This is a handwritten copy of “A Week at Waterloo”, a personal account by Lady Magdalene De Lancey. Her husband, Colonel Sir William De Lancey, was hit by a cannonball during the battle and later died from his wounds – they had been married for less than 3 months. Lady De Lancey’s moving account of caring for her dying husband became a popular book.
In the photograph above, the manuscript by Lady De Lancey is pictured next to a picture of Colonel De Lancey and the gold medal that he won for fighting in the Peninsular War against the French. Colonel Sir William De Lancey was already a noted British officer by the time of the Waterloo campaign in June 1815. The Duke of Wellington chose the newly-married De Lancey to be deputy quartermaster-general of the Allied army, in charge of supplies and logistics. On April 4 1815 he had married Magdalene, who accompanied him to the Netherlands to join the army there.
Just before the Battle of Waterloo, Magdalene travelled north from Brussels to Antwerp, “to avoid the alarms that [Sir William] knew would seize everyone the moment the troops were gone” – and probably also to put her further away from the French Army, in case the Allied army should fail to hold them at Waterloo. She was therefore over 60 km away when she heard about what had happened to her husband during the battle.
De Lancey was riding next to the Duke of Wellington when a cannonball, bouncing off the ground, struck him in the back. De Lancey was thrown off his horse, and hideously injured. He was carried to a cottage near the battlefield and after a message reached her, Magdalene rushed from Antwerp to see him. Accompanied by a Mr. Hay, she rode in a carriage through packed crowds of wounded, past fields filled with the dead from the battle that made their horses “scream at the smell of corruption”.
Magdalene describes her emotion as she waited to see whether her husband was still alive:
“How fervently and sincerely I resolved that if I saw him alive for one hour I never would repine! I had almost lost my recollection, with the excess of anxiety and suspense, when Mr Hay called out, ‘All’s well; I have seen him. He expects you.'”
She nursed Sir William for 6 days, until he “gave a little gulp” and died. Magdalene visited her husband’s grave near Brussels on 4 July 1815. “That day, three months before, I was married.”
Later that year, the widowed Lady De Lancey wrote her reminiscences in a journal, originally intended to be circulated just to her friends and family. She may have felt the need to protect her reputation as a devoted and grieving wife – there were rumours that she had been insufficiently remorseful after Waterloo, planning her return to England even before Sir William’s death. This copy is addressed to Charlotte Elizabeth Bathurst, a society lady and distant relative of Magdalene – who might have been one of the people spreading these ugly rumours. In 1906, nearly 100 years later, this intensely personal story was published. You can read the complete text of A Week at Waterloo, for free, here and view the original manuscript here.
Find it here
This object is in the collection of National Army Museum