Duchess of Richmond's ball

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The Duchess of Richmond's Ball by Robert Alexander Hillingford (1870s).

The Duchess of Richmond's ball was held in Brussels on 15 June 1815, the night before the Battle of Quatre Bras, by Charlotte, Duchess of Richmond. Her husband, Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond, was in command of a reserve force in Brussels, which was protecting that city in case Napoleon Bonaparte invaded.

Elizabeth Longford described it as "the most famous ball in history".[1] "The ball was certainly a brilliant affair",[2] at which "with the exception of three generals, every officer high in [Wellington's] army was there to be seen".[3]

The ball[edit]

According to Lady Georgiana, a daughter of the Duchess,

Lady Louisa, another of the Duchess's daughters, recalled:

While the exact order of the dances at this ball is not known, there is a comment from a contemporary critical observer about the season in Brussels:

Intelligence of the Battle of Ligny (1818) by William Heath, depicting a Prussian officer informing the Duke of Wellington that the French have crossed the border at Charleroi and that the Prussians would concentrate their army at Ligny.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington with his intimate staff arrived some time between 11 pm. and midnight. [c] Shortly before supper, which started around 1 am.,[7] Henry Weber, an aide-de-camp to the William, Prince of Orange, arrived with a message for the Prince. The Prince handed it to Wellington, who pocketed it unopened. A short time later Wellington read the message—written at around 10 pm., it reported that Prussian forces had been forced by the French to retreat from Fleurus. As Fleurus is north-east of Charleroi this meant that the French had crossed the river Sambre (although Wellington couldn't tell from this message in what strength)— Wellington requested the Prince to return to his headquarters immediately, and then after issuing a few more orders went into supper, where he sat between Lady Frances Webster and Lady Georgiana. To his surprise the Prince of Orange returned and in a whisper informed him of another dispatch, this one sent by Baron Rebecque to the Prince's headquarters at Braine-le-Comte, and dated 10:30 pm. It informed the Prince that the French had pushed up the main Charleroi to Brussles road nearly as far as Quatre Bras.[d] After repeating to the Prince that he should return to his headquarters, Wellington continued to sit at the table and make small talk for 20 minutes more, before announcing that he would retire to bed. He rose from the supper-table and:[8]

The atmosphere in the room changed when news circulated among the guests that the French were crossing the border:

Before Waterloo (1868), by Henry O'Neil, depicting officers departing from the Duchess of Richmond's ball

Katherine Arden daughter of Richard Arden, 1st Lord Alvanley described the events towards the end of the ball and the rest of the night:


Floor plan by William brother of Lady de Ros

At the time of the ball no accurate record was kept of the location of the ballroom. In 1887 a plan of the house was published by Lady De Ros (daughter of the Duchess of Richmond), provided by her brother, who were both resident in the house. It was later reprinted in "Reminiscences of Lady de Ros" by the Honourable Mrs J. R. Swinton, her daughter.[10]

The coach house, proposed by Sir William Fraser in 1888 as the likely location of the ball.

Sir William Fraser examined the site and concluded that the room proposed as the ballroom by Lady de Ros was too small a space for the number of people who attended the ball.[11] A short time after his visit, he wrote a letter to The Times which was published on 25 August 1888. He reported that he had likely discovered the room and that it was not part of the principal property that the Duke of Richmond had rented on the Rue des Cendres, but was a coach house that backed onto the property and had an address in the next street, the Rue de la Blanchisserie. The room had dimensions of 120 feet (37 m) long, 54 feet (16 m) broad, and about 13 feet (4.0 m) high (the low ceiling was a case where reality impinged on one meaning of Lord Byron's artistic allusion to "that high hall").[12][13]

Research by lawyer P. Duvivier and published by Fleischman and Aerts in their 1956 book Bruxelles pendant la bataille de Waterloo put forward an alternative theory. It proposes that, unknown to Fraser, the coach house used as a ballroom had been demolished by the time of his investigations and that the building he assumed was the ballroom was not built until after 1815.[14]

