to Wellington of the 8th (WSD vol 10 p 47-48 and, in English, in Hofschröer 1815 vol 1 p 103-4). Hofschröer also quotes Röder on 9 April ‘General Gneisenau has certainly indicated that he sincerely wishes to operate in concert with the Duke of Wellington and to move the troops under his orders to the places required without awaiting a general plan’. And Gneisenau four days later, ‘but you may, my Lord Duke, in the event of an attack, count on the assistance of all our available forces here, and we have decided to share the lot of the army under the orders of Your Excellency’ (Hofschröer 1815 vol 1 p 113).
The British government seems to have retained some idea in early April that Wellington would be given command of the Prussian army, but Wellington did not expect it and was ‘perfectly satisfied of being enabled to carry all his objects into effect, by the good understanding which he can, and if fact has established, with the Prussian Commander, equally as if the latter was actually placed under his orders’. (Torrens to Bathurst, Brussels, 7 April 1815 WSD vol 10 p 40-41).
Wellington and Blucher meet at Tirlemont, 3 May 1815:
As Hofschröer points out, this meeting took place in the context of reports of an impending French attack. (Dornberg to Fitzroy Somerset 2 May 1815 WSD vol 10 p 216; Wellington to Bathurst 2 May 1815 WD VIII p 55). And it was followed by concrete results with Blücher moving his headquarters forward from Liege to Namur (Hofschröer 1815 vol 1 p 117).
Michael Leggiere writes: ‘To date, no official transcript of the discussion at Tirlemont has been found, and some of Blücher’s biographers do not even mention the event. His trusted adjutant, Nostitz, recorded that the conversation mainly concerned the Saxons and the campaign plan, but he offered few details. …. That night Wellington write three letters, including one to Hardenberg, indicating his satisfaction that Blücher agreed to assist him in the event of a French offensive.’ (Leggiere Blücher p 381).
See also W. H. James The Campaign of 1815 p 115n evidence of Prussian plan to strike at Napoleon’s flank of he attacked Wellington prepared in time for meeting of 3 May.
Logistical difficulties contributed to Prussian move forward an eagerness to begin the Campaign:
Hofschröer 1815 vol 1 p 119 quotes Gneisenau to Boyen 8 May making it clear that logistical problems played a significant role in the Prussian redeployment:
My worries about supplies grow daily. The lands between the Meuse, Moselle and Rhine are exhausted. We are soon going to have to leave this area and find another where we can live. At the moment, only Brabant offers us this possibility. Merchants in this province only supply us when we can pay. But we have no money at all. If we cross over to the left bank of the Meuse [to Brabant], we can live from the supplies available there and pay with promissory notes. This measure will lead to another. Our first two corps are at Fleurus and Namur respectively. If the enemy pushes forward quickly from his fortresses, he will attack with superior numbers. If we were to move the IV Army Corps to the left bank of the Meuse, and place it one march from Gembloux it would be available for such a battle. The III Army Corps, still weak in numbers, can, in such an event, be deployed at the Ciney cross-roads to cover any movement by the enemy form Givet to Liège. The terrain here is difficult…
Blücher’s visit to Brussels:
He arrived on 28 May and dined with Wellington; inspected allied troops on 29th and returned to Namur on 30th (Hofschröer 1815 vol 1 p 123). Frazer gives a good account of the review (Frazer Letters p 521-4) and includes the comment, ‘One cannot but mark, and this continually, that even where persons of higher rank are present, the Duke is still, as it were by consent of all, the greatest of the great’ (ibid p 523).
After the meeting Blücher wrote to Hardenberg, ‘Old Wellington is goodwill himself and a very special man. We got on very well together earlier. He showed me 6,000 of the most beautiful cavalry; they are almost too beautiful to use.’ (Quoted in Leggiere Blücher p 385).
Impressions of Wellington in Brussels:
Spencer Madan, the Richmond’s tutor, describes Wellington dining with the family and a party including the Prince of Orange, Hill, Stuart and Alexander Gordon on 6th April two days after he arrived in Brussels. Madan was predisposed in his favour: ‘you may conceive the pleasure it gave me to find myself at the same table with such a man as he is’, but seems to have been a little disappointed at Wellington’s lack of seriousness:
The Duke of W. was in the highest spirits, full of fun and drollery, and made himself the life & soul of the company. When the ladies retired he engrossed the whole of the conversation, and told many interesting anecdotes of Bonaparte, and his campaigns, which he had heard from some of the French Marshals during his residence at Paris. No source can be more authentic, and every one listened to him with the greatest interest. The day happened to be the anniversary of Badajos, and you may be sure this was not forgotten by the Duke of Richmond. The Duke of Wellington appears to unite those two extremes of character which Shakspeare gives to Henry the 5th: the hero, and the trifler. You may conceive him at one moment commanding the allied armies in Spain or presiding at the conferences at Vienna, and at another sprawling on his back or on all fours upon the carpet playing with George. His judgment is so intuitive, that instant decision follows perception, & consequently as nothing dwells for a moment upon his mind, he is enabled to get thro’ an infinity of business, without ever being embarrassed by it or otherwise than perfectly at his ease. In the drawing room before dinner he was playing with the children, who seem to look up to him as to one on whom they might depend for amusement & when dinner was announced they quitted him with great regret saying “Be sure you remember to send for us the moment dinner is over” which he promised he wd. do, and was good as his word. (Spencer and Waterloo p 95-96).
Two months later Spencer wrote home: ‘Tho’ I have some pretty good reasons for supposing that hostilities will soon commence, yet no one wd. suppose it judging by the Duke of Wn. He appears to be thinking of anything else in the world, gives a ball every week, attends every party and partakes of every amusement that offers. He took Lady Jane Lennox (the youngest of the 4) to Enghien, [to] the cricket match, and brought her back at night apparently having gone for no other purpose than to amuse her’. (Lady Jane Lennox was born in 1798 so she would have been sixteen or seventeen. Madan Spencer and Waterloo p 102-103).
Frazer gives a less intimate glimpse of Wellington: ‘On Friday (26th [May]) was the Duke’s ball; nothing could be more splendid, and his Grace all affability and condescension. I saw there all the gay world. The dancing rooms were crowded to excess, but the dancers were persevering, and made out waltzes and French country dances with great glee’. (Frazer Letters p 520). And, a week later, ‘There was a ball last night at Sir Charles Stuart’s, which was most splendid … All the gayest of the gay were there: and, as usual, there was some dancing and much squeezing … The Duke wore six stars on his breast, besides an embroidered sword. He had given a dinner to sixty people, and seemed uncommonly joyous’. (ibid p 529-530).
© Rory Muir