World’s Most Famous Ball
June 15, 1815: The world’s most famous ball takes place. The Duchess of Richmond held a ball in Brussels. Charlotte and her husband, Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond hosted a gala event in the city they were protecting in case Napoleon Bonaparte should attack. Lennox was in charge of the forces protecting the city and he was able to invite many high ranking officers to the evening of fun. Included on the guest list was the Duke of Wellington, Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley. William II, Prince of Orange and Prince Frederic of Orange were there as was the Prince of Nassau, two Princes d’Arenberg and many other aristocratic personages. All but three of Wellington’s generals were there as were high ranking officers from other armies.
The exact location of the ball was not recorded at the time and there are only suppositions as to the venue today. There was much merriment, eating, drinking, and dancing. But then … disaster came. Wellington received a disconcerting message and asked the Duke of Richmond if he had a good map. The two men left the room and went to Richmond’s dressing-room to pour over a map of the region. Wellington had learned that Napoleon had ordered his army to concentrate on Quatre Bras. With a 24-hour head start on preparations, Napoleon held a distinct advantage. As Wellington looked over the map, he pointed to a secondary site. If they could not stop Napoleon at Quatre Bras, they would have to move to a second nearby point on the map – Waterloo.
This new information cast a pall over the party. As guests left, they knew they might never see their loved ones again as they were marching off to battle in the morning. The next day (June 16, 1815), the French Empire met the Seventh Coalition (United Kingdom, United Netherlands, Hanover, Nassau, and Duchy of Brunswick) at Quartre Bras in present-day Belgium. Although the day brought a tactical victory to the coalition, the strategic victory went to the French. With their head start, the French began the day with 18,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry. But that was all they troops they had. The coalition began the day with just 8,000 infantry but they were eventually joined by another 22,000 troops. Each side suffered over 4,000 casualties.
The two sides met again two days later (June 18, 1815). This time they were at Waterloo, then in the Netherlands and today part of Belgium. The coalition had help from the Prussians at this meeting. With all this help, they outnumbered and outgunned the French. The day’s fighting brought horrific numbers of casualties. Napoleon lost more than half his army with many of them deserting. The Anglo-allies had 3,500 killed, 10,200 wounded, and 3,300 missing while the Prussians suffered another 1,200 dead, 4,400 wounded, and 1,400 missing. Napoleon was severely beaten at this battle and was unable to recover from the loss. He made his second abdication on June 24, 1815.
I well remember the Gordon Highlanders dancing reels at the ball. My mother thought it would interest foreigners to see them, which it did. I remember hearing that some of the poor men who danced in our house died at Waterloo. There was quite a crowd to look at the Scotch dancers. – Lady Louisa, daughter of the Duchess Richmond
Napoleon has humbugged me, by God; he has gained twenty-four hours’ march on me. … I have ordered the army to concentrate at Quatre Bras; but we shall not stop him there, and if so I must fight him there (passing his thumb-nail over the position of Waterloo). – Duke of Wellington
It was a dreadful evening, taking leave of friends and acquaintances, many never to be seen again. – Georgiana, Dowager Lady De Ros
On our arrival at the ball we were told that the troops had orders to march at three in the morning, and that every officer must join his regiment by that time, as the French were advancing, you cannot possibly picture to yourself the dismay and consternation that appeared on every face. – Katherine Arden
Also on this day: King “Soft-sword” John “Signs” on the Dotted Line – In 1215, King John of England signed the Magna Carta.
Not Spock – In 1844, vulcanization was patented.
Protect Your Eyes – In 763 BC, the first total solar eclipse was recorded.
Go Fly a Kite! – In 1753, Franklin experimented with electricity, maybe.
Life Saving – In 1667, the first blood transfusion was given.