List of the invitations to the ball[edit]

The following were sent invitations to the ball:[f]

  • Prince of Orange (wounded at Waterloo)
  • Prince Frederic of Orange
  • Duke of Brunswick (killed by a gunshot at Quatre-Bras)
  • Prince of Nassau
  • Duc d'Arenberg
  • Prince Auguste d'Arenberg
  • Prince Pierre d'Arenberg
  • Lord van der Linden d'Hoogvoorst, Mayor of Brussels
  • Duc et Duchesse de Beaufort and their daughter[15]
  • Duc et Duchesse d’Ursel
  • Marquis and Marquise d'Assche.[g]
  • Comte and Comtesse d'Oultremont
  • Comtesse Douairiere d'Oultremont and her daughters
  • Comte and Comtesse Liedekerke Beaufort
  • Comte and Comtesse Auguste Liedekerke and their daughter
  • Comte and Comtesse Latour Lupin
  • Comte and Comtesse Mercy d'Argenteau
  • Comte and Comtesse de Grasiac
  • Comtesse de Luiny
  • Comtesse de Ruilly
  • Baron and Baroness d'Hooghvoorst, their daughter and son C. d'Hooghvoorst
  • Monsieur and Madame Vander Capellen
  • Baron de Herelt
  • Baron de Tuybe
  • Baron Brockhausen
  • General Baron Vincent (wounded at Waterloo)
  • General Pozzo de Borgo
  • General Miguel de Álava (Spanish Ambassador to The Hague — the court of King William I of the Netherlands[16])
  • Comte de Belgade
  • Comte de la Rochefoucauld
  • General d'Oudenarde
  • Colonel Knife (?), A.D.C.
  • Colonel Ducayler
  • Major Ronnchenberg, A.D.C.
  • Colonel Tripp, A.D.C.
  • Captain de Lubeck, A.D.C. to the Duke of Brunswick
  • Earl and Countess Conyngham and Lady Elizabeth Conyngham.[h]
  • Viscount Mount-Charles and Hon. Mr. Conyngham (afterwards 2nd Marquess Conyngham)
  • Countess Mount-Norris and Lady Julianna Annesley
  • Dowager Countess of Waldegrave
  • Duke of Wellington
  • Lord and Lady Fitzroy Somerset (Neither were present; Lord Fitzroy lost his arm at Waterloo)
  • Lord and Lady John Somerset
  • Mr. and Lady Frances Webster
  • Mr. and Lady Caroline Capel and their daughter
  • Lord and Lady George Seymour and their daughter
  • Mr. and Lady Charlotte Greville
  • Viscountess Hawarden
  • Sir Henry and Lady Susan Clinton (He was Lt.-Gen., G.C.B. and commanded the 2nd Division)
  • Lady Alvanley and daughters Katherin and Fanny Arden[17]
  • Sir James, Lady Craufurd, and their daughter
  • Sir George Berkeley, K.C.B.,[i] and Lady Berkeley
  • Lady and Miss Sutton.[j]
  • Sir Sidney and Lady Smith, and Miss Rumbolds
  • Sir William and Lady Johnstone
  • Sir Hew and Lady Delancey (invited but declined.[18])
  • Hon. Mrs. Pole (Wife of William Wellesley-Pole, Wellington's older brother, later Lady Maryborough)
  • Mr. and Mrs. Lance, their daughter and son, Mr. Lance, Jr.
  • Mr. Ord and his daughters
  • Mr. and Mrs. Greathed
  • Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd
  • Hon. Sir Charles Stuart, G.C.B. (Minister at Bruxelles) and Mr. Stuart
