From Paris to Strathfield Saye:   Copenhagen as a Civilian

In my previous installment of the story of Copenhagen’s life, I wrote about the chestnut stallion’s service during the Waterloo campaign. He had just retired for the night in the stable of the little inn at Waterloo, his rider to his room upstairs. The battle was won, the war was over, but there was much work yet for his master to do.

Copenhagen passed a short, if undisturbed night after the battle, but the Duke was awoken at about 3:00am with the news that his aide-de-camp and very good friend, Colonel Sir Alexander Gordon, had just died. Dr. Hume, who had awakened him with the news, then read him the most recent list of the casualties, reporting that Wellington wept to hear it. "Well, thank God, I don’t know what it is to loose a battle; but certainly nothing can be more painful than to gain one with the loss of so many of one’s friends." The Duke, who had not taken the time to wash before laying down on his camp bed after a late supper, washed, shaved and changed his clothes. Then, he sat down and began to write the document which would become the famous, if controversial, Waterloo Dispatch.

To the victor go the naming rights. By military convention, the name of a battle was typically the name of the headquarters of the victorious general. If Napoleon had won, he would most likely have called it the battle of La Belle-Alliance. Wellington briefly considered calling it the battle of Mont Saint-Jean, but perhaps on further consideration of how the English would maul the name by mispronunciation, he chose to use the name of the small village in which he was headquartered those last two days. Thus, we all know that fierce fight for the freedom of Europe as the "Battle of Waterloo." Wellington began his dispatch to Lord Bathurst, the British Minister of War, in the pre-dawn hours after he had been informed of Gordon’s death. After a couple of hours work, he had breakfast, packed and called for Copenhagen. It was a warm day and he wanted to get an early start back to Brussels. They arrived in Brussels later that morning, Copenhagen going to a stall in the stable, out of the heat. Wellington went up to his hotel room, opened some windows to catch a breeze and settled down to finish his dispatch to Bathurst. When it was complete, he entrusted its delivery to Henry Percy, one of his very few aides-de-camp to survive the battle without a serious wound. Percy folded the dispatch and put it inside the purple velvet sachet given to him by one of his dancing partners at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball. He left for England very early the next morning.

While Copenhagen was probably lying down in his cool stall, munching corn, his master next turned his attention to the care of the wounded. He demanded that every available doctor work as many hours as necessary to care for all those who had need of their services. The Duke visited as many of the wounded as he could the day after the battle. He also set in train arrangements for their long-term care and housing. The next day, once again astride Copenhagen, he rode back to Mont Saint-Jean to give orders for the burial of the many dead, both men and horses. Later that day, to his left, he rode past the elm tree which had been his command post, galloping off to join his army at Nivelles. It was time to complete Bonaparte’s overthrow. The next day, Wednesday, 21 June 1815, Wellington and his army crossed the border into France at Malplaquet. It is of interest to note that this was the date on which Wellington had planned to give a ball in Brussels, since all the military intelligence he had before 15 June indicated that Napoleon would not invade Belgium before July. Instead, the Duke spent the day subduing a few of the French fortresses in which Napoleon’s troops were still holding out.

By 3 July 1815, with Napoleon flown to the French coast, Paris surrendered to the Allied forces. It took a few days to ensure all was in readiness for the arrival of Louis XVIII, who was once again to be restored to the French throne. After the Duke prevented Blücher from blowing up a bridge which had been named for the battle of Jena, in which the Prussian army had been badly beaten and Prussia itself subjugated to Napoleon’s empire, the official entry into the city of the victorious generals and the Allied leaders took place on Friday, 7 July 1815. Both the Russian and Austrian emperors entered the city with great pomp, each mounted on a white charger, wearing brightly colored uniforms encrusted with gold braid, their hats sporting plumes and feathers and their chests covered with their many jewelled insignias and badges of office. But there was no white charger for Wellington on this occasion. This time, he entered Paris mounted on Copenhagen, wearing a plain red coat, one star and no feathers. Yet as he passed, "Vive Villianton!" was loudly shouted by those standing along the route. A much more enthusiastic welcome than they showed their own returning king the following day. Louis XVIII entered Paris the next day, 8 July 1815. The French king was a bit of a disappointment to his subjects, entering the city dressed like an English country gentleman, rather a letdown after the splendid display by the Allied leaders and their generals. Louis had traveled from his refuge in Ghent behind Wellington’s army en route to Paris and one French wag had it that the fat old king was nothing more than Wellington’s baggage.

