A Celebration of Waterloo: Wellington’s Exploring Officers

All the business of war and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavor to find out what you don’t know by what you do: that’s what I call ‘guessing what was on the other side of the hill.’

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

 The Business of Spying

Up until the early 19th century, spying was considered an odious and ungentlemanly occupation and few officers would agree to do it.

But by the time the 19th century rolled around, with the spreading of Napoleon’s empire on the continent, General Brownrigg, the Quartermaster-General of the British Army, went to the Commander-in-Chief, Frederick, the Duke of York, to propose that army develop a unit called the Depot of Military Intelligence, and it was done. The problem was—nobody wanted to do it.

Wellington’s Exploring Officers

peninsular war map

When General Wellesley arrived in Portugal, he couldn’t find an accurate map of the country and had to write to his brother-in-law to send him one. Realizing that his lack of information about the movements of the enemy, as well as the terrain and countryside, Wellington established a corps of “Exploring Officers.”

Exploring officers had to be fine horsemen, skilled linguists, and able to express themselves in sketching and writing in the most concise terms. With the assistance of local inhabitants, they would map the countryside four miles to the inch. That done, they would move behind enemy lines, learn troop movements and strategic information, and return to disclose this information to Wellington.

Sir John Waters

Sir John Waters of the Royal Scots

John Waters of the Royal Scots was known as a wily and capable man behind enemy lines. However, he was caught by the French and given up for dead by his regiment. When a man dies, his personal possessions are generally auctioned off to his comrades, but Wellington forbade this, saying that “Waters should be back and would want his things.” And he was right. Waters did come back and supposedly did want his things back.

Most exploring officers wore their uniforms, since soldiers caught behind enemy lines out of uniform was immediately shot as a spy. John Grant was one of the few who went in disguise. He became very friendly with the Portuguese people and adopted their local dress, much to the horror of his fellow officers. After the war, instead of being lauded for their risk-taking, these courageous men were shunned by their former regiments as “gadabouts” who were not really engaged in the business of war.

Colquhoun Grant

From Wikipedia:

Colquhoun Grant, Gentleman Spy

Colquhoun Grant, Gentleman Spy

The youngest of eight brothers in a family from the Scots aristocracy, Grant was commissioned into the 11th Foot in 1795. In 1809 he was posted to the Iberian Peninsula under the command of Arthur Wellesley, who in 1810 appointed him to his personal staff as an exploring officer in the Peninsula Corps of Guides, a special reconnaissance unit who spoke the local languages.

Grant was captured by French forces on 16 April 1812. As he was in uniform he was treated as an officer and gentleman by his captors, who offered him parole, which Grant accepted. Grant was invited to dine with Marshal Marmont who hoped to find out more about Wellington, and who was angered by Grant’s reticence. Marmont had good reason to remain suspicious of Grant, as the latter managed to send and receive secret messages while in captivity.


Auguste de Marmont

Marmont sent Grant to Paris for interrogation. It is clear from Marmont’s correspondence that he had no intention of exchanging Grant for a prisoner of equal rank among the British, as was the custom of the time, considering him to be a spy. Grant, on seeing a copy of Marmont’s letter, decided that it invalidated his agreement to parole and left him free to escape.

Grant was able to avoid recapture by passing himself off as an American officer, and spent some weeks at liberty in the streets and salons of Paris, sending intelligence reports to Wellington. He then escaped to England, rejoining Wellington in early 1814. Promoted to lieutenant-colonel he was appointed commanding officer of the Corps of Guides and Head of Intelligence for the Peninsular Army.

During the Hundred Days Campaign, Grant was working as intelligence officer in France when Wellington put him in charge of his own intelligence operations. Grant sent in a steady stream of reports regarding the build-up of French troops along the border and returned to Brussels in time to take part in the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June.

Lost and Found Lady

Rupert Ellsworth, the hero in story in the Beaux, Ballrooms, and Battles anthology, is an exploring officer in Wellington’s army in 1812 when he decides to disguise himself as a French soldier following the Battle of Salamanca. Unfortunately, he’s not the greatest horseman and falls off the untrained French horse and hits his head on a rock. Fortunately he is discovered soon after by Catalina, a local girl, who takes it upon herself to nurse him back to health. One thing leads to another and it isn’t long before the pair fall in love. But Catalina is not a whore and Rupert has promised his father to marry a “suitable English girl,” so the future for them looks grim. Between one thing and another, the two are separated… to be reunited several years later in Belgium just as another war is brewing. Circumstances for both of them have drastically changed, and Rupert is bound for the battlefield. Will there be a future for them or is it too late?

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Jillian Chantal: Jeremiah’s Charge

Emmaline Rothesay has her eye on Jeremiah Denby as a potential suitor. When Captain Denby experiences a life-altering incident during the course of events surrounding the Battle of Waterloo, it throws a damper on Emmaline’s plans.

Téa Cooper: The Caper Merchant

The moon in Gemini is a fertile field of dreams, ideas and adventure and Pandora Wellingham is more than ready to spread her wings. When Monsieur Cagneaux, caper merchant to the rich and famous, introduces her to the handsome dragoon she believes her stars have aligned.

Susana Ellis: Lost and Found Lady

Catalina and Rupert fell in love in Spain in the aftermath of a battle, only to be separated by circumstances. Years later, they find each other again, just as another battle is brewing, but is it too late?

Aileen Fish: Captain Lumley’s Angel

Charged with the duty of keeping his friend’s widow safe, Captain Sam Lumley watches over Ellen Staverton as she recovers from her loss, growing fonder of her as each month passes. When Ellen takes a position as a companion, Sam must confront his feelings before she’s completely gone from his life.

Victoria Hinshaw: Folie Bleue

On the night of the 30th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, Aimée, Lady Prescott, reminisces about meeting her husband in Bruxelles on the eve of the fighting. She had avoided the dashing scarlet-clad British officers, but she could not resist the tempting smile and spellbinding charm of Captain Robert Prescott of the 16th Light Dragoons who—dangerously to Aimée—wore blue.

Heather King: Copenhagen’s Last Charge

When Meg Lacy finds herself riding through the streets of Brussels only hours after the Battle of Waterloo, romance is the last thing on her mind, especially with surly Lieutenant James Cooper. However, their bickering uncovers a strange empathy—until, that is, the lieutenant makes a grave error of judgment that jeopardizes their budding friendship…

Christa Paige: One Last Kiss

The moment Colin held Beatrice in his arms he wanted one last kiss to take with him into battle and an uncertain future. Despite the threat of a soldier’s death, he must survive, for he promises to return to her because one kiss from Beatrice would never be enough.

Sophia Strathmore: A Soldier Lay Dying

Amelia and Anne Evans find themselves orphaned when their father, General Evans, dies. With no other options available, Amelia accepts the deathbed proposal of Oliver Brighton, Earl of Montford, a long time family friend. When Lord Montford recovers from his battle wounds, can the two find lasting love?

David W. Wilkin: Not a Close Run Thing at All

Years, a decade. And now, Robert had come back into her life. Shortly before battle was to bring together more than three hundred thousand soldiers. They had but moments after all those years, and now, would they have any more after?

4 thoughts on “A Celebration of Waterloo: Wellington’s Exploring Officers

  1. I’m happy to see your answer here. Hopefully it will be soon. 🙂 Another informative and intetesting post.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com


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