Memoirs of a Highland Lady: Waterloo and the Return to Edinburgh

A view of the battlefield from the Lion’s mound (which did not exist in 1819). On the top right are the buildings of La Haie Sainte. 

Waterloo (as seen in 1819)

And then we went to Waterloo. Oh, will there ever be another war! At first sight there was nothing, as it seemed, to look at, a wide plain under crop, a few rising grounds wooded, a hamlet or two, and the forest of Soigny. An old man of the name of Lacoste—an old cheat, I believe—in a blouse, striped night cap, and immense shoes, came up as a guide to all the different points of interest, and did his pan well, although his pretension to having been the attendant of Buonaparte during the Battle and his director in his flight was a fable. He took us up to the ruins of Houguemont, to La Haie Sainte, to the hollow with the paved road in the bottom of it where the Guards felt themselves so at home, to the wide mound raised by the heaps of the slain, to the truncated column of black marble erected to the memory of an hero. At this distance of time I do not remember all we saw, and I did not attend to all he told, mistrusting his veracity. The scene was impressive enough gazed on silently; and then to think of the terrour in Brussels, of the despair in the neighbouring villages, of the two armies individually and collectively, of the two Commanders and all that hung upon the strife so lately ended! This was but the fourth year after the victory, the world was still full of the theme, but there was little trace of the struggle left upon the ground it had been fought on. Fine crops of corn had been this very Autumn waving there, though the plough still turned up relicks of the eventful day. Monsieur Lacoste had a sack full of trophies he said had been found upon the field. The feeling of the people most certainly did not go with the victors. They hated the Union with the Dutch, they hated the Dutch King ruling over them; the habits and manners of the two ill cemented nations were totally dissimilar, and with the French they amalgamated readily. The Emperour really lived in their hearts, spite of the Conscription, spite of his defeat, spite of his crimes, as we may call the consequences of his ambition.

“The morning after the battle of Waterloo”, by John Heaviside Clark, 1816

The Return from the Continent

Here [Rotterdam] we had a great deal to do… All the mornings my father was packing his old China, quantities of which he had picked up here and there in the course of our wanderings, always dispatching his purchases to Rotterdam to await our arrival. So heavy was then the duty upon foreign porcelaine, it would have cost a fortune to have sent all this Collection home through the Custom House—it was therefore to reach us by degrees, a barrel of butter or herring or such commodities as these plates and dishes could be packed amongst was to be entrusted to our old friend the skipper of the Van Egmont every return journey he made, and positively most of these treasures in time reached us, the skipper not always taking the trouble to put them up as directed.

We had a stormy passage, a pitchy sea, the result of a storm just lulling, with a wind ahead. Even I who never suffer at sea, was ill enough for an hour or two… Instead of landing at Harwich, we were put ashore some few miles up the coast at a small village… Our inn was village like—clean beds its greatest luxury. After the palace hotels we had been accustomed to of late, the little ill furnished parlours, the closet bedrooms, and the inferiour style of establishment altogether in these English Country inns, made an unfavourable first impression… The first church I saw abroad struck me as bare, so cold, with so much white washed wall and so very little ornament. The first I saw again at home seemed only like an aisle of the others, rich enough in carvings, pillars, stained glass, and so on, but so confined so narrow, so small, all stuffed up with seats for dignatories. I missed the grand space that to the unaccustomed eye had seemed desolate… I felt as if there were not room to move in the Cathedral, Lincoln, after being but a mite in the one at Antwerp.

post chaise, 1815

We had all through travelled in two divisions. My father, my Mother and I and Ward. And William, Jane, Mary and the Courier. With him, however, we had parted at Brussels… The people everywhere had taken us at first for two distinct families. My father and I they supposed to be man and wife, and my Mother was his Mother in law. William and Mary were the Monsieur and Madame of the other carriage, and Jane the sister in law; not bad guesses. My father looked like my Mother’s son, and I looked far too old to be his daughter. William infinitely too old to be his son, and Jane and William were so alike they could not be mistaken for brother and sister. We were quite amused at all these erroneous impressions, and the younger ones eager still further to mystify our hosts and hostesses and my father in the front of the fun, but we saw soon that it seriously annoyed my Mother. She had no idea of acting Madame mere to the whole party, so we had to restrain our mirth when she was by.

Memoirs of a Highland Lady

‘I was born on the 7th May 1797 of a Sunday evening at No. 5 N. side of Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, in my father’s own lately built house and I am the eldest of five children he and my mother raised to maturity.’ Thus opens one of the most famous set of memoirs ever written. Since its first bowdlerised edition in 1898, they have been consistently in print. This is the first ever complete text. Written between 1845 and 1854 the memoirs were originally intended simply for Elizabeth’s family, but these vivid and inimitable records of life in the early 19th century, and above all on the great Rothiemurchus estate, full of sharp observation and wit, form an unforgettable picture of her time. The story ends with the thirty-three-year-old Elizabeth finding her own future happiness in marriage to an Irish landowner, Colonel Smith of Baltiboys. ‘A masterpiece of historical and personal recall.’ Scotsman


Memoirs of a Highland Lady

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