Waterloo at Windsor: 1815-2015 – Honouring Supreme Sacrifice

Waterloo Chamber MF (Mark Fiennes)

The Waterloo Chamber, Windsor Castle, Photo Mark Fiennes, courtesy Royal Collection Trust ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Waterloo at Windsor: 1815 – 2015 will be a new exhibition, mounted by The Royal Collection Trust. Marking the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, it will be held at Windsor Castle from the 31st January 2015 to January 2016.

The ‘Waterloo Chamber’ in Windsor Castle was designed to display the portraits of the statesmen, politicians, diplomats and military leaders whose roles were pivotal to the success of the military campaign by England to overthrow French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), as he sought to conquer all Europe.

King William IV (1765-1837) completed this great room. It was designed to commemorate the battle at Waterloo, rather than as a celebration of the peace delivered through diplomacy. Nine portraits were added to this extraordinary ‘hall of fame’, during his own and Queen Victoria’s reign.

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Sir Thomas Lawrence, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, 1814-1815 courtesy Royal Collection Trust ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

We owe our respect to all those men and women in history who emboldened and empowered others to help create the more enlightened world we live in today, although it still as a whole has a way to go. As part of that process we need to honour those, who became part of a supreme sacrifice to the greater good.

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

Thomas Lawrence the pre-eminent portrait painter of his time was commissioned by the crown to capture Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-185) in a number of works surrounding the defeat and abdication of Napoleon in April 1814.

Lawrence also travelled to the Congress of Peace at Aix-la-Chapelle in France and on to Vienna and finally Rome to complete his series.

This portrait of the Duke dominates the Waterloo Chamber. He is holding aloft the Sword of State, symbolising the royal authority of the sovereign.

On a ledge rests a baton and letter signed by the King George P.R., signifying his promotion to Field Marshal and the gratitude of the Crown and English people.

After Nanine Vallain, Napoleon Bonaparte, 1802, courtesy Royal Collection Trust ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Historically and in hindsight, we often realise the events that define and shape who we have become are all about a clash of contributing factors that were so often hard to ‘control’.

Remembering and commemorating great battles lost and won in history is important in the great scheme of things. Why? Well, because it has been proved over and over again that we humans are frail and fallible, as well as not very good at learning from what has gone before?

We revisit the past to help invent the future.

Covering the days prior to the battle of Waterloo and its aftermath the display at Windsor will also feature visual records of the military action, devastated buildings, burial of casualties as well as visions of the celebration of the victory as it unfolded. There will also be a themed trail throughout Windsor Castle’s magnificent State Apartments with an exhibition in the Drawings Gallery

Historical sources of information need to be impeccable, with success recorded in a measured and timeless way, because how else these days can we distinguish rhetoric from reality. The Royal Collection Trust safeguards facts and cares for and conserves for one of the the largest and most important art collections in the world, which is spread over some 13 royal residences and former residences across the UK.

The victory led by Wellington was not only about defeating the tyrant Napoleon, but also about shattering his political and personal vision of a future where the French military dominated Europe and England.

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Cloak belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte taken from the Emperor’s fleeing baggage train and presented to George, Prince Regent by Field-Marshal Blucher, 1797-1805 courtesy Royal Collection Trust ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2014

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

Napoleon’s cloak will be on show, because it was taken from his fleeing carriage in the aftermath of the battle and later presented to King George IV by Field Marshal Blücher.

Empirical in style, it is made of warm red felt and lined with yellow silk brocade, and appliquéd with the Emperor’s Imperial Eagle. The colours of red and gold are significant as is the allusion to that bird whose symbolism has many menacing overtones.

To claim victory for the England the bird of prey needed to be well and truly brought down and he was, at Waterloo.

At one of the great Waterloo banquets held each year after the great victory King George IV (1762-1830) pontificated often to those closest to him by relating a story about the Battle of Waterloo.

It was as if he had been there in person and he would call to the Duke who was a regular at his table for confirmation.

His tactful reply,

I have often heard your majesty say so…’

Thomas Rowlandson was one of the leading caricaturists of the Georgian age in England (1714-1830) and he will also be the subject of another exhibition High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson.

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Sir Thomas Lawrence, George IV, 1821, courtesy Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.

He was responsible for stimulating and satisfying the continuing fascination with Napoleon by the English people.

He did this by producing witty commentary on his often challenging prints, that were popularly distributed all over England.

Some of these will be integral to this show as well.

One of the most marvelous pieces of furniture commissioned by Napoleon to immortalise his reign will be on display in the King’s drawing room.

The Table des Grands Capitaines (Table of the Great Commanders, 1806-1812) was presented to George, Prince Regent of England (1811-1820) in 1817 by King Louis XVIII (1755-1824) when he was restored to the French throne (1814-1824).

It was given in gratitude to the English King for the allied victory over a man the descendants of the Ancien Regime in France considered a tyrant, in contrast to the French people who believed him to be a hero.

Somewhere in the mix both are right, the word tyrant changing its meaning over the centuries since the time of Greek Philospher Plato, when it gained negative connotations.

A tyrant in ancient times, when they usurped ruling authority by enacting a ‘tyrrany’, were recognised as a hero and the word itself did not in any way allude to his character.

