Saturday, June 26, 2010

Woman at Waterloo; Lady de Lancey; a Quiet Grave at Salcombe Regis

[Please note: the following blog-piece was written and posted in 2010, 5 years ago - when the Waterloo battle was 195 years ago!]

A Week at Waterloo in 1815: Lady De Lancey's Narrative: Being an Account of How She Nursed Her Husband, Colonel Sir William Howe De Lancey, Quartermaster-General ... Army, Mortally Wounded in the Great BattleIn a romantic dell of East Devon is Salcombe Regis, a village which one commentator noted is ‘almost buried in its sylvan combe’, until it opens out to the sea.

Magnolia flowering in the churchyard at Salcombe Regis

 In the graveyard of the peaceful and ancient church lie the remains of a woman called Lady Magdalene de Lancey, whose name, existence and short connection to Devon is not generally remembered – except to the few who are aware of her story. I now know that her grave is number 58, to the south of the church. Unfortunately, when I visited the church I was not aware of its location and so did not locate it.
Salcombe Regis church and graveyard

Magdalene was present at, and more importantly, wrote a compelling narrative about, the trauma of tending to her husband William Howe De Lancey, as he lay dying after the Battle of Waterloo, June 18th, 1815 - 195 years ago.This article in The Mail has photos of Lancey, and tells the story of what happened. Lady de Lancey's account was published, but  was then forgotten for many years. It only resurfaced  when it was discovered in the attic of the writer's great great great grandson.

Lady de Lancey’s visit to Devon was as short-lived  as the first printed edition of her work. She had apparently come to the village to convalesce, after giving birth to a third child after her second marriage, but  had sadly and poignantly died, on 12th July 1822, at the age of 28. The burial entry in Salcombe Regis registers states that Magdalene was 'Wife of Captain Harvey - formerly the widow of St William Howe de Lancey Quarter Master General of the Army under the Duke of Wellington'.

The contrast between the serenity of this idyllic spot and the violence of the story that de Lancey had set down could not be greater. Another disparity is that between the writer's own brittle physical fragility and the strength of inner resources she must have possessed to undertake the task. De Lancey's tribute to her husband left what one writer called ‘a heart wrenching document that offers a rare female perspective on a traditionally male historical event.’

Magdalene de Lancey’s Narrative - the full text of which is included in the book Lady de Lancey at Waterloo, by David Miller - and some of which is here on The History Press.; also see a review at Even the Horse were Screaming-is just one example taken from a surfeit of texts by women concerning journeys in and out of Devon. Many of these texts, just like hers, have been lost in the mists of time. Magdalene's journey was to what would have been, in the early C19 a remote place for a woman to travel to; she ‘had travelled farther and experienced more of life than many of her contemporaries’ - and one might one add, than many of her ostensibly well-travelled C21 female descendants.

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