Book Review:
Lady de Lancey at Waterloo



By David Miller

One of the great romantic tragedies is the story of Colonel William de Lancey and his new bride Magdalene Hall.

The lovers had a whirlwind romance and married three months prior to the cataclysmic battle of Waterloo.

Obviously in love, the couple cut a fine pair in society and stayed together when De Lancey travelled to join the staff of the Duke of Wellington. He had been asked for personally by Wellington and had an important role to play in the 100 Days' Campaign.

Unfortunately, De Lancey was mortally wounded by a cannonball during the battle and suffered greatly for 11 days before succumbing to his injuries.

During that time the devoted Magdalene tended her husband and later wrote a journal about the period.

In Lady de Lancey at Waterloo David Miller not only publishes Magdalene Hall's narrative, but also looks at her life and the life and career of Sir William de Lancey.

He begins by tracing De Lancey's American family and tells how that their support for Britain during the American Revolution cost them dearly as they fell from being one of the richest clans in the world to having to rebuild their fortunes from scratch.

De Lancey's military life began as a 16-year-old in Holland, was connected with the Quiberon expedition and he went on to serve in the East Indies.

Ambitious and talented, the young officer was the 53rd student at the staff training centre Royal Military College.

Miller traces De Lancey's rise through the ranks right through to his becoming the Duke of Wellington's indispensible aide. He also states that it was De Lancey and not Wellington who picked the ground upon which Waterloo would be fought.

Turning to Magdalene Hall he also examines her family background and then presents her narrative.

Magdalene's eyewitness account of the lead-up to the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo is interesting and shows that those accompanying the British army were very nervous indeed about the upcoming fight with Napoleon Bonaparte.

However, it is her description of the events after her husband suffered his horrendous wound - he was hit in the back by a richocheting cannonball that tore eight ribs from his spine and drove one into his lungs - and how she tried to nurse and comfort him that is fascinating.

Not only is it moving, but gives a great insight into what men injured in battle had to go through.

After returning to Britain, Magdalene eventually remarried and had three children. The third birth seemed to have been a very difficult one and led to her early death in 1822.

Two of her descendants - her great-grandson and great-great grandson - died fighting in World War I and World War II.

Lady de Lancey at Waterloo may not be the sort of book that is a first choice for Napoleonic enthusiasts, however, for historical flavour - and as a tale of love and devotion - it is worth reading.

- Richard Moore



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