Age of Victoria

MINI017 Great things are done when men and mountains meet

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet; This is not done by jostling in the street.” -William Blake

Join me for this adventurous minisode.

This show has

  • Setting the scene; literature and the quest for adventure.

  • How Victorian masculinity was shaped by adventure literature.

  • How the mountains effect our minds

  • An ordinary boy from Surrey gets a job oversea’s.

  • The philosophy of mountains in the Victorian era.

  • A dangerous climb.

  • A woman’s place is seeking adventure..

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Details on Queen Victoria’s coronation are available, but the event is often skimmed over in popular histories on the topic. I touched on her coronation in episode 24, and used the following sources to provide a favour of the day. Tracking down the musical and Order of Service was tricky, but luckily some dedicated Circular in 1902 had gone to a lot of trouble to do a detailed reconstruction, and I’m really glad about that. I will add to this list when I do a future deep dive into the coronation.

In addition to those, I consulted the usual general sources on Victoria that are listed in the sources for episodes on Victoria’s early life.



The episode you are about to hear is part 2 on the eruption of Mt Tambora in 1815, and its immense effects around the world that lingered long into the Victorian period. If you haven’t listened to pt 1, please listen to that first. The ash and dust from Mt Tambora had spread out around the entire world by winter of 1815. Last episode I described the enormous dust cloud in the pacific. I made a mistake though when I got the location of Pittsburgh wrong, which is in Pennsylvania. Well done to eagle eyed listener Jonathan for spotting that. I apologise to all you lovely listeners who live in either Pennsylvania or Ohio. Both states are lovely, and one day I would love to visit both for beer and burgers. So here’s hoping.

I just wanted to mention before we get going that the show now has a new logo and artwork. Don’t worry, I haven’t been bought out by Disney as a new addition to the Marvel Universe. It is just that I wanted something that was a bit brighter and a bit more focused on Victoria. I’ll miss the Lady of Shallot as she got us on the air, but I love the new look and owe Rob at Totalus Rankium an immense thank you for the amazing design work.

Also a huge thank you for the most recent iTunes reviews by Tigpack, Holh123 and Ms Pod-a-lot. I really love getting these reviews, and they help new listeners find the show. If you want to say a thank to me for making the show, well head to iTunes, make sure you are logged in, search for the Age of Victoria Podcast, and click on Ratings & Reviews. Then click on Write a Review. Then tell the world what you think.

Play show introduction including contact details.

[QUOTE] I had a dream, which was not all a dream.

The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars

Did wander darkling in the eternal space,

Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth

Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;

Morn came, and went – and came, and brought no day.

Men forgot their passions in the dread

Of this their desolation; and all hearts

Were chill’d into selfish prayer for light.


Lord Bryon “Doom” 1-9

The climate chaos in Europe in 1816 inspired Bryon to write those chilling words. Now everyone would have to deal with the consequences. They are almost to vast to be believed at first. When talking about climate change, sometimes the small numbers can mislead people into thinking that the impact is also small. The world can seem so vast and immutable that the idea a minor thing like a volcano in South East Asia could change world climates and up end civilisations seems too fantastic. That’s because the human mind is very geared to the immediate, the fight or flight response. We aren’t very good with the idea of system changes and disruption.

Climate science

The year of 1816 is a powerful illustration of the wild effect small changes in climate numbers can have. It was unfortunate that the eruption occurred during a very vulnerable period in Europe. The continent was already experiencing a cold decade since 1810, and previous volcanic eruptions had exacerbated this cooling trend. If these eruptions were like putting too much gasoline or petrol on the BBQ, well the massive Mt Tambora eruption was like having the air force drop napalm on it. The scale of the eruption was cataclysmic. The release of aerosols disrupted the critical North Atlantic Oscillation and the Jet stream changing the weather in Europe immensely.

One immediate impact was to strengthen the polar vortex. This is a common outcome of disruptions to the jet stream. Some listeners might recall in 2017-2018 North American temperatures plummeted as a result of just such a strengthening of the polar vortex caused by disruptions of the jet stream. Likewise a weakened jet stream has been responsible for the incredible hot summer in Europe & the UK in 2018. The model of how changes to the jet stream affect weather is well established and you can see it in both the 1815-1816 event and the more recent polar vortex events caused by climate change.

Now you might be jumping up in your seat saying “come on, how do we know what the volcano did to temperatures.” Well in the first place we are really, really lucky that weather observation was a great passion in the C18th and C19th. Thomas Jefferson was an obsessive observer of weather, even taking observations on 4th Jul 1776, a time when he was rather busy! The Royal Navy kept meticulous air & sea temperature records, along with notes on the weather & cloud formations. Even during battle no interruption to recording was permitted. Their study of the trade winds and climate theory intensified throughout the C19th.

Many, many Americans like Timothy Dwight and many Europeans across the continent religiously recorded temperatures and weather patterns. Ironically there was ongoing debate in New England about whether the climate was warming up and whether deforestation was to blame. Observers noticed the effect of deforestation on the soil and how it increased the problem of drought and water run off, with drier soils expected to be warmer therefore creating a feedback loop. The basics of climate change were being understood in the earl C19th but a lot of the links and main causes were still unknown. The jet stream wouldn’t even be discovered until after WW2. Modern scientists have measured the aerosol remnants of the eruption in ice core samples and lake sediments. They have also recorded the plummeting temperatures in tree ring growth. As solar dimming went into effect around the world, land then sea temperatures dropped. Sunsets became increasingly red or orange and strange, enough to show up in analysis of art work of the period. People became fearful of portents. There is even a popular supposition that the eruption might have influenced the weather the day and night before the Battle of Waterloo, destroying Napoleon’s last fading hope of victory.

Before we look into events on the ground, we need to have a quick think about famine. There’s a fairly fashionable view that famines are only caused by political mismanagement or bad economic decisions, and that there is always enough food to feed people. It is just that bad economics means people can’t afford the higher prices of food in times of scarcity. What you need to remember about this idea, which I am not challenging, is that it is mostly applicable to post industrial societies where human mismanagement is the trigger for most famines. In the pre-industrial world and the Victorian era, absolute food supplies could be wiped out. Excessive rain, flooding, drought, volcanoes, plague, deforestation, desertification and inundation from the sea could mean that absolute food levels declined precipitously.

Mainland Britain

In Britain, the great struggle of the day in 1815 was dealing with the post Napoleonic War economy and the increasingly dysfunctional Royal Family. On a continent wrecked by war, a series of poor harvests had made the populations immensely war weary and fragile. Now millions of soldiers were being discharged and the civilian authorities would have to integrate them back into economies that badly needed rebuilding. This was difficult as the ruling classes mostly had little to no interest in the welfare of the general population provided the overall wealth of the nations territories was maintained. Free market economics was the ruling philosophy in Britain. The market would determine people’s monetary worth. Most educated people thought government interference in the economy would always make things worse.

Britain as a whole enjoyed a good harvest in the Autumn of 1815. It was the calm before the storm. Winter in England seemed colder than usual. March saw some recovery with excessive rain, then April had some snows preventing travel in places. This delayed the growing season, but wasn’t extreme. Scotland had a miserable, freezing winter and lots of storms. Even in May conditions didn’t seem to improve in Scotland. Across Europe in May snows fell. Farm land across the UK remained unproductive and the weather threw great, great lashes of snow, sleet and rain at farmers. The Royal Cornwall Gazette raised concerns about farmers having to give up on some crops Unfortunately the government was led by the mediocre Lord Liverpool, with Lord Castlereagh periodically usurping his meagre authority. King George III descended further into blindness and irreversible madness, whilst the Prince Regent (the future King George IV) became increasingly fat, extravagant and despised. By March 1815 the Prince Regent had wracked up personal debts of over £1,480,600. A sum of money that was simply mind boggling at the time. For comparison, the HMS Caledonian, one of the finest First Rate warships ever built for the Royal Navy in the Age of Sail, cost £96,381 to build and another £6,711 to fit out. In other words, the Prince Regents debts could have covered the cost of a world class battleship and had change to perhaps build a supporting frigate and operate them both. His debts were nothing like as much in the national interest either.

There’s great quote here about the state Britain was in in 1816

[QUOTE] Lord Liverpool entered 1816 facing a host of problems as Britain made the transition from war to a peacetime economy. A trade recession caused in part by the termination of wartime contracts forced numerous businesses to cut wages or lay off workers and others to declare bankruptcy. The ranks of the employed swelled further as the government rapidly demobilised the army, throwing more than a third of a million men into the labour market [END QUOTE]

It was in this atmosphere that debate raged over the corn laws. They were designed to keep grain prices high by preventing imports. They weren’t meant to punish the poor per se; instead the idea was that they kept British farms in production. The corn laws prevented importation of grain unless British grain prices fell below a certain level. Essentially acting as a subsidy for farms that wouldn’t be able to stay afloat without them. The knock on effect was that the poor paid a higher price from grain, and as grain was a huge portion of their entire spending, the high prices were regressive and punitive. Still rural farms were major employers, and the main food source. The British government had to keep them in business. The problem was that the effect was far beyond keeping them in business and far more about lining the pockets of already rich landowners.

Riots broke out in Bridport, Dorset and then in Bury St Edmunds. Demobilised soldiers in East Anglia were hit by the collapse of the old cottage based spinning industry as a result of the industrial revolution, and also a massive collapse in wages, as well as sky rocketing food prices. In Norfolk nearly 1,500 people armed with improvised weapons raised flags saying “Bread or Blood” before looting shops and farms for food, as well as attacking local gentry who had to call out the militia. The town of Ely was also rioting for food. Eventually the local magistrates had to call out not the local militia but the Yeoman Cavalry supported by profession troops from the Royal Dragoons. Ominously for the authorities, the riots barricaded themselves into the tavern and it appeared shades of the French revolution were in danger of sweeping across the country. The troops had to storm the tavern, killing one rioter. 80 were arrested, and 5 were hanged.

Onto this dangerous situation of desperate hunger, unemployment and wage collapse, the government response days before the Bridport riot was to vote to spending tens of thousands of pounds on wedding gifts to the Prince Regents daughter Charlotte. One land owner spoke for many of the ruling class when he grumbled

[QUOTE] The main root of evil is in the taxes. [END QUOTE]

There was no thought really from the establishment of any form of poor relief. Some of the population were getting utterly desperate, roaming the country for support, or hoping the Prince Regent would take up their cause. The Prince Regent was told by Parliament that the government had already done everything it could, and the only real remedy was to give things time to improve. His reply spoke volumes, as he lamented

[QUOTE] the distresses of some classes of the people and trusted that they would bear them with fortitude and energy. [END QUOTE]

That’s a hard message to hear from a man of incredible wealth, immense debts, and who was so fat he had to wheeled in a special chair up a ramp to mount a horse.

It was onto this fragile country with a dysfunctional government and despised monarchy that the climate devastation was about to really bite. As wet, cold spring turned into a wet cold summer, even by English standards, some of the press began to worry about the next harvest. They couldn’t know it, but wild swings were occurring with the jet stream, causing mass climate destabilisation across Europe and Northern America. It rained almost daily, and even in mid July storms brought more rain and hail, and even total darkness in parts of Scotland.

Some of the smarter economists like Thomas Maltheus or David Riccardo knew that the situation was teetering on the brink of disaster throughout the United Kingdom, but couldn’t think of real alternatives to the hands off approach of the government. By the end of July the Anglican Church was officially praying to God for relief from the weather. Rain, hail, landslides and flooding continued to ruin crops across the entire UK and Europe. Shockingly to many English tourists, they found the situation in Europe was even worse than in the UK. France remained under occupation, straining food supplies to breaking point, and it was in post Napoleonic political crisis. Food riots broke outing France and Belgium. This crisis of 1816-1817 has been called the last great substance crisis of the Western World. It was the last real time in Europe when there was an absolute lack of food on a massive scale.

The knock on effect on British trade was catastrophic. 2/3 of jobs were lost on the London docks. 10,000 servants were reported as out of work. If the official response was poor, at least some Dukes, senior churchmen and reform campaigners began meeting to arrange private charity relief. The need was desperate. In one parish alone 800 men queued for meagre relief supplies of bread and cheese.

Remember this kind of suffering can’t be waved away. A person whose farm had been devastated, and whose tenant farmer employer had left him unemployed had no where to turn. The situation for the causal labourers was even worse. There were thousands in this situation. Eventually hunger and starvation will override any kind of obedience to law. Imagine you were a magistrate and you tell a man who is watching his family starving to death in front of him that it is fine because it would be immoral for the government to interfere with the economy or for him to steal money from the rich aristocratic who is spending it on wine and lace. That’s not how humans work. Eventually there comes a snapping point. It had happened in France, and Britain teetered on the brink. Let’s step back and ask why the ruling class responded this way to the crisis. Leave aside the moral consideration of what kind of person would let people starve to death if they could help stop it, especially with little real impact on themselves. Look instead at the incredible shortsightedness of it. What is it that made the ruling class in Britain so secure in the idea they could continue as things were? I think a lot of it comes down to importance society of the time placed on hierarchy. The rigid world view that had been internalised at all social levels. The British establishment world view couldn’t flex to view poverty as anything but a moral failure rather than a result of massive structural inequalities and devastating climate change.

At the end of August more snow was added to the misery of the almost constant rains sweeping mainland Britain. Even the normally chirpy establishment newspaper the Times begin to allow hints that all was not well, but still maintained the line that the wheat harvest had been bountiful. This was either deluded or dishonest. Fake news of the highest order. The government duly attempted a coverup, by suppressing reports into crop yields and conditions as they were so alarming. Crop after crop was lost, and any hope of a good late harvest evaporated. Canterbury alone suffered economic losses of around £70,000.

The philosopher James Mill wrote to the economist Riccardo

[QUOTE] the corn here is absolutely green, nothing whatsoever in the ear; and a perfect continuance of rain and cold. There must now be of necessity a very deficient crop, and very high prices – and these with an unexampled scarcity of work will produce a degree of misery, the thought of which makes the flesh creep on ones bones – one third of the people must die – it would be a blessing to take them into the streets and highways, and cut their throats as we do with pigs.” [END QUOTE]


The effects of Mt Tambora were beginning to be felt in Ireland as early as January 1816, when ferocious storms wrecked the Sea Horse transport ship in Tramore Bay killing 363 people.

Tragically agriculturally fragile Ireland was hit with devastating force. I do want to emphasise that when I’m talking about Ireland now, I’m giving you a really brief skim of the surface. C19th Irish society, geography and economics were very complicated, and are often indulge far too much the subject of historical stereotyping or romanticising about a huge subject.

80% of the rural population of Ireland were incredibly poor tenant farmers and labourers, who even in the best years hovered over the brink of ruin. Marginal farms had been brought in to production by the richer members of the tenant farmer class, and the Anglo Irish gentry during the boom of the Napoleonic Wars, which had now gone bust. Almost all of Ireland was dependent on land wealth in some form; whether rich or poor, everything came back to the land. The gentry owned it, and took out huge loans on it, whilst providing jobs and local spending. The middle class did the day to day tenant farming and the great mass of the population did the labour. A vast gulf existed as the Anglo Irish landowners often only spoke English whilst the main of the population spoke Irish. Each feared and hated the other to a degree.

I want to remind you though not to read back from the Great Famine of 1845, also known as the Irish Potato Famine or the Great Dying, and this event. They were two very different events with very different causes. The Irish potato famine hit an already fragile society on its main crop which had come to be over relied on by the very poorest of the population, whereas the the famine of 1816 hit the entire of Europe across every kind of plant and animal farming, hitting all classes. In normal times, Ireland was prosperous agriculturally and didn’t have an unusual history of famines compared to the rest of Europe. The effect of the Great Famine sometimes distorts the history of Ireland and makes it easy to assume that the whole history of Ireland was one of poverty and starvation. It wasn’t, and was regarded as agriculturally rich.

Still the reliance on the potato meant that populations in Ireland had increased rapidly by 1816, yet society rested on a fragile base. The land, even in good years, could only just support the growing population as land became increasingly subdivided between growing families. The potato allowed a family to live on a small area of land, focusing their diet on potatoes, cows, chickens and pigs. This increased reliance on the potato even more at the bottom of society, and stored up trouble for the future. It wasn’t the primary cause of the famine in 1816. The massive population kept wages low as well. As America became more prosperous, Ireland exported less to the USA, leaving it achingly dependent on trade with Britain. The recent act of Union hadn’t helped. When Ireland became part of the United Kingdom, the Irish Parliament was eventually abolished and Irish MP’s were granted seats in the Westminster Parliament. Whilst some in Ireland were initially excited about this, since it gave them access to the ruling Parliament of one of the most powerful nations in the world, it had some huge draw backs.

Firstly Irish MPs were hugely outnumbered, so although they could now raise Irish issues on a larger stage, they had less voting power to make changes. Secondly the Irish were seen as culturally and socially distinct so they couldn’t operate the power and patronage back channels to circumvent these problems like the English. Thirdly it meant that local understanding and connections were lost. Fourthly, Ireland was now part of the same domestic market as the rest of the UK. Its textile workers and farmers were in direct competition with their fellow workers on mainland England (Scotland and Wales had different economies so they weren’t in the same markets).

Parts of Ireland did have an industrialising urban base similar to England, but it couldn’t easily compete with the established large scale mills in the North of England. There were also substantial numbers of Irish cottage based weavers who were facing the same problems as their English cottage based weaver counter parts.

Also please put to one side the idea that Ireland was overpopulated. The idea of over population is a difficult one. It isn’t a case of having too many people or too many babies. It depends greatly on how much food can be produced, the energy needs of the people, and wider economy. The rural Irish population was considered backwards by many tourists, and standards of housing were dreadful in comparison to more prosperous towns, but it is interesting to note that the Irish population as a whole was regarded as well fed and healthy. Reliance on the potato earlier than in mainland Britain, meant that overall calorie intake was quite high and compared favourably to the rural poor in England. The Irish History podcast has looked at this in a lot of detail, and we will do a deeper dive in our future episodes.

What is striking though is just how fragile the Irish economy was, how dependent it was on a few key area’s, and how dysfunctional the political structures were especially with absentee landlords. This was made worse by poor and repressive government from Westminster. The overall impression of Ireland in 1816 is one of a socially unsettled country that didn’t have the economic and agricultural resilience to cope with major shocks.

The enormous social tensions in Ireland meant that the British authorities were mostly focused on keeping order. Crime and disorder became a self fulfilling prophecy. There had been some recent violent uprisings, and the British viewed them as treasonous or at the very least criminal. It is worth baring in mind that during the Napoleonic Wars, some members of Irish society had formed alliances with the French to assist invasions, so the British viewed the loyalty of some of the Irish as highly suspect. The main establishment authorities, including men like Robert Peel, came expecting to find rampant crime, found it, assumed that this was the cause of the problems in Ireland and then focus on crime. This increased tensions, fuelling the cycle. Innate distrust and prejudice against Catholics only made things worse, whilst Irish gangs rioted for good reasons and bad, often robbing and intimidation the law abiding. British government reprisals could be extremely brutal and occasionally indiscriminate, worsening relations. The British monarchy was in an especially difficult position when it came to Catholic Ireland. The four King George’s and William IV were all from the House of Hanover. The claim of the Hanoverians to the English throne was based on the explicit claim to be protestant monarchs not Catholics. It was linked to the claim that the only other royal house that could have claimed the English throne, the House of Stuart, was illegitimate because it was Catholic. That might sound trivial to us, but it had huge implications. If the Hanoverians supported Catholic rights or emancipation in Ireland they were undermining their own claims to the right to the English and Scottish thrones. After all, if Catholics were entitled to equal treatment and freedoms, then surely there was no basis for the House of Stuart not to have retained the throne and that would make them the ruling house. This was a real bind for the conservative upper classes, including Sir Robert Peel.

In Ireland, men like Sir Robert Peel were too detached from the reality on the ground for the bulk of the rural Irish population. The rain was decimating crops, with over 143 days of rain in row totalling 31 inches. Daniel O’Connell, the nationalist was horrified at conditions, and even the gentry were facing ruin.

The climate disruption triggered one of the great demographic earth quakes in history. Irish people who could began the first major emigration to the United States, but also to Canada. To Peel’s annoyance it was the richer protestants who left. He would have preferred it to have been from the mass of souther rural poor to ease the pressure on food supplies and hopefully reduce death rates. He had no idea of the terrible situation in the USA and nor did the emigrants. Sadly for many of them, fleeing didn’t bring safety. Supplies would sometimes run out on the voyage to America, and many destitute people who did reach New Jersey or Philadelphia starved to death in the streets. The poorest of the population could often only afford the cheap tickets to Liverpool, and the mass emigration of the Irish to the British mainland caused immense tensions as they almost inevitably ended up as labourers, competing for already scarce jobs. (Dr Majorie Bloy

By September and October, full reports of the utter humanitarian crisis in Ireland were beginning to hit home with Peel and the London Press. County Kerry, County Mayo, County Westmeath, CountyFermanagh, County Antrim and County Down all reported massive flooding, wiping out what was left of the crops and potatoes. Some fields near Drogheda, were so flooded, they were colonised by ducks swimming on them.