Copenhagen remained in Paris with Wellington. On 12 July 1815, the Paris Peace Conference began. The Duke and Lord Castlereagh were the British delegates to the conference. The political challenges were extremely complex, leaving the Duke much less time for his favorite sport of hunting. For that reason, Copenhagen did not take his exercise with his master as often as he had when they had been in Paris before Waterloo. Which is not to say he got no exercise. After his valiant service at Waterloo, there were even more ladies who petitioned Monsieur Villianton for a ride on his now even more famous war horse. But this time, it was not just French ladies who were eager for a ride on Copenhagen. Once the news of the victory was known across the Channel, the English flocked to the battlefield and most came on to Paris. Many of those English ladies were also eager for a ride on the famous chestnut stallion, particularly if that ride was supervised by their hero. Though married, the beautiful Lady Frances Shelley, who had a great tendré for the Duke, often asked to ride Copenhagen, though she found him quite a handful, and always wanted Wellington close at hand when she was in the saddle. She told a friend that she found the chestnut stallion " … the most difficult to sit of any horse she had ever ridden." She confided to her diary that "… if the Duke had not been there, I should have been frightened." One day, when Copenhagen was more fractious than usual, he said to her, "I believe you think the glory greater than the pleasure of riding him!" As before, even after his wife and sons returned to Paris in October of 1815, ladies continued to request rides on Copenhagen. The Duchess had departed for England that spring, almost as soon as the news had reached Paris that Napoleon had left Elba. She did not travel back to France until she was certain it was once again entirely safe. The Duchess was quite fond of Copenhagen, who was remarkably calm and gentle with her, and she often visited him in the stables. The boys were allowed to accompany their mother to the stables to visit their father’s war horse, but they were forbidden to ride him.

In October of 1815, His Grace the Duke of Wellington was made Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of Occupation. In late 1815 or early 1816, Wellington leased a country house in Mont Saint-Martin. It was about a dozen miles from his official headquarters for the Army of Occupation, located at Cambrai. Mont Saint-Martin was much more convenient for him, since he was spending more time at his Cambrai headquarters than he was in Paris. He knew his boys would also be happier in the county than in the city. So would Copenhagen, whom Wellington had brought out from Paris. Shortly thereafter, as he had done in Spain, the Duke had his brother-in-law, Culling Charles Smith, send him over a pack of hounds from England along with a pair of spaniels, as well as a few other animals, including stags and hinds to roam the grounds of Mont Saint-Jean. Occasionally, the Duke even had a wild boar brought in for a special hunt, something he had enjoyed in Spain. He did decline the offer of a wolf, however, as he thought it would not be popular with his neighbors. One suspects Copenhagen would not have been pleased to share the estate with a wolf.

The Treaty of Paris was signed on 20 November 1815, bringing to a close the Duke’s duties as a peace negotiator. His military responsibilities were settling into something of a routine, so that he was spending more time at his Cambrai headquarters than in Paris. Wellington began to host house parties at his country estate, and many of those were hunting parties, usually riding to hounds. A number of lively young ladies routinely attended these house parties, adding a great deal of sparkle to the festivities. Lady Georgiana Lennox, (who married General William FitzGerald-de Ros, in 1824) was the third daughter of the Duke of Richmond, whose Duchess gave that famous ball in Brussels. Lady Georgiana and her parents were often invited to parties at Wellington’s country house at Mont Saint-Martin. In a collection of her Reminiscences, published by her daughter after her death, Lady de Ros wrote:

I joined my parents at Cambrai for the years 1816 and 1817, and used to ride constantly with the Duke to the great [military] reviews. …   We often stayed with the Duke at Abbaye, Mount St. Martin, Cambrai, and one morning he announced that there would be a sham battle, and that he had given orders to Sir George Scovell that the ladies riding should be taken prisoners, so he recommended our keeping close to him. I had no difficulty in doing so, as I was riding the Duke’s Waterloo charger Copenhagen, and I found myself the only one within a square where they were firing. To the Duke’s great amusement, we heard one of the soldiers saying to another, "Take care of that ‘ere horse; he kicks out. We knew him well in Spain," pointing to Copenhagen! He was a most unpleasant horse to ride, but always snorted and neighed with pleasure at the sight of the troops. I was jumping a ditch with him one day when the stirrup broke, and I fell off. In the evening the Duke had a dance, and said to me, "Here’s the heroine of the day! Got kicked off, and didn’t mind it."

It should be kept in mind that when ladies rode Copenhagen, they would have done so on a side-saddle. No lady at this time would have considered riding a horse astride. Horses to be regularly ridden by ladies had to be specially trained to carry a side-saddle since the way the weight of the rider was distributed on their backs was different and side-saddles were larger and heavier than many of the saddles used by men. Some horses simply would not stand for a side-saddle and repeatedly bucked off anyone who tried to ride them with such a saddle. There is no record that Copenhagen ever deliberately bucked a lady off his back. However, not being used to the size and weight distribution of a rider on a side-saddle, he may well have moved differently when ridden with one, since he was used to the much smaller and lighter Hussar saddle which Wellington preferred. That may be why most ladies who did ride Copenhagen reported that he was difficult and uncomfortable to ride. But most of them endured it, as it meant they also had the attention of their hero, the Duke of Wellington.

