Copenhagen and the Duke Of Wellington
By Cheryl R. Lutring ( Horse history article copyrighted by Saddle & Bridle Magazine.)
The Napoleonic Wars produced heroes of many kinds from both sides, human and horse. We have already told the tale of Napoleon's own favored charger, Marengo, so it is appropriate to take a look now at the hero of the British side, the Duke of Wellington and his best charger, Copenhagen.
When not in a battle situation Copenhagen was tetchy and difficult and totally unimpressed with situation or status. His cantankerous temperament gave many a groom a bad moment and even nearly gave the Duke himself a severe injury. He had dismounted after the final battle of Waterloo and moved to the rear and patted Copenhagen on the rump in thanks for a fine day s work. The horse responded with a savage kick, just missing the General who had already just missed death many times that day.
But Copenhagen was a superb battle horse. Unflinching amidst gunfire he repeatedly exhibited great stamina and fortitude. On one occasion he carried the General Duke into a square of infantrymen under cannon fire, both remaining perfectly composed. Later the Duke said of him: There may have been many faster horses, no doubt many handsomer, but for bottom and endurance I never saw his fellow. A compliment indeed from an experienced horseman who loved mounted sports at home and had a string of eight chargers for battle.
Copenhagen had been a surprise foal. His dam was Lady Catherine, who was by John Bull a thoroughbred, and out of a mare by the Rutland Arabian. Lady Catherine was the only halfbred broodmare to be accepted into the General Stud Book (UK's Thoroughbred register). Her owner had taken Lady Catherine on the British military expedition to Denmark in 1807 not knowing she was in foal. At that time the Duke of Wellington was in charge of a division in the force that occupied the city of Copenhagen and seized the Danish fleet. Once home the mare produced a strong chestnut foal who was named in honor of the Copenhagen siege. The colt was by the famous Meteor who was a son of the even more famous Eclipse, the legendary race horse of the 18th century. Copenhagen raced as a three-year-old but was not really successful, so he was sold and ended up with the Duke of Wellington on campaign in Spain.
Copenhagen and the Duke became synonymous and even in retirement from war they remained together. The Iron Duke, as he was affectionately known, became Prime Minister of Britain in 1828 and rode Copenhagen up Downing Street to No.10 to take up his new position of leadership.
In retirement the old horse must have become somewhat mellowed because he was regularly ridden by friends and children at the Duke's country estate of Stratfield Saye, although Lady Shelley said he was the most difficult to sit of any horse she had ever ridden. The Duchess often fed him with bread and this it was said gave him the habit of approaching every lady with the most confiding familiarity. Over the years hair had been taken from the horse and made into bracelets for the ladies.
When the great horse died in 1836, at the remarkable age of 29, he was given a funeral with full military honors. But the day was worsened for the Duke who noticed that one hoof had been removed and flew into a terrible passion about the mutilation. After his own death the guilty servant who had taken the hoof as a memento came forward to confess and presented it to the second Duke who had it made into an inkstand.
The War Museum approached the Duke about disinterring Copenhagen in order to keep his skeleton in the Museum alongside the skeleton of Napoleon's horse, Marengo. But the Duke thwarted the idea by saying he was not sure exactly where the horse had been buried. Of course, he knew precisely where Copenhagen's remains were under the turkey oak in the Ice House Paddock at his country estate at Stratfield Saye but obviously preferred to keep his loyal friend at home with him.
As a mark of respect the second Duke erected a stone marker on the grave where it remains to this day.
Along with Britain's hero Duke, Copenhagen has been commemorated in many statues and paintings. One is outside the Duke's London residence, Apsley House, another (pictured) in the garrison town of Aldershot in Hampshire, where it stands on its own little hill with horse and General looking out over the tops of the surrounding trees at a distant battle. A very evocative memorial.
Return to Horse History Articles