January 18 1816: Day of Thanksgiving

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January 18 1816 was a day of Thanksgiving to celebrate peace in Europe and the victory at Waterloo. It also inspired William Wordsworth to later write his Thanksgiving Ode, January 18, 1816. This poem is notorious for its seeming reactionary politics, and argument that the military victory at Waterloo was an expression of divine power. The poem was to alienate young admiring readers such as Shelley, and serve as a damning exhibit in the case that was to be prosecuted against Wordsworth as the Lost Leader. Wordsworth was to become the poet who had, as Browning would famously write, betrayed freedom: “Just for a handful of silver … Just for a ribbon to stick in his coat.”

The uneasy mixture of military triumphalism and religiosity in Wordsworth’s poem can also be found in the Thanksgiving celebration of January 18 1816. One account described the day as follows:

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“Thursday, January 18, 1816, being the appointed day for a general thanksgiving, on the re-establishment of peace in Europe, the day was selected in London for the ceremony of lodging the eagles, taken from the enemy at the battle of Waterloo, in the Chapel Royal, Whitehall. The ceremony was conducted with perfect order; and associated as it was with the duties of religious worship, the memory of the contest in which the trophies were won, and the sight of the brave veterans who had survived its carnage, the influence it produced was not of an ordinary nature, A brigade of the Guards formed on the parade, in St James’s Park, at nine o’clock, of which, one company, consisting of a captain, three subalterns, two Serjeants, and eighty-four privates, all of whom were at Waterloo, were appointed an escort to the eagles, and took post opposite to Melbourne House. A detachment of the Royal Artillery was also on the ground, and two bands attended in their state clothing. Soon after ten the Duke of York proceeded to the parade, and a very large assemblage of officers, decorated with the several insignia they had been invested with. The usual duty of the day proceeded, and after the trooping of the colours had taken place, the detachment that had been selected was escorted to the tilt-vard by the two bands, and received the eagles; the detachment then presented arms, the bands playing the ” Grenadiers’ March,” and proceeded round the square in ordinary time.

The eagles appeared somewhat of a larger size than those captured in the Peninsula; they were richly gilt, and bore the number of the battalions to which they were attached. The silk colours appended to them were about the size of our cavalry standards, and splendidly embroidered with a profusion of gold fringe, and a number of inserted bees, stars, &c. But the most interesting part of the ornaments was the laurel wreath, enclosing, in letters of gold, the inscriptions emblematic of French renown—Austerlitz, Essling, Eylau, Jena, and Friedland These names, still memorable, once to us the subjects of mournful reflection, now seemed to mock the ambition they formerly flattered. They gave to the conquerors an impressive lesson on the inconstancy of Fortune, when the register of the successes of those who triumphed at Austerlitz, Jena, and Friedland, served to signalize their defeat, displayed as the prize of the heroes of Waterloo.

The trophies were carried by Serjeants of the 1st and 3d Regiments, and, on reaching the colours of the Grenadier regiment, were lowered to the ground, while the former, with “Lincelles, Corunna, Barossa, and Waterloo,” emblazoned in gold, majestically waved; and the troops, with the spectators, instantaneously gave three loud huzzas, with the most enthusiastic feeling. The detachment still continued to proceed with the trophies, and on reaching the centre of the parade facing the Horse Guards, wheeled on their right, and marched to Whitehall Chapel.

The Serjeants with the eagles entered the body of the chapel as soon as the first lesson was read by Archdeacon Owen, the chaplain-general. Their Royal Highnesses the Dukes of York and Gloucester were in the royal pew, and the chapel was extremely crowded. The escort entered by the two doors, in equal divisions, the band playing, and marching up to the steps of the communion-table, when they filed off to the right and left. As soon as the band had ceased, the two Serjeants Dealing the eagles approached the altar, and fixed upon it their consecrated banners.

After the Litany, a voluntary was played; and at the conclusion of the Communion-service, which was read by the chaplains of the chapel, the Rev. Mr. Jones and the Rev. Mr. Hewlett, the 100th Psalm was sung by the whole congregation. After the customary blessing, the band played “God save the King,” the whole congregation standing. The ceremony was witnessed by a great multitude of people, among whom was a considerable number of persons of distinction and fashion.”

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