As the Allied occupation of France dragged on, it became less and less popular with many of the French people. King Louis was frightened that there might be an uprising or an attack against him and implored Wellington to return to Paris. The British Ministry was concerned for the Duke’s safety and ordered him to remain in Cambrai, where he was relatively safe. He ignored both of them and did his job when and where he judged it needed to be done. He ordered his officers to maintain very strict discipline, when it became known that many troops, particularly when inebriated, were often shouting Vive l’Empereur! in the streets, which offended the inhabitants. The Duke had an interestesing and fairly effective method of dealing with chronic drinkers; they were required to work very long days, doing all the drudge work for the benefit of those who regularly demonstrated good conduct. He also dealt with reports that the French contractors hired to support the occupying forces were supplying substandard provisions. He was determined that the British contingent would behave better than those of the other countries and he succeeded very well. Except on the first anniversary of Waterloo. On that day, liquor flowed liberally in all the barracks, where soldiers and officers alike each stood at their bedsteads, in unison raising, then banging them to the floor with all their strength, to simulate the canon fire of the battle. These barracks were too far from Copenhagen’s stable at Mont Saint-Jean for him to hear the sounds of the simulated cannonade. He remembered the sounds of battle all his life, and was always ready to gallop into the thick of it.

In July of 1816, the Duke traveled to England with his Duchess and his two young sons, but Copenhagen remained in France. He made other brief trips to England over the course of the next couple of years to discuss the situation in France with English government officials, but Copenhagen continued to enjoy the rural pleasures of Mont Saint-Martin. In July of 1817, shortly after the second anniversary of Waterloo, a site for the "palace" the British government wished to give the Duke was finally located. In Hampshire, Strathfield Saye was one of the estates of Lord Rivers, which he offered for sale to the government as Wellington’s new country estate. It was the most well-appointed of all the English estates which had been considered as the great gift to the Duke. It was also situated within easy reach of London, about forty-five miles southwest of the city. With Wellington’s approval, the estate was purchased and presented to him at the end of the year. This gift would be as important to Copenhagen as it was to the Duke, if not more so.

By early 1818, Wellington began to spend much more time in Paris, as the Army of Occupation was soon to be withdrawn, and he had less need to be in Cambrai. There was an assassination attempt against him in Paris that February, but he down-played the danger and continued to meet all his responsibilities. The nervous British Ministry wanted to continue the occupation, which had originally been intended to run for five years. But Wellington flatly refused, saying it was an unnatural situation and the French must be allowed to govern and police themselves, which he believed they were quite ready to do. He was proved right, and by the end of 1818, the Army of Occupation was withdrawn and he was preparing to leave France and return permanently to England. This time, Copenhagen would go with him. It would be the first time in five years that the chestnut stallion had set his hooves on British soil. Fortunately for him, his voyage across the English Channel would be significantly shorter than had been his trip from England to Lisbon, when Sir Charles Stewart had shipped him to the Peninsula in 1813. This voyage would be made in mere hours, not weeks. There was another, even more significant difference between Copenhagen’s channel crossing and the voyage which had taken him from England five years before. This time, he was not just another cavalry horse being shipped out to the Peninsula. On this brief passage, everything would be done to ensure his comfort. He was now Field-Marshal His Grace the Duke of Wellington’s famous Waterloo charger, returning home to a hero’s welcome.

And Copenhagen did indeed receive a hero’s welcome in England. The English in the Regency were a nation of horse-lovers and, by the time the chestnut stallion returned to his homeland, the tale of his magnificent leap over the heads of the 92nd Highlanders at the Battle of Quatre Bras, which saved the Duke from the French, had been told and re-told across the land. He was also widely admired for his stamina and fortitude, for it was known by all that he had carried the victorious Wellington "from dawn to midnight" on the field of Waterloo. Very soon, the ladies of London began requesting, as had the ladies of Paris, a ride on the Duke of Wellington’s brave and noble "charger." Many of these ladies wanted the privilege of a ride on the famous horse just as much as they wanted an opportunity to meet his owner. Some, among the horsier set, were actually even more enamored of Copenhagen than they were of his master, for he was a thoroughbred, descended from the legendary Eclipse. Certainly, the chestnut stallion did not lack for admirers after his return to England. In fact, it is a wonder his many admirers did not pluck the poor creature bald.

