LORD FITZROY SOMERSET, FIRST BARON RAGLAN (1788-1855)
Lord FitzRoy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan, had one of the longest and most distinguished careers of any British soldier in the 19th Century. Military Secretary (and right-hand man) to the first Duke of Wellington in the Iberian Peninsula and at Waterloo, Raglan went on to command British troops in the Crimea from 1854-55, winning a string of early victories but dying before the war had been brought to a successful conclusion.
Lord FitzRoy Somerset was born at Badminton House in 1788, the eighth and youngest son of the fifth Duke of Beaufort (1744-1803). Educated at Westminster School, he was just fifteen when his father bought him a commission in the 4th Light Dragoons. In 1808, at the outbreak of the Peninsular War, he was appointed aide-de-camp to the British commander in Portugal, Sir Arthur Wellesley (the future 1st Duke of Wellington). So began a close personal and professional relationship that lasted more than forty years. Wellesley found young Somerset to be unflappable, tactful, industrious and discreet -- the ideal staff officer -- and in January 1811 made him his military secretary. Already Somerset had proved himself in battle, bearing the dispatches after Talavera (1809) and receiving a wound at Busaco (1810). But the post of military secretary was hardly less dangerous and Somerset, by then a 23-year-old major, played a distinguished role in the bloody storming of Badojoz in 1812. In many of these engagements Somerset would have used his personal ivory field telescope (lot 17), just one of the many items in the Raglan collection that have huge historical significance.
Lord FitzRoy Somerset was also present at the battles of Salamanca (1812), Vitoria (1813) and Toulouse (1814), and was rewarded with a knighthood (KCB), the Peninsular Gold Medal (with clasps for Badojoz and Salamanca) and the Peninsular Gold Cross (with five clasps). These latter medals (part of lot 50) were instituted by the Prince Regent on behalf of his ailing father, George III, to reward senior officers for their service in the Peninsula. For his first battle the recipient would be awarded a gold medal, for his second and third two clasps, and thereafter the exquisite gold cross (with clasps). Ordinary soldiers and officers below the rank of major received nothing until the belated institution of the silver Military General Service Medal - the first campaign medal awarded by the British Army - in 1847, by which time many of the would-be recipients were dead.
Lord FitzRoy Somerset, meanwhile, had strengthened his ties to Wellington in 1814 by marrying the Iron Duke's favourite niece, Lady Emily Wellesley-Pole (second daughter of Wellington's brother William Wellesley-Pole, Lord Maryborough and later third Earl of Mornington). It was partly thanks to Emily and partly due to Somerset's own closeness to Wellington, that the Raglan collection contains so many important pieces of Wellingtoniana, including a diamond-set gold bracelet containing a lock of the duke's hair (lot 84) and a locket containing a lock of the duke's hair that he gave to his niece in 1837 (lot 82). Sadly one of the most important artefacts that Wellington gave his niece has since been lost -- the cloak that he wore at the battle of Waterloo -- it was burnt whilst on loan to a government museum in the early 20th century.
At the Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815, Napoleon's final defeat, Somerset was still serving as Wellington's military secretary, his 'right arm'; and it was to cost him his own when a musket ball smashed his right elbow, leaving the surgeon with no option but to amputate. He endured the excruciating pain of the anaesthetic-free operation, only breaking his silence as the severed limb was tossed aside: 'Hey, bring my arm back. There's a ring my wife gave me on the finger'. This may well have been 'Tipu Sultan's ring', said to have been taken from the dead hand of the 'Tiger' of Mysore by Wellington (then Colonel the Hon. Arthur Wellesley) during the storming of Seringapatam in southern India in 1799 (see lot 10). Wellington later gave the ring to his niece Emily and she, in turn, gave it to her husband. She also gave Somerset another remarkable artifact in the collection, the cockade that the Prussian commander, Marshal Blücher, was wearing on his hat when he met the Duke of Wellington in failing light near the inn of La Belle Alliance in the aftermath of Waterloo (lot 46). 'Mein lieber Kamerad!' cried Blücher in German, before using one of the few French phrases that he knew, 'Quelle affaire.' Hours later, while writing the official Waterloo dispatch, Wellington would acknowledge the debt that he owed to the Prussians: 'I should not do justice to my own feelings, or to Marshal Blücher and the Prussian Army, if I did not attribute the successful result of this arduous day to the cordial and timely assistance I received from them.'
Other Waterloo items in the collection include a miniature wooden sword that was carved from the tree where Wellington commanded much of the battle (lot 45); an oil painting, attributed to William Webb, of the horses ridden by Wellington (Copenhagen) and Somerset (a bay mare) on 18 June 1815 (lot 48); and Somerset's Waterloo Medal, issued in 1816-17 and the first award given by the British government to all soldiers present at a battle (part of lot 50).