  • Earl of Uxbridge (commanded the Cavalry; lost his leg at Waterloo)
  • Earl of Portarlington
  • Earl of March, A.D.C. to the Prince of Orange
  • General Lord Edward Somerset (commanded the Household Brigade of cavalry, wounded at Waterloo)
  • Lord Charles FitzRoy
  • Lord Robert Manners
  • Lieutenant-General Lord Hill (Commanding the 2nd Corps)
  • Lord Rendlesham
  • Lord Hay, A.D.C. (killed at Quatre Bras)
  • Lord Saltoun
  • Lord Apsley (afterwards Earl Bathurst)
  • Hon. Colonel Stanhope (Guards)
  • Hon. Colonel Abercromby (Guards; wounded)
  • Hon. Colonel Ponsonby (afterwards Sir Frederick Ponsonby, K.C.B.; severely wounded)
  • Hon. Colonel Acheson (Guards)
  • Hon. Colonel Stewart
  • Hon. Mr. O. Bridgeman, A.D.C. to Lord Hill
  • Hon. Mr. Percival
  • Hon. Mr. Stopford
  • Hon. Mr. John Gordon.[19]
  • Hon. Mr. Edgecombe
  • Hon. Mr. Seymour Bathurst, A.D.C. to Gen. Maitland
  • Hon. Mr. Forbes
  • Hon. Mr. Hastings Forbes
  • Hon. Major Dawson
  • Hon. Mr. Dawson, 18th Light Dragoons
  • Major-General Sir Hussey Vivian (commanded 6th Cavalry Brigade)
  • Horace Seymour, A.D.C. (afterwards Sir Horace Seymour, K.C.B.)
  • Colonel Hervey, A.D.C. (afterwards Sir Felton Hervey-Bathurst, 1st Baronet)
  • Colonel Fremantle, A.D.C.
  • Lord George Lennox, A.D.C.
  • Lord Arthur Hill, A.D.C. (afterwards General Lord Sandys)
  • Major Percy, A.D.C. (son of 1st Earl of Beverley, brought home three Eagles and dispatches)
  • Hon. George Cathcart, A.D.C. (afterwards Sir George Cathcart, killed at Inkerman, 1854)
  • Sir Alexander Gordon, A.D.C. (died of his wounds at Waterloo)[19]
  • Sir Colin Campbell, K.C.B., A.D.C.
  • Sir John Byng, G.C.B. (created Earl of Strafford, commanded 2nd Brigade of Guards)
  • Lieutenant-General Sir John Elley, K.C.B. (deputy Adjutant-General of Cavalry, wounded)
  • Sir George Scovell, K.C.B. (Major commanding Staff Corps of Cavalry)
  • Sir George Wood, Colonel, Royal Artillery
  • Sir Henry Bradford
  • Sir Robert Hill, (brother of Lord Hill)
  • Sir Noel Hill, K.C.B. (brother of Lord Hill)
  • Sir William Ponsonby, K.C.B. (Brother of Lord Ponsonby; commanded the Union Brigade of cavalry; killed at Waterloo)
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Andrew Barnard (commanding 1st Battalion the 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles), afterwards Governor of Chelsea Hospital)
  • Major-General Sir Denis Pack, G.C.B. (commanded the 9th Brigade)
  • Major-General Sir James Kempt, G.C.B (commanded the 8th Brigade)
  • Sir Pulteney Malcolm RN
  • Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton, (commanded 5th Division, killed at Waterloo)
  • Major-General Sir Edward Barnes, Adjutant-General (wounded at Waterloo)
  • Sir James Gambier
  • Hon. General Dundas
  • Lieutenant-General Cooke (Commanded 1st Division)