Ok, if that isn’t shocking enough, think about this. Most of the rural population in Ireland depended on cutting peat and turf for fuel, shelter and building materials. The rain made it sodden and useless. What meagre food there was couldn’t easily be cooked, and there was no fire for warmth. Peel now knew he had a massive disaster on his hands, but as he said

[QUOTE] I fear we have melancholy prospects before us and are threatened with calamities for which it is impossible to suggest a remedy. [END QUOTE]

It is easy to assume that Peel was blind to the problems in Ireland and came with the common hostile attitude held by most of the ruling class, but he actually commented that he regarded the Irish in a positive light, with immense potential for development. His correspondence and replies in Parliament were often extremely positive in around 1816. He said in a reply to Sir J Newport in the House,

[QUOTE] that it is impossible to see them without admiring many of their qualities. [END QUOTE]

he went on to list them as being faithful, honest and chaste in marriage. He always commented on other occasions about the problems of Ireland being what we would call structural; he was scathing about the absentee gentry and felt the lack of them living in Ireland, but collecting rents from estates they owned there, was holding back the economy, taking money out of the country, and weakening the talent pool that would normally be the back bone of the local administrations and court systems. He also attacked the free press in Ireland, which he viewed as the main cause of many of the problems in the country, since it corrupted what he viewed as an honest population in his opinion. His view was wholly paternalistic. He was a Tory after all, but it was based on the assumption that a local land owning gentry should actually be local, bound to the community and incentivised to help it prosper. He wanted greater protection for some key industries to allow them to develop, and he was highly reluctant to sanction military deployments. There’s an interesting quote from him in a debate in Parliament – the Army Estimates Feb 1816

[QUOTE] The house must not suppose that the government listens to every hasty application from magistrates for a military force. Such applications often spring from groundless fears; and the answer invariably returned to them is, that it is impossible to attend to every individual who makes them. [END QUOTE]

I’m telling this so you understand that Peel was a clever, complicated person. He wasn’t a repressive tyrant, nor did he want to commit some kind of genocide in Ireland. He did come to the view that only law and order maintained by the army would keep the country from collapse. This was a dangerous course though. The Protestant army in Ireland had engaged in some brutal repressions of the local population, and had also suffered some brutal reprisals or random attacks. The use of the military in Ireland was never going to help improve social tensions or help with necessary reform. Still put yourself in the shoes of the officials in many rural area’s. There’s no refrigeration, no trains or trucks to move food around. No mass reserves of food, no real canned goods or rations. The main bulk food stuff that was relatively non-perishable and transportable ws grain and perhaps rice. These weren’t going to be available at short notice, and even if they were the expense was huge and there was no real way to distribute the food around the countryside.

Administration remained primitive and used parchment and dipped ink pens. News travelled slowly in rural Ireland, even by the standards of the C19th. Even the best of administrations was slow, but Ireland in 1816 was a society with deep structural problems, rife with social and religious tension, deep issues in its government and suffering periodic repression from the Westminster Government and British army. It is easy to blame the authorities, but as the old saying goes, try walking a mile in their mochasins. When mass climate disruption hits, human societies can suffer seriously. Whilst the easy view is that the authorities are always at fault, the reality of system wide shocks is far more complicated, especially in a country with the difficulties faced by Ireland.

As if Ireland hadn’t suffered enough though, with grim inevitability, disease in the form of Typhus struck in September. It would kill tens of thousands of Irish. Combined with the famine over 100,000 Irish would die. This was tragedy on an enormous scale. The fear and helplessness goes beyond easy understanding. The Typhus epidemic would continue until 1819. It is ironic to note that when the great famine struck Ireland in 1845, Peel was Prime Minister. Again he was responsible for dealing with a colossal crisis in Ireland, and again he was initially unaware of the terrible scale of the humanitarian disaster unfolding, but he would eventually come to destroy his party and government to repel the Corn Laws in part to help the victims of the great famine.

In October northern England was again hit with ferocious floods. East Riding, Berwick, and numerous other towns, were flooded with bridges washed away and fields inundated. Labour was so cheap by now farmers could take their pick of workers, but with no crops to harvest there were no jobs. Cattle couldn’t be fed, so were sold off at rock bottom prices threatening the ability of farmers to keep enough livestock for the following year.

At the very top of society though, Lord Liverpool and his government were feeling fairly happy. They were pleased to see revenue from taxes rising, and in accordance with the classic economic theories of the times assumed this meant people were obviously buying more goods, so the economy was growing and therefore overall the economy was actually healthy and wealthy. Low interest rates, good gold reserves and plenty of credit and relatively low debt levels made him feel even more confident. Any problems with the lower class weren’t the problem of the government; it was for the invisible hand of the market to sort out. Private charity, not government aid was viewed as the only possible response; the job of government was to keep spending and taxes low. Government aid was viewed as encouraging idleness.

It strikes me as strange how these arguments get rehashed and go in endless cycles throughout history. Still, it seems an immense stretch to say in hindsight that the poor were at fault for the massive climate disturbance in 1816. Bread prices were soaring. People across the country were desperate in unimaginable ways. Food riots broke out again and again. In hard hit Wales, strikes and riots broke out. Magistrates called for troops. Eventually as local yeoman were not enough, veteran cavalry from Waterloo were deployed in Newport to crack what seemed to be a rebellion. Still the government did nothing, convinced that this was revolutionary agitation rather than sign of distress. When 8,000 people gathered at Spa fields to talk about petitioning the Prince Regent in November the temperature dropped below freezing. Snow returned. The protesters railed against high taxes and ominously the Tricolour flag of revolution was seen flying, liberty caps were mounted on pikes, and cries went up of marching on “the British Bastille” of Coldbath Fields Prison. American Ambassador John Quincy Adams was shocked to find people starving in the street. Lord Castlereagh, star of our episodes on the Congress of Vienna, had his home stoned. The Prince Regent refused to meet MP’s petitioning for reform and Lord Liverpool refused to assemble Parliament to debate. A mob formed and marched on the Tower of London, but was dispersed.

This was the perfect excuse for Lord Liverpool. He summoned Parliament in January and whipped up fears that there was a revolution, so strong repressive legislation was needed to preserve national security. Spy networks were set up, meetings of more than 50 people were required to obtain prior permission, a gagging act was brought in and ancient rights of Habeas Corpus were effectively suspended. Meetings were broken up. Cavalry were deployed enthusiastically. Quick trials and hangings of suspected rebels became common. Transportation to Australia was increased. With great reluctance though Parliament was forced to enact schemes to provide loans to employers to create jobs usually though public works like road building, canals or land improvements. The response was electric and take up immense. It wasn’t enough to force Lord Liverpool to take the situation in Ireland seriously, despite Peel’s efforts to provide food to the poor and also keep a lid on serious riots. Peels attempts to import grain failed miserably, so he finally tired of waiting on Lord Liverpool. He set up his own distribution system run by 5 protestants, 2 quakers and a Catholic. This was shockingly radical for the time especially from a Tory. He created a small scale financial fund based on the same model as the British schemes. It remained a drop in the ocean, especially against the background of mutual hostility and establishment prejudice.

Gradually the year of 1816 ended and in 1817 the climate, although harsh, began to stabilise enough for a more normal harvest. Times would remain bitterly hard for the bulk of the working population of the United Kingdom and reform would be strongly resisted by the ruling classes. The next 15 years of British history was defined by the war for social reform and democratic reform. This is the backdrop Victoria herself would grow up in, and attitudes to the monarchy were deeply shaped by this disastrous period, especially the immense unpopularity of the Prince Regent (later King George IV). Without Victoria, and more especially without the brilliance of Prince Albert, it is likely the damage to the monarchy done in this period would never have been repaired and perhaps Britain would have joined the continent in the year of revolutions in 1848.

Join me next time as where we turn our attention across the Atlantic and discover that in America there was no escape from the icy grip of the Year without Summer.


Victorian Christmas Time! Mistletoe and Wine; listening to Podcast time.

This is a special episode for Christmas 2019. Learn about the hustle & bustle of the Victorian Christmas, with a focus on the games and entertainments. Find out how much effort people went to, then enjoy the bonus story on a special subject.

This show has

  • Victorian celebrations.

  • The postal service.

  • Games.

  • Music & the penny gaff.

  • Pretending to be respectable.

  • A big bonus.

Follow the show on Facebook on our Facebook Page or in the Facebook group for Victorian trivia or the latest news.

You can listen on iTunes and subscribe for free to get all the latest episodes, or even leave me a review. The show is also on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean and you can also listen via the website at Don’t forget to tell your friends.

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EP025 The industrial revolution & shattering the energy ceiling.

Forged in fire, the new era is born. The British unlock a new energy source and create the industrial revolution. Humanity around the world is transformed; no longer limited by our own muscles or the plodding of animals or the slow harnessing of wind and wave. Instead the British unleashed a revolution that allowed humanity to surpass all of its previous limit. Without this moment, nothing in the modern world would have been possible.

This show has

  • An outline of key concepts of energy sources and management.

  • The application of energy to useful tasks.

  • The early pioneers.

  • The great ripples of change.

  • Triumph of industry

  • Poverty in the midst of plenty.

  • Angry authors & a cultural shift.

Follow the show on Facebook on our Facebook Page or in the Facebook group for Victorian trivia or the latest news.

You can listen on iTunes and subscribe for free to get all the latest episodes, or even leave me a review. The show is also on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean and you can also listen via the website at Don’t forget to tell your friends.

Support the show on Patreon, and get an exclusive patrons only episode plus other goodies.


Setting the scene

Imagine a tranquil pacific heaven. Sandy beaches, warm ocean and gentle breezes. This is in many ways as close to paradise as humans have come. Plenty of fish in the seas. It is a world away from the horrors of Europe in 1815. A Europe where the Napoleonic Wars were entering their final, lethal stages. The battle for the Enlightenment seemed on a knife edge in Europe, and the seeds of it were clinging on in the fledgling United States. Everything seemed to revolve around people in Europe if you take the narrow view, one that is heavily centred on Western civilisation.

Jane Austin published Emma, the War of 1812 officially ended, the British conquered Ceylon, countries in Europe were being created and breakthroughs in technology were being made. All in all, it would seem like the old school of history, the view of the age of man shaping the world was particularly applicable.

In Java in April 1815, one particular man Thomas Stamford Raffles, the Lt Governor was going to have a very, very bad day even in paradise. In fact he was going to have a series of them. They would sharply crush the notion that something as insignificant as mankind was the cause of the greatest events in 1815. Napoleon might have restarted the wars, and appeared to shape the course of history, but in fact nature was going to do something spectacular and heartbreaking.

Raffles was a really interesting guy. He was an aristocratic and had been a key player in the conquest of Java from the French. He was appointed Lt Governor during the 45 day campaign to take Java from the French. He was clever and able to negotiate local politics but at the same time he led military actions against native Javanese who resisted. He crushed the Javanese Princes and looted a royal archive. He also seized nearby territories for the British in case Java was to be returned to the Dutch after the Napoleonic Wars ended. In this respect he appeared much like the typical image of a heartless European conqueror. He had another side though; he was interested in history, arranging the cataloguing of numerous historical sites of importance in Java. He instituted farming reforms, and made modest attempts at curtailing the slave trade although he owned slaves himself. In his future governorships he would go further to abolish slavery entirely as well as writing a history of Java and going on to found Singapore. He would write a book on Zoology and be instrumental in the founding of London Zoo.

You can see in him a prototype for many of the Victorian empire builders who often curiously blended extreme military hawkishness with immense intellectual drive and curiosity.

The event

On the 05 April 1815 Mount Tambora, located in the north of Sawumba Island near Java would begin the first in a series of mega eruptions. These would have devastating impacts not just on the local area, but eventually around the world.

Whatever our modern views on colonial military conquest, it is important to recognise the sheer talent of men like Raffles. Yet during the eruption of Mt Tambora, it is painfully clear how little power or influence even a man of the energy and intellect like Raffles could actually have.

Between 05 April 1815 and 10 April 1815, Mt Tambora would erupt three main times. These eruptions would be some of the largest in recorded human history. They were on a scale that can only be realistically be described using language like biblical, or cataclysmic. There’s a great article in Wired magazine that gave a fantastic scientific summary of the sheer energy involved. I’m going to quote it now, but you can find it online on Wired magazines website.

[QUOTE] An explosive eruption like Tambora releases huge amount of energy. A rough estimate for the 1815 event is ~1.4 x 1020joules of energy were released across the few days of eruption. One ton of TNT releases ~4.2 x 109 joules, so this eruption was 33 billion tons of TNT. That’s 2.2 million Little Boys (the first atomic bomb). The US uses about 1.17 x 1020 joules of power each year (at least in 2007), so Tambora, in the span of a few days, released about the same amount of energy as the consumption of the entire United States in one year (or ~ 1/4 of the entire world’s annual energy consumption!) If you want to compare it to other geologic events, the 2004 Indonesian earthquake that generated the Boxing Day tsunami releases ~110 petajoules of energy (1015joules). That still leaves Tambora ~1200 times more powerful than that M9.3 earthquake. [END QUOTE]

What do those numbers mean? Honestly I don’t know. The human mind can’t really cope with that kind of scale. We can’t grasp it. Put it this way, the explosions of Mt Tambora could even be heard as far away as 1,615 miles in Sumatra. That’s like an explosion going off in New York City that could be heard in Denver Colorado. Scientists can use the Volcanic Explosivity Index to record how explosive an eruption is. This scale is logarithmic, running from 0-8. That means each step up the scale is ten times more powerful than the last.

So let’s put Mt Tambora on the scale and relate it to a few eruptions you might have heard of. The basic on all the time eruptions in Hawaii that you might have seen beautiful pictures of, they clock in at 0-1 on the scale. The Soufriere Hills Volcanoes in Monsarrat are on the 3, whilst stepping up to 4 includes major eruptions like Eyjafjallajökull (2010) in Iceland which was a huge media event, it ground all the planes and was on the news and I’m sure we all remember it. These are big, pretty disruptive events, but that only got up to a number 4 on the scale. Stepping up to 5 now includes terrifying events like Mt Vesuvius and Mt Saint Helens. If you remember the Mt Saint Helen’s eruption it was staggering. I can still remember the impression it made on me as a young child watching news reports.

Moving up another step to 6 gets to Pinatubo, which cooled global temperatures by about 1 degrees and also includes Mt Krakatoa. Ok, I think you are beginning to get an idea now because now we are stepping up to 7, which includes monsters like Mt Tambora. You have not experienced anything like this in your life time and you should be profoundly grateful. Tambora is the only confirmed VEI 7 eruption during human recorded history.

There’s a Minoan eruption of Thera in the middle of the second millennium BC may have been, and it is suspected, although not proved, that the eruption of Samalas volcano in 1257 was also a VEI scale 7 eruption and it might have helped trigger the mini ice age. The reality is then that no human being on Earth today has experienced anything as powerful as a VEI 7 volcano, and Mt Tambora is the only confirmed VEI7 incident in recorded human history.

A VEI 7 eruption is capable of changing the climate on a global scale. It can end civilisations. Raffles and men like him would be in the middle of observing and trying to pick up the pieces. Then the changes would spread around the world. We will look at the wider impact next episode. These would include the spread of Cholera, changes in art and literature to reflect mass famine, increased migration in the United States, deaths world wide, flooding and devastating changes to weather, including reduced sunlight for months. For now, we are going to look at the eruption and its immediate impact in more detail.

The amount of material blasted out into the air caused a zone of darkness covering a radius of (373miles) 600km. If you are struggling with that distance, imagine the distance from New York City to Pittsberg Ohio or from London to north of Glasgow in Scotland. Then turn it from day time to night time and leave it like that for two whole days. Now try to imagine that you have no idea how volcanoes work, or any kind of modern science. No electric lights or backup generators. No satellites or radios or reserve communications. Imagine instead that you live on an island in the pacific and there is a massive noise then darkness falls. If you are educated like Raffles you might look for natural causes but you would be wholly ignorant of almost the entire scientific knowledge you need to have an understanding of what is happening. Even though the great Benjamin Franklin had recently proposed that volcanoes might affect the weather in some, fully understanding of what a volcano does and how it works was over a century away. For the uneducated and for the bulk of the native populations in the local, this would be framed in more religious terms.

Remember that beautiful scene I told you to picture at the beginning. Well it was gone; blasted out of existence by the titanic forces of Mt Tambora. Erased. Volcanoes have a number of destructive characteristics. There is the initial explosion, which contains immense energy. This not only forces magma to the surface, but also rips rock from the volcanic chambers and surface free. There is also the massive devastating pyroclastic flows: waves of superheated gas containing gas, ash and rock that can travel hundreds of kilometres an hour. Often people nearby have only a few moments before they get hit and killed. Humans are simply too fragile to survive close to a VEI7 explosion. Even those further away are in terrible danger. The immense heat and energy can cause hurricanes of ash and debris. Toxic gases can kill thousands, and the thick clouds of ash can become so heavy that breathing is impossible, or people & buildings can be crushed under the weight. If near water, devastating Tsunami’s can be created. In the case of Tambora, one travelled 500km, finally hitting the East coast of Java with a 2 metre high wave.

There is also a following wave of rock, ash and pumice that can rain down for days. This choking ash can mean that plant and animal life is swiftly killed, with rivers being turned into ash filled soup. Within 24 hours the ash cloud thrown up by Mt Tambora covered an area the size of Australia. By the end of the year, the ash would have risen and spread out into the stratosphere to form an invisible but powerful veil of ash around the entire planet. This would reflect sunlight, and drastic cool global temperatures.

We were lucky, if that’s the right word, to have witnesses like Raffles to record the event. Perhaps at another time in human history we wouldn’t know about it except from the geological record. Even lacking the most basic equipment, these observation accounts are invaluable and also chilling. For example Raffles says he was informed by an employee that


At ten, P. M. of the 1st of April, we heard a noise resembling a cannonade, which lasted, at intervals, till nine o’clock next day; it continued at times loud, at others resembling distant thunder; but on the night of the 10th, the explosions became truly tremendous, frequently shaking the earth and sea violently. Towards morning they again slackened, and continued to lessen gradually till the 14th, when they ceased altogether. On the morning of the 3rd of April, ashes began to fall like fine snow; and in the course of the day they were half-an-inch deep on the ground. From that time till the 11th the air was constantly impregnated with them to such a degree, that it was unpleasant to stir out of doors. On the morning of the 11th, the opposite shore of Bali was completely obscured in a dense cloud, which gradually approached the Java shore, and was dreary and terrific. By one, P. M., candles were necessary; by four, P.M., it was pitch-dark; and so it continued until two o’clock of the afternoon of the 12th, ashes continuing to fall abundantly: they were eight inches in depth at this time.’


Perhaps you think of ash as a bit of dust. A minor inconvenience. Well when it comes to Volcanoes, it isn’t. A volcanic ash cloud can contain

Carbon dioxide

Sulfates (sulfur dioxide)

Hydrochloric acid

Hydroflouric acid

As well as various minerals and fibres. All of these can cause horrific lung damage.

Perhaps you could visualise it more like this. Imagine you go and light five giant BBQ’s in your back garden. Now wait until the heat has died down enough that the coals are grey and just about approachable. Now get inside a small shed say. Then have two friends tip the whole lot onto your head, and they then shut you inside. Picture the heat, the fact that you can’t go anywhere, the ash fills your eyes and burns your lungs. Every breath you take is congested and a fiery agony. Imagine the pain and twisted horror as you realise there’s no escape and no help. This is the world of the survivor in their last moments. If you are far enough away, then it is a rain of cold ash. That brings darkness like Raffles described.

12,000 human beings died in the initial eruptions in ash falls, pyroclastic flows and clouds of superheated gas up to 1,000oC. Some of their carbonised remains were buried under the lava.

In C19th Java and the Pacific, there were no international rescue services that could help. No cars or planes to evacuate. No aid workers being flown in. No dried food supplies and water tankers. No emergency generators. Nothing. One of the most devasting natural disasters in human history was striking at a time when humans hadn’t even fully mastered primitive steam engines in any but the most basic ways.

On the back of this were the Tsunamis and flooding triggered by the eruptions, and reaching up higher into the atmosphere was a layer of ash that would bring darkness to the region.

Now I really, really need to remind you that the whole world in the C19th was basically either agrarian, pastoral or hunter-gather with little in the way of food or water storage as we would understand it today. So that meant most food production was highly localised. Disruption to local food production, even for a single season could result in real hardship, even if the wider country the area was located in was unaffected; local famines could and did erupt savagely. The area’s covered by ash were absolutely out of production. Death by starvation was absolutely guaranteed for a large number of the survivors. There was nothing they could do. They were doomed. That’s hard to get your head round today. There are no accounts from them. I can only picture some of the ash covered survivors walking around in a daze, blinded and slowly starving. Unable to find water or relief, the ash blighting their lungs.