Acquiring and wearing locks of the hair of loved ones in some form of jewelry was very common in the Regency, as it had been for centuries before. It is not clear who first began the practice, but soon it was the fashion among the ladies of society to wear a piece of jewelery which included the hair from Copenhagen’s mane or tail. Kitty, the Duchess of Wellington, may well have been the first. She was very fond of Copenhagen and is known to have often worn a bracelet braided from his hair in the years after Waterloo. She gave similar bracelets to a number of her friends. When Lady Shelley and her husband came to Mont Saint-Martin take their leave of Wellington, just prior to their departure from France, she requested, and was granted, a lock of both Wellington’s hair, which the Duke allowed her to cut herself, and strands of hair from Copenhagen’s mane and tail. Back in England, nearly every lady who had the opportunity to be in any proximity to the chestnut stallion, whether they ever rode him or not, requested hair from his mane, his tail, or both. Some who had never seen the horse, or even the Duke, wrote requesting Copenhagen’s hair. So far as is known, the Duke never denied any such request. Some years after Copenhagen’s death, Wellington remarked, " … half the fine ladies of my acquaintance have bracelets or lockets made from his mane or tail." One such fine lady very much wanted some of Copenhagen’s hair, but was unwilling to make a personal request for it to Wellington. Perhaps she had had a disagreement with him, perhaps out of pride, not wishing to be seen as just another female clamoring for the hair of the famed war horse? We may never know the reason. But we do know that Sally, Lady Jersey, prominent leader of the ton, and a noted patroness of Almack’s Assembly Rooms, bribed a groom to procure some hair from Copenhagen’s tail for her on the sly. We also know that Lady Jersey had her illicitly-acquired hair woven into a bracelet which she had set with several colored gemstones. One can only wonder whether she ever wore her gem-studded horsehair bracelet in the presence of the Duke of Wellington, and if she did, did he notice it was made from the hair of his favorite war horse.

In London, Copenhagen found he had well-situated and well-appointed accommodations in his new home. Wellington had purchased Apsley House from his brother, Richard, Marquess Wellesley, who had run into financial difficulty. Situated near Hyde Park Corner, the mews were only a short distance from the east end of Rotten Row in Hyde Park. Green Park was even closer, and quickly became the Duke’s favorite place to ride in London. The park itself had been closed to equestrians late in 1814, after the damage which had been caused by the crowds during the Peace Celebrations in the summer of that year. However, Wellington preferred to ride up Constitution Hill road, which ran between Green Park and the grounds of the Queen’s House, as Buckingham Palace was then known, oftentimes continuing on for a turn through St. James’s Park or riding up The Mall to the Horse Guards, before returning Copenhagen to the mews of Apsley House.

The victory at Waterloo had trumped his brothers’s differences with Lord Liverpool, and in 1819, Wellington once again entered into English politics, when he was invited to join the Cabinet as Master-General of the Ordnance. During his tenure he did a good turn for all English cavalry horses, perhaps with his faithful Copenhagen in mind. He denied the purchase of an invention by Lieutenant Sibbald, a wooden framework with attached scythe blades which was to be mounted on each cavalry horse. The Duke’s responsibilities were increasingly demanding, and he soon sent Copenhagen out to his new country estate of Strathfield Saye. One can only wonder what his noble war horse thought of the stables there, described as "pink-washed" and encrusted with many "rococo curves." But the stallion had the best paddock on the estate to himself, known as the Ice House Paddock. Here he could roam, graze or doze in dignified leisure, as he wished. But he was seldom alone. The Duchess lived almost exclusively at Strathfield Saye, and she visited him nearly every day, often bringing along bread or sponge cakes, of which he had become very fond. He quickly began to associate the arrival of ladies in his vicinity with the offering of sweet cakes, and soon the many ladies who still thronged to the Duke’s estate to see him had made quite a pet of him. These ladies were all proud to ride him up and down one of the grassy terraces there to be able to boast they had been on his back. As he grew older, his temperament had mellowed and he tolerated these rides quite well. But he never forgot those years when he had galloped into battle as a soldier’s horse.

The Duke often had guests to Strathfield Saye, and in the later years of Copenhagen’s life, a number of those guests were accompanied by their children, who were always welcome. Many years later, one of those children told about a visit there, during which the Duke had organized a sham battle for the entertainment of his guests. There were several other children present, and all rode out on their ponies, in company with the Duke, astride Copenhagen. The Duke and his "junior officers" paused to watch the troops go through their maneuvers. Wellington dropped his reins onto his old war horse’s neck, and said, "Now, you shall see where Copenhagen is accustomed to carry me." The mock battle began with an artillery volley and at the sound, Copenhagen threw up his head. At the next round he looked around him to get his bearings, and when the third volley was fired, he moved off at collected canter to the area of the field where the smoke was thickest. He still remembered where his master preferred to be when a battle was raging and carried him there without a second thought.