  • Major-General Maitland (afterwards Sir Peregrine Maitland, G.C.B.; commanded 1st Brigade of Guards)
  • Major-General Adam (Not present; commanded 3rd Infantry Brigade. Afterwards Sir Frederick Adam, K.C.B.)
  • Colonel Washington
  • Colonel Woodford (Afterwards F.M. Sir Alexander Woodford, G.C.B. Governor of Chelsea Hospital)
  • Colonel Rowan, 52nd Regiment of Foot (Afterwards Sir Charles Rowan, Chief Commissioner of Police)
  • Colonel Wyndham (afterwards General Sir Henry Wyndham)
  • Colonel Cumming, 18th Light Dragoons
  • Colonel Bowater (afterwards General Sir Edward Bowater)
  • Colonel Torrens (Afterwards Adjt.-Gen. in India)
  • Colonel Fuller
  • Colonel Dick, 42nd Regiment of Foot (Killed at Sobraon, 1846)
  • Colonel Cameron, 92nd Regiment of Foot (Killed at Quatre Bras)
  • Colonel Barclay, A.D.C. to the Duke of York
  • Colonel Hill(?) (Col. Clement Hill, brother to Lord Hill)
  • Major Gunthorpe, A.D.C. to Gen. Maitland
  • Major Churchill, A.D.C. to Lord Hill and Q.M.G. (Killed in India)
  • Major Hamilton, A.D.C. to Gen. Sir E. Barnes
  • Major Thomas Noel Harris, Brigade Major to Sir Hussey Vivian (Lost an arm at Waterloo)
  • Major Hunter Blair (Wounded)
  • Captain Mackworth, A.D.C. to Lord Hill
  • Captain Keane, A.D.C. to Sir Hussey Vivian
  • Captain FitzRoy
  • Captain Widman, 7th Hussars, A.D.C. to Lord Uxbridge
  • Captain Fraser, 7th Hussars (Afterwards Sir James Frasier, Bt)
  • Captain Verner, 7th Hussars
  • Captain Elphinstone, 7th Hussars (taken prisoner, 17 June)
  • Captain Webster
  • Captain Somerset, A.D.C. to Gen. Lord Edward Somerset
  • Captain Yorke, A.D.C. to Gen. Adam (Afterwards Sir Charles Yorke, not present)
  • Captain Gore, A.D.C. to Sir James Kempt
  • Captain Pakenham, R.A.
  • Captain Henry Dumaresq, A.D.C. to Gen. Sir John Byng (was wounded in the chest by a musket ball, delivering a despatch to Wellington. died 1836)[20][21]
  • Captain Dawkins, A.D.C.
  • Captain Disbrowe, A.D.C. to Gen. Sir G. Cook.
  • Captain Bowles, Coldstream Guards (Afterwards Gen. Sir George Bowles, Lieutenant of the Tower)
  • Captain Hesketh, Grenadier Guards
  • Captain Gurwood (Afterwards Col. Gurwood)
  • Captain Allix, Grenadier Guards
  • Mr. Russell, A.D.C.
  • Mr. Brooke, 12th Dragoon Guards
  • Mr. Huntley, 12th Dragoon Guards
  • Mr. Lionel Hervey (In Diplomacy)
  • Mr. Leigh
  • Mr. Shakespear, 18th Light Dragoons
  • Mr. O’Grady, 7th Hussars (Afterwards Lord Guillamore)
  • Mr. Smith, 95th, Brigadier-Major to Sir Denis Packe; killed at Waterloo
  • Mr. Fludyer, Scots Fusilier Guards
  • Mr. Montagus (John and Henry, late Lord Rokeby, G.C.B.)
  • Mr. A. Greville
  • Mr. Baird
  • Mr. Robinson, 32nd Regiment of Foot
  • Mr. James
  • Mr. Chad
  • Mr. Dawkins
  • Dr. Hyde
  • Mr. Hume
  • Rev. Mr. Brixall (Rev. Samuel Briscall)

