Battles don’t happen in a vacuum. The story of the battle is as much a story of the people, the societies, the witnesses, as the actual action. When you consider the battle of Waterloo, you have to remember that even though it was fought in Belgium, an awful lot of very high classed Brits were along for the ride. They didn’t fight, but many were caught in Brussels by the battle. Some actually helped care for the wounded and dying who found their way back to the cobbled streets and squares of Brussels. All had a vested interest.
Back when I was researching my first historical romance, BARELY A LADY, I stumbled over a little book that completely colored my impression of the battle and the events that led up to it, especially the infamous Duchess of Richmond Ball. The book is DANCING INTO BATTLE: A SOCIAL HISTORY OF THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO by Nick Ffolkes. What a gem this thing is! I mean, I knew a lot about Brussels leading up to the battle–well, I thought I did. But Ffolkes goes into delicious detail about the people who had crowded into Brussels that spring.
And why did they? Simple. For the first time in decades, the continent was open for visiting. Not only that, it was far cheaper to live there than England. So not a few impecunious aristocrats set up shop in Brussels(lovely, hadn’t been pillaged, reasonably priced to attract business). Others came to visit just because they finally could. And then Napoleon escaped and started his march toward the low countries. Wellington had a feeling he knew just where the ultimate battle would be, and that would be near Brussels. Which meant that every serving(and some not) military officer available high-tailed it to Belgium. And since it was spring, it was the official season, when families could hope to pop off their daughters. So where the military men went(remember, most officers were second or third sons of prominent and often wealthy families. If you can’t get the earl, get the earl’s brother), the marriageable misses and their mamas went. The season that year was far more lively and colorful in Brussels that year than in London. And then, before anyone expected, Napoleon pounced. And a lot of Brits were caught without a way off the continent. So what do you do? You hold a ball, which the commanding general attends even as his troops are already facing the enemy.
This year is the 200th anniversary of that ball, and that, too, gets a reenactment. And beyond my wildest dreams, I’m going to that, too. In period attire. With a tiara(I thought of wearing feathers, but I would have looked like a partridge). So hang around and you’ll get to see pics and hear details. In the meantime, see if you can find a copy of Nick Ffolkes book. I’ll talk a little more about it tomorrow. It has to do with sex.(that ought to bring you around)
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