Once he had retired to Strathfield Saye, children were sometimes allowed to ride Copenhagen, but only with adult supervision. However, the Duchess, fond as she was of him, had forbidden her sons to ride the stallion, for fear they could not handle him and might be hurt. Many years after his parent’s passing, Arthur, the Duke’s eldest son, who as a boy had held the courtesy title of Marquess Douro, admitted he had not always respected his mother’s wishes, the lure of the forbidden was too strong. After the family had moved out to Strathfield Saye, when he was a teenager, he had occasionally slipped out to Copenhagen’s stable. There, when no one was around, he had surreptitiously saddled his father’s war horse and ridden him around the estate. However, he never said what he thought about as he rode over the grounds of Strathfield Saye. Did he imagine himself at Waterloo, directing the battle as his father had done? Did he re-live the tales his father had told him of his victorious battles on the Peninsula? Or, did he picture himself with the emperors of Austria and Russia, riding triumphantly into Paris? Regardless of the private daydreams the teenage boy wove for himself, there is no doubt the young Douro thoroughly enjoyed his clandestine adventures on his father’s chestnut charger.

The death of George III made the Prince Regent the new king, George IV. At the grand coronation ceremonies for the new king, held at Westminster Abbey on 19 July 1821, the Duke of Wellington officiated as Lord High Constable of England. His duties required that he ride on horseback up Westminster Hall, accompanied by the Earl Marshall and the Lord High Steward. Copenhagen did not carry the Duke on this occasion, as tradition required the Lord High Constable ride a white horse. In addition, at some points in the ceremony the horse must back up, not something Copenhagen had much experience in doing. Wellington rode a white Arabian that had been specially trained to back up, though he did balk a couple of times, giving the Duke a few tense moments.

Copenhagen would make one more official public appearance in London. In 1828, his master had become Prime Minister of England and brought his old war horse out of retirement and up to London. The Duke rode the chestnut stallion from Apsley House along their old familiar route of Constitution Hill, through St. James’s Park and on to No. 10 Downing Street on the day he officially took up his new position of leadership in the government. Perhaps he had chosen to ride Copenhagen that day because he knew he would be facing a battle just as tough, if not more so, than any of the battles they had faced together, and he was glad to have his loyal old friend with him as he proceeded into the political fray. Or, perhaps he rode Copenhagen, on whom he had ridden to victory at Waterloo, to send a message to the country that he was willing and able to continue to fight for Britain as the leader of the government. Whatever his reasons may have been, many people along the route cheered the pair of Waterloo victors as they passed by.

Copenhagen returned to Strathfield Saye after his ride to Downing Street, where he would remain in retirement for the rest of his life, his most demanding duty to provide occasional rides for the Duke’s young grandchildren. There were rumors that Wellington had bred him, but there are no records of Copenhagen standing at stud, which there should have been, since he was registered as a thoroughbred in the General Stud Book of England. There are also no records of any offspring of the chestnut stallion, either official or unofficial. The Duke always visited his favorite war horse whenever he was at Strathfield Saye, often taking him some sweet treat, as Copenhagen had developed quite a sweet tooth as he got older. In fact, it became the Duke’s habit to walk out to Copenhagen’s paddock to spend a few minutes with him, as one of the last things he did any time he had to leave the estate.

As he got older, Copenhagen gradually became both deaf and blind, but he was well-cared for and everything possible was done for his comfort. He lived to the rather advanced age of 28 years. Copenhagen died on Friday, 12 February 1836, in his stall in the stables at Strathfield Saye. The Duke was away on business, but returned as soon as word reached him. Wellington went out to the stables early in the morning to have one last look at his old friend. He flew into a fiery rage when he saw that his right forefoot was missing. A servant had cut the hoof off as a souvenir, not thinking the Duke would bother about the old war horse’s passing, certainly never expecting he would return home to see him laid to rest. Terrified by the Duke’s anger, the servant hid the hoof, and finally returned it to the second duke thirty years later. The second duke had it made into an inkstand.

