A Bad Day (and Night) at the Office at Waterloo

If you visit the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, you’l find there a florid Baroque monument to a dead scion of an English aristocratic family, The Ponsonbys. William Ponsonby, or to give him his titles, Sir William Ponsonby KCB, MP for Londonderry, was killed at the Battle of Waterloo, on June 18 200 years ago. His end was less than noble. He was on the wrong horse, he allowed his cavalry to gallop too far into the enemy infantry. With his second-best horse exhausted he was surrounded by French infantry, who politely asked him to surrender (senior officers were a ransomable commodity). Not understanding French, he didn’t. Fearing that they themselves would be captured, the French soldiers took the other option and killed Sir William. End of… you might think — of the Ponsonbys’ contribution to Wellington’s victory

But Sir William had a second cousin at Waterloo that day — ten years younger, also a cavalryman and a better soldier. The cousin was Major General The Honourable Sir Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby GCMG, KCB, KCH.  He was brother to Lady Caroline Lamb, she of the “mad, bad and dangerous to know” quote about her lover, the poet Byron.

On the day though, Fred too let his enthusiasm get in the way. He too galloped his troops further than he should and he too paid the price that war exacts. Wounded, knocked from his horse, lanced through the lung, robbed and ridden over — there wasn’t much else that could have happened to Fred. But let him tell the story, for unlike his second cousin, and against the odds, he survived.


ponsonby2Nursed back to health by Lady Caroline Lamb, he had 22 more years of life till he died suddenly in an inn near Basingstoke, Hampshire. It was thought at the time that his death was a consequence of that day and night he spent in the Belgian mud.

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