Raffles dispatched Lt Philips to try to see what was going on and give aid. He discovered emptied villages, and desperate people reduced to eating plant stems and palm leaves.

The Rajah of Saugar told Lt Philips during the initial investigations

[QUOTE] Between nine and ten p.m. ashes began to fall, and soon after a violent whirlwind ensued, which blew down nearly every house in the village of Saugar, carrying the tops and light parts along with it.

“In the part of Saugar adjoining [Mount Tambora] its effects were much more violent, tearing up by the roots the largest trees and carrying them into the air together with men, houses, cattle, and whatever else came within its influence. This will account for the immense number of floating trees seen at sea.

“The sea rose nearly twelve feet higher than it had ever been known to be before, and completely spoiled the only small spots of rice lands in Saugar, sweeping away houses and every thing within its reach. [END QUOTE]

An entry from the British Naval Chronicle 1815 July to December vol 34 shows how dreadful the local situation was. This is a bit of a long quote, so bare with me

[QUOTE] Eruption of Mount Tomboro. Extract of a Letter, dated the 29th of May, 1815, from Batavia, from a Merchant of that Place.

“We have had one of the most tremendous eruptions of the Mountain Tomboro, that ever perhaps took place in any part of the world; this mountain is situation on the island of Subawa, and is distant from Batavia not less than 350 miles. We heard the explosions here distinctly, and had some of the ashes. It was totally dark at Macassar long after the sun was up; and at noon, at Sourabaya, the sun succeeded in enlightening the good folks so as to allow them to see some yards around; the ashes lay at Macassar, which is 250 miles from Sambawa, 1 1/2 inches deep. Captain Feen, of the Dispatch,and Captain Eatwell, of the Benares, who have visited the island since the eruptions, both declare, that the anchorage is much changed, and that they found the sea, for many miles around the island, so completely covered with trunks of trees, pumice stone &c. as he was told, that a village was inundated, and had three fathoms of water over it. Great numbers of the miserable inhabitants have perished, and others die daily. The crops of paddy (rice) have been utterly destroyed over a great part of the island; so that the situation of the unfortunate survivors will be really pitiable.” [END QUOTE]

Lt Philip would state

[QUOTE] the extreme misery to which the inhabitants have been reduced is shocking to behold. There were still on the road side the remains of several corpses, and the marks of many others where they had been interred: the villages almost entirely deserted and the houses fallen down, the surviving inhabitants having dispersed in search of food.” [END QUOTE]

As the locals reeled, and the Europeans struggle to think of a meaningful response, the cloud of ash rose inexorably up into the atmosphere. For some of the immediate local tribes, the even could only be understood in religious terms. The further away from the eruption, the less knowledge there was of it.

The local impacts would be devastating, causing immediate deaths of around 70,000 people from starvation or lack of water on top of the 12,000 that had been immediately killed in the eruption. Some villages literally sank. Cattle and horses died in droves, and rich rice fields were destroyed. Temperatures plummeted and many people were plunged into darkness. Officials reported having to light candles during the day to work. Tsunamis wrecked costal regions. Worse though, the immense disruption to the South Asian Monsoon would cause famines and create the conditions in India for the rise of the great scourge of the Victorian age, and its most famous disease – Cholera. A disease that will continue to wreck havoc, even today.

The massive famines in China weakened government control and led to massive rebellions against the Qing dynasty. The knock on effect of this, it has been suggested, was to allow Yunna to become a Chinese narco state. It would play a central role in global poppy production, in turn influencing Victorian Britain’s Opium Wars.

Sadly most of the sources from this period are from the more insulated aristocracy. As you can see from the quote of the Raja, even the rich suffered of course, but we don’t have the same local accounts from famine stricken peasants or workers in South East Asia as we do of the Irish population during the terrible Irish famines.

People around the world would be struck by freak weather in ways they couldn’t understand or deal with. Ireland, Switzerland and America were extremely hard hit as we will see next episode and the one after. During these episodes on Mt Tambora the climate disruption we will see the massive changes it wrecks on human civilisation and how it changes the very direction of history itself. Join me next time as we see what happens to the world as Summer itself fails, and the weather seems to dive into insanity. Kings, emperors, peasants or soldiers. No one, and no where would be untouched, and the impact would have far reaching consequences for the shape of history.


The time has come. Victoria must weather the final crisis on her way to the throne. Join me for an exciting conclusion to Victoria’s childhood where she finds out if she has iron in her soul.

This show has

  • Continuation of her teenage years.

  • Relationships with King William IV.

  • The state of the monarchy.

  • Victoria’s desperate crisis.

  • Ascending the throne.

  • Coronation and triumph.

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You can listen on iTunes and subscribe for free to get all the latest episodes, or even leave me a review. The show is also on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean and you can also listen via the website at Don’t forget to tell your friends.

Support the show on Patreon, and get an exclusive patrons only episode


PUB QUIZ. Time for you to grab a beer and a barstool like a good Victorian and have a go at testing your knowledge. Or if you have taken the pledge and joined the temperance movement, then get a cup of cocoa and join your friends for a civilised but fierce competition for the highest score.

Make sure you have a pen and paper handy and you are ready to hit pause to give yourself time to answer. I’ll post the questions and answers on the website shortly.

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Support the show, and get an exclusive episode on Patreon

EP023 Politics; the Whigs & the Reform Act 1832

Are you eager for reform? What to change the establish? Shake up the old order? Surely the time has come to join the Whig party then? This show covers the Whigs in the 1820’s & 1830’s and the land mark Great Reform Act 1832. British politics was changing rapidly and Victoria was at the cusp of the Throne. The struggles of the Whigs would help determine the political establishment for years into Victoria’s reign.

This episode covers

  • The difficulties of adopting a unbiased view of past politics

  • The Whigs world view

  • Why reform & being progressive isn’t always a good thing.

  • The Scottish counterpoint

  • The philosophy of reform & the great debate

  • Wiliam IV’s role.

  • Impact on Slavery

  • Victoria benefits

Follow the show on Facebook on our Facebook Page or in the Facebook group for Victorian trivia or the latest news.

You can listen on iTunes and subscribe for free to get all the latest episodes, or even leave me a review. The show is also on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean and you can also listen via the website at Don’t forget to tell your friends.

Support the show, and get an exclusive episode on Patreon at []


Are you confused about your Lords & Dukes? Want to know why the Baron is always popping up? Wondering just what is the Duchy of Lancaster and why its so important? Want to know your Earls from your Marchioness’s? Worried about who gets to get to lead the dinner party when an Earl & a Prince pop over?

This minisode covers

The orders & rankings of the nobility & peerage

The role of the Queen

The Prince Consort

Details of the peerage

The baronets & knights

How to get into the peerage

Some notable cock ups

Historical exceptions designed to drive your host round the twist.

[also while I have used a lot of sources for this show, I highly recommend Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James; she’s written a fabulous & highly entertaining book]


Debretts Guide to the Peerage

Burkes Peerage

Steinbech, S “Understanding the Victorians”

McCahill, Michael W. “Peerage Creations and the Changing Character of the British Nobility, 1750-1830.” The English Historical Review, vol. 96, no. 379, 1981, pp. 259–284.

Hanham, H. J. “The Sale of Honours in Late Victorian England.” Victorian Studies, vol. 3, no. 3, 1960, pp. 277–289.

James, Mallory. “Elegant Etiquette in the C19th”

Follow the show on Facebook on our Facebook Page or in the Facebook group for Victorian trivia or the latest news.

You can listen on iTunes and subscribe for free to get all the latest episodes, or even leave me a review. The show is also on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean and you can also listen via the website at Don’t forget to tell your friends.

Support the show, and get an exclusive episode on Patreon at []

EP022 Politics – The Tories & the battle for Catholic Emancipation

This episode on the Tories & the Battle for Catholic Emancipation continue our breakdown of the complex political system in the 1820’s & 1830’s to show you how it all fits together. If you want to know about the reasons why the British struggled with Catholics, and why the Tories always seemed to be fighting against reform, then this is the episode for you.

This episode covers

The state of politics in 1820-1830

The definitions of a political party

Famous figures of the Tory old guard

The death of Castlereagh and the rise of the Duke of Wellington

The problem of Catholics & the Crown

Our old frenemy the Prince Regent/George IV makes a cameo

The battle over the Catholic Emancipation

The personal impact on the Young Victoria.

Follow the show on Facebook on our Facebook Page or in the Facebook group for Victorian trivia or the latest news.

You can listen on iTunes and subscribe for free to get all the latest episodes, or even leave me a review. The show is also on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean and you can also listen via the website at Don’t forget to tell your friends.

Sources on Politics 1820s&1830s

Political history is always complicated; below are the main sources I’ve used for the politics episodes set in the 1820’s and 1830’s. You can always find plenty more, depending on your particular interests. Hopefully these are a useful starting point.

Napier, C “The War in Syria Vol 1”

Best, Geoffrey. “The Scottish Victorian City.” Victorian Studies, vol. 11, no. 3, 1968, pp. 329–358. JSTOR,

Fraser, Derek. “Politics and the Victorian City.” Urban History Yearbook, [6], 1979, pp. 32–45.

Morris, J. “Victorian Values in Scotland and England”


O’Ferrall, Fergus. “’The Only Lever . . .’? The Catholic Priest in Irish Politics 1823-29.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, vol. 70, no. 280, 1981, pp. 308–324

Moriarty, Thomas F. “The Irish American Response to Catholic Emancipation.” The Catholic Historical Review, vol. 66, no. 3, 1980, pp. 353–373

Melissa Score, review of The Dawn of the Cheap Press in Victorian Britain: the End of the ‘Taxes on Knowledge’, 1849-1869

JENKINS, BRIAN. Era of Emancipation: British Government of Ireland, 1812-1830. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988

Lingelbach, Anna Lane. “William Huskisson as President of the Board of Trade.” The American Historical Review, vol. 43, no. 4, 1938, pp. 759–774.

Sinha, Mrinalini. “Britishness, Clubbability, and the Colonial Public Sphere: The Genealogy of an Imperial Institution in Colonial India.” Journal of British Studies, vol. 40, no. 4, 2001, pp. 489–521.

Smyth, Jim, and Alan McKinlay. “Whigs, Tories and Scottish Legal Reform c. 1785-1832.” Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies, vol. 15, no. 1, 2011, pp. 111–132.

Wasson, Ellis Archer. “The Great Whigs and Parliamentary Reform, 1809-1830.” Journal of British Studies, vol. 24, no. 4, 1985, pp. 434–464.

Phillips, John A., and Charles Wetherell. “The Great Reform Act of 1832 and the Political Modernization of England.” The American Historical Review, vol. 100, no. 2, 1995, pp. 411–436.

Tewari, Archana. “THE REFORM BILL (1832) AND THE ABLOLITION OF SLAVERY (1833): A CARIBBEAN LINK.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, vol. 73, 2012

Rubinstein Britain’s Century.

Kate Williams Becoming Queen.

Julie Baird Queen Victory

A N Wilson Queen Victoria

Letters of Queen Victoria (by herself).

EP021 Politics 101 The System in the 1820s/30s

Politics 101 is here. Every wondered if the Queen of England has any real power? Confused by your MP’s, PM’s and Lords Spiritual? Wondering how it all works in the UK if the Constitution isn’t written down? Unsure if Queen Victoria could just give out the orders? Today’s show breaks down the complex political system in the 1820’s & 1830’s to show you how it all fits together, and to give a glympse into the old world of politics as it stood on the last few years before Victoria became Queen, and the great reform act of 1832.

If you want to know how and why things worked the way they did in the UK, this show is for you because it gives you the framework and the start point to understand what went on, with whom, and why!

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There are a lot of sources for this episode. I used a lot of general background material on the period, and on the British Military that I’d used for the Napoleonic Episodes and Mt Tambora

Specific sources for the Peterloo episode were

2ND Anniversary Special (pt2) – Charles Peace, Master of Disguise

What makes a master criminal? That type of person who goes beyond the normal petty crime or brute violence. Charles Peace was one of the most notorious criminals in the Victorian age, but why? He didn’t kill many people, or steal the crown jewels, or overthrow a government.

He had that special star quality the newspapers loved though. He was a master of disguise, constantly escaped the police, lived a double life and even had a horde of buried treasure. But what the Victorian’s loved MOST was his sensational trial for murder…..

Join me as we learn about the real Charles Peace. He was a brilliant actor. An intelligent, ruthless, ingenious and talented man. He also a killer and a twisted stalker. The papers made him a celebrity criminal, but underneath he became what he was called – “the very devil”

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TRANSCRIPT EP012Congress of Vienna in 1814 pt 2 “Turning back the clock”

Congress of Vienna in 1814.

The show you are about to hear is part 2 of the Congress of Vienna. It won’t make sense if you haven’t listened to part 1. I know my shows are normally stand alones and can be listened to in any order but for the Congress of Vienna, like Waterloo, it had to be a multiparter. Now before we begin, I’d like to do a little community corner. This show is for all you listeners and I’m thrilled to have a lovely community like you. I want to say a huge thank you for the latest iTunes reviews. Play promo for the Pontifacts Podcast.

In December 1813, the British foreign secretary Robert Stewart, better known to history as Lord Castlereagh, had finally been forced to travel to Europe to cut deals with European powers to bring about the end of Napoleon. For years Britain had been seen as a financier and opportunist, despite having a significant force active in Spain and essentially clearing the seas of French shipping. Now Britain had to fully commit to the diplomatic war.

Metternich had badly wanted the British to get more involved in diplomacy and alliances. So Castlereagh did. He planned on re-organising the former Dutch Republic to suit Britain, and worked to get the Prince Regents Daughter Charlotte married to the son of the exiled ruler, William Prince of Orange. Then he planned to get the Prince recognised as the King of the Netherlands, which would ignore the longstanding Dutch Republican tradition, and also get encouraged him to take over Belgium as the French retreated. As Castlereagh said, it looked good on the map. He magnanimously declined the idea that Britain might want to annex Dunkirk for future naval use.

With that Castlereagh moved on to Frankfurt, having a dreadful journey and moaning about the conditions in Germany. He then moved on to meet Metternich. Arriving in Bale he found that the Tsar had departed, but had left instructions that Castlereagh was to meet him before anyone else. Castlereagh, as a British Foreign Secretary, was not going to take instructions from anyone besides the British government. He decided to see Metternich and drive a coach and horses through the formal protocols. The stark contrast between him and the European diplomats and rulers was immense. They were all dressed in highly elaborate military uniforms, aping the styles of Napoleon and the Tsars and Grand Dukes. Castlereagh was dressed in a blue civilian coat with ruffled braid and bright scarlet breeches. He looked, as someone observed, like a dandy footmen. This might have caused people to underestimate him. Castlereagh might have no European experience but he had plenty of political experience including being instrumental along with Lord Cornwallis of American War of Independence fame, in passing the Irish Act of Union which had unified the Irish and English crowns.

He and Metternich seemed to instantly click. Let the others babble and think themselves clever. He and Metternich were going to put themselves in the driving seat. In a private meeting he and Metternich decided the shape of Europe. They paused only briefly to let Castlereagh meet King Friedrich, then went back to deciding how and where millions of people would live their lives.

Well I’ve just thrown a lot of information at you there. Let’s just pause for a moment and think about the staggering implications. The way these men thought is very, very different from the modern idea of government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is very different from the American founding fathers ideal of that phrase. It boils down to a concept that we will see throughout the Victorian period; namely that the people did not have the right to decide the shape and state of their nation. Aristocrats and Kings might have that right by treaty or war. The idea that there was a popular will in Belgium and that the people living there should get to decide whether they were a monarchy or republic was deeply abhorrent to men like Metternich. This wasn’t because he was evil. Far from it. He wasn’t sitting in a secret lair in a volcano telling Mr Bond that the shark tank had been warmed up for him and he was welcome to take a dip. It was because Metternich believed that the old order of Europe was preferable to the chaos that came from the ideas of equality, liberty and fraternity. Giving rule to the people would lead to chaos. From chaos would come dictators like Napoleon who would wage wars on unprecendented scale with nothing to check their ambition. It was easy for such men to fool the common people, because the common people were ignorant, idle, excitable and jealous.

I should point out that the claim that the majority of the populations of Europe were ignorant was not universal even in his own time. Still the claim that populations were ignorant is not entirely wrong, it is more incomplete and misleading. Most people in Europe were still illiterate and didn’t travel much so their world view and knowledge was intensely local. They were ignorant of a lot of the wider world. This was not because they were stupid, although many of the aristocracy would have said they were. Rather it was inevitable because universal education, and a mass market free press simply didn’t exist in the way it would in the mid to late Victorian era. Knowledge was concentrated in the aristocracy, and tiny but growing middle classes. I think that Metternich if challenged, would have said something like “well how is a peasant farmer who can’t read and knows only the gossip from the tavern and the sermon in the Church supposed to decide whether his government should adopt a trade treaty with a foreign power that required the surrender of territories and complex negotiations. It would be absurd to ask such a man, versed in the plow and the seasons, to give a considered and rational opinion on events that he can know nothing about and in which he has no training.”

This has been a long standing criticism of democracy and remains part of the core debate about representative democracies vs direct democracies vs constitutional monarchies vs more despotic regimes. It is an argument that would burst into flames in the United Kingdom countless times during the Chartist movement, the passage of the reform bill, the corn laws, voting rights for women and many other flash points. The idea that universal mass education, combined with scrupulous press honesty was the key to overcoming the problem was not widely recognised despite the efforts of some of the American founding fathers. The feeling that the people would become an excitable mob had been proved by the French revolution as far as the European ruling classes were concerned. The reign of terror and the horrors of Robspierre were fresh in everyone’s minds. The United States was still too new, too alien to look at as a valid counter example. The aggressive actions of the US against Canada which were one of the major triggers of the war of 1812, seemed to prove that the democracies were inherently warlike. This world view had also dominated Castlereaghs previous actions in Ireland and would do again with dire consequences.

Castlereagh set out Britains vision for the future of Europe. Metternich was in agreement, it jibbed neatly with his own visions and provided ample scope for the necessary wheeling and dealing to get an agreement. It also helped check some of the Tsar of Russia’s increasingly imperious demands. Castlereagh wanted

  1. A strong Holland to counter balance France.
  2. Antwerp to never be in French hands.
  3. The restoration of the Spanish and Portuguese monarchies.
  4. A strong kingdom of Italy, that was free of French influence.
  5. In return Britain would give up all the French colonies it had taken, except Malta, Mauritius, Reunion, Guadalope and the Saintes Islands. It quite liked those.
  6. Britain would also return captured Dutch possessions except the Cape.

This would give Britain some of the absolute best naval bases around the world, especially when Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and significantly weaken France. All in all a good end to the war for Britain. But it would be incomplete to characterise everything Castlereagh did as being selfish or arrogant. His job was to represent Britain’s best interests and to do the best for her as he could, not to help the French. Like Metternich he was a reactionary, but only because he believed the old order was the best way of doing things for everyone. This isn’t surprising. He was an Irish aristocrat from an old noble family. His world view was shaped very much by his experience of growing up amongst the Irish nobility in Ireland and this would have shaped his views of the rural population. He wasn’t corrupt, or blood thirsty. His constant efforts were always aimed at making peace on the continent. He knew millions of people had died in decades of war and he wanted a better world. He just viewed that better world as coming from the past rather than arising from some kind of utopian reforms.

The slight difficulty was that the British, uniquely amongst the European powers, didn’t even recognise Napoleon as ruling France. They referred to him just as General Bonaparte. Metternich and many on the continent wanted a sensible peace, probably with France contained within her natural borders rather than her smaller artificial ones that existed pre-revolution. Britain though was like Russia. She wanted Napoleon destroyed. Russia had already alarmed the British by suggesting that the house of Bourbon shouldn’t be restored to France. Tsar Alexander felt that the Bourbon kings weren’t of sufficient quality, and perhaps the French throne should go to the ambitious French Marshal, the traitorous Bearnadotte. The Marshal was keen to be made king, strange for a man who had revolutionary slogans tattooed to his skin.

How on Earth do you square these circles? It was the job of men like Metternich and Castlereagh to try. Many of the opposition in the military simply wanted to march into France, burning, looting and killing. They had lost much during French invasions and wanted revenge. The problem is it becomes an endless cycle. You can always find a reason for revenge, for not making peace. There’s always this outrage, or that battle, or this murder and your side is always just bit more in the right than the other side, and you’ve sacrificed so much so surely you should honour the fallen and carry on the war. What’s that old saying of Batman’s “if you kill a killer, the number of killers in the world stays the same.” It’s why some conflicts in the world just keep going, almost generation after generation; the past becomes the dead hand clamped on the neck of the future. Castlereagh and Metternich were desperate to break this cycle. Worse for them, Tsar Alexander was experiencing a religious mania. He believed he had been granted an intervention by God Himself, compelling him to destroy Napoleon personally. Fanaticism was rearing its head.

