They Wrote History – Regency’s Horses Part III

The character of the military equine must necessarily be memorable, given the brutal circumstances of his surroundings. Those that are remembered, however, tend to have their traits and habits subsumed in the personalities of their famous riders.  By the dawn of the Regency, and the Romantic age, an expanding literate population hungered for stories that centered on the personality of the military charger without regard to whoever was on her back.

At this time, the French had superior cavalry, and Napoleon’s horses figured largely in the history of Regency-era chargers.

L’Empereur had a deep, abiding relationship with his horses. He favored Arab stallions  but also kept a few mares. All were required to be  ‘sweet, gentle and reliable.’ Accounts relate how well his mounts were suited to him.  This was a good thing, for apparently Napoleon had a unique style of riding–one that combined effective direction while managing to appear as if he might fall off at any moment.

Meissonier’s portrait below agrees with these contemporary observations. Napoleon’s weight is not centered, but pressing against a very sensitive area of the animal’s back, just behind the cantle. His heel is too far forward, and the reins are slack. It takes a special horse to remain balanced, not to mention sweet, when being ridden this way, particularly as Napoleon was known to take off suddenly, only to slide to a crashing halt while on the field of battle.

Le Vizir, a favored mount, can still be seen today in Paris. He was stuffed after his death, the imperial N brand visible on his hip.

Napoleon had pet names for his horses, a habit that gives us a window into their characters.   Cirus, for example, he referred to as Austerlitz, for displaying uncommon equine valor at the famous battle.  Another stallion he nicknamed Cuchillero, which means assassin.  Coco was an affectionate reference to still another, meaning mate or friend. He called his mare Marie Zina, which means adultery.

I’ve known a few mares who displayed remarkable tendencies toward the hussy end of the character spectrum.

On the British side, the stories of Sir Thomas Brotherton’s mare Fatima are especially memorable. She was a pure Arab given to him by his father, on the occasion of his gaining a commission in the Coldstream Guards in 1800.  Her exploits in battle are exquisitely illustrative of her character.

Note the fly swatter attached to the horse’s bridle–Fatima, like many Arab-type chargers, had sensitive skin and required such a device to ward off biting flies.
Light Dragoons Officer (1805) by Robert Dighton, the Younger

According to Col. Hamilton, this intrepid mare suffered several injuries in combat, including sabre cuts to the head. Undaunted, she would fight the enemy with her hooves and teeth.  She saw action at Salamanca, when she was nearly put down from a grave injury to her stifle, but for the intervention of the stud-groom accompanying a noble comrade-in-arms. Other noblemen in service would offer fabulous sums of money to Brotherton to have her, including Sir Charles Stewart, brother to the Viscount Castlereagh, British Foreign Secretary.

“She was particularly fond of raw beef-steaks and it was difficult to keep the men’s rations from her, even if suspended on trees, as they usually were, for safety.”

— Historical Record of the 14th (King’s) Hussars, 1715 – 1900 by Colonel Henry Blackburne Hamilton (1901)

In the end, she was captured by the French Government, and carried away to the stud farm.


Regency Wrecks: Voyage to Paradise (part two)

It is perhaps ironic that Alceste was leaving China just as Medusa’s captain was being brought to trial. Captain Maxwell had already lost Daedalus and was having the depths continuously sounded as his ship passed between steep rock reefs. When she did strike one, it was at speed and the ship’s carpenter reported the worst. To get her off the reef would cause her to sink instantly. The ship had to be abandoned, the only refuge a nearby, waterless mangrove island surrounded by pirate-infested waters.

Maxwell had indeed landed in the basket. With the loss of two ships to his name, he must redeem himself in some spectacular way or sink into ignominy and disgrace.

William Amherst, 1st Earl Amherst by Davies (1803)

William Amherst, 1st Earl Amherst by Davies (1803)

Lord Amherst and his embassy were sent in the ship’s barge and cutter toward Java, leagues to the south. Hopefully they would reach that distant island and send back a rescue party. Maxwell did not dare go with them, He had to remain behind with his crew and remaining passengers, numbering 200 men and one woman.

Once Amherst and his embassy had disappeared beyond the stifling horizon, Maxwell wasted no time setting about his redemption. Soon the wreck would be spotted by inhospitable natives and he would have to be ready. Provisions were stowed in a cool cave and the crew was set to digging a well, searching for fresh water, for they had sent the bulk of their water supplies with his lordship. With the remaining lifeboats, a crew was sent back out to the Alceste to salvage what remained on her.

Sea-dyaks on proas (multi-hulled Micronesian sailing vessels) caught the salvage crew by surprise and chased them back to the mangrove island. These ruthless Malay pirates had the reputation for murdering anyone on board ships they captured and were even known to commit cannibalism. It soon appeared that the Dyaks were most concerned with the wreck and its contents–principally anything that was metal–and seemed content to plunder the Alceste rather than assault the makeshift fortress Maxwell and his men had hastily constructed.