After Waterloo Somerset continued working as the duke's secretary, accompanying him on a number of diplomatic missions. In 1827, when Wellington became commander-in-chief of the British Army for the first time, Somerset was appointed military secretary to the Horse Guards and remained in the post until his promotion to master-general of the ordnance after Wellington's death in 1852. Also offered a peerage, he was tempted to refuse on the grounds of economy. But Queen Victoria smoothed matters by anonymously paying his peer's expenses of £500 and so, in late 1852, Somerset became the first Baron Raglan.
By then FitzRoy and Emily had suffered the tragedy of losing the eldest of their four children - 29 year-old Major Arthur Somerset was killed at the Battle of Ferozeshah (21 December 1845) during the first Sikh War. There is a small group in the collection related to the ill-fated Arthur including a Mahratta tulwar (sword; lot 87) which had been captured by Arthur two years before his death, in a feat of great bravery at the battle of Maharajpoor; and a magnificent silver centrepiece, commissioned by Lord FitzRoy Somerset from Garrards to celebrate this courageous moment (lot 88).
In 1854, towards the end of his career, the 65-year-old Raglan was selected to command the 25,000-strong British expeditionary force sent out with French troops to assist the Turks in their war with Russia. In almost fifty years of service he had never commanded a formation larger than a battalion, even in peacetime and at that point he was expected to lead an army. In his favour was his long association with Wellington, his fluency in French and his reputation for tact and diplomacy.
On 20 September 1854, barely a week after landing on the Crimean peninsula, Raglan won a great victory over the Russians at the River Alma. So unconcerned was he for his own safety that at one point during the battle he rode forward with his staff to a low rise in the midst of the Russian skirmishing line so that he could observe the progress of his troops. A number of his staff officers and their horses were hit, but Raglan remained miraculously untouched.
After this victory there was a brief opportunity to capture the Russian naval base of Sevastopol by coup-de-main before reinforcements arrived; but the French persuaded Raglan to skirt round the port so that it could be assaulted from the southern uplands, and the opportunity was lost. It would take another year, and thousands of lives, before the port was eventually captured.
During the early stage of the siege of Sevastopol, Raglan's troops fought and won two of the most famous battles in British military history: Balaklava and Inkermann (25 October and 5 November 1854, respectively). The former battle prevented the Russians from capturing the British supply base of Balaklava; but it was also the occasion of the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade when a misinterpreted order led to 676 horsemen being sent down a valley bounded on three sides by Russian riflemen and cannon. When the charge was over, only 195 men were still mounted. Some historians have blamed the imprecision of Raglan's order for the blunder. But arguably the real culprit was Captain Nolan, the staff galloper, who failed to provide cavalry commander Lord Lucan with the necessary clarification and who paid for the error with his life. 'All the cavalry lay the disastrous charge on [Nolan's] shoulders,' wrote Raglan's naval aide, 'and say that he left no option to Lord L. to whom they say his tone was almost taunting on delivering the message.' Among one of the most notable Crimean objects in the Raglan collection is the bridle that Captain Nolan's horse was wearing when its owner was killed by a Russian shell (the first casualty of the charge; lot 125). Other extremely rare items dating from this period include the Field Marshal's Baton (part of lot 50) that Raglan was awarded after his victory at Inkermann (a rank that had been created for Raglan's mentor Wellington after his success at Vitoria); Raglan's Crimea Medal (part of lot 50) with four clasps (which one officer described as a 'vulgar looking thing', likening its clasps to decanter labels); the elm table that was used by Queen Victoria to distribute the first Crimea Medals in London in May 1855 (lot 137); a Russian bugle that was seized in mid-toot by a British drummer boy when the 77th Regiment stormed a Russian trench (lot 141); and two bronze Russian cannon, dated 1821 and 1829, that were probably captured when the Allies finally took Sevastopol in September 1855 (lots 138 & 139).
Raglan did not live to see this victorious conclusion to the campaign. He died on 28 June 1855, ten days after his troops had failed to capture a key Russian redoubt known as the Grand Redan on the 40th Anniversary of Waterloo. One of Raglan's doctors put his death down to exhaustion. His chief of staff had a simpler (albeit rather Victorian) explanation: 'He died of a broken Heart.'
In spite of his early protestations in 1854 about the unsuitability of the Crimean environment for a winter campaign, the government unfairly tried to blame Raglan for the supply disaster the previous winter that cost thousands of British soldiers their lives. Their comrades knew the truth. 'He was a good man to his soldiers in every thing', wrote one artillerymen after Raglan's death. 'Sevastopol would have been taken long ago if justice had only been done to him.'
A fund that had been earlier set up by a group of Lord Raglan's friends and supporters was re-opened after his death as the Raglan Memorial fund and the large sum of money raised enabled the purchase of Cefntilla Court, Monmouthshire, in his memory. An inscription over the front door dated 1858 commemorates this gift: This house with 238 acres of land was purchased by 1623 of the friends, admirers and comrades of the late Field Marshal Lord Raglan GCB and presented by them to his son and his heirs...as a lasting memorial of affectionate regard and respect.
Saul David is Professor of War Studies at the University of Buckingham and author of Victoria's Wars
THE DUKES OF BEAUFORT