On the evening of the 18th June 1815, the battle weary Duke of Wellington gave his first interview on his victory at Waterloo. When asked to summarise the events of the day, he said: “It has been a damned serious business... Blucher and I have lost 30,000 men. It has been a damned nice thing — the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life. … By God!"
Napoleon vs Wellington: The Final Face-off
The Battle of Waterloo had been a close contest. As Wellington and Napoleon had prepared for their final face-off in the dreary fields of modern-day Belgium, millions of people nervously awaited the uncertain outcome of a battle that would decide the future of Europe. It was not until the arrival of Field Marshall Blucher and his Prussian forces halfway through the fighting that an allied victory had appeared likely.
Major Henry Percy, who delivered Wellington's despatch
The following morning (19th June), a victorious Wellington sat down to compose his Waterloo despatch, to inform London of the great victory as quickly as possible. It was ready by noon. Major Henry Percy, a tall, handsome and charming Officer of the 14th Light Dragoons was selected to take the news back to England.
The Handsome Major Henry
The Honourable Major Henry Percy was born in Westminster in the September of 1785. Records show that he was the 5th son of The Lord Lovaine, Algernon Percy the 1st earl of Beverley. Percy was educated at Eton and joined the 7th Regiment of Foot in 1804 before transferring to 14th Dragoons. He was Aide de Camp to Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore during the Peninsular War, and captured during the allied retreat from Burgos in 1814. He spent two years detained in France and was released shortly after Napoleon's exile to Elba. When Napoleon returned to France and raised L'Armée du Nord, Percy became Aide de Camp to the Duke of Wellington and was the Duke only aide to survive the final campaign unscathed.
Major Percy left immediately and boarded the sloop HMS Peruvian, commanded by Captain White at Ostend. In a bizarre twist of fate, White and his ship would later be tasked with delivering Napoleon into captivity on St Helena. After becoming trapped in calm winds mid channel, Percy and Captain White were forced to lower a gig and row the rest of the way. Percy had learned how to row at Eton, and the small vessel arrived on the Kent Coast at around 3 pm on June 21st.
Race to the Capital
Major Percy and Captain White immediately took a carriage at Broadstairs and headed straight for London. They raced through the countryside, with one officer clad in the scarlet uniform of the British Army and the other in the navy blue of the Royal Navy, causing a stir in every village they passed. They eventually reached London at about 10pm, just as dusk was falling, and clattered over Westminster Bridge before wheeling into Whitehall and turning abruptly into Downing Street, followed by a cheering crowd.
Shortly after 10pm on June 21st, three days after the battle had been won, the foreign secretary, Earl Bathurst, was dining with friends when the exhausted figure of Major Henry Percy burst in, carrying Wellington's dispatch and two captured French eagles. Percy had not slept in days and was close to collapse. He was still wearing the torn, dirty and bloody uniform he had been wearing for the past six days and was suffering from the strains of having rowed halfway across the Channel.
A very great loss
Percy's mission was still not complete. As instructed by Bathurst, he went straight to deliver the dispatch and captured eagles to the Prince Regent, the future George IV, who was dining in nearby St James's Square. Holding the captured Eagles in each hand, Percy bowed on one knee in front of the Prince and his assembled guest as he delivered the long awaited news.
The Prince was naturally delighted, but hoped that "we have not suffered much loss". "The loss has been very great indeed," Percy replied and began to read the list of officers killed or badly wounded during the battle. The Prince was utterly shocked and promptly burst into tears.
Wellington's despatch, Hampshire Chronicle, Monday 26 June 1815
Percy finally retired to his family home at 8 Portman Square, on the corner of Baker Street, where he fell into a deep slumber, oblivious to the curious crowds outside. The news of the victory had reached London, and jubilant celebrations erupted on the street.
The Life and Loves of Major Percy
Percy was promoted to the Rank of Colonel in recognition of the role he played. He died after a short illness ten years later at the age of 39 on 15 April 1825. He never married but had two illegitimate sons, born to a French mother while he was a prisoner in France. His family appears to have carried on their military tradition as his eldest son went on to become Major-General Sir Henry Marion Durand and his great nephew was General Lord Henry Hugh Manvers Percy VC KCB, a celebrated hero of the Crimean War and the very first Person in history to be presented with the Victoria Cross.
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