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Item: BSL - 1811 William of Orange


Here is William of Orange's report on the Battle of El Bodon and the capture of the Commandant of Cuidad Rodrigo. A Regal Addition to any Peninsular War Collection!





"Freneda miserable village
near Almeida
October 15th 1811
Freneda was Wellington's Headquarters at this time

Royal Red Seal of the
House of Orange

William of Orange

"2N4" Postage Rate
2 Shilling/4 Pence

Coat of Arms of
House of Orange

Blue Lisbon Cancel
October ? 1811

The British Post Office ran a Packet from Lisbon to Falmouth, but despite the number of troops in the field and the length of time of the battles, there were no distinctive postmarks for the military mail at this time.

King Willem II of the Netherlands (1792 -1849)
 - HRH William, Prince of Orange
British General & Wellington's Aide de Camp in the Peninsular Campaign

HRM Willem II, By the Grace of God King of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Duke of Lauenburg, Prince of Orange, Prince of Nassau-Dietz, GCB, GCH, made Field Marshall of Great Britain on July 28, 1845

 William, hereditary Prince of Orange, served on Wellington’s Staff in the Peninsula and rose from a Lieutenant Colonel [1811] to a General [1814] in the British Army. He served on Wellington’s staff as an Aide-de-Camp. His nickname in the Peninsular army was "Slender Billy". His personal bravery was never in dispute and he along with Lord Fitzroy Somerset were warned about their conduct after they personally joined in one of the assaults in early 1812, Ciudad Rodrigo or Badajoz. He was also a General in the Netherlands Army.
     Wellington liked the young Prince, and wrote that "he has a very good education, his manners are very engaging, and he is liked by every person who approaches him" (Wellington Dispatches, vol x, page 390, to Earl Bathurst, 18 May 1813). The Prince left the Peninsula after his countrymen revolted against Napoleon in 1813 and held a command in the Netherlands. He succeeded Sir Thomas Graham in the summer of 1814 as the commander of the British Subsidiary Army in the Netherlands. He held the command until April 1815 when Wellington was appointed the Commander of the Forces to face Napoleon.

2 page Document – Signed: William of Orange
Dated: October 15th 1811
Text as Follows:

Freneda miserable village near Almeida
October 15th 1811

My dear Bull,

     You will have seen in the Papers that we have at last been fighting and had a most gallant little action near El Bodon; nothing can afford a more positive proof of the superiority of our Troops than this affair did, since according to Lord Wellington’s own opinion, it is impossible that any troops, can at any time be Exposed to the attack of numbers, relatively greater than those which attacked the troops under Major General Colville and Major General Alten on the 25th September, which day shall ever be memorable to me, and shall ever be recollected by me with delight. How extraordinary great is our Commander in an action, and how much does his coolness, decision, and promptness in discerning the enemy’s intentions inspire confidence to those under his command, it is however not less pleasing to see the confidence and love he bears to his Troops and the justice he does to the conduct of the Officers and men after an action; how kind and unmerited is the manner in which he mentions me in his Dispatch for which I can not enough express my gratitude to this most great and excellent man, the more one sees him the more one knows of him, the more one loves and admires him; he is according to my opinion at once a perfectly morally good man a great General, Great Politician, and Financier, very severe to those who neglect their duty and to the utmost kind and grateful to those who fulfill it well. –
     Don Julian’s Guerillas took Yesterday a famous prize since they made General Renaud the Commandant of Ciudad Rodrigo a prisoner at about a cannon shot’s distance from the place, and took besides about 200 oxen and nearly 300 sheep and goats which formed part of the provisions of the town, we hope to see the General at Head Quarters tomorrow or the next day which will be very good fun.
     I suppose you are now in all the agonies foreboding a near deliverance in the shape of a first class, which I wish with all my heart you may obtain, I trust this letter will find you having got over your hot business with Bachelor’s sleeves, how respectable you must look in them! Leinster and Company have been a week with us and just during the late engagements with the French they were all very well, and seemed to like our way of living, Clare excepted who was particularly anxious to get back to Lisbon. Remember me if you please to the Howley’s and all my other Oxford Friends and Acquaintances, and Believe me your faithful

                                                                     [signed] William of Orange

The Baron and Johnson wish to be remembered and are very well.

