June 17 1815: Do Our Duty

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Sir William Fraser recalls a famous anecdote from the night before the Battle of Waterloo: 

“The Duke was always reticent on the subject of his intentions; even toward those with whom he was most intimate. He had not said a single word on this subject before the Battle of Waterloo to Lord Anglesey, then Lord Uxbridge, commanding the Cavalry. Late on the 17th of June Lord Anglesey called upon Sir Hussey Vivian, who commanded a Brigade of Light Cavalry under him. He said ” I find myself in a very difficult position. A great battle will take place to-morrow. The Duke, as you know, will not economize his safety. If any accident happens to him I shall suddenly find myself Commander in Chief. Now, I have not the slightest idea what are the projects of the Duke. I would give anything in the world to know the dispositions which, I have no doubt, have been profoundly calculated. It will be impossible for me to frame them in a critical moment. I dare not ask the Duke what I ought to do”. Sir Hussey Vivian replied “Consult Alava. Perhaps he will take it upon himself to speak to the Duke “. Count Alava was, as is well known, the Duke’s friend and confidant during the Peninsular War ; a Spanish officer of high rank ; and of still higher character; for whom the Duke, to the end of his life, entertained a warm friendship; offering him, among other things, a residence near Strathfieldsaye.

Lord Anglesey followed the advice ; and, going to headquarters, soon found the Spanish General: “I approve of your idea” said Alava, so soon as Lord Anglesey had explained his fears. ” The question is a very serious one; but I do not feel that I know the Duke Sufficiently intimately to ask him for explanations. This is your affair entirely ; but, if you wish, I will go and tell the Duke that you are here”. Lord Anglesey hesitated for a minute : then decided to follow Count Alava. In a few moments he found himself in the presence of the Duke. He explained the motive of his visit with all the delicacy imaginable. The Duke listened to him quietly to the end, without saying a single word: and when he replied, it was without impatience, without surprise, and without emotion. He said calmly “Who will attack the first to-morrow, I or Bonaparte?” “Bonaparte” replied Lord Anglesey. “Well” continued the Duke in the same tone ; ” Bonaparte has not given me any idea of his projects ; and as my plans will depend upon his, how can you expect me to tell you what mine are ?”. Lord Anglesey bowed: and made no reply.

The Duke then said, rising; and at the same time touching him in a friendly way on the shoulder; “There is one thing certain, Uxbridge, that is, that, whatever happens, you and I will do our duty.”

He then shook him warmly by the hand: and Lord Anglesey bowing, retired.”

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