June will see Waterloo mania, events on a battlefield in Belgium, on a London station, music all over London and probably the odd memorial service in France.
Here we cover some of the more unusual aspects of the Duke.
“Publish and be damned” was Wellington’s reprise when a London publisher threatened to print the racy memoirs of Harriette Wilson ‘a steamy London courtesan’
Other lesser known of Wellington’s victories were his affairs with singers and actresses Giuseppina Grassini ans Marguerite Weimer who were ex mistresses of Napoleon. Still there’s no holds barred in love or war !
Which brings us to war and Waterloo, the final chapter of Napoleon’s last rampage across Europe.
Napoleon, sensing that France was still profoundly favourable to him and swayed by the situation prevailing in the country and threats weighing on his life, decided to return to French soil in 1815 and reclaim his throne.
France was split in two by King Louis XVIII’s Charter of 1814 and, especially, governmental measures: facing the Royalists, on one side, the great majority of the French people were indebted to the Revolution, which had given rise to Napoleon. The Emperor’s return from the Isle of Elba interrupted the fierce struggle tearing France apart.
Two proclamations circulated in France. They called for an uprising against the Bourbon rulers.
The “Flight of the Eagle” ended in Paris after 20 days without a single gunshot having been fired. Landing on 1 March 1815 in Golfe-Juan with over a thousand men, Napoleon went on to Grenoble along the Route of the Alps to avoid Royalist populations in the Rhône Valley.
Thus, he crossed Provence, where the people remained indifferent, or rather unresponsive, until he reached Laffrey.
There, the troops sent by King Louis XVIII were waiting to arrest him.
The soldiers, hearing the Emperor’s first words, rallied to his cause and preceded him in his triumphal march to Paris. On entering Grenoble, on 7 March, in his own words, the adventurer was once again a Prince. As he continued on to Paris, he was joined by many nostalgic soldiers and mustering growing support from the people.
He was returned to power on 20 March and held it for a “Hundred days” until 22 June 1815.
Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo by Lord Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, the Iron Duke . . . Meant that France had to relax it’s stranglehold on Europe.
No doubt if Napoleon had been victorious at Waterloo all Europe would have had its collar felt by the French. Today we might all be speaking French now with English dialects being taught in country classrooms.
One hundred years later there is an opportunity to experience the battlefield at first hand and stay at Waterloo – on the battlefield itself. Stay at the Château d’Hougoumon, the large farmhouse building which was at the centre of the action throughout the battle.
Recently The Landmark Trust acquired it, restored it, and for a very, very reasonable sum you can rent it, furnished, and relive your own battle. Even better it’s a real holiday with no WiFi, no TV.
The Landmark Trust are naturally very strong in the UK with a portfolio of very unusual follies, chapels, carpenters cottages and such. But they are now building a French portfolio. This Château is last month’s addition to other opportunities such as staying in Edward and Mrs Simpson’s country house Le Moulin at Gif-sur-Yvette, Essonne, just outside Paris.
. . . So for a very unusual and a special experience check out the Landmark Trust.
An artistic postscript . . . Last month one of the Duke’s paintings was found to be an original Titian. A conservator at English Heritage uncovered the square signature ‘Titianus’ on a very dirty portrait of a young woman believed to be Titian’s mistress.
It was part of war booty ‘acquired’ by the Duke from Napoleon’s baggage train where a trunk was stuffed with paintings looted from the Spanish Royal collection. We don’t seem to have returned any of these works or art to their rightful owners even though WW2 looted art does find it’s way back from Hitler and Goering’s would-be art collections . . .
If you want to see this latest Titian it’ll be on show at Apsley House, No 1 London, Hyde Park Corner from next month.
And while you’re there take note of the centre piece on the table of the Waterloo Room.
This was a gift from the grateful people of Portugal after Wellington threw the French out of Iberia and trade was restored. A sort of thank you gift that celebrates Wellington’s victories.
And of course on June 19th & 20th there will be a reenactment of the battle by 5,000 fanatics, staged at Waterloo.
Because it’s being organised by the French . . . Napoleon will of course come out as victor, certainly of the first day where there was the French charge.
The French of course believe Napoleon to be a military genius that by a piece of bad luck was beaten by an unknown frightful Englishman.
Well he’s not unknown now is he ?