Throughout 1814 the diplomatic whirlwind continued. The post Napoleonic world was discussed. Princes and Arch Dukes schemed. Metternich took mistresses, even at one point spending his time writing love letters to a less than constant mistress whilst his colleagues planned how to carve up Saxony and Poland. When one of his former mistresses became a lover of Tsar Alexander, the gossip round the city caused enmity and jealousy to flair up between the two. The hatred became intensely personal. Prussia schemed to acquire parts of Germany. Various Germans came up with opposing visions for Germany; some involving a grand unified Germany, others for increased power to various German regions. Marriages and alliances were formed and reformed as needed. In many ways it was the old order in full flowing. Let’s step back here though and look at this in at a more individual level. This whole situation was supposed to be about creating a fair and lasting political and social settlement in Europe. The lives of millions of people depended utterly on the outcome of these discussions, but it is clear that at least some of the key statesmen involved were letting their personal feelings run riot, especially over mistresses, even if it damaged themselves and their countries. A lot of this took place with a back drop of grand balls, great concerts and firework displays with extravagantly dressed servants and elaborate carriages. Great paintings have been made of these occasions. In many ways the Congress was more of a series of social events that were interrupted by some formal diplomacy.

What was going through their minds? Why were these personal feelings allowed to interfere so much? Was it a product of the culture of the aristocracies of the time. Where personal feelings and character could be as important to people as actual achievements? Talleyrand certainly didn’t fall into the trap of mistresses distracting him, although he was aggrieved when one of his threw him over for a dashing cavalry officer. Or was it that being aristocrats, they didn’t see a difference between the personal feeling and the public act? Was it a case of being just so self entitled that they simply didn’t care like many modern oligarchs and politicians? Or that they were in a bubble that meant they simply couldn’t see beyond their own lives except in the abstract? What did their staff think? Was this ivory tower group think? Once his ex-mistress had firmly rebuffed him, Metternich did eventually return to business. Still he retained a deep loathing for Tsar Alexander over the incident. Remember these mistresses were often powerful figures in their own right. Duchesses, or high ranking aristocratic girls. They are often mentioned and even well known in a way that modern pop stars are today. They seem to have enjoyed a notoriety that bordered on respectability. They clearly had enough power and agency to change relationships between powerful and dangerous men.

I’m telling you this, not just because it is interesting gossip, but because it is all too easy to over simplify when we look through the historical lens. We say things like “Well it’s strange that the Russians didn’t do x with the Austrians because it really was in their interest.” and then we go on to talk in these abstract terms as if a nation was a real thing with a single consciousness. The reality is far more complicated. Nations are basically a collection of impulses and culture, tied together under a political system rooted in its history. They aren’t a conscious entity and when we use terms like Britain or France, we must remember we are really just using a useful short hand. Looked at this way, it is clear how some of the strange decisions made by nations can be explained, once we root them in the mentality and actions of the individuals involved.

A lot of the tension between Austria and Russia was caused by Tsar Alexander and Metternich hating each other personally. Not that Talleyrand got on any better with the Tsar. The Tsar felt Talleyrand was a dishonest backslider, who quoted legitimacy and international law only as far as it suited him, which was entirely true. But Talleyrand was a smart political survivor. He was quick to play the Tsar off against everyone else.

There’s a great line in the Godfather novel about this. Michael Corleone is talking to his consigliere Tom Hagen. He says “Tom, don’t let anybody kid you. It’s all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. OK. But it’s personal as hell.” It’s a very revealing line. Throughout the book, one of the themes is “hey, its nothing personal, it’s just business.” What Michael Corleone revels in that line is a great truth; power is often intensely personal, even if you dress it up. By calling it business not personal the Mafia could claim to be a step removed. More rational, but that was just the window dressing. It illustrates why the politics of this period really did come down as much to the feelings of the men involved, because there simply isn’t as sharper distinction between the political and the personal as we claim.

Theses antics had not gone unnoticed. Many onlookers complained about the extravagance . One diarist wrote

[QUOTE] These sovereigns who were all brothers when it was a question of annihilating the power of Bonaparte, were apparently united only by necessity, for their own interests and not in the noble aim they proclaimed of bringing happiness to the nations. [END QUOTE] p332 Rites of Peace

In the background of this, a war ravaged Europe faced real questions about how to plant crops, raise cattle and feed itself generally. Armies had stolen food and burnt fields. Grain supplies and markets were disrupted. This was not trivial to a farmer or a peasant labourer. For them, the intensely local concerns of food production and supply meant that grand political diplomacy was something that happened in the abstract. Local politics was in many ways far more important and often trumped any nationalistic feelings.

When Napoleon returned from exile, he threw the delicate balance of diplomacy in Europe into a tailspin. The great power players represented by men like Metternich in Austria, and Tsar Alexander had a vision for the future. So did men like Talleyrand. This vision was in many ways backward looking and very autocratic, but it did at least aim to bring peace to a continent that had been ravage by 20 years of war. Still in an unfortunate quirk of fate for Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington had replaced Lord Castlereagh at the Congress, so he was already in place to work on the immediate military response.

Napoleon’s return had shattered the initial dreams of the congress. The coalition of the willing was assembled. They had committed to bringing him down together. Once Waterloo was over, Napoleon’s fall became inevitable. The question of what came next hung in the balance. Castlereagh had wanted to enact a vision of a peaceful Europe with a balance of power and a proto-United Nations. He was determined to avoid a punitive peace settlement with France that was so harsh it would create future conflict. He was desperately worried about allowing one continental power to gain dominance. What he seemed not to realise was that in setting up a balance of power system with the old regimes in charge, he was guaranteeing that the old order would seek to turn the clock back, making future popularist revolutions inevitable. Prussia wanted revenge more than ever. Russia aimed to replace France and Austria as the ultimate power in Europe, with Poland divided up between the various European powers.

Still Waterloo had changed things. The British, particularly Wellington were now the supreme diplomatic power in Europe. In hindsight, we might say how instrumental the Prussians were in turning the tide, but to the powers at the time, Waterloo was Wellingtons victory. In the popular myth of the day, he had stood alone against the best the French could offer and beaten them before the other powers could help. If you’ve listened to my previous episodes you’ll know this isn’t true, but it isn’t entirely wrong either. It is just incomplete.

The Tsar realised that he had to get to Wellington if he was to salvage his idea’s of Russian dominance. The Tsar, like many others wanted to see the Duc D’Orleans succeed Napoleon, but Wellington was known to be close friends with Louis XVIII. Wellington moved quickly to put Louis back on the throne. He summoned Talleyrand and Fouche. Talleyrand was quickly bought off with £10,000 from British secret service funds (or at least the forerunner of the Secret Service). Fouche was bought off when Wellington strong armed Louis to accept Fouche into government. This might seem pretty appalling to us at first glance. The British were deciding on who would rule France, and the shape of European peace, but it should be noted that by pursuing Castlereaghs plan the British were trying to put European affairs before their own, by passing up a once in a lifetime opportunity. Napoleon and many others were stunned. They expected the British to ruthlessly carve up France, steal colonies, force concessions and gained immense commercial and financial benefits, but the British refused to take advantage. Almost every European power gained immense territory and many other treasures, but Castlereagh wanted “security not revenge.” He was genuinely having the courage of his convictions.

Not that the British didn’t behave badly in many ways. The British treated Napoleon appallingly in his exile. Wellington essentially allowed Marshal Ney to be executed after a show trial. Difficulties at home politically meant that Castelreagh had trouble persuading Parliament to accept his various treaties, especially when they might involve Britain guaranteeing Russian power in the Balkans and Middle East and provoke conflict with the Ottoman Empire.

The Castlereagh settlement was for a Quantripple alliance, with regular congresses. It was doomed as a mechanism for European peace. The British were turning inward now that the Napoleonic threat was over. For them, the alliances had been to bring prevent Britain and Ireland being invaded by the French, bring down Napoleon, and turn back the effects of the French revolution. Castlereagh wanted a highly autocratic grand system where the great powers could meet and debate international affairs to prevent conflict and settle all disagreements by negotiation. But Britains inward turn and worries over the financial implications of the war meant they had little interest in further European affairs.

For Russia, the alliances were just to help them gain power in Europe and enforce the will of the great powers on smaller states. This wasn’t because the Tsar was evil or the Russians were somehow bad. They were seeking to establish their own territories and role in a world that often didn’t give Russia either diplomatic respect or deal with them consistently. But it caused immense resentment amongst those smaller states near Russia, who felt threatened by Tsarist expansion.

For Austria the goal was to prevent any liberal movements and to create a stable patch work of static European states. Eventually the naked self interest of the other powers meant Castlereagh began to refuse to attend the congresses after 1815. He had worked so hard to secure the peace, but Britain was in turmoil at home whilst the Great Powers regarded him as a stiff necked idealist. There was no way the system of congresses could cope with rapidly changing international affairs or deal with the pent up liberal movement that was desperate for democracy, freedom and liberty.

The question to ask ourselves is “was it a success?” Well that’s actually quite complicated to answer. We have the benefit of hindsight. It seems to have succeeded on its own terms in many ways . There was no major continental war for decades but it couldn’t re-establish the old regime or lay the foundations for a transition to the mass industrial democracies.

Historian Pavel Murdzhev says

[QUOTE] it served as a foundation that simultaneously maintained a long term balance of power, yet failed to recognise the burgeoning spirit of nationalism that would ultimately upset the peace of Europe. [END QUOTE]

The next few years would be very hard for Europe. Whilst Europe on the mainland attempted to turn the clock back, the British attempted to carry on as if the French revolution had never happened. The British aristocracy viewed the British system having triumphed over any other in the world as demonstrated by the triumph in the Napoleonic Wars . The ruling aristocracy wanted the old order to carry on and creating a land fit for heroes for the returning soldiers, or reforming a tottering political system, was the last thing on their minds. A dysfunctional monarchy and a utterly corrupt parliament meant that for many British people, dark times were ahead. Join me next time as an act of Nature will change the course of history.…..

Newspaper article- The release of William Habron

The release of William Habron

22 March 1879 Link The Aberystwith Observer

THE RELEASE OF WILLIAM HABRON. William Habron, who was wrongfully convicted of the Whalley Range murder, which Peace confessed to have committed, was discharged from Portland Prison on Tuesday. Habron, who knew nothing of the free par- don granted to him, was on Tuesday morning informed that he was about to be removed, with two other convicts about to be liberated. He was prepared for the journey, and set off for Millbank. By orders from the Home Office no communication was made to him respecting the cause of his removal, and the whole proceedings were kept secret. Habron did not seem excited. The two officers who travelled with him were ordered to observe strict silence. Habron’s conduct and his health had alike been good during his incarcer- tion. It had been arranged that Mr. Deakin, the employer of the three Habrons, who has all through William’s severe ordeal neither flinched in his belief in his inno- cence nor relaxed in his endeavours to procure his release, should come up from Manchester, meet Habron at Millbank, and take him under his charge to his relations in Ireland. Mr. Deakin was accord- ingly waiting at Millbank to receive him when he arrived. On Habron’s arrival at On Habron’s arrival at Millbank, the fact that he had been granted a free pardon was communicated to him, together with a statement of the reasons which bad actuated the Home Secretary in recommending it. Beyond hearing from a Seller-prisoner at Portland, who was recently admitted,, that Peace had confessed the Whalley Range murder, this was the first and only intimation of what had been done in reference to hia c.ise that the poor fellow had received. The first thing William Habron said to Mr. Deakin in the cell at Milihank when he was able to speak, which for some, minutes he could not do, ‘was to i-xpress his thankfulness that at l»«t justice had been done to him, and he added, “You know, master, that we ne.ver disgraced you, He was so much over- come by the news that he was nnable to take off his prison drims and put on ordinary clothes, and had to be assisted by Mr. Deakin. As soon as the neces- sary formalities had been completed Mr. Deakin and Habron left the gaol. During the afternoon they took train for Manchester, where they arrived late on Tues- day night, Habron being taken to the house of Mr. Deakin^s brother, where the two brothers, John and Frank Habron, were waiting. The meeting between the three brothers was a very affecting one. The poor fellow seemed to be in good health, but showed in his features some traces of the suffering he has undergone. Habron has stated that after the sentence of death he suffered intense mental agony, although he was borne up by a consciousness of his innocence, and hoped that his life might be spared, and that he would ultimately be proved to the world to be guiltless. “In WilliamHabron, at least,” (says the Daily I News) there is a great fund of simple faith and atedfastness. ‘I never believed,’ he often repeats, that I could be brought in guilty, and when I was condemned I felt sure I could not be hanged, for, as I told the priest, God knows, you know, and I know that I am innocent of this crime, and an innocent man will never be allowed to suffer for the guilty.’ It was probably this steady faith in justice being ultimately done that sustained the poor young fellow’s heart and brain for the ten weeks during which he lay under sentence of death, a trial severe enough to crack the strongest nerves, and how much more terrible to a lad of eighteen !”—Habron s respite, which he received about three weeks after he was sentenced, was a great relief to him, but he continued to feel great anxiety as to what might be his fate until he was informed that his sentence of death had been commuted to penal servitude for life. After his removal to Portland he continued to hope that his innocence might be ultimately declared, and that enabled him to bear with some com- posure his confinement as a convict. The Manchester Evening Mail, in giving some further particulars respecting the release of Habron, says Mr. Cross, with the approval of Her Majesty the Queen intends to make a substan- tial grant from the Queen’s Bounty to William Babron, and it has been arranged that the money shall be invested for his use, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Salford (the Right Rev. Dr. Vaughan) and Mr. Francis Deakin being appointed trustees. The agreement was arrived at on Tuesday at an interview between Mr. Cross, Mr. Hugh Birley, M.P. (who has also evinced great interest in the case), and Mr. F. Deakin. It has not yet been announced what amount will be granted, but we have good reason to believe that the compensation will be as handsome as the Government can possibly make for the injury that has been inflicted. Habron, with Mr. Deakin, left St. Pancras Station by the five o’clock express on Tuesday, and arrived in Manchester about ten o’clock. They drove to the house of Mr. William Deakin, in Stretford- road, where Frank and John Habron were waiting to receive their brother. Although great secrecy had been observed with reference to the liberation of Habron, news of his release spread rapidly, and as the train pulled up at the various stations on the journey he was cheered by numbers of people who, having be- come acquainted with the fact that he was travelling by tbq train, had congregated at the various places. He was recognised and warmly congratulated on his release. At Bedford one gentleman presented him with a £5 note, and at Leicester another gentleman gave him half a sovereign.—Mr. Deakin did not tell him that while he had been in prison his father had died broken- hearted in consequeuca of the intense grief caused to him by the conviction of his son, and the painful fact was only brought to his knowledge by one of his brothers when he reached the house of Mr. WilliamDeakin. Habron was much affected by the news, as he said he had relied upon the hope of sooner or later being able to prove to his father and mother his innocence of the crime for which be has suffered. He remained at the house of Mr. WilliamDeakin all night, and thir morning (Wednesday) he left for Ireland, in the company of one of his brothers and Mr. W. Deakin. Mr. Cross has given Mr. F. Deakin full liberty to provide for the wants of William Habron, and has instructed him to pay his fares to the different places he is wishful to visit, and to provide him with new clothes, and then to forward the bill of costs to the Home Office. It is proposed to open a public subscription list in the course of a few days on behalf of the three brothers, and Mr. William Deakin has offered to receive any subscriptions. It may be stated that the trial cost the Habrons £140, and exhausted the whole of their savings during the years they had been employed by Mr. Deakin.”


Charlies Peace, Master of Disguise.

Charles Peace was notorious during his criminal career. He is a favourite of many historical true crime fans. There are a lot of events and anecdotes about him; too many to cover in one show.

For the outline I gave you, I used the following sources.

Enthusiasts can find plenty more about him as there are plenty of sources and he pops up everywhere. I even saw a photo of one of his violins on Twitter. It has been put in a museum.

2nd anniversary special – our first murder?

Happy 2nd Anniversary This is my look back on the last two years, a lot of thank you’s, some listener questions and our first murder?

Two years of podcasts. Time to celebrate with a Victorian murder; you’ve all been asking for one for ages, so here you are.

Don’t forget to make some cake and drink some tea whilst you listen as we: 

1. start with thank you’s and reflections on the last two years.

2. then a few listener questions.​

3 . cover a murder that shocked the Victorians; a murder that showed how fast the Victorian police could investigate a crime, cover a little bit of the trial, then finally the impact of prison. Oh and that tiny little thing that changed it all…….

You can listen on iTunes, or on Spotify, or via the website at

Support the show on Patreon at

Useful links:


I’ve launched a Patreon and I review our first film about Queen Victoria – Victoria the Great. I also read out the latest iTunes reviews. 

The show starts with the announcement about Patreon and the various tiers. Then I remind listeners to send in questions for the upcoming 2nd anniversary special. The middle of the show is a run down of how I will do film/TV series/book reviews and an evaluation of whether historical accuracy is important. This is followed by a short review of Victoria the Great. Finally there’s the run through of listener reviews. 

Love to hear your feed back at or leave a comment in the Facebook Page or Group (Age of Victoria).

If you like what you hear, please tell your friends, tweet or spread the word to people who might enjoy the show. Also support the show on Patreon at


In Ep20 pt 2 we continue our journey through Queen Victoria’s childhood education. Pt2 explores the specifics of education, what she learnt, and crucially, how her education would fit her into the increasingly strict and complex Victorian class system. It wasn’t easy being “the girl who will be Queen.” It also covers her relationship with her ally and mentor Uncle Leopold, King of Belgium.

If you have any questions/feedback, you can email me at

Support the show on Patreon

TRANSCRIPT: EP011 Congress of Vienna pt 1 “A Brave old world”

Welcome back everyone. This has been a difficult episode to choose a topic for. This afternoon I was happily sitting in an english country pub garden, enjoying the sunshine and chatting to my wife about what I should record this afternoon. It should be a fairly obvious choice, after all we’ve just finished the hundred days, and now should be the time to leap into the Congress of Vienna and talk about the politics and the reconstruction of Europe. And it was really the way to set the scene of how Europe and the World was going to be set up politically for the next 48-50 years. My wife said, no that sounds boring. No body likes politics. So we chatted and I said I have this other episode that I’ve got on the go. I’ve always got plenty of topics to talk about and it is another exciting topic. It’s got lots of human drama and all the content we like. She said “there, you should do that one.” I thought to myself well why do we get this idea that the politics is boring or an after thought. Politics isn’t real history or real impact. As you might guess from that, we are going to be doing the politics today. 

I think every European school child should have learnt about politics and the Congress of Vienna. Seriously. It is actually possibly the most important series of events in modern history that no one has ever heard of. In many ways, the Napoleonic Wars are only important because they led to this event. Still as the Napoleonic Wars are almost absent from the British educational system, it isn’t really surprising. In fact don’t get me started on how much history is missing from British education. It is quite shocking. Now to give you an idea about what we are  covering today, I’m going to read a quote from a book that has been hugely important in terms of sources on this; Rites of Peace by Adam Zamoyski

[QUOTE] The reconstruction of Europe at the Congress of Vienna is probably the most seminal episode in modern history. Not only did the congress redraw the map entirely. It determined which nations were to have a political existence over the next 100 years and which were not. It imposed an ideology on the whole continent, derived from the interests of the four great powers. It attempted to set in stone the agreement between those powers, with the result that their expansionist urges were deflected into Africa and southern Asia. Its consequences, direct and indirect, include all that has taken place in Europe since, including aggressive nationalism, Bolshevism, fascism, the two world wars and ultimately, the creation of the European Union. [END QUOTE]

Rites of Peace Adam Zamoyski intro.

That strikes me as pretty important actually. Honestly, how many of us have heard of it, or know what it was, or what happened? We should. It is a fascinating tail in its own right. Who would rule France after Napoleon? Who would rule Poland? Would there be a Poland? What about the Pope or the Prussians what would they do? Who would control the Baltic or the Mediterranean? Who would end up in power, and who would end up dead? Would Europe continue to fight the wars against principalities and countries that had raged across it for centuries? Or would Europe turn its attention back out across the world? Fighting its proxy wars on other continents and oceans. Politicians and kings squared off. Devious spies, and clever diplomats faced imperial generals or experienced statesmen. Flattery, bribery and corruption vied with high minded principle. Hypocrisy warred with genuine optimism. Had they disposed a tyrant only to create new tyrannies? Clever, ruthless men like Talleyrand destroyed incriminating archives, attempting to shape history itself. It would make such an awesome TV series just for a start. But we don’t hear about it.

I have to say that we can’t cover all the ins and outs of this. It is just too vast and involved and it would lead us so far into the woods, we might never find our way back to a path out again! The Congress wasn’t really a single one off event on a set date. Rather it was a series of positions and negations of the great powers of Europe to decide who and what would be allowed to exist and hold power.

