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Napoleon's Waterloo


Portrait de Bonaparte / par Isabey., Digital ID 1167862, New York Public LibraryThe agent of Napoleon’s final downfall was known as “The Beau” to his Regency peers (behind his back of course). Arthur Wellesley, Lord Wellington, was the latest in a series of military men who enjoyed the allure of masculine fashion. He fought the French for a long time in the Peninsular War, in Portugal and France. After Napoleon’s escape from Elba and his Hundred Days, Wellington and a scattered group of Allied forces met Napoleon’s diminished army on the battlefield of Waterloo. Oddly enough, I see an echo of these men from the 1810s in the male models sashaying down the runways of New York Fashion Week. Tight pants and silhouetted jackets, for sure. Wellington’s reward was to be made a Duke, and given a magnificent dwelling, Apsley House, in the heart of London for his peacetime duties, which included one year as Prime Minister (he was less successful in his subsequent career as a politician). His specially-devised boots, created with a shoemaker’s aid for hard riding purposes, are his legacy to fashion; we know them today as Wellingtons or Wellies. Lord Wellington, Waterloo, 18 Juin 1815., Digital ID 830959, New York Public LibraryAnd yet you might say that the Little Corporal had the last laugh on the Iron Duke. The cult of Napoleon remained enshrined in Frenchmen’s hearts as the century progressed, culminating in a revival (albeit brief) of the Bonaparte dynasty. And there are 1799 entries under Napoleon I, Emperor of the French (1769-1821) compared to the mere 167 for Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of, (1769-1852) in the Library catalogue. That’s fame!    


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