Sunday, February 7, 2016

Cerise went to #London #England, visited #Wellington's home, got #Regency pointers!

Wellington Arch
Across Street from entrance to Apsley House
Breathing life into a novel, especially an historical, demands research. While most of us think of dusty libraries as That Place, many authors get their kicks from traveling to the actual sites. That includes me.

Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it is time consuming, not only because you must plan well, but also because it takes weeks out of your writing schedule and you hope you don't get ill or the family dog doesn't! 
But oh, yes, it is gratifying. As the child's book says, Oh, the things you'll learn!

Reading about the Duke of Wellington, he who won at Waterloo and defeated finally the might of Napoleon Bonaparte, is a far cry from visiting his home.
After all, what does one learn from visiting another's home. Think on it. Do they love art? Do they dine in bed? How vast is their library? And when in country, gazing at some long deceased nobleman's home, you may ask, where did the servants live? And was there a wine cellar?

The facts you learn from a research of Number One London, so called because it sat originally at the post road out of the city, include:
  • It was originally built by another man, Baron Apsley, not a Wellesley.
  • The price to build it? £10,000 
  • The architect, Robert Adam, was one of the most celebrated masters of that refined style which we can call Palladian or Regency-Georgian.
  • Richard, Arthur's older brother, bought the house.
  • But he sold it to his more famous brother in 1817 because Richard realized his brother, famous beyond imagining after Waterloo victory, needed a stately home in London from which to...well...impress the masses and involve himself in the politics of the day.
What you learn from visiting Apsley House is amazingly complementary to those seemingly insignificant facts.
Marble statue of Napoleon
in main alcove
staircase to first floor

Walking through the house, you have that marvelous feeling of elegance, carefree expenditure on wall coverings, paintings and sculpture, appointments and upholstery. Robert Adams' attention to detail, the ceiling plaster designs, the cornices all add to the lavish feeling of air and light. The colors of yellow and red hit the eye and please you. The furniture is sumptuous, because they still do hold the annual Waterloo Dinner here each year to celebrate that 200-year-old victory that put Napoleon to an island and Britain to command all the seas.

One room of the house, on the ground floor, is entirely devoted to the Iron Duke's gifts from many nations and rulers who were freed from the threat of French imperial domination. The gold and silver, the banners abound.

Upstairs, the dining room with its enormous table and huge chairs may hold guests who can look up to find immense portraits of the men who gained from the victory at Waterloo. George IV was still Prince Regent or Prinny in June 1815, not to rule until 1820 after the death of his father George III. The emperor of Austria stands here as does the restored French Bourbon King Louis XVIII. King Leopold of Belgium is a handsome creature and you nod, understanding why Princess Charlotte fell in love with the man instantly.

The next room, a salon, boasts portraits, large and small, of all those who aided or served the Iron Duke in some capacity during the wars and in particular, the battle of Waterloo. It's wonderful to look upon the originals of many portraits one finds only reproduced in books or on the web.

The Banquet Room was added to the house later at a significant cost to the Iron Duke himself. In fact, he argued with the architect's expenditures. But to your eyes and mine, (and the Iron Duke would most likely agree) the expense was worth it. Why?

During the Battle of Vitoria in June 21, 1813 as Wellington chased Napoleon's brother Joseph (whom he'd named King of Spain) back into France, the king, poor man, ran so quickly, he left behind his baggage train.
What had he taken?
A wealth of art from the Spanish royal collection at the Prado. Luckily, though British soldiers looted much from Joseph's train, officers stopped the robbery before the Madrid collection could be seized. Wellington had the collection shipped home to England in the safe-keeping of his brother, Richard. After Waterloo and end of the wars, Richard turned over his brother's captured art to him. Wellington offered the art to the newly restored King Ferdinand of Spain. However, that man was so grateful for Welllington's services, he gave them to him. They are still here, hanging in splendor in the room where the annual dinner occurs to celebrate the victory.

A few tidbits from my tour?

  • The statue of Napoleon the Peacemaker by Italian sculptor Canova inspired my husband to remark after we left the house that he had the distinct impression that the Iron Duke respected Napoleon in many ways. In fact, he did. He thought that Waterloo victory was "a close run thing" and had studied Napoleon's military tactics and care of his soldiers for years. This was wise as it gave him food for thought and use among his own men.
  • The price of the house originally was £10,000. But what is that in current British and American currency? £1,480,000 or $2,145,482.00
  • The only portrait of a French woman in the Waterloo salon? That of Napoleon's sister, Pauline Bonaparte! Why would he have a portrait of her, you may ask? The British Government bought her house in Paris in 1814 for Wellington to live in after he chased Napoleon out the first time. After he won at Waterloo in June 1815, he resumed possession of it. The Hotel Charost on Rue Faubourg is famous for many reasons. Wellington lived in it after Waterloo. Much of the furnishings and paintings remain. Today the Hotel Charost is the official residence of the United Kingdom's ambassador to France.
And for a marvelous mystery about the Hotel Charost's purchase and Pauline's attempt to salvage items from the purchase, I hope you will read my new Regency romance, MASQUERADE WITH A MARQUESS, out soon.

More about Apsley here:

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