So before we plunge in, I want to give you a few warnings. First is that you must put your C21st baggage at the door. I know you don’t think you have any, that you are here as a rational and completely impartial observer. Well sorry, you aren’t any more than I am, or anyone else is. We all have a set of cultural biases and assumptions that we carry with us. One of the biggest is our instinctive view that there are some universal human rights and moral standards that are so obvious that they are clearly the good we should all be aiming at. Even if your view of human rights as a term is negative, you probably wouldn’t disagree that people have the right to life, liberty and some form of self governance. The precise form liberty or freedom takes to you might vary, but that seems plain. If you want to understand the actions at the congress, you need to understand that this view is extremely modern. Even the concept of war crimes as we understand them simply didn’t exist until after WW2. In 1815, liberty was much more of a concept that meant justice under known law and custom, rather than the libertarian concept of liberty we have today. The idea of the right of self determination based on the will of the general population could be seen as a dangerous affront to liberty, as it was felt the general will could change quickly and even carelessly. Liberty was guaranteed by the fact that it was made up of long established laws and customs, which everyone knew and had accepted for generations. To say you could have a revolution to give liberty to the people seemed to some of the governing class of the time an oxymoron. By overthrowing time honoured systems, you were taking away their liberties and securities and replacing them with anarchy. Changes in the status of nations or territories was supposed to be by treaty, and these treaties usually had to respect established liberties or customs to be successful, otherwise they risked sparking revolt. This is a big reason Napoleon had such a problem dealing with the allies. They saw him as not playing by the rules of the existing game. He and the French revolution were fundamentally overturning the board.

Another piece of baggage you probably have is that you might think that honour is just a word. An  abstract you can ignore at whim. If you make a promise on your honour today, it means essentially nothing. That wasn’t the case for most of history. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars honour was as real to a gentleman as a credit rating is to us today. Neither are real in the sense of being a thing you can touch, they are both abstracts, yet both can seriously affect real life. If a gentleman gave his word of honour, or swore on his honour, it taken very seriously. This might sound crazy, but as relationships were more face to face and personal, honour was a way of codifying and exercising power without it being overly oppressive or requiring complex laws or contracts. This was, in a strange way, a big problem Napoleon had had. The allies refused to recognise him as a gentleman, and he was not especially honest on his own in many situations. This made the allies feel that he didn’t have the honour required for treatment as an equal. The importance of honour was that it allowed value to be assigned to individuals but to also let them carry out complex transactions with little formality – as a nobleman you didn’t have to get a lawyer and a set of documents and witnesses to carry out every deal or uphold an agreement. You could swear on your honour that you would return a horse for example that had been loaned to you along with a thousand guineas and it was seen as a given. In some ways it almost harks back to older traditions of oath taking or even tribal honour systems.

Insults to personal honour were therefore not just abstract. They could have real world consequences. A man who was called a liar could lose honour. This could translate to reduce social standing. That had real knock on effects. It might be harder to get income or reduce the chances of marriage or getting promotions. Who would promote a man known to be dishonourable after all? This could even affect children. A disgrace serious enough could blacken the whole families name, reducing the marriage prospects of the children – which was of critical importance perhaps even to their very survival. Honour had to be polished and guarded carefully. Insults to honour demanded a personal response, even to the point of a duel.

This concept even scaled up to nations and principalities in a way. A nation that was considered to be acting honourably would be better treated even if unsuccessful, than a more successful but less honourable one perhaps. Of course at both the personal and national level, self interest was still a driving concern. Honour didn’t require complete stupidity or the total abandonment of common sense.

Another piece of modern baggage we will need to get rid of is the idea that the nation state is the fundamental political entity. It certainly wasn’t in 1815. Nations did exist, but they did so alongside principalities, protectorates, independent territories, crown dependencies, duchies, confederacies, alliances, leagues, city states and empires. Allegiance was often much more personal, and the societies more structured. Think of it like having a patch of lands ruled by a King called Bob. King Bob doesn’t own the lands, and the lands themselves aren’t necessarily next to each other. Instead each land has a Duke or a Cardinal, who owe King Bob fealty. Together they make up the Glorious Kingdom of Minionia. In turn they have a load of subjects that owe them allegiance and work land for them. Perhaps they sometimes get together to have a Parliament of some kind to advise King Bob. Probably King Bob dislikes this Parliament and his over mighty lords and merchants who try to constrain his theoretically absolute power. He therefore cracks down on two of his dukes who seem to be a little too big for their boots. One of the disgruntled dukes switches his allegiance to nearby King Stuart. King Bob is outraged, especially when the Duke pays lucrative rents to King Stuart in return for a mercenary company. King Bob and King Stuart soon end up at war, with troops raised from the various territories that owe them fealty or allegiance in some way. At the end of some indecisive fighting, King Bob recognises the switch of the Duke and his lands to King Stuart, whilst King Stuart gifts King Bob with an island in the Carribean that comes with bananas. Neither King is at real risk of losing his throne, and the mutual treaty would probably be a dull transfer arrangement and the individual customs of the individual towns & cities within the  territories would be largely unchanged. Neither King is in any way interested in democracy, and the rebel Duke certainly wasn’t a champion of the people. Nor, as you can see, is there a particular nation state here going to war against another nation state. Nor are the people expected to be loyal to an abstract entity like the nation state. Perhaps if the war had gone on too long, the Kings might have aligned themselves with a more powerful political entity like the Russian Empire or the Holy Roman Empire.

Now imagine one day, Napoleon bursts onto the scene. He moves swiftly into the area, sweeping aside the patchwork armies of the two Kings. He swiftly deposes both of them, abolishes the old feudal order and sets up a more modern, rational state. A lot of old town councils and regional aristocrats lose power and land that they’ve held for centuries. Long established and restrictive guilds are abolished. A town might find itself grouped into a new region created by merging its territories with a hated rivals. People who believed themselves independent towns found themselves part of new political entities created by Napoleon. The way of doing things that they had grown up with was gone. For some people this was a huge step forward. Many of the old medieval guild systems were highly restrictive. The Jewish populations benefited immensely from Napoleon. He was shocked and horrified to see Jews in ghetto’s, forced to wear the Star of David. It drove him into a rage when he came across it. He acted swiftly to abolish the ghettos and free the Jewish population. So from certain points of view, Napoleon could be a liberator, but he was also a destroyer and these re-orderings of territory usually came with demands for money, loot and manpower for the French armies.

Lets pause and think about what a tidal wave to the political and religious order Napoleon really was. Instead of kings and dukes and emperors fighting limited wars, with territories moved by treaty and agreement, he simply smashed the opposition, dominated those he found useful, unseated those he found useless and swept away the old political orders. He also instituted religious freedoms that shocked conservative and Catholic leaning Europe. This was essential a twin assault on the very fabric of the rulers and their Empires across Europe. By sweeping away the old feudal structures he was attacking the pillars of divine kingship, aristocracy and ancient custom. By attacking the Catholic Church he was attacking the religious glue that often held these disparate territories together.

To the British establishment, this was a direct attack on the order of government and society itself. Already the poor and starving in the English countryside, rural Ireland and recently cleared Scottish Highlands were pressing for reform. For work. For food. How was the British state to respond? Certainly not by giving more power to the people and reforming government. Supposing the British population started to rebel like the Americans had? What if they too declared “No taxation without representation”

The Prince Regent absolutely wasn’t having that, nor were the aristocracy. Britain was anxious. The Royal family was not well regarded, and a key part of Victoria’s rise to immense power and prestige was her ability to turn the page on the actions of the Royal family during this period. Essentially she demonstrated she was fundamentally not like the George’s or their relatives.

Towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars the questions facing the great powers were what should the political shape of post war Europe and the world be, and what kind of arrangement should be made in Europe for the future to prevent further wars? The continent was sick of war after decades and decades, and determined to put it behind them.

For Russia, the answer seemed obvious. Tsar Alexander considered himself chosen by God to crush Napoleon to personally lead mankind into a new era of peace. A balance of power between all nations was needed so that no one power could dominate any other, making war too costly, with the Tsar seeing himself as the supreme arbiter of Europe and the Russians as supreme powerbrokers. This would naturally require Russian power to increase, especially towards Constantinople and the Baltic, but also into Poland. The Tsar planned to keep large chunks of it for Russia. That was really the main reason the Russians were so supportive of the Prussians. The Russians also wanted to absorb Saxony, which had been part of the Holy Roman Empire till 1806 but in 1814-1815 was under Prussian occupation. Its fate was one of bitter dispute during the congress.

For the Austrians, this was not an attractive option. For them, a strong Prussia and Austria in alliance was needed to buffer against Russia & France, and to protect Austrian territories or an Austro-Franco alliance with a much weakened France buttressing Austria. The Austrians were lucky enough to have the brilliant diplomat, Metternich. Born to an old aristocratic family, he was intelligent, good at setting a goal and doggedly pursuing it. He had studied philosophy, law and diplomacy, and he had a talent with people and getting them to pursue his goals whilst believing them to be their own. He was incredibly charming and very sociable. These are all immense assets to a statesman conducting international diplomacy. By 1806 he was appointed as Austria’s ambassador to France. This gave him an excellent opportunity to study Napoleon first hand and he has provided us with some amazing insights. By 1809 he had risen to be Austria’s foreign minister. He was keen to keep Austria safe and powerful, even if it meant bidding his time. He is quoted as having said

[QUOTE] I foresaw that neither [Napoleon] nor his undertakings would escape the consequence of rashness and extravagance. The when and the how I could not pretend to determine. Thus my reason pointed out to me the direction I had to take in order not to interfere with the natural development of the situation and to keep open for Austria the chances which the greatest of all powers – the power of circumstances – might offer, sooner or later, under the strong government of its monarch, for the much-threatened prosperity of the Empire. [END QUOTE]

Notice that his world view expressed here is purely aristocratic. He has a strong reputation even today as a great foreign minister and diplomat. The Journal of International Relations described him as

[QUOTE] undoubtedly one of the most influential yet controversial figures of European international relations.  In many respects, he was before his time, pursuing a realist strategy of power politics decades earlier than this approach dominated the foreign policies of peer countries.  Metternich faithfully served the Habsburg Empire for 47 years as its envoy in Saxony, ambassador to Paris, and finally Foreign Minister (Kissinger).  Throughout this period, he self-righteously followed a conservative ideology, attempting to ensure stability and the balance of power on the continent.  His ultimate accomplishment was indisputably the Congress of Vienna which prevented European war for nearly 35 years and forestalled a major conflict for 99 years (Breunig and Levinger 174).  Overall, Metternich was extremely effective in preserving Austria’s power which resulted from his ability to manipulate cunningly the events of 1812 to 1815 by temporarily preserving neutrality and tactically leading peace negotiations. [END QUOTE]

He doggedly played one side off against the other, always preserving the appearance of neutrality or support for France whilst secretly negotiating with the Allies. He was keen that Austria wouldn’t be condemned for breaking agreements with France, but at the same time he made sure that the French received little active support. His guiding light remained the creation of a balance of power in Europe. This status quo was vital to Austria not only for keeping the peace, but also for keeping a very disunited population together. His talent and role in laying the diplomatic ground work to defeat Napoleon was recognised by the British. King George IV paid artist Sir Thomas Lawrence 300 guineas to paint Metternich’s portrait. A staggering sum.

On the downside he was incredibly vain, somewhat pompous, careful not to over commit himself if he didn’t have an escape route, a womaniser, apt to go into mawkish declarations of love and devotion. He had a passionate affair with Wilhelmina, Duchess of Sagan and sister to Dorethea Duchess of Dino who was having an affair with Talleyrand.

He might not have been overwhelmingly intelligent, but he was a perfect diplomat with charm, farsightedness, ruthlessness, talent, and shrewd wisdom. He would dominate European politics into the 1840’s and is worth remembering. He will come up on the test later.

For the Germans and Prussians, the first true stirring of greater German nationalism could be seen. The fiery passion of Heinrich nom Stein was a bloodcurdling call to arms that linked nationalism not just to a territory or individual ruler, but to an abstract concept of a greater Germany. 

Stein was a former knight of the Holy Roman Empire, and he challenged the Prussian King Fredrich’s alliance with Napoleon. Stein was an uptight moralist, and energetic civil servant, who became fiercely nationalistic. Whilst he wanted to see a unified, modern Germany, he recognised only Prussia had the strength and unity to build on. This brought him into conflict with the weak King Fredrich. By a strange quirk of fate, Napoleon recognised his immense administrative talents, but wasn’t aware of Stein’s fanatical German nationalism, so Napoleon forced King Fredrick to accept Stein as his principle administrator. Stein was soon implicated in anti French activity, and was forced to flee to Austria before getting sanctuary with Tsar Alexander. The two men clicked and formed a powerful working relationship. 

When the Russians swept westwards after the French retreat of 1812, Stein was put in charge of the German territories. He soon clashed with the Prussian King, especially as Stein not only began reorganising territories to further German reunification, but also began calling for a bloody war of vengeance and reprisal even against Germans who had joined the French.

Finally pressure from Stein and the Tsar resulted in Prussia switching to ally with Russia against France, but the German states remained in turmoil, with Stein making appeals to the people and sweeping away the establish order in many ways reminiscent of Napoleon to an extent that struck some observers as highly hypocritical.

So what does this mean for us? Well, I’m only giving you a very brief sketch here, but as you can see at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the future of Europe was not only unsettled incredibly complicated. I could spend show after show going through all the various changing circumstances. What I want to get across is just how convoluted and chaotic Europe actually was. The aristocracy were trying desperately for stability, but not in a easy, neat nation state way we would understand today. The end result was more akin to putting a lid on a pressure cooker.

So much hinged on the outcome of situations with Prussia and the German states. The Tsar wanted himself as the supreme liberator of Europe with the right to settle European affairs into a balance of power to eliminate all future wars, with Russia as pre-eminent. Russia would need to acquire immense territories in the Bulkans, Poland, and the Crimea. The Austrians wanted a strong core of central Europe that was free of foreign influence. This would require Prussia and Austria to act as the strong central guarantors of and protectors of the region. This would also require a strong France and a strong Russia to counter balance each other. An invasion of France and dismantling her was therefore not something Metternich would wish to see. It was therefore diametrically opposed to the Russian position of the Tsar, but also opposed to the extreme German nationalism of Stein not only because a unified Germany would clearly be the dominant power in Europe. But because if Germany marched into France or the Prussians marched into France to seek dismantle France and seek retribution after Napoleon fell, then this would throw out Metternich’s scheme of a counter weight to Russia.

Those of you who are reading ahead are probably able to see the glimpses of the causes of World War 1 & 2 already. The history of Europe since 1812 is almost the story of the rise of Germany. Also, whilst a peaceful balance of power sounds nice and a good goal to work for, it requires a large degree of fixed, static politics; reform and change is not well suited to a balance of power system. That might be fine to the ruling elite and seem a self evident good, but for the losers in the system it was a horrific prospect as change and reform was ruled out.

Metternich also had to accept that the real spanner in the works of all European diplomacy was Britain. Metternich initially wanted France to make a peace settlement that would keep Napoleon in power, but without his military empire. After the disaster the French had suffered in Russia, well surely Napoleon would have sought a good peace, with the deal slightly in Austria’s favour. But Napoleon was only willing to negotiate on his own terms since he recognised that his own power base was built on his military victories. Metternich was secretly negotiating with the allies at this point anyway. 

Still a peace would have actually worked out well for France. If before 1812 she had withdrawn from Spain, parts of Italy and the smaller states, kept her limited territorial gains along the Rhine, the loot of the Empire, then maybe France would have come out of the Napoleonic Wars incredibly well. Napoleon could have then restructured France how he wanted and maybe focused on building a long range navy that could have challenged Britain in the wider world in the arena’s of trade and empire building. And Russia would have been kept in check by the prospect of future conflict with Austria and France if they stepped out of line.  Napoleon was never going to agree to the terms and Metternich had no desire to replace a powerful France under Napoleon with a powerful Russia under Tsar Alexander.

Of course for any peace to work the British needed to agree. The British were the great financiers and power brokers of the Napoleonic Wars. This was vexing to Metternich who considered the British self interested, arrogant in the extreme, and of only marginal importance in Europe outside of bankrolling the wars. The British hated the French with a passion born of centuries of war in general, and a fury for France effectively causing Britain to lose the American War of Independence in a humiliating fashion, and nearly sparking a chain reaction that almost saw Britain lose her Empire, face an uprising in Ireland and nearly be invaded. Added on top was the British aristocracies absolute loathing of everything to do with the French revolution in general and Napoleon in particular. It was fair to say that British French relations between 1770 & 1815 were as bad as they had been at any tother point in history nearly. They wouldn’t even talk to Metternich, and they viewed the Austrians as pro-French despite all evidence to the contrary. The British did view the Russians as natural allies, which was awkward for the Russians who viewed the British as supreme rivals. Some Russians were so worried about British naval power that they were hesitant to pursue the retreating French in 1812 because of concerns about British power in the Mediterranean and South Asia.

The British appointed a new Foreign Secretary in 1812, Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh to deal with the diplomatic situation. He was a clever man, persistent, highly talented. He was dominant in British politics both in England and Ireland. He was able to quickly identify problems and describe them clearly, a vital trait in diplomatic circles. He was not without his flaws though. He had no experience with diplomacy. He was entirely ignorant of European affairs. He was dogmatic in his political principles, adhering strictly to those of his political idol William Pitt, and he was supposed to be very unimaginative. I’m not entirely sure how to square this view which comes across quite strongly in some sources, with other sources where some historians with the immense ambition, complexity and long levity of his diplomatic system. He was involved in suppressing a revolt in Ireland that was leaning towards a revolution. It forced him to bend his reformist principles, so whilst he acted with mercy as far as he could, and he pushed for Catholic emancipation, he came out of Ireland with a reputation for dishonesty.

His private life was scandalous, and he had wounded a fellow cabinet minister in a duel over political betrayals.  He refused to trust Metternich as far as he could throw him at first. Whilst on the one hand that was understandable, on the other it was a pretty poor way to start a diplomatic revolution.

The primary focus of the British remained trade, industry, oversea’s expansion and an obsession with Ireland. They had initially only entered the wars when the French got control of Antwerp, threatening British naval interests. If Napoleon had left the northern channel ports alone, it is likely the British would have ignored him, whilst taking in French refugees and maybe paying for the odd armed uprising. The British often bankrolled the wars but didn’t put troops on the ground until comparatively late. They had a small operation in Portugal, which then got larger in Spain, but they didn’t suffer anything like the other continental powers fighting Napoleon, although they did often bankroll conflicts since they could maintain a smaller standing army at home because of the geographical isolation, and by spending on troops of other nations or principalities on the continent, she was saving her own army from having to be increased and fight directly.

This caused a lot of resentment in Europe, where they felt Britain was making bank by snatching up French ships, confiscating trade goods, and seizing French colonies, whilst not taking any real risks herself. She was seen as profiting from the war, investing in prolonging it, and getting rich off the conflict; a good little war indeed. This meant that despite her bankrolling the coalitions, and her intense commitment to the wars against France, when Castlereagh was appointed, Britain was actually diplomatically quite isolated. In fairness, Britain had suffered a run of military disasters, and was focused on securing her Empire in India and the Mediterranean. If France would kindly not invade her, or cut off trade with the continent, then the British had other things to worry about like the war with America, no matter how much most of them loathed the French.

Castlereagh had thrown himself into coalition building with vigour in 1813, and it was largely thanks to him that the initial alliance was signed with Russia. He quickly grasped the vital importance of the principle that members of the coalition couldn’t sign separate peace agreements with Napoleon since that risked weakening them and isolating Britain. This of course meant that many secret treaties were signed behind the scenes. Russia was particularly keen to carve up chunks of Poland and retain it after the war by offering the Prussians German territories in place of the Polish ones that Russia had seized from Prussia. This should give you a good hint why Napoleon had a lot of very dedicated Polish troops including one of his finest Marshals. Napoleon couldn’t create a Polish Kingdom, but he came close.

The British position remained highly intransigent. They wanted Napoleon gone. This wasn’t negotiable. They didn’t have any real interest in the complexities of the European situation in the way that Austria was invested. Metternich spent much of 1813-1814 playing a careful balancing game of keeping Austria out of direct confrontation with France and also keeping the Russians and Prussians in the fight, but stopping them getting too powerful until he could broker a peace on Austrian terms. This made him deeply unpopular with many Austrians. He was enraged when some of them tried to drum up support for a guerrilla insurrection in Italy against the French and he was exasperated when  he caught a British agent trying to smuggle funds to them in Austria. He kindly returned the courier to Castlereagh and suggested better diplomacy in future. It was especially worrying for him as the French were beginning to suspect he was playing both sides and had him under observation.

