By Guest Blogger Nicola Cornick
There can be few places more appropriate
than Windsor Castle to hold an exhibition to commemorate the 200th
anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Originally founded by William the
Conqueror at the end of the 11th century, Windsor has been home to
39 monarchs and is the oldest royal residence in the British Isles. At various
points in its history it has undergone major remodelling and one of these took
place in the late 18th and early 19th century with the
creation of a new grand staircase and state apartments. During the Peninsular
Wars when there was a threat to the country from republican France, Windsor was
recognised as a symbolic bastion of the British nation and the monarchy.
It was George IV who created the Waterloo
Chamber in celebration of the allied victory of 1815, and the room was
completed by his successor William IV. It is a vast pace filled with Sir Thomas
Lawrence’s imposing portraits of those who were instrumental in the victory,
including the Duke of Wellington. A portrait of George himself is placed at the
centre of the room and thus as the focal point of the victory.
The “Waterloo at Windsor” exhibition is
running throughout this year and I was lucky enough to go and see it a couple
of weeks ago. It’s a fascinating mixture of prints, drawings and archive
material from the Royal Collection, which explore the battle and its aftermath.
The introduction to the exhibition is via the Drawings Gallery where there is a
display of maps of the battlefield and paintings that were in some cases
produced in the immediate aftermath of the battle, showing tourists already
visiting the site. I also loved the
collection of Rowlandson cartoons depicting Napoleon as a Corsican bloodhound
and it was interesting to see some French propaganda cartoons and pictures,
showing him from a very different perspective, that of the peacemaker of
Europe. I also learned some fascinating facts; that amongst the memorials
planned after the battle was one for a pyramid as high as St Paul’s Cathedral,
which would have cost a million pounds in the currency of the day. Like many of
the proposed memorials it was never built.
Elsewhere in the staterooms are a whole
host of artefacts with connections to the battle. By far my favourite was
Napoleon’s burnous, a red felt hooded cloak lined with yellow silk brocade and
decorated with silver braid (above). This had been found amongst Napoleon’s baggage
train on the field at Waterloo and was presented to the Prince Regent by
General Blucher. Also taken from
Napoleon’s belongings was a leather travelling desk, decorated with gold bees
and the monogram “N.” It contained two inkpots, a sandbox, a candlestick and
bell. Napoleon certainly didn’t travel light!
It was the little details of the exhibition
that I enjoyed the most: The drawing of the Waterloo Elm, which had been
Wellington’s command post during the battle, and the story that it was
subsequently stripped of its leaves and branches by souvenir hunters and turned
into a chair! The gorgeous silver gilt tea service and toast racks that
Napoleon gave to his adopted daughter Stephanie on her marriage… Each item had
a different story to tell and a different light to shed not only the Battle of
Waterloo itself but also on the enigmatic Emperor who continued to be a figure
of fascination even in exile.
2015, Waterloo at Windsor: 1815–2015 will combine a themed trail through
the State Apartments with a display of prints, drawings and archival material
that explores the battle and its aftermath.
will highlight objects seized on the battlefield by the victors, including
silver, furniture, weapons and the beautiful red cloak belonging to Napoleon,
presented to George IV by Wellington's ally, Field-Marshal Gebhardt von
Labels: Waterloo Wednesday, Waterloo200