Sir John Soane’s Museum’s new exhibition celebrates the end
of the Napoleonic Wars with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1814. For Britain,
it had been a long and bloody conflict, beginning with the Revolutionary Wars
in 1793. The war gradually extended to the whole of Europe,
and the U.S.A..
Indeed, Napoleon had had his expansionist’s eye on Egypt
and even India.
During the wars, over 3,500,000 people lost their lives.
Coalport tea cups - note Prince of Wales feathers on left cup and dove of peace on right cup
What I found interesting was that Britain
in 1814 was celebrating Peace, not, as might have been expected, Victory. The souvenirs
of the time shows this very clearly. The display includes an attractive
Coalport porcelain ‘Peace of Paris’
tea-set, for example. Or, if you were less wealthy, a ‘Peace of Paris’ Bristol
pottery jug might take your fancy. A fashionable ivory brisé opera fan has a roundel
depicting an allegory of peace ascending over an army, represented by the tips
of their lances and a banner. Other symbols show doves carrying olive branches.
In April 1814, the great and the good began to descend on
London for the Peace Celebrations, including Tsar Alexander 1st;,
his sister, the Grand Duchess Catherine of Oldenburg; King Frederick of Prussia;
and the popular General Blücher.
The Prince Regent, naturally, wished to reap the credit for the magnificent
show London was putting on.
Unfortunately, he had forgotten that his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick,
was related to the Russian royal guests. Embarrassingly, they kept asking after
The Prince was anxious to show his royal guests round London.
Amongst other attractions, Tsar Alexander visited the 'Emperor of Pugilism',
‘Gentleman’ John Jackson’s boxing academy for gentlemen at No 13, Bond
Street. Here Alexander watched a special sparring
bout. The exhibition has the net purse he awarded Jackson
afterwards – suitably full of guineas, one hopes.
Castle of Discord
I particularly enjoyed the colourful prints of the
attractions London had to offer. I
loved the print of the destruction of the Castle
of Discord, a wooden structure
erected in Green Park
opposite what is now Buckingham Palace.
It was 130 ft high and 100 ft square. On August 1, it was subjected to a ‘cannonade’
simulating siege warfare. During the two hour ‘battle’, clouds of smoke
obscured the castle, accompanied by some tremendous bangs. When the smoke
finally cleared, behold! the castle had vanished and in its place stood the Temple
of Concord, ‘rich, beautiful and
resplendent’. The event finished with fireworks celebrating the return
Temple of Concord
The writer Charles Lamb was there to enjoy the junketings.
He wrote to Wordsworth, ‘The fireworks
were splendid – the Rockets in clusters, in trees and all shapes, spreading
about like stars in the making.’
I wish I’d been there to see it. Oh, to time travel! Fortunately,
the illustrated exhibition catalogue includes interesting and informative essays
by the curators, Alexander Rich, who has loaned many objects from his
magnificent collection, and Dr Jerzy Kierkuć-Bielinski.
Photographs courtesy of: Alexander Rich, Private Collection. Photography:
Peace Breaks Out: London and Paris in the Summer of 1814
is on at Sir
John Soane’s Museum from 20th
June – 13th
September, 2014. It is free. www.soane.org
Labels: Alexander Rich., Elizabeth Hawksley, Peace Celebrations 1814, Sir John Soane’s Museum