1813-1814 passed in a  strange whirl of war and armistice, careful moves shaken by disasters. Napoleon seemed both brilliant and inept. Diplomacy worked magic for both sides, then bad luck dashed careful arrangements. Napoleon’s declining fortunes eventually lead him to recognise an independent and neutral Switzerland. A historic event, but one designed to secure French borders. The Swiss had been very favourable to Napoleon especially after he swept away a lot of the old feudal chains on the people, making them free and equal citizens before the law. Tsar Alexander was happy with Swiss neutrality and didn’t want it violated, whilst Metternich busied himself trying to create a revolt in Switzerland to restore the Ancien Regime, causing the Tsar to erupt in fury. Metternich didn’t care and wasn’t about to throw out the allied invasion plans simply to keep the Tsar happy or to respect the infant Swiss nation, so he arranged for the allied attack on France to continue through Switzerland. This would cause a permanent enmity between the Austrian’s and Russian’s.

It had the byproduct of making the fanatical Stein see Austrian influence in Germany as being untrustworthy and dangerous to German morals. It strengthened his views that only a pure unified Germany was acceptable.

I know some of you are thinking; well this is great, but is it really influencing the Victorians? Yes, yes it absolutely it. You can already see that the building blocks for the rise of Germany are being put in place. The mutual resentments on the continent that will lead to wars, alliances and the scramble for colonies oversea’s were all being mixed into the brew here. Napoleon hadn’t even been deposed in 1813, but you can see the outline of the some of the causes of World War One and Two. I think I should emphasise again that a lot of nations in Europe really aren’t anything like as old as they claim, and a lot of the borders are a bit more arbitrary than they would like to admit. With the exception of France, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Armenia and Russia, a lot of European nations have not had their borders or citizenships well defined for a very long rim at all, and they have been very changeable. This set up, post war, world would mean that absence of conflict in Europe and the balance of power meant that the nation states that were growing in power could no longer expand within Europe and had to look oversea’s for their expansion. 

The natural place came to be in South Asia or Africa because expansion in Europe was no longer possible. So in many ways this would help focus Europe outwards in the age of Victorians and mean that Britain, instead of having to worry about continental wars, would now be able to focus on her wider world interests. This was a huge step change. European stability had an immense impact but it also meant that democratic reform, or political reform, or social reform, were all to be kept under wraps for this early period. This would help push pressure for reform in the early Victoria era and some of the mass migrations that would help shape the world.

Eventually the manoeuvre’s had to come to a head. Metternich had three of the heads of state in one place, so the coalition could make quick decisions, but as usual the British were absent. British law of the time prevented the King or Prince Regent travelling oversea’s unlike the Tsar or King of Prussia. The British didn’t even have a representative and viewed everything Metternich did as dishonest, especially as the always efficient British spy network had got access to all of Metternich’s secret papers. In fairness to Metternich he somehow had to hold together the largest diplomatic alliance in the history of Europe and keep it pointed at the greatest military commander of modern history, despite wildly different agenda’s.

Still there was one brutal fact that was compelling the British to actually get more involved in diplomacy. They had already been shocked and disbelieving when British envoy’s had found Europeans didn’t view British goals and actions in a favourable and friendly way as was assumed in London. As is a repeated failing in British history, British statesmen acted in what they thought was a genuine and noble way, and simply couldn’t understand how anyone else could have a different view of their actions. The British were incapable of seeing things from someone else’s point of view. But the brutal fact I mentioned was something that always forces people to concentrate; money. The 20 years of war had cost the British over £700,000,000. That is a staggering sum of money especially in 1815. Absolutely staggering. This is more, from what I can see of my reading than they had spent during WW1. It showed just how enormously wealthy the British actually were, but a lot of this was the result of Britain being able to militarise the national debt but even the seemingly unlimited wealth of trade, slavery, looting, coal, the spinning jenny and cotton mills had limits. War with America, with France, and with many other powers, was becoming too expensive.

So in December 1813 Castlereagh and his family battled storms and snow to cross the channel and arrive in the Netherlands. Metternich had previous wanted the British to get more involved in European diplomacy, and he was about to get his wish although he probably regretted it sometimes. For the first time in a long time, the British were about to really flexi their muscles on the continent and start dictating the New World Order. The British would be a supreme power players in the European order for years to come.

British vision on the continent might have been limited, but when it came to the wider world, the British were well aware that they were the supreme naval power. This in turn made them the supreme European power in the wider world. The United States was still an infant nation, with immense potential, but a very small navy. The British had recently conquered Sri Lanka – then known as Ceylon. They were the main power in India and the elimination of the French meant the riches and resources of the entire Indian sub continent were laid before them. European rulers were envious. Indian rulers who followed events in Europe would be very aware that the British were now the main European power. The network of naval bases would allow them to intensify that hold. Better still for the British, there was now no French naval action in the far East to impede trade. This would play into the hands of the East India Company.

Nothing would persuade any British statesman that any post war settlement should restore French influence in India.

Please note that when I’m talking about India here, I’m using a very modern short hand. India of the early C19th was made of a number of proud states or Empires with some long histories. The Shikh state of the Punjab in particular would demonstrate a military capacity on a par with the British, and Sikh soldiers were some of the finest & bravest in the world.

With French oversea’s ambitions destroyed, and most continental powers focusing on the continent, the principle points of interest for the British in Europe remained the Mediterranean and entrance to the Black Sea. These were of great concern to Russia, which wanted civilian and military shipping access to the Mediterranean. You might notice that this remains a thread in C20th history and even modern Russian relations.

This would impact on the ailing Ottoman Empire, and further complicated matters. Naturally the Austrians were concerned as Russian expansion on the shores of the Black Sea and Crimea would impact their territories in the Bulkans.

Battlestar Galactica fans might be tempted to say “all this has been before and will be again.”

I hope you are beginning to see that European diplomacy can become very tangled, very quickly. Mutual distrust, wildly different goals, mismatched ambition and resources, plus concepts of national honour meant that things were going to be really tricky. You can see why the British appointing someone like Castlereagh with no knowledge or experience of Europe could be exasperating to the other parties.

But for now, we’ve had a real belter of an episode. There’s a huge amount of background information I’ve give you here. Next time we will deal with the actual nuts and bolts of events and look at some of the people who were involved in a bit more detail. 

EP020(pt1) Why educate a Queen?

In Ep20 pt 1 we continue our journey through Queen Victoria’s childhood. In this 2 part show you will see how Victoria was educated; as a child, but also as a future Queen. She joined an elite group of people who could read and write, but she had a huge weight of expectation to live up to.

Ep20 pt1 explores the philosophy of education to see why a Queen needed to be educated. It sets her education in the context of the 1820’s/1830’s and compares it to the experience of regular children. It also covers how this fitted in with the arrival of Victoria’s governess, and long term ally, Louise Lehzen. It wasn’t easy to educate a queen, but then again education was a rare thing.

If you have any questions/feedback, you can email me at



Today’s episode is a full episode and a return to the narrative where we left it in February at the end of the battle of Waterloo. Since then we’ve done a special episode on battlefield surgery and then we did an episode on the amazing Annie Besant and the Matchstick Girls strike, which was the Easter Special. 

They say that the mark of a man is how he copes with getting knocked down. Personally, I think that phrase just perpetuates some unhealthy stereotypes, but let’s run with it for this episode. When we left the last show it was the night after Waterloo. Napoleon had suffered a catastrophic defeat. Most people honestly either fall to pieces after relatively small set backs, or they are too afraid to take risks that might end in failure. Napoleon though was now suffering massive defeat. He had been beaten before in his career, and exiled, but there was a different air to this. This was the wreck of his entire army in what had seemed an even contest. He was on the verge of triumph. It was really his last great throw of the dice.

Can you imagine the stress he would have been under. He was the Emperor of France. The country and the lives of its people were his responsibility. His beloved army was scattered and in retreat. He had political enemies at home. It seems to me that he suffered some kind of mental breakdown as his behaviour over the next few days indicated. Perhaps the closest I can describe it is imagine your business goes bankrupt and your partner leaves you on the same day. That’s sort of the stress Napoleon was under. Except far worse. Whatever his many faults, Napoleon loved France and he must have known that this would have dire consequences for his beloved homeland.

As the 19 June arrived, Marshal Grouchy actually won the last real French victory against the Prussians. It was for nothing. News of the disaster of Waterloo reached him early on 19 June. The messengers were so overwrought that at first Grouchy could barely understand them. When he did, his blood must have run cold. Not only was this absolute defeat, but he knew instantly that when he had refused the advice of General Girad the previous day to march his men toward the sound of the gunfire at Waterloo, he had contributed to that defeat. If he had listened to his subordinates advice, perhaps he would have been able to help at Waterloo.

Immediately Marshal Grouchy began his excuses, and he would continue to give them for the rest of his life.

The main French army was in dire straights. Almost all of it was a confused mass of men, wagons and horses. Many had thrown away their weapons and were helpless against the vengeful Prussians. Some sources state that the Prussians were killing wounded and prisoners. Some French troops committed suicide rather than fall into Prussian hands. If even a quarter of the French army could have got organised, they could have held up the Prussians at the critical choke point provided by the town of Genappe where the bridge crossed the river Dyle. It would have provided critical hours for the main of the army to reform and get to safety. It wasn’t to be. Only a few regiments of the Old Guard retained the iron discipline and weapons for an ordered retreat.

There would have been a big difference in a post Napoleonic French political order if the army had been able to stage a fighting retreat from Waterloo rather than being swept away in a rout. The army could have been a nucleus for new recruits, acted as a counter balance to the chamber of deputies and made an Allied invasion a much tougher prospect. It was the chaos, not the actual causalities that made recovery impossible.

Marshal Grouchy was retreating too. He was doing it in good order, not just because he hadn’t been involved in the catastrophe at Waterloo, but because he actually seemed to up his game considerably. He performed a masterful fighting retreat. He managed to recapture some lost cannon, fend off Prussian cavalry and take up fortified positions in Namur. He got plentiful support from the Napoleon loving locals. He beat off a Prussian attack, and even managed to kill the future Chancellor Otto Von Bismarks uncle, then another retreat, blowing up bridges as he went. Again the intangibles of psychology are at work here. Why did he only start performing when it was critical and yet unimportant. Was it that he needed the shock to his system. Had he been too inexperienced and complacent before Waterloo, only to be galvanised by news of the defeat? Or is it just that a fighting retreat needed less initiative from him. We might never know those reasons.

For the Allies too, the night after battle was as much about mourning as it was about celebrating. Wellington was physically and mentally exhausted. He had had an incredibly stressful day, almost always under fire and watching as the fate of Europe itself hung in the balance. He visited his friend and Aide De Camp Sir Alexander Gordon as soon as he left the battlefield. Sir Alexander had to have his leg amputated at the groin and if you listened to my battlefield surgery episode you will know just how incredibly dangerous that was. After visiting his Wellington sent news to Loius XVIII in Ghent before having dinner. He spoke very little, but kept glancing up anxiously in the hope that some of his missing staff officers and friends might arrive. Eventually he collapsed into bed exhausted.

At 02:30 he was woken by a surgeon, David Hume who told him that his close friend and comrade Sir Alexander had died. Hume began listing the casualties of the day and Wellington burst into tears, before saying

[QUOTE] “thank God I don’t know what it is to lose a battle, but certainly nothing can be more painful than to gain one with the loss of so many of one’s friends.” [END QUOTE]

This is true as Wellington had never lost a major battle he commanded and he actually had a close circle of aristocratic friends in the staff, a good number of whom died. As a commander he cultivated the mask of icy indifferent emotionless bravery, but underneath he was still a deeply feeling man. How far this extended to the common soldier is open to debate, but he was careful with his men’s lives and welfare to a degree that Napoleon wasn’t.

I think it is certain that a lot of men were feeling similar emotions in the British, Dutch and Hanoverian ranks. The Prussians seem to have been more interested in chasing the French and killing them. Blucher especially wanted to push on to Paris, skipping sleep, resupply or food for his men if it meant he could take the city. It is entirely possible he would have sacked it thoroughly or even burned it to the ground. Wellington wouldn’t be rushed though, as he later said to the Prussian liaison officer

[QUOTE] Do not press me on this point, for I tell you, it will not do. If you were better acquainted with the English army, its composition and its habits you would say the same. I cannot separate it from my tents and my supplies. My troops must be kept well supplied in camp, if order and discipline are to be maintained. It is better that I should arrive 2 days later in Paris than that discipline should be relaxed. [END QUOTE]

After receiving the news of the death of his friend and the casualty list, Wellington got up and began writing reports. His terse dispatch to London could almost sound like he lost the battle. He singled out a few officers for praise, including Sir Alexander. He was a bit less generous to the Earl of Uxbridge, Lord Henry Paget, than the man deserved given the amazing performance of the heavy cavalry, and the fact that he had his leg blown off by a cannon ball. Whether this is because of the lack of general discipline in the cavalry and the loss of control of the charge, or perhaps just Wellingtons personal style, or perhaps because the Earl had previously had an affair with Wellingtons sister in law, but we don’t know the exact reason. Still an initially furious Lady Uxbridge, was eventually consoled when the Pagets were elevated to the rank of Marquess of Anglesey. The name Paget will come up again and again in the Victorian era, so this is a family name to remember. I really wish I had time to do an episode on the Earl because he is a really, really interesting guy and he will appear in the podcast again and of course Wellington could be very sparse with his praise. The artillery were particularly badly served in terms of receiving laurels and praise. Many gunners felt extremely hard done by and overlooked after their hard service of the day. 

As the Allies left the battlefield of Waterloo, its fame spread. Displaying typically ugly human behaviour, tourists descended on the battle field, eager to see the spot where Wellington triumphed and Napoleon the Corsican Ogre was defeated as they saw it. The field was not cleared in the way we would today. Aristocratic ladies and gentlemen took musket balls, clothes and badges, and even bone fragments as keepsakes to say they had been at Waterloo. Unearned privilege was on full display. John Croker bought a Legion D’Honour that had been looted from a dead French officer. Walter Scott himself obtained a cuirass riddled with holes. Lady Wailde took some ashes from the remains of dead guardsman at Hougoumont home with her in an envelope whilst a visiting reverend collected some skull fragments.

Still, for locals it was an opportunity.

[QUOTE] A mile beyond Waterloo, most tourists would leave their carriage at the village of Mont Saint Jean and perhaps engage a battlefield guide. A local man, whose house had been filled with wounded after the battle, found regular employment as such and professed a deep hatred of Napoleon “And all for one man” he would say. “Ce coquin!” He would tell his English clients of the sufferings he had witnessed, “nothing but sawing off legs and sawing off arms” Then he would repeat his refrain “Oh mon dieu! And all for one man” and, following Bonapartes capture and exile, he would add “Why did you not put him to death?” [END QUOTE]

“The Aftermath – O’Keeffe”

Why indeed? It was a common sentiment. The Prussians wanted to, and poetry was written about it.

The poet laureate Robert Southey of the period wrote

“For him alone had all this blood been shed,

Why had not vengeance struck the guilty head?

One man was cause of all this world of woe,

Ye had him and ye did not strike the blow”

This was wholly unfair of course, and even worse it is terrible poetry. As always the reality was much more complex. Napoleon alone was not responsible for all the bloodshed. The causes of any war are usually complex and multifaceted. Still, in the popular mind of the time, Napoleon was a tyrant and he started the war.

News gradually reached the courts of Europe. Naturally the British were amongst the first to get the news. Major Henry Percy carried Wellington’s famous dispatch. Carrying a dispatch was considered a mark of high honour. He also carried the captured Eagles. Remember Sergeant Ewart and his revenge for the death of his beloved commanding officer? He had taken the eagle in desperate fighting, cutting and killing in a frantic melee. Well now the Eagle would be paraded and displayed and cheered as a symbol of Britain chaining the Eagle. Ewart would naturally be given the full hero’s legend treatment, but he and the other unsightly veterans would not be coming home to a land fit for hero’s as the saying goes.

Soon the whole UK was soon abuzz with the news. The great war was finally over. Peace, freedom, and the natural order could return to Europe. Yet the problem with Freedom is that its definition is in the eye of the beholder. Freedom meant a very different thing to a conservative British philosopher than it did to an American founding father. Both would argue that they were representing the true strands of freedom, liberty and justice. But both might arrive at very different conclusions about what those terms really represented.

In France, and in the courts of Europe, decisions had to be made. To capture Napoelon? To kill him? To banish him? Should he be exiled again or be allowed to go to America? Would he somehow cling on and scrape an army together to defend France? If not, who would rule France now? Napoleon’s son? The Duc D’Orlean? Louis XVIII. Or would the country be broken up, with its territory gobble up by Prussia, Austria, Britain and Spain. To Minister Joseph Foche, the ruthless, self obsessed traitor who was chief of the secret police, it was clear that it had to be King Loius XVIII. France had to be a monarchy again and he, Foche, was the only man suited to well advise the king. Foche’s treason had been a big contributor to so many of the disasters in recent French history. Foche was a master manipulator and was confident that naïve republican patriots like the famous La Fayette would be easy to manage. He was already scheming to exercise total control over the chamber of deputies and then puppet master of France.

The equally treacherous and self obsessed Foreign Minister Talleyrand was also for a French monarchy. The various European powers though would need to be persuaded. After all, it was entirely possible they could sweep into France, break it up and share it between themselves. Blucher was talking wildly of horrific acts of revenge, burning Paris, and acts that might border on genocide. The British were less committed. Britain was already being swept by a wave of sentimentality. They had beaten Napoleon by themselves at Waterloo they felt. Surely such an act of near mythic triumph required them to be gracious victors. It would stain their honour to engage in reprisals or the execution of Napoleon or the destruction of Frane. Many were uncomfortable with the idea that they could just impose government on the French, and besides how would it look to history if they killed Napoleon? That would cheapen the victory. Many more far sighted British statesmen were deeply concerned with the idea of France being broken up. They didn’t want to hand ultimate power over the continent from France to Prussia or Russia.

The painter, Benjamin Haydon, probably expressed the sentiment that a lot of the British were feeling. Quoting again from “The Aftermath by O’Keeffe” where he is quoting Haydon.

[QUOTE] the Duke of Wellington had saved for this age the intellect of the world while had Napoleon triumphed we would have been brought back to barbarianism. [END QUOTE]

Still, the feeling was not universal in Britain. Many British had been pro-revolution and pro-Napoleon. Some had suffered under the British aristocracy. Others were enlightenment liberals or were general admirers of Napoleon.

Whether sympathetic, happy, or just anxious for news about relatives and friends who were in the conflict, Britain was swept up in a mania at the news. Full overblown sentiments were let free. Artwork and prosed tended to the fantastical. Good taste was forgotten. This will be very familiar when we move into the Victorian period. It was no longed a victory thanks to god and our soldiers. It became in my words, admittedly made up, but I think this is the right style of it “ a most marvellous event comparable only to Caesars triumph over the Gaul’s. Now as then, our troops did display such fortitude and vigour that notwithstanding the enemies utmost assertions and great excitement, they were turned back as the waves breaking against rock. Such was the courage on display that Mars himself must surely have graced our arms and added greater lustre to the already illustrious achievements of our noble banners.

Yes I made that up, but it is really in keeping with how the style is going to develop. A good example is the Opera House in Covent Garden, who produce a piece of commemorative art and said [QUOTE] “A grand transparency, representing Britain succouring France, personified by an interesting female figure in a supplicant posture, attired in a robe covered in flour de lis; on her side stands the British Lion. A group of attributes, and above, with expanded wings, appears a figure of fame sounding the trumpet.” [END QUOTE] 

IIf it sounds odd when we say Britain succouring France that’s not suckering like a sucker punch, it is succouring as in to give aid to France. The image being created here is that Britain came to France and helped her in her hour of need to free her from Napoleon, rather than being at war with France. This was positively restrained compared to the language that was used by the Morning Post Newspaper to celebrate its collection for the veterans reaching £100,000. Remember when listening to this quote that Plumb was slang for £100,000 and this was a colossal sum of money.


Hail Britain! Thy bounty, beyond all dispute,

Must with wonder strike other lands dumb;

When they see that thy heroes, as victory’s fruit,

Receive from thy kindness a plumb

A plumb for those who fought and bled,

Already they declare;

But some have confidently said

We’ll make that plumb a pair.


Ok, somethings to think about here. The first is that I hope you like this kind of overblown hyperbole because this is just going get more and more common as we go through the Victorian age. Language, ornate, over complicated and verbose is a Victorian trade mark. It can be delightful, baffling or tedious, but I do love it. So get used to it.

The second thing that perhaps leaps out at me is to wonder how much of that sum of money reached the genuine working class veterans, and how much was used effectively. I suspect it went through the filter of aristocratic monument building, then middle class worthy charities well before any trickled down to actually reach the veterans themselves. It is also worth noting that you have to say that piece of humour is not as funny and clever as the author wanted.