Copenhagen was buried in the Ice House Paddock where he had spent his retirement at Strathfield Saye. As befitted a courageous and valiant war horse, by order of the Duke, he was buried will full military honors, including a salute fired over his grave after a brief service. However, Wellington did not allow the grave to be marked, in order to protect Copenhagen’s remains from any other souvenir hunters. In fact, shortly after Copenhagen’s death, the secretary of the United Services Museum approached him about disinterring the horse’s remains, because they wanted his skeleton to place in exhibition as a companion to the skeleton of Marengo. The famous grey Arabian, Napoleon’s mount at Waterloo, had been captured after the battle and brought back to England. He had died in 1831, and his body had been given to the museum where his skeleton, also missing a hoof, which had been made into a snuff box, had been put on display. Wellington had no intention of allowing any further desecration of the remains of his loyal horse and thwarted the plan by saying that he was not sure where Copenhagen had been buried. He told them he would look into the matter and let them know when he had located the grave. They never heard back from him. He wished to let his old friend rest in peace in his paddock at Strathfield Saye.

In 1846, the largest equestrian statue ever created in Britain to that time, was placed atop the triumphal arch which had been erected just opposite Apsley House, at Hyde Park Corner. The arch had been designed by Decimus Burton. It had been Burton’s intent to place a sculpture of a chariot pulled by four horses at the summit of his arch. But before that could be accomplished, a committee which wished to honor the Duke of Wellington proposed that the sculpture placed on the arch should be that of the hero of Waterloo and his famous charger. Despite Burton’s objections, this plan was approved. Matthew Cotes Wyatt was given the task of designing and casting this great monument from the French cannon which had been captured at Waterloo. In 1840, the Duke sat for Wyatt’s son, James, who did the modelling work. Since Copenhagen had already passed away, a mare named Rosemary, who the Duke said looked a bit like the chestnut stallion, was used as a model. Many of his friends privately disagreed, and when the statue was completed, Lord Strangford suggested that the best place for it was the bed of the Serpentine. However, Wellington himself thought it was a good likeness and he very much liked having it outside his London home. Shortly before his own death, the second duke told a friend that he had gone with Sir Edwin Landseer, who had painted Copenhagen several times, to the foundry to see the model. Sir Edwin had said he thought it was a good likeness and the second duke, who had known the chestnut stallion for much of his life, agreed.

The original placement of the statue of Wellington astride Copenhagen was on what was then known as Constitution Arch. As far as the Duke, or even Copenhagen, had he known of it, was concerned, the placement was perfect, as it was at the west end of Constitution Hill, the favorite route which the pair had taken on their almost daily rides while the chestnut stallion was resident in the Apsley House mews. In fact, until just a few days before his own death, the Duke of Wellington could be seen, nearly every day that he was in London, riding out from Apsley House, past the arch and along Constitution Hill. Queen Victoria thought the statue was an eyesore, impeding her view of the London skyline from Buckingham Palace. Many others considered it out of proportion to the arch which supported it. But Wellington was well into his seventies by this time, and a much beloved figure in Britain, so the statue remained in place on the arch for the rest of his life.

In 1882, the Wellington Arch had to be moved when the roads in the area were widened due to extreme traffic congestion. The statue of the Duke and Copenhagen was removed and placed in Green Park while a decision was made as to what to do with it. There were those who thought it should be melted down, but the then Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, thought it should be moved to Aldershot, a military town which had become known as the Home of the British Army. Both the Army, who still revered Wellington, and Parliament, agreed to the move. On 19 August 1885, the statue was officially transferred to the care of the British Army, where it was placed on Round Hill, near the Royal Garrison Church. In a sense, Wellington and Copenhagen had come home, as Aldershot is located in Hampshire, less than fifteen miles southeast of Strathfield Saye.

In 1843, Mrs. Apostles, who had been the house-keeper at Strathfield Saye for twenty-years, had planted an acorn near Copenhagen’s grave in the Ice House Paddock. In time, it grew into a great Turkey Oak, which shaded the gravesite and much of the area around it. Some years after the Duke died, in 1852, his son, the second Duke of Wellington, placed a simple white marble tombstone under the spreading Turkey Oak which shaded Copenhagen’s grave. There were two inscriptions on the stone, the first written by the second duke:

Here lies
COPENHAGEN,
The charger ridden by
the Duke of Wellington
The entire day at the
Battle of Waterloo.
Born 1808,  Died 1836.

The second epitaph was a couplet written by the English poet and sportsman, Rowland Egerton-Warburton, at the request of the second duke:

God’s humbler instrument, though meaner clay,
Should share the glory of that glorious day.

In 1890, the British military authorities organized a major exhibition of their then modern military technology as well as a large collection of artifacts from its history. The exhibition was held in a number of the buildings at the Royal Military Hospital in Chelsea, and was open from mid-May into October of 1890. Included among the most prized items on exhibition was the cloak and sword which the Duke of Wellington had worn at Waterloo, portraits of both the Duke and Copenhagen, and the bridle with the snaffle-ring bit which the chestnut stallion had worn at Waterloo. And yet, within five years a controversy would swirl among scholars of the Napoleonic wars as to the true color of Wellington’s favorite war horse. This controversy was soon playing out with the general public as well. Was the famous charger a chestnut, a bay or a grey? At that time, many thought he was actually a grey horse.

