Wellington: A Personal History

By Christopher Hibbert | Go to book overview

24 Brussels 1815

'Duchess, you may give your ball with the greatest safety without fear of interruption.'

ON THE EVENING of Monday 6 March 1815 Prince Metternich received various representatives of other Continental powers at his official residence. Among them was the Duke of Wellington. There were many important matters to discuss, and the meeting did not break up until three o'clock on the Tuesday morning. Metternich then went to bed, giving orders that he was not to be disturbed. At six, however, he was woken by a servant who handed him a dispatch marked urgent. He left it unopened on his bedside table and tried to go to sleep again; but, restless now, he could not do so. He opened the dispatch and read its contents: Napoleon had disappeared from the island of Elba. 1

The Duke's days as a diplomat were for the moment over. He was to be a soldier again. By the beginning of April he was in Brussels preparing for war, while careful to give the impression that he thought war might be averted. There were numerous foreign visitors in Brussels, enjoying a continental holiday in what was then considered 'one of the most brilliant cities in Europe'. Wellington's mother was there until her son advised her to leave for Antwerp. So, to the Duke's great pleasure, was Lady Frances Wedderburn-Webster, the alluring, emotional daughter of the Earl of Mountnorris. She was married to a rather stupid officer of Hussars who once told his friend Lord Byron that he thought 'any woman fair game', that 'every woman was his lawful prize'. He could 'depend upon' his wife's principles, he said. She was 'all moral . . . very like Christ!!!' She couldn't go wrong, therefore he could. Byron, however, knew her better. Admittedly she said 'prayers, morning and evening, besides being measured for a new Bible once a quarter'. But she was far from being as virtuous as she seemed; and at two o'clock one morning at Newstead Abbey she told Byron she was entirely at his mercy. 'I own it,' she said. 'I give myself up to you. I am not cold whatever I seem to others . . . Now act as you will.' Byron confessed

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