Regency Bicentennial:   An Arm & A Leg — Part One

The arm belonged to Lord Fitzroy Somerset and the leg belonged to Henry Paget, Earl of Uxbridge. Both were lost at the Battle of Waterloo. The arm’s loss is believed to have resulted in a new sleeve design while the leg would be involved in a series of notorious adventures for over a century before it was ultimately reduced to ashes. Curiously, the owners of both those limbs also had connections through marriage to their commander, the Duke of Wellington, and each was near him on the battlefield when they were wounded.

This week, the tale of Somerset’s arm . . .

Lord Fitzroy Somerset was the youngest of the Duke of Beaufort’s thirteen children, and the youngest of nine sons. As the very youngest son, with no real hope of inheriting the dukedom, like many younger sons of the aristocracy, he chose the military as a career. He acquired a commission as a cornet in the 4th Light Dragoons in June of 1804 and was promoted to the rank of Captain in May of 1808, when he joined the 43rd Regiment of Foot. Soon thereafter, through his family’s influence, he was appointed an aide-de-camp to Lieutenant-General Wellesley. In July of 1808, he sailed with General Wellesley on board the Royal Navy cruiser, Donegall, out of Cork harbor, bound for Corunna, in Portugal.

Born in 1788, Captain Somerset was just nineteen years old when he sailed to Portugal. Seeing him side by side with General Wellesley, twenty years his senior, many men on board the Donegall took them for father and son. Besides their erect military bearing, both had clear, healthy complexions, a high-beaked nose and sharp, penetrating eyes. Both had the same kind of patrician good looks which marked them as members of the upper classes. Despite the difference in their ages, the Captain and the General found they had much in common and were friends by the time the Donegall docked in Corunna. That friendship would hold fast for the rest of their lives.

Lord Fitzroy Somerset served with Wellington throughout the Peninsular Wars. Wellington is reported to have said that Somerset would not tell a lie to save his life, and he had complete trust in his ADC. When Napoleon abdicated the French throne in April of 1814, and the war came to an end, the Duke of Wellington assumed his fighting days were over and sought a new career for himself. He accepted the position of British Ambassador to the restored Bourbon Court. In July 1814, he appointed Lord Fitzroy Somerset as his embassy secretary and on 6 August 1814, Somerset married Wellington’s niece, the lovely and vivacious Lady Emily Harriet Wellesley-Pole. Lady Emily was the daughter of Wellington’s brother, William, and Somerset had fallen head over heels in love with her when she paid a visit to Spain the previous year. Though some in William’s family objected to Emily’s marriage to a younger son with only a small annuity, William had discussed the matter with his brother, Arthur, and was convinced that young Somerset was a man of talent, industry and high character who would be a good husband to his daughter. William gave his full approval to the marriage and by all accounts, the couple were very happy.

In late February of 1815, when Wellington had to travel to Vienna to take Lord Castlereagh’s place at the Congress there, the Somersets remained in Paris. Somerset managed the day-to-day affairs of the embassy and he and his wife looked after the Duchess of Wellington, who did not travel to Vienna with her husband. When news came that Napoleon was marching on Paris, it was Somerset who arranged safe passage for the Duchess Wellington back to England. Though Lady Emily was pregnant with their first child, she refused to be parted from her husband and the two traveled together to Brussels, to join Wellington. Now holding the rank of Colonel, Somerset once again joined Wellington’s staff, this time as his principal aide-de-camp.

Colonel Somerset was with General Wellington as the Allied troops rode out of Brussels early on the morning of 16 June 1815. He accompanied Wellington on his visit to General Blücher’s headquarters at mid-day, then back to Quatre Bras, where the battle had taken a turn against the Allies. He was right behind Wellington when the General, mounted on Copenhagen, leapt over the heads of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders to escape pursuing French chasseurs. Both landed safely inside the Highlanders’ square and for the rest of the day, Somerset carried orders to and from his commander as Wellington directed the battle and turned the tide against the French.

