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11 June 2012

Wellington's Aides-de-Camp


This Friday, 15 June, is the 197th anniversary of the Duchess of Richmond's ball at which the Duke of Wellington learned that Napoleon was attacking not from the west as Wellington had expected but on the Allied Army's eastern flank, trying to separate them from their Prussian allies. Pouring over a map of Belgium in the Duke of Richmond's study, Wellington is said to have declared, "Napoleon has humbugged me." A number of officers joined their regiments straight from the ball and fought the next day at Quatre Bras in their ball dress. Monday, 18 June, is the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo itself.

Both the ball and the battle figure prominently in my latest release, Imperial Scandal. My hero, Malcolm Rannoch, is a diplomat and intelligence agent, but Wellington presses him into servicein the battle delivering messages. I knew early on in the plotting process that I wanted to have Malcolm delivering messages during the battle, and I was very pleased to discover in my research that Wellington is actually said to have pressed civilians into service because so many of his aides-de-camp were wounded. Several of those aides-de-camp are characters in Imperial Scandal and in other fictional accounts of Waterloo, notably Georgette Heyer's brilliant An Infamous Army. One of the challenges of writing Imperial Scandal was bringing them to life as characters who were at once unique to my story and true to the actual people. Here, in honor of the anniversary of Waterloo, are some brief notes about a few of them.

Lieutenant- Colonel Sir Alexander Gordon K.C.B. - younger brother of the diplomat Lord Aberdeen (later foreign secretary and prime minister). He was shot while remonstrating with Wellington to remove himself from fire. Gordon had his leg amputated and later died of his wounds in Wellington's bedchamber at the inn in the village of Waterloo that Wellington had made his Headquarters. Dr. Hume reports that when he informed Wellington of Gordon's death, Wellington said, "Well, thank God, I don't know what it is to lose a battle; but certainly nothing can be more painful than to win one with the loss of so many of one's friends."

Lord Fitzroy Somerset - youngest son of the 5th Duke of Beaufort. He joined Wellington's staff in 1807 and became his military secretary in 1811. In August 1814 he married Emily Harriet Wellesley-Pole, Wellington's niece. She was in Brussels with him and gave birth to a baby daughter just weeks before the battle. Fitzroy was shot in the arm during the battle when he and Wellington were just a hands breadth apart. Fiztroy's right arm had to be amputated. Before they carried it off, he insisted on removing a ring his wife had given him. He quickly learned to write with his left hand and resumed his duties as Wellington's secretary. He was created Baron Raglan in 1852 and given command of the British troops sent to the Crimea in 1854. He died there in 1855 from complications brought on by an attack of dysentery.

Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Fox Canning - Third son of Stratford Canning. Died of a gunshot wound to the stomach in the arms of his friend Lord March late in the battle, a tragic scene which Heyer beautifully dramatizes in An Infamous Army and which I also attempted to recreate in Imperial Scandal.

Charles Gordon-Lennox, Earl of March - eldest son of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond. He was an aide-de-camp to Wellington in the Peninsula and took a musket ball in the chest at Orthez which was never removed. During the Waterloo campaignl he was assigned to the Prince of Orange's staff. He was present at his mother's famous ball. After the news about the French, his sister Georgiana slipped off with him to help pack his things. At Waterloo, his friend Curzon died in his arms and then Colonel Canning later in the battle. Shortly after March carried the wounded Prince of Orange from the field. In 1817 he married Lady Caroline Paget, daughter of the Marquess of Anglesey (formerly the Earl of Uxbridge) who commanded the cavalry at Waterloo. March succeeded his father as Duke of Richmond and was active in Tory politics.

Have cameos by real historical figures in historical novels inspired you to research the real people? Writers, what particular challenges have you faced writing about historical figures who have also appeared in other historical novels?

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6 Comments:

Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I’ve always loved Alexander Gordon. Don’t know why him in particular (maybe it’s all Heyer’s fault). And yes, I look up the real details of people in books and films all the time (often with enraging, disappointing, and annoying results, LOL!).

8:11 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I think Heyer does a particularly good job of bringing Gordon to life, Isobel. And it's a good point that looking up real details of historical people in movies and novels can be frustrating - both because things are changed and sometimes because what happened to the person later ruins the apparently happy ending. But I also do find it enriches the reading/viewing experience. I think my earliest historical research was sparked by wanting to know more after I watched the British Henry VIII & His Wivres and Elizabeth R and then wanted to learn more. And sometimes I find characters like the aides-de-camp, who aren't major historical figures, the most fun to research.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Juliet Grey said...

Some of my historical heroines (Emma Hamilton, Mary Robinson) aren't exactly the subjects of many other novels, so I feel very proprietary about my fictional interpretations of them. Others, such as Marie Antoinette, of course, appear in other novels and I have strong opinions about the characterizations in Other People's Fiction. My personal credo when I write historical fiction is that if an event COULD have happened then it's fair game to use in the novel (and of course if it actually DID happen, then such moments are golden and should be in there). But if certain things fly in the face of established facts and research, then I personally won't go there as an author. I want to be sure that my fictional interpretations of historical figures are wholly my own and not inspired by another writer's -- and yet completely bolstered by historical fact, which is then embroidered by my imagination.

Of course the more that is known about a figure, the less leeway you have to embellish (although I feel that the novelist is free to psychoanalyze their motivations, which is where character interpretation comes in, and why my Marie Antoinette and Louis are, for example, very different from other interpretations). It's very true, Tracy, that the less we know about someone, the more we can feel free, as a novelist, to imagine who they were on the page.

Fabulous post, as always!

2:32 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks, Juliet! I was thinking about you when I asked that question, because of course Marie Antoinette is the subject of so much historical fiction. I too take the tack that if it could have happened or they could have done it, it's fair game (I'd feel okay giving an historical figure known for his or her love affairs a fictional lover, but it wouldn't seem right with someone known to be a devoted spouse). I find it both easier and harder to write about people about whom less is known. I tried really hard to give the ADCs distinct personalities, and in some cases I had very little to go on. But I didn't want to completely invent.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Cessa said...

Lord Raglan's military effects were just sold on April 4th at Christie's. Many Peninsular Campaign items as well as his field glass, used at Waterloo. The catalogue should still be online. Fascinating artifacts!

8:42 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Oh, how fascinating! Thanks for letting me know!

12:40 PM  

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