British feelings weren’t something that Foche would be able to simply ignore. If the British let the Prussians off the leash then France faced destruction. It wasn’t as if the British were historically friendly to France either. Centuries of continental war against the French made the two nations natural enemies and this would be an ideal opportunity to repay France for what Britain considered to be French aggression and unwarranted interference during the American War of Independence, when French help was instrumental in turning the tide of war in the Americans favour. This could be payback time. At the very least Foche and Talleyrand knew that Britain would be seeking to take advantage and territory from the defeated France surely. Wellington was now supreme commander in Europe and the new political order was in many ways up to him. As a natural conservative aristocrat he would look favourably on Louis XVIII being given power, but equally he was known to want to see a government that was acceptable to the French people, perhaps the Duc D’Orlean and it is unlikely that Wellington had a particularly high opinion of Louis XVIII in person. That wouldn’t remotely suit Foche. So playing up this British myth of a solo British triumph might actually be useful to Foche and Talleyrand. Greatness and generosity in victory would be quite helpful to them at this point.

Paris was in gossipy uproar. Whatever the press had been saying recently, their was a buzz in the air. Rumours circulated. The chambers went into emergency session. More rumours. That Prince Jerome had made a panicked return to Paris, liquidated his government stocks and fled, that there were only 200 Imperial Guard left and Napoleon had been killed. Everywhere the cry “The Prussians were coming.”

Regardless of the future, Napoleon remained technically emperor. He was in full flight to France, ahead of his army. This wasn’t to abandon them through cowardice. Napoleon was never a coward. He just had a bigger picture to focus on. Who would rule France and could France organise a defence. Staying with a chaotic mob would not help save the nation, and need saving it did. Sadly for the Emperor his personal baggage and then later his treasury wagon were looted by lucky Prussian troops, losing him a fortune. Worse, the loot included a list of French spies and many plans.

Nor was Napoleon the only considerable figure involved. There were a lot of Napoleonic loyalists who would still rally to the Emperor or his son. There were many revolutionaries like La Fayette who thought the overthrow of Napoleon would restore the republic. They were as deluded as the original assassins of Caesar at the fall of the Roman republic, but they still had a powerful voice in the French government. If Napoleon could rally them, perhaps a Republican resistance movement would threaten Foche’s plans for restoring the Monarchy. There were other powerful figures to consider. There was Grouchy with his retreating force almost untouched by battle. There were the brilliant Marshals Soult and Clausel, as well as Napoleon’s loyal brother in law Lucien. 

Above all else though there was Marshal Davout. What would that icy, disciplined ,and ruthless man do? His loyalty to Napoleon had been beyond that of any other Marshal. He was Minister of War, and if he gathered an army to him, he could put anyone he wanted on the throne, or make Napoleon a unchallenged dictator. He would be an immensely dangerous enemy to the allied forces. He was arguably better than Napoleon at a tactical level and at least as good at the strategic and possibly even theatre levels. He had an enormous list of victories, some better than some of Napoleon’s. He had always drilled his men to maintain iron discipline no matter what. This was not a man to overlook or underestimate. Especially as he had a bitter hatred of Foche.

Finally on 21 June, after many twists and turns, the Emperor reached Paris. He refused the offer of a better carriage on arrival, sticking to a less noticeable one lent to him on the journey. By a less well know route, he entered the city.

I have previously said that it is unusual for a breakfast to make the history books, but Napoleon’s pre-Waterloo breakfast did. Well today, even more usually a bath is going to be crucial to Napoleon’s downfall.

It is sometimes on these strange curiosities that fate can hinge. The day before Napoleon entered Paris, it had been agreed by his generals that the Emperor had to go straight to the Chamber of Representatives, to inform them of everything, to make it clear that France as a nation was in danger, and that they should put aside any petty bad feeling and think only of helping Napoleon preserve the nation itself from utter ruin. This stirring address should come from Napoleon whilst still dressed in his army uniform, smeared with blood, his face blackened with smoke and dirt. He should tell them he was going to return to Belgium at the head of Grouchy’s men and they had to rally the nation and support him. Surely it would be impossible for them to say no to a man clearly fresh from battling for the existence of the French republic?

Yet despite agreeing to this plan, when he arrived, Napoleon decided to take a bath. His circle of ministers and generals gathered outside and had time to worry. Crucial time slipped away again as it did at Quatre Bras and early at Waterloo. Finally Napoleon emerged. Minister Carnot recommended a defence of Paris to give the for the consolidation of all French military forces from other areas, and then a mass counter attack. Others were less confident and asserted that only if Napoleon gained the confidence and support of the chamber of deputies could he continue. Marshal Davout was having none of this. He effectively urged Napoleon to become supreme military dictator for a short period, and move the government out of Paris. Foche immediately disagreed, saying he was sure, sure the government would give Napoleon everything he wanted during such an emergency, if the Emperor would only put himself in their hands. This was a breath taking piece of Chutzpa considering that Foche was busy secretly warning the chambers that Napoleon was planning on becoming a military dictator, and he had also secretly been priming La Fayette to bring matters to a head in the chambers. The Marquis De La Fayette had done wonderful things in support of the American revolution and is justly celebrated for those achievements, but in the arena of French politics he was utterly hopeless in comparison. He believed that Foche was working to save the republic from the military dictatorship of Napoleon. It is baffling why he would trust Foche, but it is also baffling how he could think that deposing Napoleon and effectively neutering the French army would be a good idea in the middle of an invasion.

Still, with the ideals of both revolutions in heart, La Fayette seemed to truly believe he was destined to lead France into a new age of Enlightenment. He rose to his feet in the chamber of deputies and gave a genuinely stirring speech. Graceful yet passionate and compelling. He also made a strong proposal of 5 articles. Art 2 was to have the Chambers in permanent session with any attempt to dissolve them being treason. The choice was now out of Napoleon’s hands. The government would neither dissolve nor leave Paris.

When he heard the news, Napoleon knew what it meant, saying

[QUOTE] I expected this. I should have dissolved those men before I left. It is finished. They will ruin France. [END QUOTE]

Foche’s secret plans had borne fruit. Marshal Davout now flatly refused to proceed with any military coup. He was unwilling to have his troops storm the Chamber, with the attendant loss of life. Before the articles were passed, he would have done, but the moment had passed. The time for Napoleon to seize power had drained away whilst he was in his bath.

Debate raged in the chambers, but it was now clear that they wanted Napoleon gone. Lucien gave a passionate defence of his brother, but La Fayette skilful rebuffed it.

Now the only real options left to Napoleon were to either rally the army and the mobs of Paris to him and kill the politicians in the chambers or to abdicate.

More than the Chamber of Deputies Napoleon understood the real situation

[QUOTE] It concerns me not. It concerns France. They want me to abdicate! Have they considered the inevitable consequences of my abdication? It is around me, around my name, that the army is gathered. Take me away and the army will dissolve. If I abdicate today, in 2 days time there will be no army. This army does not understand your subtleties. Do you think that metaphysical axioms, declarations of rights, parliamentary speeches will stop it from disbanding? [END QUOTE]

This seems to have been a constant failing of many revolutions and governments facing invasions; a constant obsession with speeches, declarations, proclamations and all the trappings without dealing with the often grim reality outside their bubble.

As Napoleon went on to say

[QUOTE] when the enemy is 25 leagues away, you do not overthrow your government with impunity. Do they think they can turn aside the foreigners with phrases. [END QUOTE]

That really cleaves to the heart of the problem. The politicians thought that the Allies were only interested in Napoleon and if he went, well then France could be left alone to form a peaceful republican government. Napoleon understood this to be delusional fantasy land thinking. The enemy wanted to conquer France. The real question was could they be stopped or if not, what kind of deal could France strike with them? If France kept a meaningful army in the field and showed determined resistance, then at least her post war bargaining position might be started from a firmer footing. Some of Napoleon’s Marshal’s like Suchet were already beginning to gain victories in other area’s.

The next day, after some wrangling and bitterness, Napoleon wrote his abdication in favour of his son Napoleon II. With it came Marshal Davouts calm situational report to the Chamber of Deputies on the armed forces. He noted that Marshal Grouchy was returning in good order with his 2 corp. Marshal Soult had gathered together 3,000 Imperial Guard and other line infantry. In all Marshal Davout felt he could put together a disciplined core force of around 60,000 men. As he said

[QUOTE] A strong barrier will be opposed to foreign invasion, and you will have an army sufficiently respectable to support your negotiations with an enemy who has proved that he does not always keep his promises with fidelity. [END QUOTE]

Foche must have had kittens at the mere thought of Marshal Davout as sole commander of French forces. After all, Davout was right. A strong army meant a strong negotiating hand for France and therefore less chance for Foche to get Louis XVIII not only back on the throne, but under his thumb. The Anglo Allied army had been badly battered at Waterloo, so its effective fighting strength was actually surprisingly low. I’ve seen figures of Wellington only have an effective strength of 50,000 at this stage. Worse for Foche, some of the politicians looked thoughtful. Perhaps the abdication had been premature. Maybe they should try Davout’s option. It must have gone almost without saying that Davout would immediately have Foche shot.

Luckily for Foche, but disastrously for France, Marshal Ney was about to intervene again. He had, in the words of Napoleon, ruined France at Quatre Bras and Waterloo. He was about to do it again. He leapt to gave a passionate rant about how the army was destroyed and further resistance was folly. He claimed he had seen its total destruction.

This simply wasn’t true. Ney had basically snapped under the intense pressure. He had betrayed Napoleon, then he had betrayed the King, then failed Napoleon, and had failed to find the hero’s death he wanted at Waterloo. Now he was close to raving.

Whatever his beliefs, reasons, or state of mind, the die was now firmly cast. The military resistance that Napoleon and the Marshals hoped for was no longer an option. Marshal Soult was relieved of his command, which was given to the less talented Grouchy, who would in turn report to Davout. Whilst Davout was given supreme military command , there was no prospect of further resistance. Paris was surrendered under the Convention of St Cloud. On 07 July 1815 the allies occupied Paris. The next day Loius XVIII was made king again.

Napoleon fell into lethargy. He had initially refused to leave the capital, trying to get himself appointed a general of the republic. He had spotted a vulnerability in the allied positions that he could counter attack. The government rebuffed him. There was no way in hell they would allow a reinvented Napoleon the Republican General to sweep in and save the day. So he loitered. His power ebbed away. He eventually left the capital and travelled south. His few friends were desperately urging him to make a run for it, to flee to the United States or to South America or even to the Ottoman Empire. Anywhere out of reach of the French government or the Allies. Napoleon seemed to change his mind constantly, even reaching out to Foche for all people for passports and permission to leave. Quite why he decided this was necessary was baffling. He could have used his loyalist troops and loyalists in the navy to force an escape. Needless to say Foche provided a lot of warm and encouraging words to Napoleon but no real passports or permission to leave.

Eventually on 15 July 1815 he decided to give himself up to Captain Maitland on the HMS Bellerophon and the Royal Navy and throw himself on England’s mercy. Captain Maitland and the Royal Navy were naturally delighted, and Napoleon became a celebrated figure on board ship. The British government was firm that Napoleon was not to be allowed to land in England. They worried that he would charm his way into the aristocracy and become a unexploded bomb. They might have been right. Instead, after much wrangling, and a good deal of pleading on his part, he was exiled to St Helena. This was a far cry from his much more comfortable exile on Elba, and his British jailers treated him appallingly. Whether he merited it or escaped a well deserved hanging depends very greatly on your view of the causes of the Napoleonic Wars. I’ve tried hard to explain that reality is always a lot more complicated than the easy answers of popular culture.

Now though the first true world war was over. It had been fought across the continents of Europe, in the deserts of North Africa, on the high seas, and colonies of the great powers involving India, Africa, South and North America

This left France now, as it had been before the revolution, with the prospect of a useless monarchy that couldn’t address the challenges of the C19th. It would be a long time until France reclaimed her pre-eminence on the continent. For now the Allied Great Powers would settle the balance of power in Europe.

In the next episode or two we will discover how the great and the good would play with the lives of men as bubbles to suit their own visions. For a lot of brave Marshals, a day of reckoning was ahead as vengeful kings, princes and nobles sought payback for the constant humiliations, where men born to poverty rise to the top through sheer merit thereby exposing as false the claims of Kings and Aristocrats as being hollow. Marshal Ney would be executed after a show trial, Murat would meet a similar fate, whilst others went to more ugly deaths.

For now though we also say goodbye to what has been called the finest army that the British ever fielded. It isn’t quite accurate because the army of the Peninsular that Wellington commanded, was actually not in the main present at Waterloo. But when we look at the Napoleonic Wars in total, the British and allied army had performed incredibly under Wellington. Rough, tough, uncultured and largely uneducated. They looked shambolic and seemed to be officered by dandies, with a besetting alcohol problem. But to everyone’s surprise they had fought the French to standstill in Portugal, worked with the brilliant Spanish partisans to turn Spain in a graveyard for the French, expelled Napoleon from France. They had stood with allied troops and finally held off the last great Napoleonic army and the invincible Imperial Guard. It had been a long, hard war. Now though the army was about to march into history. They would be scattered in garrisons around the world, or sent home to see if there really was to be a land fit for heroes.

This is a crucial moment in British history because it really functions as a kind of creation myth for the nation in much the way that WW2 would go on to do for another generation. A British army of English, Irish, Scots and Welsh had fought together. A generation before it was touch and go if the English and Scots would be at war with each other. There was also the military disaster of the American War of Independence, a nadir in British military history, where the British displayed a level of ineptness that nearly broke their military reputation, with only some bright spots in the navy. The Napoleonic Wars changed everything. The Navy had seized control of basically the entire oceans on the planet. The British army had gone from a small, often defeat rabble to a pinnacle of triumph. They had gone toe to toe with the absolute best in Europe, which at that time probably meant the world. They might not have been better at strategy or clever manoeuvres but they had displayed a tough discipline that no one could believe. This meant that for the next century it became almost unthinkable that the British redcoat could suffer defeat as far as the British were concerned.  For the Scots, the Highlanders had been newcomers to the British army. Distrusted and distrustful. Still loyal to their clan chiefs and with memories of the rising of 1745 under Bonnie Prince Charlie against the English crown. Yet now, they were admired. The fierce cries of “Scotland forever” had rung out during the desperate bayonet charges. The war cries of the Scots and the terrible, mighty, powerful sound of the pipes would now ring out across the world as the Highlanders and Lowlanders become a key part of the growing empire, and fierce warriors in the Victorian army. The Welsh also came out of Waterloo with a glowing reputation, as did the Irish, especially for the heroics of the 27th Inniskillen.

Fittingly a bronze solider of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, a Irish Dragoon, a English Grenadier and a Scottish Highlander stands next to the statue of the Duke of Wellington in Hyde Park. All forged from captured French cannons. This was the birth of the united Victorian army

Britain would not see their like again. The soldiers of the future would be very different. Starting to be drawn from factories. Less well fed and with rickets and deformaties. Yet better educated with drink on the decline. With the birth of intense religion amongst the ranks. But for years to come many a soldier and sergeant in a desperate spot somewhere overseas would say “huh, this is nothin’ I ain’t running from this rabble; I was at Waterloo against Bonney and that was a proper fight.”



If you’ve been listening to recent episodes you will know that we have just covered the 100 campaign and the absolute hell that was the Battle of Waterloo. As I said at the end of the last episode, I’ve tried to give you the human cost without national gloss at least as far as possible. You might have noticed a curious omission. Despite all the detail I’ve gone into, I’ve barely mentioned the care of the wounded or the doctors. The reason is that I wanted to do a deep dive on what would have been called “the butchers bill” I am doing this, partly for completeness, because it is fascinating and it is a sharp contrast with some of the immense advances of the Victorian era, but also because it is often barely touched on in films & books on Waterloo in any kind of detail. There is a notable anniversary  book on Waterloo that relegates the medical issue to basically a page, gives the tiniest summary, gets the causes of an amputation wrong, then skips on to an anecdote. Medical care is a crucial part of war. It isn’t separate from it, or an after thought. How troops and generals viewed and provided medical care was a major dimension of warfare. 

The Napoleonic Wars created a mass of wounded and sick men in need of care. They also maimed thousands of horses that required veterinary attention. I’ve had a lot of great feed back from everyone on how much they’ve enjoyed the Waterloo episodes and the personal perspectives I try to give to history, but some have said they found the descriptions a bit traumatic. So I need to give you a fair warning that this medical episode is going to have come fairly graphic content. There will be descriptions of amputations and other painful injuries so if you are particularly squeamish about medical issues, you should probably skip this and wait for the next minisode.

Still with me? Good, because the C19th is not for the faint of heart. There were significant casualties to treat after Waterloo. How were the armies going to respond? Would they respond? Remember it is a modern ideal that all life is precious and sacred. Through much of human history, a lot of human lives have been considered disposable. Some armies in history would have perhaps abandoned their wounded to whatever ad hoc care that they could beg for themselves. Others might have regarded medical care as useful only if the soldier in question could be quickly returned to the fight. Of course some armies prided themselves on medical care, notably the Ancient Greeks and Roman Legions. 

Even armies that adopt a harsh attitude, perhaps like the Spartans, or the medieval English, are not immune to the feelings of the soldiers themselves. Soldiers liked to know that they would be helped if they were injured. They didn’t like watching comrades die if they could be saved. They often fought better if they could have confidence that there was going to be some kind of medical provision.

By 1815, not only was this being recognised, but other factors were coming into play. Enlightenment ideals about medicine as a science were becoming established. The early nation states began to realise that soldiers were a valuable asset and perhaps treating them was better in the long run than letting them die and having to train new ones. Many amateur medical staff began to view themselves as serious professionals, and took pride in their craft. 

In a rough total there were around 45,000 dead and wounded to deal with after Waterloo. It is crucial to remember that there are an almost infinite number of ways to injury a human in battle. Simplistically we could say soldiers suffered gunshot wounds, cannon wounds, cuts, breaks, sword blows both slashes and thrusts, and burns. That list is of course an almost meaningless summary. A man might be grazed across the side of his jaw by a spent bullet and therefore be described as having a gunshot wound, but then he receives a sword cut from a French cavalrymen that lands on his upper arm cleaving the bicep muscle down to the bone. Of the two it is actually the sword cut that is much more serious, but the problem is that to a modern person it is easy to mentally assume gunshot is more serious just because we are more used to hearing about them.

Also I want you to remember as we discuss wounds, treatment and general medicine today that you need to leave a lot of modern baggage at the door. First, don’t make the mistake of thinking of these weapons as primitive. They are less technically complicated than today’s weapons and sometimes less lethal, but they were still all highly effective implements of war. Easily capable of killing or inflicting the most horrific wounds. Swords were well designed and deadly. Cannon were absolutely murderous, and muskets have killed hundreds of thousands of people since they were introduced.  

Secondly, modern assumptions about pain and people’s expectations of treatment are very different. In fact it is almost impossible to quantify the difference in mind set. The C19th was an age were many jobs and professions left people horrifically maimed. Disease was rampant in civilian as well as military life. Don’t assume that just because someone was deemed treated effectively, in a way that sounds shocking today, that they would have been unhappy with the result. 

Thirdly, expectations about pain control were very, very different. If you’ve worked in the medical field you will be familiar with the idea that pain is actually a relative concept. People experience pain differently. One persons mild bump can be another’s crippling agony. A stubbed toe is nasty to a child, but can perhaps be a hospital trip for a 90 year old. I would like you to also remember that there is no right or wrong way to react to pain. It is a subjective experience. That’s why people are asked to rate their own pain on a scale of 1-10 relative only to their own feelings. Some people have a higher tolerance and some people have a lower one and will be unable to carry out day to day functions. The mistake is to think that either approach can be objectively wrong. In fact I bet a lot of people listening have the idea that somehow pain control is a bit wrong. That people should endure as much as possible and avoid drugs. This is very much a cultural value judgement. Pain is just your bodies way of signalling that something is wrong. It doesn’t have a moral dimension. It just tells you “Hey you rammed your toe against a hard object, damaged it and you really need to refrain from walking or running for a while whilst the bodies damage control systems repair things” You however have a cultural expectation. Your boss doesn’t care that you are in agony, or that getting to work is now extremely hard. She doesn’t care you have trouble carrying stuff out from the stock room. All she cares about is that you are making annoying noises that distract her, and that you need to move at your usual speed to keep productivity high instead of nearly crying at each step. She applies the standard management remedy of threatening you with loss of pay or the job, certain that you just require better motivation to heal more quickly. Again this is entirely a social response. Modern society views most claims of sickness as some kind of attempt to rob a company of productivity, and that if people toughened up they wouldn’t get injured or sick so this is their moral failure. Arguments like this have raged in one way or another throughout history. 

In the aftermath of Waterloo, there were a lot of badly injured people. By any standards, this was a huge medical disaster to cope with. A modern example of how difficult this can be is people responding to the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas recently. Hundreds of people were in need of help. Think about how difficult it was to get that help to the right people. How were they located and identified as needing help? Hospitals and ambulances had well drilled routines. The modern medical system has an ocean of resources just waiting for these kind of events. Even with all this. Even with the heroic efforts of first responders, brave police, modern roads and structures, it was still a huge undertaking. Above all there is a knowledge and recognition of a “golden hour” after treatment, when medical treatment makes the greatest impact. The idea’s for that would actually be based on knowledge that was being gathered during the Napoleonic wars.