NB: William, having lived in exile in England and attended Oxford, was an Anglophile and thus wrote his own name in the English form: William -  His name in Dutch form: Willem.
"Howley" was Dr. William Howley, DD,(1766 - 1848), Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford (1809-1813), Canon of Christ Church; afterwards Bishop of London. Howley, once a rector of Bradford Peverell, eventually rose to become Archbishop of Canterbury (1828-48), and it was he who crowned Queen Victoria.
The ‘Baron’ is likely Baron Jean de Constant Rebecque, of later Quatre Bras fame. As William was the Prince of Orange he had his own suite and the Baron was a Flemish mentor or aide who looked after the young Prince. "Johnson" also most likely Mr. Johnson, an Englishman and tutor to the young Prince. He is also known to have been in the suite.

Battle at el Bodon - September 25th 1811
The British were falling back from Cuidad Rodrigo from a superior French force arriving to relieve and re-supply the fort during a siege by Wellington's British/Portuguese troops. The British were forming a new headquarters at Fuente Guinaldo. Wellington did not expect any pursuit or battle. About half way to Fuente Guinaldo, on the day after they began the retreat, 2,500 French Cavalry caught up to several British battalions. There followed fighting for about 2 hours with the British able to fall back under their sabres. French Commander Marmont was not able to proceed and make it a general attack between armies.

The following are from The Napoleonic War Journal of Captain Thomas Henry Browne: 1807 - 1816. Browne served on Wellington's staff in the Adjutant General's Office from 1810 - 1814:

p.156: April 1812 "The Prince of Orange was at head-quarters during this time as one of Ld. Wellington's Aid de Camps. He was ... not deficient in personal courage."
p.180: September 1812 "The Prince of Orange continued still at Head Quarters, acting as Aid de Camp to Ld. Wellington, & became popular by his quiet & unassuming manners. I may here mention that when in 1814 the Revolution favor of his family took place in Holland, he left us at San Jean de Luz. A British sloop of war was sent there to receive him, & the boat which put him on board was rowed by British Officers."
p.202: Winter 1812 - 1813: "The Prince of Orange was at Head Quarters, acting as one of Lord Wellington's Aids de camp. There were attached to him, two very gentlemen-like & agreeable men one a Fleming, Baron de Constant, the other an Englishman of the name of Johnson, who had been with the Prince at College. They were both very fond of music, & used to visit me occasionally in an evening & sing Spanish duets & trios."

Willem was apparently quite popular as one of Wellington's aides de camp. During a party he was hoisted into the air on a chair by fellow celebrants with predictable results because of the large quantities of liquor consumed. The group could not handle it and collapsed in a pile on the floor. William of Orange was one of several Aides de Camp of Wellington during the Peninsular War. He was wounded during the Battle of Waterloo and the Dutch have been told ad infinitum that if it were not for his actions at Quatre Bras, Wellington would have lost, while the English version of Waterloo casts a different light on the young General's performance claiming that he nearly compromised victory due to his inexperience. Ah well, history is written from the viewpoint of one's own backyard.

Thanks to Kees Adema for the Dutch perspective and Ron McGuigan for his extensive Peninsular and Napoleonic background.

Historical Note

King Willem II of the Netherlands

Willem II (William Frederick George Louis) (December 6, 1792 – March 17, 1849) was King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg from October 7, 1840 until his death on March 17, 1849. Note that Willem is the Dutch form of William, who actually used the English form, William, of his name within the family and among friends.