Eventually, the Dyaks set fire to the Alceste and withdrew with their booty. This gave Maxwell a chance to send another boat out to the wreck and retrieve flour, wine and beer that had been exposed by the destruction of Alceste’s upper works.

The Dyaks were bound to return for the castaways on the island, who were by now starving, thirsty and ragged. When the pirates appeared, they had more boats, including a flagship, perhaps carrying a “rajah.” They continued to plunder the wrecked vessel and made forays to capture the remaining boats on the island. These were repelled but eventually, the time of a great attack had come.

Captain Maxwell addressed his men:

“My lads, you must all have observed the great increase in the enemy’s force, and the threatening posture they have assumed. I have reason to believe they will attack us this night. I do not wish to conceal our real state, because I do not think there is a man here who is afraid to face any sort of danger. We are in a position to defend ourselves against regular troops, far less a set of naked savages, with their spears and krises. ..Let every man be on his alert, and should these barbarians this night attempt our hill, I trust we shall convince them that they are dealing with Britons.”

Morning came without the expected attack. Instead, a much larger force of Dyaks had arrived by boat. The situation could not be more desperate. The relief ship that was supposed to have been sent by Lord Amherst had not arrived. Perhaps he felt compelled to abandon such an unlucky captain. Or perhaps his lordship and his party had met with some grim fate before they could get to Java.

With this in mind, it became rapidly clear to Maxwell that they had to get off the island or be slaughtered. To get off the island, he and his men needed boats. The Dyaks had them.

Maxwell sent his marines down to the shore to capture them. Wading into the sea, they aimed their muskets but were unable to keep steady aim in the strong tide. The Dyaks surged forward on their swift proas, screaming with savage delight. Then one piercing cry from the direction of the Alceste came–a pirate lookout, pausing in his plunder, was gesturing wildly toward the open sea.

On the searing horizon, the topmast of the Honorable East India Company’s Ternate appeared, and she was armed to the teeth. She had been sent by Lord Amherst to rescue his favorite captain–sent the very day the Alceste’s barge had landed in Java.

Captain Maxwell was soon on his way back to England. The ship carrying him stopped at St. Helena and the captain was presented to Napoleon. Perhaps Maxwell was looking a bit chagrined, this captain who had lost two French frigates and was on his way home to be court-martialed. However, the exiled emperor received him with great courtesy and remarked, rather sourly, that he should not be blamed by the British government. At least what he had lost had been taken from another to begin with.

L’emperor had lost much more than just Meduse, Minerve and Corona.

Vous êtes très méchant. Eh bien!” he said to Maxwell.

Shipwreck of the Minotaur by JMW Turner (1810)

Shipwreck of the Minotaur by JMW Turner (1810)

Regency Wrecks: Voyage to Paradise (Part One)

“I see the boat on the lake! Cpatain Murray Maxwell
And Charon,
Ferryman of the Dead, Calls to me, his hand on the oar:
‘Why linger? Hasten! You delay me!’
Angrily he urges me.”– Alcestis, by Euripedes (438 BC)

She was once known as the Minerve, a proud, 38-gun Armide-class frigate of the French Navy. Like Corona, she had been captured by the British during the Napoleonic Wars. Towed to Plymouth, she was refitted and renamed Alceste, for the queen who would be called upon to die in place of her husband, Admetus, one of Greek mythology’s Argonauts.

Perhaps this was an omen.

In 1807, before he was to wreck Daedalus, Captain Maxwell was given the command of Alceste. Instructed to go to the Mediterranean, Maxwell and his ship raided Spanish shipping carrying supplies for Napoleon’s armies. Their greatest success came during the Adriatic Campaign when Alceste intercepted a convoy of French frigates. After a heated battle, a large ship Pomone and an accompanying storage vessel carrying 200 cannon surrendered to Maxwell. The ships and cargo were sold for prize money. By 1812, Alceste had made her captain a wealthy man.

Who knows what might have been her fate had Maxwell gone down with the Daedalus the next year?

But he did not. A court martial proceeding cleared him from all blame for the loss of the former Corona. Captain Maxwell had money, friends–and a second chance with Alceste.

Lord Amherst was to go to China and establish relations with its emperor. He chose Captain Maxwell to transport him and his diplomatic mission. The captain was given command of Alceste once again. Unfortunately, Amherst’s mission was doomed to failure. As an Englishman, he had opposed one emperor in Europe and saw no reason to kowtow to another, refusing to offer tribute as to an overlord.

La Pomone contre les frégates HMS Alceste et Active, by Pierre Julien Gilbert

Pomone fights the frigates HMS Alceste and Active, by Pierre Julien Gilbert

Angrily Alceste was directed to withdraw with her insulted passengers aboard, and sailed to the mouth of the Pearl River. There she was confronted by a blockade of junks. These were summarily disposed of by the frigate’s numerous cannon, the first shot marked with a note the said something like, “here’s your bloody tribute.”