After what amounted to detective work more than research, the soldier-scholar, Archibald Forbes, was able to provide a definitive explanation of the confusion. Copenhagen’s portrait was painted several times by a number of different artists over the years, once he had returned to England in 1818. Some were more accurate than others, which was the beginning of the controversy. But one portrait of the great war horse, by Sir Edwin Landseer, was acknowledged by the first Duke of Wellington to be a very good likeness, and he kept it in his personal collection. The second duke bequeathed the portrait to his sister-in-law, Lady Charles Wellesley, whose son became the third Duke of Wellington. She kept the portrait in the dining room of her home for many years. When she died, she in turn bequeathed Copenhagen’s portrait to her son. The third duke had the portrait brought from Conholt Park, her family home, to Apsley House, after receiving the bequest. Many were surprised to see the portrait of a dapple-grey charger when the picture was uncrated in London. After discussion with some of the deceased lady’s servants, it was discovered that she had been offended by the sight of a chestnut horse in her dining room and had had the charger repainted as a grey, which she considered more tasteful. Forbes concluded his story of the confusion, " … there remains now no room for question that Copenhagen lived and died a chestnut."

Copenhagen was practically unknown during the first half of the Regency, when he was a young race horse on the tracks of England. However, it should be noted that this year is the bicentennial of his only wins, both of which occurred in 1811. He left England in 1813, not to return until the end of 1818. He therefore spent only three years of the Regency in England, the first two in near obscurity, the last as the most famous horse in all the land. Copenhagen may not have been a successful race horse, but he was, and remains, one of the most celebrated war horses of all time. He was loyal and courageous, though nearly as temperamental as his famous grandsire, Eclipse. Most of his handlers throughout the war years were wary, if not actually frightened of him, and only his master, the Duke of Wellington, was able to handle him with ease. His incredible leap over the heads of the 92nd Highlanders at Quatre Bras saved Wellington’s life, and in a sense, was responsible for the victory at Waterloo. His presence with Wellington, in France, and later in England, was an avenue of approach for many ladies who wished to meet the great general. And the attention of these ladies perhaps helped to ease, a little, the loneliness the great man sometimes felt, trapped in an unsuccessful and loveless marriage. And so many of these ladies wore some item of jewelery which included hair from Copenhagen’s mane or tail that it is a wonder the poor fellow had any left. Though the Duke was not known to make a fuss over animals, he made sure his loyal friend had a long and comfortable retirement at Strathfield Saye, where he made time to visit him whenever he was at the estate. He also saw to it that Copenhagen was laid to rest with full military honors, befitting a military hero, and, as the Duke wished, has been allowed to remain at peace there ever since.

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About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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11 Responses to From Paris to Strathfield Saye:   Copenhagen as a Civilian

  1. Kelly says:

    What a wonderful essay! I can’t say that previously I had a great interest in the battle of Waterloo or Wellington’s life, but having the focus be on Copenhagen made them fascinating and exciting. Thank you so much for celebrating one of the forgotten heros of the Regency!

    Kelly

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      Thank you for your kind words. I had read bits here and there over the years about Copenhagen and I found them so tantalizing, I thought his tale (pun intended) 😉 should be told.

      In truth, I found this series very hard to write, particularly the segment on the Waterloo campaign. I had been aware of the major points of the battles as abstract facts, but as I read more and more of the actual details of that campaign, I was alternately amazed by their courage and determination and appalled by what they endured. In fact, there were times during my research that I could no longer read through my tears.

      Copenhagen was indeed a hero, in my opinion. He was always brave, even under the most horrendous conditions. He was unfailingly loyal to Wellington, quite probably because Wellington was an experienced horseman who treated him well. They were a very good team and Wellington showed his loyalty in return by ensuring Copenhagen had a long and comfortable retirement.

      Regards,

      Kat

  2. cavalrytales says:

    Great series. I’d never come across Wellington’s night visit to Blucher before, which will work nicely into a future story – I think. Of course Copenhagen didn’t suffer the same level of deprivation as many troop horses, but that doesn’t in any way belittle his achievements.
    The best (or most tragic) horse story I’ve come across prior to this, apart from that of Marbot’s ‘Lisette’, is that of the Frenchman who’s horse survived the 99% losses of the Russian campaign, thanks to him crossing the the front lines at night to steal forage, only to be killed at Waterloo.
    There are probably enough horse anecdotes from the wars to fill a book, but I don’t think I could write it – not enough happy endings.