Cultural influences[edit]

The Black Brunswicker by Millais.

The ball inspired a number of writers and artists in the nineteenth century.[22] Sir Walter Scott mentioned it in passing in Paul's Letters to his Kinsfolk.[23] It was described by William Makepeace Thackeray in Vanity Fair and by Lord Byron in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Byron emphasises the contrast between the glamour of the ball and the horror of battle, concentrating on the emotional partings,

Thackeray's dramatic use of the ball in Vanity Fair inspired, in turn, a number of screen depictions. One notable example comes from the 1935 RKO production Becky Sharp, the first full-length Technicolor film released after perfection of the full-color three-strip method,[25][26] which makes the Duchess of Richmond's Ball the first historical set-piece ever staged in a full-colour feature film.[27] Critics of the day were not kind to the picture itself, but the sequence in which the officers hurry to leave the ball — the red of their coats suddenly and emotionally filling the frame — was widely praised as showing great promise for the dramatic use of colour on-screen.[28]

The ball also inspired artists, including John Everett Millais, who painted The Black Brunswicker in 1860, Henry Nelson O'Neil who painted Before Waterloo in 1868 and Robert Hillingford who painted The Duchess of Richmond's Ball.[29]

The ball was a scene in the third act of a melodrama called In the Days of the Duke written by Charles Haddon Chambers and J. Comyns Carr, it was displayed sumptuously in the 1897 production, with a backdrop by William Harford showing the hall and staircase inside the Duchess's house.[30][31][32]

Several characters attend the ball in Georgette Heyer's 1937 novel An Infamous Army, and also in her novelisation of the life of Sir Harry Smith, 1st Baronet, The Spanish Bride.

Summoned to Waterloo: Brussels, dawn of June 16, 1815 by Robert Alexander Hillingford.

The ball was used by Sergei Bondarchuk in his 1970 film Waterloo for dramatic effect. Bondarchuk contrasted an army at peace with the impending battle and in particular as a dramatic backdrop to show how completely Napoleon managed to "humbug" Wellington.

In the novel Sharpe's Waterloo (1990), Bernard Cornwell uses the ball in a similar way to Bondarchuk, placing his character Richard Sharpe in the role of the aide who brings the catastrophic news to Wellington, but includes a sub-plot where Sharpe brawls with Lord John Rossendale, Sharpe's wife's lover and a man who owes Sharpe money.

A fictional account is given of the Duchess of Richmond's ball in The Campaigners, Volume 14 of The Morland Dynasty, a series of historical novels by author Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Some of the fictional Morland family and other characters attend the ball and the events that unfold are seen and experienced through their eyes.

The ball serves as the backdrop for the first chapter of Julian Fellowes's 2016 novel, Belgravia. The chapter is titled, "Dancing into Battle," and portrays a potential mésalliance that is avoided the next day by a battlefield fatality at Quatre Bras. Fellowes incorporates into his book actual occurrences at the ball, and inserts a fictional protagonist, James Trenchard, into the famous private conversation between the Duke of Richmond and the Duke of Wellington. This actual conversation prompts a premature end of the ball, and in the resulting confusion, there is a misunderstanding that Fellowes plays with throughout the remainder of his wonderful book.

On 15 June 1965 the British Ambassador in Brussels held a ball to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and the Duchess of Richmond's ball. 540 guests attended the function of whom the majority were Belgians.[33] This commemoration ball has now become an annual event with the money raised going to support several charities.[34][35]