At Waterloo this massive system of support was entirely absent. If a modern doctor walked onto the field of Waterloo straight out of a time machine, and was told “well go on, help people” he or she might have a panic attack. Where to start? Even all the modern knowledge he or she has about infection, pain control and anatomy and genetics, these would be of limited help without the mass of complex resources and systems that enable modern medicine. 

Now I’m going to focus on the British medical services in the main. The British did indeed treat medicine seriously in the main. They considered themselves a modern nation with highly educated gentlemen, who had the tools, skills and knowledge to perform incredible feats of medicine and science. As always though, the reality was a lot more complicated. Attitudes varied up and down the social class structure. There was immense local variation in what treatment was available or desired. A small village might be reliant on an apothecary of some sort, plus local treatments and folk memory. Injuries were often farming or drink related and disease was common, probably various forms of fever. In a large city like London, a wide variety of disease and injury were available to the local population, including the diseases of cramped cities as well as increased levels of STD’s. Balanced against this, it was possible to find more varied medical treatment. Apothecaries vied with early pharmacists and barber surgeons. 

At the top of the social & medical pecking order though sat the physician. A physician was university educated and usually a wealthy gentlemen. He would have read the classics, including the ancient medical texts of Galen and the various Arab physicians. He would almost certainly read and written in English and Latin, plus perhaps Greek. Whilst he would have obsessions that might seem strange today, such as a focus on bleeding, he would have probably known a lot of more up to date medical literature. If he was especially forward thinking he might even keep case notes, and pass his experience on. Many, probably most, considered themselves serious professionals who were invested in keeping patients alive and healthy and not just for the income. Men like the famous Dr Larrey of the French Imperial Guard were internationally regarded for their medical brilliance. Notice that I am saying he. Women would not really have become physicians at this time, with one or two extremely exceptional cases such as disguising themselves as men. This, plus the high cost of university effectively limited the profession to the sons of rich gentlemen, which severely limited the pool of talent to draw on.

Don’t forget as we go along, that the most advance medicine of any time, will always appear primitive in hindsight. In the 1950s, people thought they were in a golden age of medicine, yet those same techniques look so backwards today.

The social attitudes carried over into the army and navy. The actual profession of medicine was steeped in snobbery. As a result of their education, the physicians felt themselves superior to others in the medical field. They could command high wages, unlike many of the army surgeons, although they weren’t always viewed as completely respectable. Much depended on who the physician was treating. Clearly the Royal Physician would have considerable social standing. 

The high cost of becoming a physician deterred many. Qualified physicians were sometimes hesitant to actually practice hands on medicine, leaning more towards some esoteric theory. Even fewer physicians were actually willing to join the army. The army simply didn’t have a high enough social standing before Waterloo. Joining the army took them away from lucrative civilian practices. Worse was the risk of ending up in what was considered an “unhealthy station” like the Caribbean or somewhere on the African coast. Death from Yellow Fever was as much of a risk for a highly educated physician as it was for a regular soldier. A lot of these military postings were in countries that were known during the Victorian period as “the white man’s graveyard” due to the enormous mortality rates caused by various diseases.

 The consequence of this was that the fully qualified physician was a rarity and not commonly encountered by regular troops. Social snobbery meant that experienced army surgeons were barred from being promoted to physician so there was an acute lack of practical experience with military disease amongst the physicians, until the old ruling was abolished in 1811. The back bone of the army medical profession was to be the army surgeon. Social snobbery meant that progression was difficult for army surgeons, but many made real strides even if the profession evolved haphazardly. You’ve probably all heard that barbers and surgeons were interchangeable in the middle ages. Well by the Napoleonic Wars changes were sweeping through the ranks of the surgeons. No longer were they associated with barbers. Surgeons could often by committed, professional men, seeking advancement in the military and helping patients. They were assisted by surgeons mates, who varied in quality from aspiring surgeons to drunken incompetents, sometimes regarded by the army as ranking below the horses. 

Treatment depended very much on who you were, where you were, what provisions the armies senior officers had decided to provide, and crucially if your mates were around to help you. If you suffered an incapacitating wound, you became reliant on your immediate friends to move you if possible or get help. If your battalion had been forced to retreat, and you got left behind, well things could turn very nasty for you. You could be left unnoticed to die of blood loss, dehydration and infection. Or a miracle might happen and an enemy might decide to care for you. Social standing played a large part. Ideally you were a officer who had been spotted performing something heroic, and a romantic enemy officer might decide to get you recovered in an act of chivalry. This was more common if an enemy general was captured. If you struck gold, perhaps Napoleon heard of your case, and your high rank meant you might get attention from Dr Larrey himself. Since he was probably one of the finest doctors in the world, a forward thinking professional, you might actually get better care than you would have got in your own army. For most though, this would have been like winning the lottery twice. The reality for most was that they would be looted by passing enemy soldiers, and probably just bayoneted or left to die. If the battlefield looting was survived, it was essential for the injured soldier to drag himself to somewhere off the battlefield and get help. 

Injured soliders who remained on the field if the army had moved on were now in terrible danger. Local peasants and other civilians would flood the battlefield to ruthlessly loot the fallen. Many soldiers were stripped naked, and a knife quickly drawn across the throat. In the pre-modern age, everything had value from boots to buttons to teeth. If the injured soldier was alive, the looter might be in a hurry and not kill them. Sometimes a solider might be wearing a ring that was hard to take off. Alive or dead, a looter could very well chop the fingers off. Teeth were also valuable and if the looter didn’t want to get blood on the clothes from stabbing a wounded man, then they might rip the teeth out of a living injured soldier. 

For this reason civilian looters were regarded as scum by soldiers throughout the Napoleonic and Victorian periods. A soldier might regard himself as entitled to loot because he had risked his life in battle, but a civilian had no such entitlement as far as a soldier was concerned. Looters were often chased off, or run down by cavalry, or stung up from a tree, or given a good beating as a warning. Wellington had very strong views on looting and maintained a strict system of Provost Marshals to keep order.

There was another slim hope for the incapacitated soldiers. Sometimes the army remained in place. Musicians were often employed during battle as primitive stretcher bearers and would often search the battlefield for injured who might still be alive.

As you can see though, for the injured getting off the battlefield and getting treated was vital. It could often a case of looking out for yourself. Men performed feats of endurance that sound shocking to us today.

That first big problem of getting off the field was complicated just by the logistics of it. Men performed feats of endurance that sound shocking to us today. Men with lost limbs would force themselves up, and to travel to get help must have been agonising. Most regiments had some form of band and would employ bandsmen as stretcher barriers. These were not the modern, lightweight easily portable versions we know today. Some were canvass with long heavy poles. They were hard to handle and very heavy. They were an encumbrance. Some regiments used a simply canvass sling under a light weight pole. This was more comfortable and quicker, but it swayed and compressed the injured body.  Neither method was waterproof, nor did it keep the injured warm and stop them going into shock.

For Scottish regiments, the long sashed kilt might be a very useful alternative. An officers kilt could be used as a soft carrying blanket. A popular senior officer supported in his kilt by four strong Scotsmen could be moved fairly quickly off the field and in some comfort. Of course an unpopular officer might find it difficult to attract attention and end up dying a lonely death. Carts were common off the battlefield, but not on it. The forward thinking French experimented with ambulances.

Treatment naturally depended on the nature of the injury. As this was the age before the discovery of infection or antibiotics or anaesthesia, treatment tending to be more based on surgery and home remedy than what we would consider appropriate today. Surgeons should have had a personal kit containing their favoured surgical implements although difficulties on campaign sometimes left them without their kit. These kits were usually boxes or rolled hand bags or grips, usually contained a knife or scalpel of some kind, a saw, various hooks and retractors, and the only really effective pain killer of the day an opiate called Laudanum (containing approximately 10% powdered opium by weight, equivalent to 1% morphine). This was an opiate, but nothing like as effective as modern morphines, or ethers, or even cocaine or chloroform. When and how to intervene was very much based on the judgement of the individual surgeon; there were no standard clinical guidelines. Some surgeons, particularly very clever ones with good analytical data to back it up (like Dr Gutherie) were convinced immediate intervention was essential, as quickly as possible with only a small pause to stabilise the patient. Others preferred to wait longer to allow the patient to recover more before surgery, especially in the case of amputations. This was risky either way. Lacking saline, the patient was at risk of immense fluid loss, and delays could exacerbate the problem. Besides waiting increased the risk of infection. Of course, the surgeon was unlikely to sterilise his implements or even wash his hands between operations, so infection during surgery was frighteningly common. It was a common prayer across the various armies “god save me from the surgeons knife.”

None of this should mislead you into thinking that surgery was mere butchery. It most certainly wasn’t. Circulation was well understood, and there would be no recourse to magic, or horoscopes or balancing of humours as might have been the case until fairly close to the period. Bones could be set with skill, and even fractured skulls could be repaired. If you have seen the film “Master and Commander” or read any of the excellent Jack Aubrey books, there is an excellent scene where Dr Maturin replaces a fragment of skull in a comatose patient with a piece of coin. This is based on historical accounts and was a surprisingly complicated operation.

One of the other big tools missing from the surgeons arsenal was his ever present companion of the future – the Anaesthetist. The anaesthetist does far, far more than put a patient to sleep. They perform many essential functions; keeping a patient deeply asleep, with muscles chemically relaxed to the point where unaided breathing would be impossible. This state of muscled relaxed unconsciousness, along with antibiotics & pain control is one of the great foundations stones of sophisticated modern medicine. Without it, surgery is extremely difficult. 

Still, the surgeon did have some other tools at his disposal. There was the trusty wooden spoon and gag to ensure that a patient didn’t bite their tongue off during the operation. Alcohol was eagerly sought by patients. A bottle of rum or pint of brandy or even both would be considered as good for the pain as anything else. Some surgeons still used tar or hot iron for cauterisation but it was dying out. Fine silk stitches were used to close arteries and even hold falls of skin over the exposed ends of the stump of an amputation. Various poultices were used, some of which were honey based and could be surprisingly effective as honey is anti-bacterial. Leeches were dying out, but that’s actually a pity as they and maggots could be used to remove dead tissue or reduce bleeding. Drums were sometimes beaten during surgery as the noise and distraction could help. If all else failed, surgeons often exhorted soldiers not to show weakness in front of captured enemy soldiers, and to be quiet so they didn’t let their country down.

False teeth could be crafted to help with primitive dental surgery, and of course wooden legs or fake hands were created for patients. The richer the patient, the more elaborate the finished product might be. 

The later you reached the surgeon of course, the more tired he was likely to be. This meant more mistakes, with knives and saws getting more and more blunt, and all the implements getting increasingly dirty. Some surgeons after Waterloo were awake and operating for days in a row, often by lamp light. Patient mortality rates were enormous. Busy surgeons were known to hold their surgical knives between their teeth to free up hands to tie off arteries. 

Whether intentional or not, triage systems were adopted by almost all surgeons. No surgeon could afford to spend hours of time trying to save a hopeless case. In the time wasted on a patient that couldn’t be helped no matter what, he might lose other patients that could have been helped. Whilst sensible, it was hard on the doctors to have to leave soldiers to die, often alone in agony. 

Walking wounded would sometimes be dispatched back to full hospitals in cities like Brussels. Typically in a battle, a regiment would set up a dressing station close to where the battalion was deployed. There would be large field style regimental or army hospitals behind the main lines. The bulk of the casualties would be aiming to be dealt with either at the dressing station or the regimental field hospital. Going to a main army hospital was not necessarily a good idea. They were sometimes well equipped but some were little better than death traps. Unsanitary and often made up of buildings like monasteries occupied for the purpose, infection and disease ran rampant in them. The quality of medical staff varied wildly, ranging from competent to unqualified drunken orderlies who had somehow got themselves appointed “surgeons assistants” or “surgeons mates.” These men would be an eclectic mix of ambitious, but poor soldiers without the money, education and influence to become regimental surgeons, or they were sometimes the purest dregs who preyed on the helpless to rob or rape.

Rich officers would sometimes prefer to get comfortable private lodgings and a personal physician to attend them. This greatly increased their odds of survival. Rank did interfere with the triage system as well. Some surgeons would instinctively leave wounded troops to treat senior officers. Often this was because they recognised that the senior officer was more important to the overall war at that moment. No one could sensibly argue that if Wellington or other vital officers were injured then they shouldn’t take priority. The loss of Wellington would have meant the destruction of the Allied army. What was considered less appropriate was surgeons leaving off treatment of NCO’s and officers to treat lightly injured generals – usually to secure professional advancement or a lucrative source of income. 

Like all men under fire, some surgeons or assistants would not be willing to move forward to treat injured men. This is understandable. Humans in battle get flooded with adrenaline. They often suffer from a kind of tunnel vision. Creative thought becomes more difficult and the mind defaults to the practiced and well known. It isn’t a case of cowardice. These were soldiers under fire; they were simply facing the immense stress of battle. In some cases it would be clear that moving to help would be suicide anyway. Cannon fire couldn’t distinguish between medical staff and active combatants, so the exposed forward slopes were a risky proposition for anyone at Waterloo. Even if cannon fire wasn’t a problem, it was accepted that pretty much anyone on the battle field was a legitimate target for the enemy, so riding down a group of soldiers treating the injured would be considered good sport by many cavalry. 

Dreaded nearly above all was the amputation, especially of the leg. An arm could be surprisingly easy to lop off. Especially below the elbow. Some men declined the offer and preferred to live with a shattered hand or arm, and take their chances on gangerine developing later. Surgeons didn’t immediately jump to amputation. Arm wounds especially were managed without amputation if at all possible, since they had a better chance of positive recovery, although opinions were mixed. Dr Larrey said 

[QUOTE] If it should be said that the amputation of a limb is a cruel and dangerous operation, and one always fraught with grave consequences for the patient who is left in a mutilated condition, and that for these reasons there is more honour to be gained by preserving the limb than by amputating it, however skilfully and successfully done, the reply which admits of no denial is that amputation is an operation which offers a chance of recovery to an unfortunate individual, whose death appears certain by any other method of treatment.[END QUOTE]

A good example was Wellingtons staff aide Fitzroy Somerset, who lost his arm at Waterloo, but carried on a military career. He would eventually become Lord Raglan and his incompetent command in the Crimean War would lead to thousands of unnecessary casualties. 

Cases where there were extensive joint injuries, complex compound fractures near joints, or where there lacerated vessels and nerves, were all high priorities for amputation. Leaving the limb intact would guarantee infection and death. You can see that the doctors in the profession were acutely aware of the risks of various outcomes and genuinely wanted to do the best they could for their patients. Some debated whether to amputate immediately on the battlefield, or wait till the patient was stabilised and then operate a few days later. 

Cavalry swords and cannon shot sometimes did such a neat job of taking off an arm, that the surgeons main job was just tidying up, and monitoring for signs of fever or infection. Men like Nelson lost arms and eyes and continued to have distinguished military careers. The Royal Navy almost certainly never sent out a warship where at least some officers hadn’t lost body parts. 

But many injuries were far worse. These were the terrible leg wounds that could require an amputation well up the limb, or worse at near the hip. The leg has the great femoral artery in it. A high amputation required that artery to be cut. Bleeding would be massive and the operation itself could be hugely traumatic.  There’s a harrowing quote from Sgt Thomas Jackson in Spain.

[QUOTE] They had got me fixed upon the end of a large barrack room table, sitting upright, with my legs having down. A basin was brought for me to drink out of it. I said, Sir let me have a good draught. He poured me out nearly a pint of rum which I eagerly drank off. In an instant, it raised my spirits to an invincible courage. The sergeant was preparing to blindfold me. Oh no I said, I shall sit still and see as well as the rest. One of the surgeons sat on a stool to hold the leg steady, the second ripped up my trousers and took down the stocking low enough, then he waited on the head surgeon. The tourniquet being placed painfully tight above the knee, he put his hand under the calf of the leg and setting the edge of the knife on the shin bone, at one heavy, quick stroke, drew it around till it met the shin one again…. the blood quickly following the knife spread around and formed like a beautiful red fan, downwards. Next the surgeon with his hand forced the flesh up towards the knee to make way for the saw. When the saw was applied, I found it extremely painful; it was worn out. It stuck as a bad saw would when sawing a green stick. I said Oh Sir have you not a better saw? He said he was sorry he had not, as they were all worn out. The bone got through, the next thing to be done was still more painful. That of tying up the ligatures. Then followed the drawing down of the flesh to cover the end of the bone, and tightly strapped there with strips of sticking plaster. After this strongly bandaged. And thus ended the operation which lasted about half an hour. [END QUOTE]

 The Sgt was lucky. The higher up the leg the amputation, the more likely was death. It should come as no surprise that a leg amputation had an extremely high mortality rate. 40-50% was not unknown. Phantom pain was a problem, infection was almost certain, and complications and ultimately mortification was highly likely. Still, both Dr Larrey and the British surgeon David Brownrigg managed to perform an operation at the hip with a patient surviving. An almost unheard of event. The agony would leave the individual with immense mental trauma. Life long suffering was the result. And all of that, was being done by a doctor trying his best to save your life and help you live in the best condition you could. Today we would regard this as brutal torture, but in 1815 this was state of the art battlefield medicine. Still doctors like Dr Gutherie were using these experiences and collecting statistics on outcomes to make huge advances. Understanding about infection was boosted, as Gutherie demonstrated that mortality rates for early amputation were far lower than in patients who were moved to larger hospitals first. Soldiers were better off having their limbs amputated on the field of Waterloo, rather than being evacuated to a hospital in Brussels where mortality rates climbed sharply. Guthrie was keen on splinting where possible to avoid amputation. If possible wounds were probed with forceps and foreign objects removed, including not just bullets but also coins, clothing and teeth driven into wounds by blast damage. It was exceptionally painful, but if it could spare a man an amputation, deep probing was preferred.

 In any case of damage to the torso or head, amputation wasn’t an option anyway so probing, surgical excision and stitching were the main viable treatment paths. Whilst injuries to the torso, especially lungs were viewed as fatal, surgeons still made valiant efforts with surprising success. Fractured skulls were difficult to treat, but it was done with care and sometimes positive results. Even brain surgery could be attempted, especially in cases where death was otherwise certain. 

Much depended on the skill and ambition of the surgeon, plus how much time he had available. Guthrie and Lowrey both performed complex bowel and abdominal surgery, and Lowrey managed to extract musket balls from men’s lungs, sometimes removing ribs to gain access. In circumstances like this, we can see why soldiers were terrified of the fate that might await them. 

Of course infection was incredibly common. I won’t go into all the types and effects, but this was all before Joseph Lister did his pioneering work on antiseptics and infection control in the mid Victoria era. Dirty instruments and poor dressings were the norm. Surgeons and assistants rarely washed hands between patients, sharing the same instruments used between operations. Face masks and sterile gloves were simply unknown. Often honey based herbal poultices were the best anti infection treatments around. 

So that gives you the picture of what was suffered after Waterloo. Surgeons worked for days on improvised tables under lamp light. They worked till they were dropping with exhaustion. Clothes became stiff with blood and some could hardly move fingers. For every brilliant Dr Guthrie there were hundreds of other competent unsung surgical heroes and hundreds more inept butchers, or complete novices learning surgeon on wounded men under pressure.  

Such was the price to be paid. Mars had wrecked havoc on the men in battle, now they were in the hands of Apollo and Dr Guthrie. Looking at this in reflection, it nearly beggars belief anyone would be a soldier. You can see why Napoleon’s glory was seen as having too high a price in the views of many of the time. 

Fortunately for soldiers of the Victorian age, some immense changes were coming. Books would be written setting out the lessons in surgery and treatment learned at such high a cost. Many surgeons had died with their men in battle like Sir William De Lancey. Others like Dr Lowrey were captured by the Prussians, although fortunately he was released. Guthrie would go on to have a brilliant career, become a fellow of the Royal Society and President of the Royal College of Surgeons. He was offered a knighthood, but pleaded poverty to turn it down. 

The surgeons would see an increasing climb in the respect and influence of the profession, whilst the physicians had to scramble to mend their out of touch, hands off reputation. The field of Waterloo would not be cleared of dead and wounded for 12 days. Many wounded simply died of dehydration. Civilian sightseers were often shocked but I can’t imagine how the surgeons coped and went on to live with themselves in the aftermath of battle. Every doctor wants to preserve his patients life as best as possible but battlefields do not allow that guarantee. Even in modern medicine we cannot guarantee that people will live, but for the surgeons of the time at Waterloo, they had to watch probably hundreds men who were desperate, die. And they couldn’t help them, no matter how good they were with the knife. It must have lived with them for the rest of their lives. I don’t know what impact that might have had on them. Still many many fortunate men like Sgt Lawrence walked towards Paris, doubtless glad that their prayer “God save me from the surgeons knife” was answered.