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      I am glad you enjoyed the story of Copenhagen. It is true that he did get better treatment than the average cavalry horse, mostly because he belonged to Wellington. However, he often did harder service, as many cavalry officers had a string of horses which they rotated during a battle, switching to a fresh horse when the one they were riding was “blown,” their term for an exhausted horse. Though Wellington had a string of eight war horses, once he mounted a horse for the day, he never appears to have switched to a fresh horse unless the one he was riding was killed under him. And once he acquired Copenhagen, he rode him into battle more than any other horse in his stable.

      You are quite right, in all of the battles on the Peninsula, and even more so in the Waterloo campaign, the loss of horses was tremendous. And many were heroes in their own right, continuing to work even after they were wounded, often until they dropped in their traces. I think those were the passages in my research which brought on the most tears.

      There is one story which does have a happy ending, but only for the horse. Sir William Ponsonby had a very fine thoroughbred charger, for which he had paid a great deal of money. On the morning of Waterloo, he decided he did not want to risk the horse in battle, as the government would only reimburse him 20 pounds, the going rate for a cavalry mount, if the horse should be killed. He therefore switched horses with his batman, whom he then sent to the rear with his thoroughbred. Later in the day, Ponsonby was engaged with a unit of French cavalry, and when the odds turned against him, tried to make for the Allied lines. But his horse was blown and could not carry him far enough, fast enough, so he was killed. One wonders if he might not have survived, had he been willing to risk his thoroughbred on the battlefield.

      The meeting with Blucher appears to have been quite by accident, and did not last for more than twenty or thirty minutes. There are good accounts of it in the first volume of Elizabeth Longford’s biography of Wellington, The Years of the Sword, and in Albert Nofi’s The Waterloo Campaign — June 1815. Nofi’s book was published in the early 1990s, but you may find it very valuable when doing research for a book, as it is a very detailed, day-by-day account of the entire campaign, perfect for gleaning those little details an author needs to add realism. And, of course, Longford’s biography of Wellington is still definitive. The second volume is The Pillar of State, covering his years as a statesman. She breaks the story right after the battle of Waterloo. Each volume is more than 450 pages long, but chock-a-block with great detail.

      You might find it of interest that Blucher was tough as leather, even at seventy-three, the age at which he fought at Waterloo. He was a damned good field commander, but he was also slightly insane. During the Waterloo campaign, he believed he had been impregnated by an elephant, on the orders of Napoleon. That is also mentioned in both Nofi and Longford.

      Regards,

      Kat

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      Sometimes I can be remarkably dense! I just realized that you were interested in Wellington’s ride to Wavre to meet with Blucher the night before Waterloo, not their chance meeting the night after the battle. My apologies!

      The two most comprehensive sources which I have found on that meeting are both quite old, and are now discounted by modern military historians. However, both of those sources are now online at Google Books, which is very convenient.

      You can find them, as follows:

      The Review of Reviews, Volume 10

      The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Volume 55

      Hope that will help with your research.

      Regards,

      Kat

      • cavalrytales says:

        Thanks for those! Thankfully it’ll be a while before I get to the Waterloo story but I’ve already decided how it ends so have to find a way of getting my characters there!
        Hope you don’t mind but I’ve put links to your Copenhagen articles on my blog. I do have a few horse-minded people who read it so it might give you a bit more traffic. And the articles are so good they deserve a wider readership. Well, that’s my opinion, anyway.
        J.

  3. Pingback: The Horse that Won the Battle of Waterloo…(OK – he had a little help!) « Cavalrytales Blog

  4. Kathryn Kane says:

    Thank you for your kind works and the links on your blog.

    I post my articles here in the hope of adding to the scholarship for the period, but also with an eye to what might be of use to authors who set their novels in and around the Regency era. The more period information which authors have available to them, the broader the palette with which they can paint their stories.

    Regards,

    Kat

  5. Pingback: Bloody Sunday:   Copenhagen and the Waterloo Campaign | The Regency Redingote

  6. Dr.Claudia Urbanovsky says:

    Thank you very much for this great research done on my favourite general’s favourite warhorse. The snippet about the night ride to meet with Blücher is very interesting. I had rumours about it but never found it actually quoted in the Waterloo scientific literature.

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      I am glad you liked Copenhagen’s story. He was quite a horse!

      Based on what I read during my research on Copenhagen, most Wellington and Waterloo scholars discount the story of that night ride to Blücher’s headquarters because there were no “witnesses.” It was not recorded by anyone at the time it is supposed to have happened, so there is no confirmation of the event by other contemporary sources. The only known sources are the two occasions when Wellington told the story many years after the battle. Which is not to say it did not happen, just that historians want more proof than is available. I guess it just boils down to whether or not one believes Wellington. Personally, I believe him.

      Thanks for stopping by,

      Kat

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