Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The first news of Waterloo

I did not know till I heard it from Alava the exact circumstances of the first arrival of the news of the battle of Waterloo in London. It seems that one morning a partner of the house of Rothschild came to Lord Liverpool, informed him that he had a few hours before received the glorious news, or at least the bare outline; that, having made all the advantage which this exclusive knowledge could give him on the Stock Market, he now came to impart it to Government.

He would not answer any enquiries as to the means by which he had acquired the intelligence, and could not give any particulars: he only repeated the assurances of truth of the information. Lord Liverpool thought it cruel on such vague foundations to raise hopes or fears. To one of his colleagues (Vansittart, I think), who happened to come in, he told the circumstance, and they agreed to conceal it from every other human being till more was known. There was a cabinet dinner that day at Lord Harrowby's: not one word was said respecting the news; and Lord Liverpool was returning home full of anxiety. In the street his carriage was stopped by an unknown, who, with some apology, said that he was just come from Downing Street; that a carriage with six horses, dressed with laurels, French Eagles and colours hanging out of the windows, had arrived: that the glorious news was instantly spread; and that the messenger was gone to Lord Harrowby's in pursuit of him, through another street from that in which he was met.

This, I think, I heard at the time, but certainly till now never heard the thing accounted for. It seems that the Duke of "Wellington, after writing his despatch home, said to Pozzo di Borgo, ' Will you write to Louis XVIII. at Ghent? tell him only that Napoleon is utterly defeated: that in less than a fortnight I shall be in possession of Paris, and hope very soon after to see him reinstated; say that excessive fatigue prevents me from writing.'*

A messenger was of course immediately sent off to Ghent: when he arrived, Louis and his little Court happened to be assembled at breakfast, in a room whose windows down to the ground were wide open. The embraces, the ejaculations, of course instantly apprised those under the windows of the arrival of good news.

Among these was a spy from the house of Rothschild, who had many days been upon the watch: he no sooner heard the news than he rode post to Ostend: there, happening to find a small vessel just sailing, he embarked, and got one tide before the English messenger, who arrived shortly afterwards.

Editor’s notes
The official intelligence of the victory of Sunday, the 18th, did not arrive in London till late in the evening of Wednesday, the 21st. The result was first announced by the newspapers on the 22nd, but there is a passage in the Times of that day which partially confirms the Rothschild agent story: ' Those who attended to the operations of the Stock Exchange yesterday (21st) were persuaded that the news of the day before would be followed up by something still more brilliant and decisive. Omnium rose in the course of the day to six per cent. premium, and some houses, generally supposed to possess the best information, were among the purchasers.' The popular version of the story was that the agent did not stay to verify his conclusion, but started immediately after witnessing the signs of joy manifested by the royal party.

Some very interesting communications have been made to me on the subject of the arrival of the official intelligence of the victory, brought by the Honourable Major Henry Percy, brother of the present Earl of Beverley.

The Honourable William Bathurst, son of Earl Bathurst, Secretary for the Colonies and War in 1815, states that the despatches were directed to his father, who was not at the Earl of Harrowby's where Lord Liverpool was dining; and that Major Percy was with some difficulty persuaded (in Lord Bathurst's absence) to deliver them to the Earl of Liverpool, the Prime Minister. Mr. Bathurst was dining at the Earl of Jersey's, and, in company with Earl Grey, had gone to Lord Harrowby's on hearing of the arrival of the news.