He was born in The Hague, the son of King William I of the Netherlands and Queen Wilhelmina, princess of Prussia. His maternal grandparents were Frederick William II of Prussia and his second wife Frederika Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt. When William was three he and his family fled to England after allied British-Hanoverian mercenaries left the Republic and entering French troops joined the anti-orangist Patriots. William spent his youth in Berlin at the Prussian court. There he followed a military education and served in the Prussian army. Afterwards he studied at the University of Oxford. It  was to his friends at Oxford that this letter was written. He entered the British Army, and in 1811, as aide-de-camp to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, took part in several campaigns of the Peninsular War, where he was mentioned in dispatches and noted approvingly by Wellington. He returned to the Netherlands in 1813 when his father became sovereign prince following the defeat and retreat of Napoleon from the Low Countries following the battle of Leipzig. In 1815 William became crown prince and he took service in the army when Napoleon I of France escaped from Elba. He fought as commander of combined Dutch and Belgian forces, The Royal Netherlands Mobile Army, at the Battle of Quatre Bras (June 16) and as Commander of the 1st Corps at the Battle of Waterloo (June 18), where he was wounded. He was considered a hero although his military inexperience was the cause of several critical errors.

In 1813 William became briefly engaged with Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, only daughter of George IV, Prince Regent of the United Kingdom and Caroline of Brunswick. The marriage was arranged by George but Charlotte did not want to marry William so the engagement was broken. On February 21, 1816, William married Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia, sister to Czar Alexander I of Russia, who arranged the marriage to seal the good relations between Imperial Russia and the Netherlands. On February 17, 1817 his eldest son Willem Alexander was born (the future King Willem III) in Brussels, where he lived. He enjoyed considerable popularity in Belgium, as well as in the Netherlands for his affability and moderation, and in 1830, on the outbreak of the Belgian revolution, he did his utmost in Brussels as a peace broker, to bring about a settlement based on administrative autonomy for the southern provinces, under the House of Orange-Nassau. His father afterwards rejected the terms of accommodation that he had proposed. Relations with his father remained tense. In April 1831 he was leader of the ten day campaign in Belgium which was driven back to the North by French intervention. European intervention established Leopold of Saxe-Gotha on the new throne of Belgium. Peace was finally established between Belgium and the Netherlands in 1839.

King of the Netherlands

On October 7, 1840, on his father's abdication, Willem acceded the throne as Willem II. Like his father he was conservative and less likely to initiate changes. He intervened less in policies than his father did. There was increased agitation for broad constitutional reform and a wider electoral franchise. And though he was personally conservative and no democrat, he acted with sense and moderation. The Revolutions of 1848 broke out all over Europe. In Paris the Bourbon-Orléans monarchy fell. William became afraid of revolution in Amsterdam. One morning he woke up and said: "I changed from conservative to liberal in one night". He gave orders to Johan Rudolf Thorbecke to create a new constitution which included that the Eerste Kamer (Senate) would be chosen indirectly by the Provincial States and that the Tweede Kamer (House of Representatives) would be chosen directly. Electoral system changed into census suffrage in electoral districts (in 1917 census suffrage was replaced by common suffrage for all adults, and districts were replaced by party lists of different political parties), whereby royal power decreased sharply. The constitution is still in effect today. He swore in the first parliamentary cabinet a few months before his sudden death in Tilburg, North Brabant (1849).

From left to right: Willem III (1817–1890), Alexander (1818–1848), Willem II (1792–1849)
Anna Pavlovna (1795–1865), Sophie (1824–1897) and Hendrik (1820–1879).

Document Specifications:  A single sheet of watermarked (R&T on Royal Crest), batonne laid paper, bifolium into four pages. Handwritten letter on two pages dated October 15th, 1811 at Freneda and signed "William of Orange". Addressed to John Bull at Christ Church, Oxford with a blue Lisbon postal cancel and a 2 Shilling & 4 Pence manuscript marking. A wonderful, and extremely scarce Peninsular War letter by a future King who was the Duke of Wellington's Aide de Camp and later a Field Marshall of England.

Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd.

End of Item: BSL - 1811 William of Orange

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