With this parting shot, the Alceste set sail for England. The last peril she had to pass was the Gaspar Strait.

Regency painters – Part One

Oath of the Horatii - Jaques-Louis David, 1784

At the time of my story Notorious Match, painting, along with the other fine arts, was transitioning toward Romanticism.  Think Turner and Constable.  In the next few posts, the blog will concentrate on painters of the Regency period and how their visual interpretation of subjects greatly affected their audience in England.

Neo-Classicism was in full force by the time of the Regency in England.  Paintings were eschewing the rococo manner so beloved by the ancienne regime to become more commonly executed in a formal, restrained manner, using classical subjects ranging from mythological figures to Corinthian columns.

Like previous styles of painting, and future ones to come, neo-Classicism was eventually taken over by the political movement of the times.  At the height of his power, Napoleon discovered an affinity for the symmetric, incisive nature of the classical heroic movement and used it to demonstrate his own personal power and that of the Republic.

He chose for his portrait painter Jacques-Louis David, a major contributor to the stylistic painting of this period both in France and England.  David had rejected the earlier passion for indolent aristocrats riding beribboned swings, pursuing love and other nonsense among flowers.  He hated rococo, you see. So much better to paint great gods of Olympus and sturdy mortals of Rome imposing order by sword and mighty oaths.

By Jove, it makes one want to get to one’s bootmaker and demand a pair of dashed sandals.

David was an ardent supporter of the French Revolution and had been favored by Citizen Robespierre, before the fellow got himself guillotined.

Napoleon at the St. Bernard Pass - 1801

It was David who executed the famous, but dreary pencil sketch of a grim Marie Antoinette awaiting Madame La Guillotine.  He voted as a member of the General Assembly to have Louis XVI executed.  It was alleged he participated in the death of the young dauphin after the boy was forced to testify against his mother on several crimes, including incest, to secure her execution.

It was not as easy to execute women in those days, you see.

One of David’s great friends was the revolutionary Paul Murat, an architect of the Terror.  The artist was so distraught when Murat was found murdered in his bath, he painted one of art’s great masterpieces, immortalizing him and the revolutionary for all time.

“(It was) a moving testimony to what can be achieved when an artist’s political convictions are directly manifested in his work.”  Boime, Albert (1987), Social History of Modern Art: Art in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1800 volume 1, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, ISBN

Napoleon commissioned David to create the giant Coronation mural as well as the famous Marengo painting (above).  The painter died an exile from France after Napoleon’s defeat, run over by a carriage.

From Notorious Match:

Diana asked Griffin about his family.

“My father left Wales for France after some scandal,” he told her.  “A scandal I’m sure your grandmother, Lady Nellie, can better explain than I.  In any case, I never knew him.  He married my mother, the daughter of a minor noble, but left her for Paris after I was born.”

“Who raised you?” Diana probed.

“Mostly my grandfather.   My mother was killed when I was ten.  During the Revolution.”

Diana’s eyes widened.  “Oh, Griffin.  Was she—”

“No, she was not a victim of Madame la Guillotine,” he explained, matter-of-factly.   “Instead, my mother was hung.  For conspiring to murder the revolutionary Jean-Paul Murat.”

“Good God.  Wasn’t it Charlotte Corday who stabbed him in his bath?  The one they call the Angel of Assassination?”

Griffin nodded.  “My mother and Charlotte were schoolmates in Caen.  When Charlotte was arrested for killing Murat, my mother went to Paris to beg for her freedom.  She was warned to stay away on penalty of death.  But she could not.  It seemed incomprehensible to her, you see, that her beloved friend should be executed for killing one man to save one hundred thousand.”

The Death of Murat, 1793

Persistent Prince – Part One

Miss Catherine Middleton

I’m not convinced “Waity Katie” is an entirely accurate nickname.  With all the speculation and rumor over the last eight years, who was really the party that waited, or more importantly, the party that persisted?

During the Regency period, speculation and rumor also abounded.  Overwrought correspondence, backstairs intrigue and the unhappy marriage of Charlotte’s parents nearly scotched the unlikely courtship of England’s heiress by a penniless German prince–but for his persistence.

Leopold had no money but early on he had a way of attracting the rich and mighty, among them two emperors.  The first was Napoleon, who asked the young officer to join his army. In a fateful decision, Leopold instead accepted a commission in the Russian Imperial Army and went on to distinguish himself on the battlefield.  The Tsar brought him to England as a member of his retinue to celebrate the Allied victory over the Little Corporal.   It was then our hero was granted an audience with England’s princess.

Prince Leopold is introduced to Princess Charlotte

It seems Prince Leopold scarcely made an impression, favorable or otherwise, in Charlotte’s reception salon.

But he was persistent.