Henry Percy and the Battle of Waterloo
2015 marks the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. A new exhibition at Alnwick Castle celebrates the heroic role played by a little known member of the Percy family.
In 1815, Henry was appointed Aide de Camp to the Duke of Wellington. On 16th June, Wellington and his officers were all attending the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball in Brussels, when the news was received that Napoleon had crossed the frontier. Wellington reportedly exclaimed ‘Napoleon has humbugged me, by God; he has gained 24 hours’ march on me!’
Henry Percy left the dance floor, still in his dress uniform, and was straight into action, at the battle of Quatre Bras. From there, it was on to Waterloo where the famous battle was fought on the 18th June 1815. This day saw the defeat of one of history’s greatest military leaders, the Emperor Napoleon, putting an end to years of conflict across Europe.
Conveying news of this important victory back to England fell to Wellington’s ADC and trusted friend, Major Henry Percy. Alongside the dispatch Percy was given two eagle standards, captured in battle from the French army, to lay at the feet of the Prince Regent.
Henry traveled in a carriage and four via Ghent to the French king in exile, and on to Ostend. There he commandeered HMS Peruvian to sail the Channel, only to end up becalmed half way across. So it was ‘out gig’ and Henry Percy, the Captain and four sailors rowed to the English shore, arriving at Broadstairs.
Securing a post chaise and horses from the village, they galloped on into London, arriving shortly before midnight. Henry found the Cabinet at dinner in Grosvenor Square and delivered the dispatch to the Minister for War, Earl Bathhurst. This was, by now, three days after the battle.
Percy then headed for St James Square where the Prince Regent was attending a ball. An eye witness account describes how, as the first quadrille was forming everyone rushed to the windows, the music ceased and the dance was stopped. A noisy mob was approaching surrounding a carriage. As the carriage door opened, out sprang Henry Percy, a dusty figure with a flag in each hand. Darting into the ballroom he stepped up to the Prince Regent, dropped to one knee and laid the flags at his feet pronouncing the famous words “Victory, Sir, Victory”.
Among the many artefacts included in a very personal tribute to this little known hero and ancestor of the current Duke are the uniform and sword that Henry Percy bore at Waterloo, alongside personal letters, which help to bring the entire story to life. Attending a special evening opening of the exhibition were the Duke and Lady Victoria, as well as Professor Brian Cathcart whose new book “The News from Waterloo: the Race to Tell Britain of Wellington’s Victory” celebrates the role played by Major Henry Percy.