It was Plato and his pupil Aristotle, the tutor of Alexander the Great, who defined a tyrant as “one who rules without law, looks to his own advantage rather than that of his subjects, and uses extreme and cruel tactics—against his own people as well as others”

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Sevres porcelain factory, 1806 – 1812, Hard-paste porcelain, gilt bronze mounts, internal wooden frame structure. Tables des Grands Capitaines, gifted to George, Prince Regent by the restored French king, Louis XVIII, 1806-1812, courtesy Royal Collection Trust ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.

The Table became one of George IV’s most prized possessions, and is that table depicted in his fabulous portrait, also on display in the Waterloo Chamber, painted by Thomas Lawrence.

The most striking and original feature of the table is the elaborately decorated top. This has been faux-painted in imitation of sardonyx and decorated with heads and scenes resembling cameos.

Napoleon was passionate about ancient history and he particularly loved cameos, collecting them prodigiously, often giving them away as presents to those he admired.

It is decorated in the centre with the profile of Alexander the Great of Macedon (356-323 BCE), one of the greatest of the ancient heroes Napoleon admired most, plus profiles of other great military commanders from antiquity, as well as philosophers including Pericles, Scipio Africanus, Pompey, Augustus, Septimus Severus, Constantine, Trajan, Caesar, Mithridates, Hannibal, Themistocles and Militiades.

Produced by the famous Sévres factory, whose porcelain wares and plaques are highly prized, it was left on the factory floor until it was presented to the English monarch, on behalf of the French people.

The delicately painted porcelain sections were decorated by the Sèvres artists Louis-Bertin Parant (active 1806-41) and Antoine Béranger (active 1808-48).

Top of Napoleon's Table

Detail Top of the Tables des Grands Capitaines, gifted to George, Prince Regent by the restored French king, Louis XVIII, 1806-1812, courtesy Royal Collection Trust ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.

The finely chased gilt bronze mounts were supplied by French sculptor and the most prominent of all bronziers of his time Pierre Philippe Thomire (1751-1843).

The total cost amounted to 29,025 francs.

Other items removed from Napoleon’s luggage when he was captured by the English will also be on show.

Napoleon Porringer

Simon Boureguet (c1705-73, maitre 1740) goldsmith, created 1762-1763, Silver gilt, courtesy Royal Collection Trust ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

This includes a fine Écuelle, cover and stand (silver-gilt porringer), a style of shallow bowl with handles and a lid, used in the late 16th and early 17th century in England.

Porringers were often made of ceramics as well as silver and gilded and were vessels also popular in France, where they were generally used to hold and serve broth or gruel.

This one bears the WF cipher probably referring to William Frederick, 2nd Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, nephew of George III. No one knows how it came to be in his possession, as it was believed to  have also been taken from Napoleon’s baggage.

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o’er me
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.

The porringer entered the Royal Collection after the Duke’s death in 1834. 

Jean-Baptiste REGNAULT French 1754-1829 Empress Josephine (Portrait de laimperatrice Josephine) (c. 1810) oil on canvas Fondation Dosne-Thiers (Institut de France), Paris Bequest of Frederic Masson, 1923

Jean-Baptiste REGNAULT French 1754-1829 Empress Josephine (Portrait de laimperatrice Josephine) (c. 1810) oil on canvas, courtesy Fondation Dosne-Thiers (Institut de France), Paris Bequest of Frederic Masson, 1923

It bears an assay mark from Paris and the mark of Simon Bourguet and its stand bears the mark of Francois Joubert.

All parts are engraved Napoleon Bonaparte – 18th June, 1815, which was the date of the Battle of Waterloo.

Interestingly in the Historical and Secret Memoirs of the Empress Josephine, the wife of Napoleon, she mentions how her husband on his ‘Italian campaign

‘… jokingly offered to make me a present of one of three broken porringers, which had formed part of the household stuff of the Virgin, which I refused. Always filled with respect for Religion, I could not countenance the larcenies, which were committed in her temples, and I often succeeded in persuading my husband to restore to the Italian churches the sacred vessels, which had been carried off’*

Her comment and the incident elaborates the point that without understanding the complex context and circumstances surrounding such historical landmark events it is almost impossible in hindsight to completely get to the truth.

Nice to know though, that one of histories larger than life great ladies, recognized that there were lines we should not cross in terms of offering respect for each other’s belief systems.

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Denis Dighton, Distant View of La Belle Alliance, Field of Waterloo, 1815, courtesy Royal Collection Trust, ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

All we can do by learning about the past is how to make well balanced informed decisions that benefit us all in the future.

We are coming into a period where 100 years on from Word War I the battles between opposing western world forces will be a focus for the descendants of those lost and still mourned.

Revisiting the significant events of World War I and World II, as well as the preceding Battle of Waterloo in light of informed knowledge and emerging technologies is a responsibility we all need to embrace.

In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears?

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014

Poem: When We Two Parted – George Gordon Lord Byron, 1788 – 1824

Waterloo at Windsor: 1815-2015
Windsor Castle
Saturday, 31 January 2015 to Wednesday, 13 January 2016

March – October
Open daily, 09:45-17:15

November – February
Open daily, 09:45-16:15

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