01:00PM, Thursday 05 February 2015
A new exhibition commemorating the Battle of Waterloo 200 years on opened at Windsor Castle on Saturday. Waterloo at Windsor: 1815–2015 features a range of exhibits including letters, images and Napoleon's cloak, and also allows visitors to walk around the grand Waterloo Chamber. Group news editor NICOLA HINE reports.
Two hundred years on from the Battle of Waterloo its bicentenary is being celebrated with an exhibition, trail and new multimedia tour through Windsor Castle.
Open to the public since Saturday, it includes a collection of unique artefacts associated with the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and the battle fought in 1815.
They are on display throughout the State Apartments, with the magnificent Waterloo Chamber acting as the centrepiece.
I was among a steady stream of visitors to the castle on Monday morning who took in the exhibition, which begins in the castle's Drawings Gallery with a series of etchings, paintings, archival materials and more.
Among them is the letter of surrender sent by Napoleon to George, Prince Regent (later George IV) on July 13, 1815. Written by a secretary and signed by Napoleon, it reads: "A victim to the factions which distract my country and to the enmity of the greatest powers of Europe, I have terminated my political career and I come like Themistocles [a Greek statesman who threw himself at the mercy of the Persians] to throw myself on the hospitality of the British people." The letter sits alongside a lock of the Emperor's hair and a medal, the Tinsel Star of a Knight Grand Cross of the Legion d'Honneur, worn by him.
Other items on display in the gallery, which is decorated with French flags, include Queen Victoria's copy of Vanity Fair (1848), which features the battle, a colour print of Napoleon mounted on a horse ('Bonaparte. Pacificateur de l'Europe') created in 1802, and a design for a Waterloo memorial pyramid which would have been as high as St Paul's - if it had ever been built.
The trail then takes you from the gallery up the red-carpeted staircase and into the Grand Vestibule bedecked with flags, armour and weaponry.
Proudly displayed in a glass case in here is the red and gold Burnous - a cloak to you and I - taken from Napoleon's fleeing carriage after the battle. Created in around 1810, it is made of wool, silk, braid and gold and silver thread.
As someone who has visited the castle many times over the years (most Fridays with my grandparents as a child), a highlight for me was the next part of the trail - being able to enter the Waterloo Chamber. Where normally it is roped off and can only be viewed from either end, the exhibition allows you to walk into the room and around the huge table in its centre. Used for state banquets, the table, which had 58 chairs around it on Monday (childhood castle visits always involved counting the chairs) can be extended to 175 feet in length and seat more than 160 people for dinner, although it has to be moved into the bigger St George's Hall then.
The chamber itself is a magnificent room nearly 30 metres in length, complete with five chandeliers, a gold arched ceiling and wood panelled walls covered with paintings. It was commissioned by George, Prince Regent as a tribute to the sucess of the forces of Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia at the battle, and the 38 portraits include statesmen, politicians, diplomats and military leaders responsible for the overthrow of Napoleon.
A guide in the room told me that the vast red patterned carpet under our feet felt extra springy on the day because it is not the real thing - the original Indian carpet, woven for the room by inmates of Agra prison for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and thought to be the largest seamless carpet in existence, is hidden underneath a carbon copy to protect it from visitors' feet.
The trail then winds its way through the state rooms, with snapshots from Waterloo's history dotted along the way. Another exhibition highlight is the Table des Grands Capitaines (Table of the Great Commanders, 1806–12), which was one of George IV's most prized possessions and is on show in the King's Drawing Room.
Exhibition curator Kathryn Jones, of Royal Collection Trust, said: "These objects, many collected by George IV, still resonate powerfully with their history, even 200 years after the turbulent events of Waterloo.
"Displayed in context at Windsor Castle, they give us an insight into the character of these two great military leaders – Wellington and Napoleon."
Personally, I really enjoyed Waterloo to Windsor. Not only does it offer the chance to see souvenirs from the battle and objects connected with it up close - and with the option of an audio guide to accompany your visit - it does so within the setting of some of the castle's most magnificent rooms. Plus, if you live in the Royal Borough and have an Advantage Card it is free.
Visit the Royal Collection Trust website for details.
(Information from Encyclopædia Britannica)
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