  1. ^ Charlotte, Duchess of Richmond, was herself a Gordon: The eldest daughter of Alexander, Duke of Gordon and Jane, the daughter of Sir William Maxwell, 3rd Baronet of Monreith.
  2. ^ Due to the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars British society had been cut off from the fashions in the rest of Europe and with the end of hostilities in 1814, those who ventured to visit the European Continent were keen to assimilate the latest continental fashions including the new dances (if only not to appear staid and old-fashioned in continental society).[5] Not everyone in Britain approved, and after the waltz was danced at the Prince Regent's court the following year The Times thundered in an editorial about "this obscene display" and warned "every parent against exposing their daughter to so fatal a contagion".[6]
  3. ^ Tim Clayton states Wellington must have arrived around 11 pm.,(Clayton 2014, p. 76) while Miller places the Duke's arrival around midnight (Miller 2005, p. 67).
  4. ^ This second dispatch provided some additional vital information for Wellington. The first was that as Fleurus was on a different main road out of Charleroi from that of Quatre Bras, this meant the French must have crossed the river Sambre in force. Secondly although Charleroi and Fleurus were picketed by the Prussians, the area directly south of Quatre Bras was picketed by the Anglo-allies and this meant that units of his own command were now head-to-head with the French.
  5. ^ "In the course of the evening the duke asked my father for a map of the country and went into his study, which was on the same floor as the ball-room, to look at it. He put his finger on Waterloo, saying the battle would be fought there. My father marked the spot with his pencil, but alas! That map was lost or stolen for it never returned from Canada with his other possessions" (Dowager Lady De Ros 2005).
  6. ^ "The following list of the invited guests was given by my mother to Lord Verulam, who sent me a copy of it. Several of the officers were not present, being on duty" (Swinton 1893, pp. 124–132).
  7. ^ Lady De Ros annotated her list with this comment "(from their house we saw the wounded brought in: Lord Uxbridge, Lord F. Somerset, etc.)" (Swinton 1893, p. 125).
  8. ^ The daughter, Lady Elizabeth Conyngham, married Charles Gordon, 10th Marquess of Huntly (Bulloch 1902, p. 42).
  9. ^ Duke of Wellington's liaison officer at the Prince of Orange's headquarters (Hofschröer 2006, p. 2).
  10. ^ Lady Sutton was the widow of Sir Thomas Sutton, 1st Baronet (Miller 2005, p. 61).
  1. ^ Hastings 1986, pp. 230.
  2. ^ a b Bulloch 1902, p. 42.
  3. ^ a b Arden 1898, Letter.
  4. ^ a b Dowager Lady De Ros 2005.
  5. ^ a b Miller 2005, p. 67.
  6. ^ Rust 2013, p. 69.
  7. ^ Clayton 2014, p. 77.
  8. ^ Hastings 1986, pp. 233–234.
  9. ^ Archibald Forbes Camps, Quarters, and Casual Places,(Project Gutenberg). In the chapter The inner history of the Waterloo Campaign cites the Letters of the First Earl of Malmesbury
  10. ^ Dowager Lady De Ros 1889b, p. [page needed].
  11. ^ Fraser 1902, pp. 304–310.
  12. ^ Fraser 1902, pp. 270–273.
  13. ^ Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto the Third, stanza XXIII.
  14. ^ Wit 2014 cites Fleischman & Aerts 1956, pp. 234–237
  15. ^ "Ducal and princely families of Belgium: House of Beaufort-Spontin". Eupedia. Retrieved 27 October 2010. 
  16. ^ Summerville 2007, p. 4.
  17. ^ Lady Alvanley, and daughters Katherine and Fanny (Arden 1898, Letter).
  18. ^ Fuller-Sessions 2008.
  19. ^ a b Grandson of George Gordon, 3rd Earl of Aberdeen (Bulloch 1902, p. 42).
  20. ^ Urban 1838, p. 443.
  21. ^ Gray 1966.
  22. ^ Fraser 1902, p. 272.
  23. ^ Scott 1841, p. 16.
  24. ^ wikisource has the original text of this poem.
  25. ^ Hart 2010.
  26. ^ FM Staff 1934.
  27. ^ Higgins 2007, p. 48.
  28. ^ Higgins 2007, Chapter 3.
  29. ^ Painting of The Duchess of Richmond's Ball[permanent dead link] by Robert Alexander Hillingford in Goodwood House, the seat of the Dukes of Richmond
  30. ^ Bulloch 1902, p. 43.
  31. ^ "In the Days of the Duke"; Successful Presentation of the New Melodrama in London., New York Times, 10 September 1897, p. 7
  32. ^ Adelphi Theatre 1806–1900 Archived 16 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine., Eastern Michigan University. Retrieved 18 October 2009
  33. ^ "Brussels (Waterloo Ball)". Hansard. 2 July 1965.  "HC Deb 02 July 1965 vol 715 cc134-9W". Retrieved 22 January 2013. 
  34. ^ Robinson 2011.
  35. ^ The Duchess of Richmond's Ball – Brussels, Committee of the Duchess of Richmond Ball, retrieved 1 December 2012 


Further reading[edit]

Coordinates: 50°51′13″N 4°21′33″E / 50.8535°N 4.3592°E / 50.8535; 4.3592