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Home arrow Equestrian arrow Historic Horses arrow The general's horse - Copenhagen

The general's horse - Copenhagen Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 13 April 2010
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The general's horse - Copenhagen
A new Copenhagen?
Copenhagens obituary
Copenhagen and Marengo

Like all commanders at the Time of the Lines, Sir Arthur Wellesley had numerous chargers at his disposal - he lost twelve during his first three years in the Peninsular - but inevitably it is the horse which joined him there and which he rode at Waterloo that achieved lasting fame.


Copenhagen did not arrive in the Peninsular until the after the allies advance into Spain - and then not as Sir Arthur's mount. 

Foaled in 1808, a chestnut stallion of 15.1 hands, he was imposing rather than handsome, having something of the "Whistlejacket" about him, including an "uncertain temperament". His grandsire was the unbeaten racehorse "Eclipse" (bred by the Duke of Cumberland), his sire "Meteor", and his dam was "Lady Catherine", herself sired by "John Bull", winner of the 1792 Epsom Derby. Lady Catherine was the charger of Colonel the Earl Grosvenor, who took her on the expedition to Copenhagen in August 1807 in which Sir Arthur Wellesley served as divisional commander. Arriving in Denmark she was found to be in foal, and as befits a lady of breeding, was promptly evacuated again back to England where she gave birth. As some sort of private battle honour, her colt was named Copenhagen, after the victorious (if somewhat controversial) campaign.

Lord Grosvenor had high hopes of Copenhagen as a racehorse, but he was to be disappointed. After the horse ran ten races as a three-year-old, it was clear that he would not emulate his distinguished grandsire, and so Grosvenor sold him to General Sir Charles Stewart, then Adjutant General to Wellington in the Peninsular. Adding insult to injury for a potential denizen of the Turf, Copenhagen's name was expunged from the General Stud Book when it was discovered that his granddam was not a Thoroughbred at all, but only a hunter mare of dubious pedigree.

When Stewart was invalided home in 1812, he offered his charger to Wellington who bought him for 400 guineas, and the Duke and ex-racehorse stayed together for the rest of the war and beyond - as Prime Minister in 1828 he rode Copenhagen up Downing Street to No.10.

 Copenhagen was a superb battle horse. Unflinching amidst gunfire he repeatedly exhibited great stamina and fortitude. In one famous recorded incident during the Battle of Quatre-Bras, Wellington was observing the enemy from an exposed forward position when a squadron of French dragoons appeared and charged at him. Behind Wellington lay a stiff fence and ditch and a battalion of the 92nd Highlanders. Shouting at the Highlanders to lie down, Wellington in best hunting tradition, put Copenhagen at this considerable obstacle, and clearing ditch, fence and soldiers in one, left the dragoons to face volleys of musket shot from the Scots.

Copenhagen at Stratfield Saye 
Copenhagen at Stratfield Saye, by James Ward, R.A., 1824

Surviving Waterloo unscathed with his master, Copenhagen returned to retirement at Stratfield Saye, the Duke's country  seat, where he occasionally carried the Duke in the hunting field. In his old age he was a great pet of the family, particularly of the Duchess, who once wrote "he trots after me eating bread out of my hand, and wagging his tail like a little dog". On his death in 1836, he was honoured by an obituary in 'The Times' and buried with full military honours under the Turkey Oak in the Ice House Paddock at Stratfield Saye, where his grave-stone (errected by the second Duke) may be seen today.

Copenhagen's gravestone 

Wellington was never overly fond nor sentimental toward the horse, but said of him: "There may have been many faster horses, no doubt many handsomer, but for bottom and endurance I never saw his fellow".


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