Philobiblon: Visiting the Duke

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Visiting the Duke

Imagine an alternative history - a great game for a wet winter's afternoon. The battle of Waterloo turns out the other way, and today in London breakfast means a croissant and an espresso, and all of its women can tie a scarf just so.

Hard to see? Well yes. But had that come to pass, it would have been one of Napoleon's generals, most likely, living in the house that was called No 1 London, which still today guards the entrance to the formal parts of Westminster.

Instead, of course, Apsley House became the home of the Duke of Wellington - the designer of that famous boot, among his other claims to fame.

But this is not a military museum; you won't feel like you're playing war games. The house has been restored to much the state that it was in when Wellington lived there in splendour in the years after Waterloo, a life that embraced both celebration and disappointment.

The former is best represented by the painting in the entry hall of the grand dinner, held every year on the anniversary of Waterloo (June 18), to which scores of his officers were invited. The latter is represented in the scores of political caricatures mocking Wellington the Prime Minister who chose to during his term of office to live here, rather than move to the humbler quarters of Downing Street.

For here was not just a spectacular house, but the fittings and furnishings donated by the grateful crowned heads of Europe - many of whom owed their status to Waterloo. That means it could hardly be grander, for the crowned heads had a taste for luxury, if not a sense of taste. READ MORE


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