Communicated by a member of Major Percy's family.
‘A few hours after the battle was over, Major Percy started with the Duke's despatches and the captured eagles, travelling day and night. When he arrived in London, he went, Ibelieve, first to the Horse Guards, where he found none of the authorities; then to Lord Liverpool, who was, I believe, dining at Lord Bathurst's, where Major Percy followed him.
"You must come immediately with me to the Regent," said Lord Liverpool, and they got into the carriage of his Lordship. " But what is to be done with the eagles?" " Let the footman carry them," said Lord Liverpool. Major Percy always told this with some disgust. They proceeded to Mrs. Boehm's house in St. James's Square,** where the Regent and the Duke of York were dining. Lord Liverpool took up Major Percy to the Prince, and said, " I have brought Major Percy, who comes with the news of a great victory for your Royal Highness." " Not Major Percy, but Lieut.-Colonel Percy," said the Prince. Major Percy knelt and kissed his hand. " We have not suffered much loss, I hope," he then said.
"The loss has been very great indeed," was of course the reply, upon which the Regent burst into tears. Major Percy afterwards went to his brother's house in Gloucester Place, and called him up to hear the good news, and then to Portman Square, where he undressed and went to bed for the first time since the battle.
'I well remember the next Monday, when I was taken to see him. I remember the great dark stain on his uniform; the horror I felt, in the midst of all the triumph and joy of the moment, when he told me, in answer to my questions, that it was the blood of an officer killed close to him. Still more when I heard him tell how, in taking off his sash as he undressed, he shook from the folds fragments of the brain which
had lodged there.
'I have often heard him describe the interview between the Duke and Bliicher, at which he was present: and the ride back to the English quarters over the field of battle covered with the dead and the dying. It was a bright moonlight night. The first soldiers they met greeted the Duke with loud cheers, which were taken up and sounded along the whole line of bivouacs; the poor wounded men joined with their feeble voices, and Major Percy said he saw many try to rise as the Duke passed. As the first soldiers who recognised crowded round him, he said, " My poor fellows, you have had a hard day's work.'' There was a general cry in answer, " We don't mind it: all's right as you are safe." Those words were almost the only expressions uttered by the Duke during that memorable ride. He was deeply affected, and even shed tears.'

Extract from Journal***
' Came up from Dover in a chaise and four with three eagles out of the window. They were too long to be shut in it. Went first to the Prince Regent (before he came home) at Mrs. Boehm's in St. James's Square. Prince much affected. All London thrown into agitation—people quitting balls and assemblies as the news was conveyed of the wounds or deaths of relatives. Many ladies fainted. There was a rumour, before the news came, of a great battle and retreat, and even defeat. People were much depressed; therefore the reaction was immense.'
From another member of the Percy family****
'Major Henry Percy, A.D C. to the Duke of Wellington, was sent home with the Waterloo despatches. He came express from Dover, in those days in a chaise and four horses, with the conquered eagles projecting out of each window, amidst the cheers of all the towns and villages he passed. He arrived late in London, called at Lord Bathurst's, who was out, and was told that the Prince Regent and most of the ministers were dining at Mrs. Boehm's in St. James's Square.

He proceeded thither, and was shown into the dining-room, where the gentlemen still were. Lord Bathurst not being present, he hesitated about delivering the despatches, but Lord Liverpool took and read them. The Prince Regent imagining Lord Anglesea to be killed, was much moved. After the dispatches were read, the Prince said, “I congratulate you, Colonel Percy – on which the Duke of York good-naturedly said two ‘Kiss Hands! Kiss hands!’ They kept him there till near two AM when it was arranged he should breakfast with the Duke of York next morning, but he arrived too late, and followed the Duke along the Mall to the Parade, where immense numbers were assembled, and where all the windows and tops of houses were thronged with people, expecting the eagles and colours were there to be presented to the Duke. When Henry Percy alighted, there was a long-continued cheer, and the band changed to “See the Conquering Hero comes”. The Duke immediately took Henry to the Horse Guards, where he remained till late in the afternoon. Though he was no wounded, his uniform was entirely stained with blood.”

* The Duke himself wrote to this effect to Louis XVIII on
the morning of the 19th, but it is highly probable that a brief
announcement of the victory was despatched at once.
** No. 14, now occupied by a club.
*** In the first edition this was erroneously described as an extract from Major .Percy's Journal. The number of the eagles sent home by the Duke is stated in his despatch of June 19th : ' I send with this despatch three eagles, taken by the troops, which Major Percy will have the honour of laying at the feet of His Royal Highness.'


Anonymous Colin Brown said...

Absolutely fascinating. It makes the web worthwhile!
Had I seen this before, I would have included a x-ref in my book Whitehall - the Street that Shamed a Nation, Chapter 9....COLIN BROWN

10:11 AM  

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