On Sunday, 18 June 1815, Somerset was once again at Wellington’s side as the battle began on the field south of Waterloo. For several hours, he carried orders from Wellington to his field commanders as the battle progressed. Late in the afternoon, when it looked like Marshal Ney and the French would take La Haye Sainte, Somerset accompanied Wellington as the General rode to that side of the battlefield to survey the situation. Somerset was riding so close to Wellington that his left arm was actually touching Wellington’s right. At that moment, a French sharp-shooter on the roof of the farmhouse at La Haye Sainte fired, presumably at Wellington, but his bullet struck Colonel Somerset in his right arm just at the elbow.

Unwilling to take any soldiers away from the front to carry him, Somerset walked back to the small cottage that was being used as a forward field hospital. Once the surgeon had examined his lacerated arm, he gave Somerset his opinion that the arm could not be saved and would have to be amputated. Somerset then lay down on the table and made no sound as the surgeon removed his right arm above the elbow, without benefit of any anesthesia. The Prince of Orange, lying wounded in the next room, was unaware that any operation had taken place, until he heard Somerset call out to the surgeon who had tossed his arm on to a pile of other amputated limbs. Somerset demanded that the surgeon bring his arm back to him, so he could retrieve a ring on one finger which had been given to him by his wife.

The next day, the Duke of Wellington himself wrote to the current Duke of Beaufort, Somerset’s eldest brother, to inform him of his ADC’s injury:

I am very sorry to have to acquaint you that your brother FitzRoy is very severely wounded, and has lost his right arm. I have just seen him, and he is perfectly free from fever, and as well as anybody could be under such circumstances. You are aware how useful he has always been to me, and how much I shall feel the want of his assistance, and what a regard and affection I feel for him, and you will readily believe how much concerned I am for his misfortune. Indeed, the losses I have sustained have quite broken me down, and I have no feeling for the advantages we have acquired. I hope, however, that your brother will soon be able to join me again; and that he will long live to be, as he is likely to become, an honour to his country, as he is a satisfaction to his family and friends.

Once he had recovered from his injury, Somerset learned to write with his left hand and returned to the position of Secretary at the British Embassy, while Wellington was the Commander of the occupation forces in France. When Wellington returned to England in 1817, to assume the position of Commander-in-Chief of the British army, Somerset went with him as his Secretary. He continued to serve with Wellington for the next thirty years, in various positions. In 1834, he accompanied Wellington to the University of Oxford, where the Duke was installed as Chancellor and he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree. When Somerset made his bow, his gown slipped from his shoulder, revealing his empty sleeve. For a moment, there was dead silence, then thunderous applause. In October of 1852, barely a month after Wellington’s death, Lord Fitzroy Somerset was created the first Baron Raglan.

Somerset preferred to dress himself, rather than rely on the services of a valet. However, his missing arm made that difficult for him and he also found the standard sleeve design of the time rather uncomfortable. His tailor developed a new style of sleeve which extends to be come part of the collar of the garment. This new design had a diagonal seam which ran from the underarm to the collar on both the front and the back, while the cloth of the sleeve itself extended right to the neck opening. This new style of sleeve made it much easier for Somerset to dress himself and was more comfortable for him to wear. Over time, other tailors adopted this new sleeve pattern, and it was eventually named for the man for whom it was designed, using his new title. Thus, it came to be known as the raglan sleeve, and the pattern remains popular even today. It is commonly used in sweaters and sweatshirts, as well as other garments intended to provide comfort and unrestricted movement.

Next week, the escapades of Uxbridge’s leg.

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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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8 Responses to Regency Bicentennial:   An Arm & A Leg — Part One

  1. I shall always think now of this brave man when I put on my raglan sweater.

  2. openidname says:

    Nothing about his disastrous role in the Charge of the Light Brigade?!?!?

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      Of course not. This article is in no way a biography of Lord Fitzroy Somerset. As was clearly stated, the focus was the loss of his arm at Waterloo and its aftermath. The events in the Crimea had no bearing on his injury, so are irrelevant and quite beyond the scope of this article. Those who would like to know more about this courageous, if maligned, soldier are welcome to consult their local libraries.

      Regards,

      Kat

  3. The Raglan sleeve -! I didn’t know that it was connected to Lord Fitzroy Somerset. Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. Pingback: Regency Bicentennial:   An Arm & A Leg — Part Two | The Regency Redingote

  5. Pingback: History A'la Carte 10-22-15 - Random Bits of Fascination

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