Jane Austen Society of North America, Southwest Region
The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball
Summons to Waterloo
Reproduction of the famous painting of the Scots Greys’ famous charge at Waterloo
Peter Graham giving his presentation
Fritz Bronner giving his presentation
Waterlook: The Folly and the Grandeur
September 26, 2015
Peter Graham — The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball
Fritz Bronner — 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo
The 2015 Fall meeting immersed attendees in the Battle of Waterloo and the Duchess of Richmond’s ball that preceded it. The speakers put this epic conflict in context with maps and timelines, but the focus of both presentations was personal stories and experiences that brought history to life.
Peter Graham from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) started out the morning with a witty and informative exploration of the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, with a wealth of alternately touching and funny stories. The ball is the “most famous ball in history” only by happenstance. If it had been scheduled a few days earlier, it would have been just one of the many balls held in Brussels that year. If it had been scheduled the next day, as Wellington’s own party was, it would have been canceled. Even so, it might have been just a footnote if the juxtaposition of frivolity and brutality had not captured the imagination of writers ever since, including Byron, Thackeray and Edith Sitwell.
Graham put the ball in context, explaining why so many British aristocrats were living in Brussels, how the Duke of Wellington used balls and society events as “political theatre” to bring confidence to the British and over-confidence to the French, and why balls were the center of women’s power. He also shone spotlights on a number of the attendees, including
- Charles Lennox, the Duke of Richmond, who engaged in a duel with the Duke of York’s son and, as a passionate athlete, encouraged the founding of Lord’s Cricket Grounds
- Lady Sarah Lennox, the Duchess’ daughter, who — though her father forbade it — waltzed with an officer at the ball and two months later eloped with him
- Lady De Lancey, whose honeymoon was cut short when her husband, Colonel Sir William Howe De Lancey, was recalled to Wellington’s army after Napoleon’s escape from Elba, and who later searched the battlefield for her missing husband and found him dying in a farmhouse
Graham also shared his bibliography for anyone interested in reading more about this historic event.
Fritz Bronner, director of the War Horse and Militaria Heritage Foundation, brought attendees onto the battlefield itself, sharing photos and video of his group’s participation in the re-creation of the Battle of Waterloo in Brussels in June 2015.
A reproduction of the famous painting of the Scots Greys’ famous charge at Waterloo in Life magazine 50 years ago ignited Mr. Bronner’s lifelong interest in the history of cavalry and the use of war horses in famous battles. The Scots Greys were instrumental in holding off the French during the grueling hours of the Battle of Waterloo. Of the 425 Scots Greys who began the battle, only 26 were left mounted when the fighting was over. By sharing his enthusiasm for this history with the current Scots Greys, now a tank regiment that recently moved from their station in Germany to a permanent station in Scotland, Bronner’s group of riders had the honor of representing the Scots Greys at the June 2015 re-enactment, charging across the battlefield and capturing the French Eagle to present to Wellington.
Bronner also shared the practical challenges of mounting a cavalry campaign in a foreign country, with the need to raise funds, borrow European horses that were the correct color, create uniforms, and put mustaches on all of the riders including the women since all Scots Greys of the time were required to wear them! Through their skill and persistence, the Scots Greys were represented in the Waterloo re-enactment for the first time in 200 years, and their performance was immortalized with photos on the front pages of British newspapers.
The morning program also included a sneak preview of JASNA-Southwest’s promotional video for the 2017 AGM to be held in Huntington Beach that was enthusiastically received. Jane Austen in Paradise was portrayed by Zabrina McIntyre, who was there to take a bow! The video, created by Erika Kotite, also was shown at the 2015 AGM in Louisville, Kentucky.
Peter Graham is a professor of English at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, aka Virginia Tech. His teaching and research interests include 19th century British literature and culture, including Austen, Byron and Darwin. Graham has been a breakout speaker at numerous JASNA AGMs, including the Los Angeles conference in 2004, and spoke on Sense and Sensibility and Siblings at our Gala Spring meeting in 2011.
Fritz Bronner is a local actor, producer and director of The War Horse & Militaria Heritage Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting “equine spirit from the past,” providing trained horses and experienced riders for educational presentations and film and television. In June 2015, the Greys and Glory, a group within the foundation, joined about 5,000 participants from across Europe to act out the Battle of Waterloo. Bronner and his cavalry participated in the re-enactment at the original battleground in Belgium representing the Royal Scots Greys, who captured Napoleon’s personal gold eagle that sat atop a flag for victory during the days-long battle. At our meeting, Bronner related how he and his wife prepared for the event, including spending long hours crafting faux bearskin caps modeled after those worn by the Greys.