Blucher is ye Man

The other hero of Waterloo

‘Blucher is ye Man!’

Writing a history of the long friendship between England and Germany (Noble Endeavours in the UK; The Pity of War in the US), I was pleased to receive an enthusiastic commendation for the project from Herr Georg Boomgarten, Germany’s Ambassador to the Court of St James’s. His wife, Herr Boomgarten explained, was a direct descendant of Field Marshal Blucher. He hoped that I would make mention of the enthusiasm with which Blucher’s triumphs were received in England.

The Ambassador was spot on. Only the year of Blucher’s London visit proved disconcerting. I had expected it to be 1815: Waterloo year, the year in which Napoleon was routed and exiled, the year in which Blucher’s Prussian troops, arriving later in the afternoon on the blood-soaked lands we know as Waterloo, helped Wellington to master the field before, on 7 July, the Allies entered Paris. 

In 1815, Blucher remained firmly on the continent. Nothing would persuade him to revisit the country in which, a year previously, he had been hailed as a hero. The causes for his decision were several. Looming large among them was his anger that Napoleon, by Wellington’s decision, had been allowed to live. Blucher was equally enraged that the battle was to be known as Waterloo (the place in which Wellington had spent his night before the battle), rather than La Belle Alliance (the place at which Wellington and Blucher met, while Prussians drove the last of the French army from the field). Aged 72, Blucher was as hot-tempered as he had been back in the days when Frederick the Great told him to go to the devil for the rudeness of his letter of resignation from the army. (Passed over for the rank of major, Blucher sent in his resignation and retired to become a country farmer for thirty years.)

In 1814, however, it had been a very different story. Feted for his role in Napoleon’s first defeat, Blucher arrived in London as a hero. ‘Blucher is ye man!’ Lady Melbourne announced to a circle who were spoiled for choice of which hero or royal potentate to fete in celebration of what seemed to be the end of twenty-two years of war and – for the English – a state of virtual imprisonment within their island kingdom.

In 1814, nothing was good enough for Blucher. Escorted through the streets of London by cheering crowds, he was honoured as a doctor-of-law at Oxford (an honour that was conferred precisely a century later upon Prince Lichnowsky, Germany’s hapless ambassador to the Court of St James on the eve of war). Painted four times, Blucher’s name was conferred upon one of the boarding houses at Wellington College, where his stained glass portrait still adorns the chapel. Most splendidly of all, perhaps, George Stephenson elected to name his first steam locomotive in the Prussian’s honour. He called it Blucher

The Field Marshal paid no return visits to England, but the old allegiance was not forgotten. In 1908, Prince Blucher’s English wife was invited to the Kaiser’s magnificent new shipping port of Kiel in  order to preside over the launching of a new battleship: the Blucher. In 1908, the  Bluchers formed part of a cosy Anglo-German world who thought of themselves as belonging to both countries. Old Prince Blucher preferred life on the British island of Herm, where he reared kangaroos, to the splendours of his castle and country estate (the latter had been conferred upon the Field Marshal by a grateful King Frederick William III of Prussia) in Silesia. The English-born Evelyn had been living mainly in London with her Prussian husband since their marriage in 1907.

  War changed everything. A dismayed Prince Blucher was ordered to abandon his kangaroos and return to Silesia, while Evelyn and her husband joined the desolate Lichnowskys on a train bound for Berlin. In January 1915, camped out among a sea of exiles  in the palm-thronged limboland of the Esplanade Hotel, Evelyn heard that the Blucher – the ship that she had so proudly launched at Kiel – had been sunk by her compatriots.

  A new Anglo-German link was forged  by the Bluchers during the war. In 1916, a young German prince survived the torpedoing of his submarine and found his way to the Welsh home of Evelyn Blucher’s parents. There, at a discreet distance from the field of battle, he was treated as an honoured guest. In time, insofar as I can establish from research in a rather obscure area, Prince Ernest married an English bride.

  War and exile offered insufficient reasons for a proudly anglophile German prince to turn his back upon the country he adored. The Bluchers came back to England during the interwar years. Today, you can find the memorial to a German prince in the graveyard of St Bartholomew’s Church, Rainhill, Lancashire, close to the family estate.Perhaps, in this year of commemorating the alliance of England and Germany to defeat Napeoleon, somebody should lay a wreath upon the English grave of the truculent old Field Marshal's descendant.

   Added: Monday 26 January 2015