I fell in love with historical fiction when I was eight or nine years old (for which I mainly blame Rosemary Sutcliff), so it is perhaps not surprising that I ended up writing historical fiction myself. And because I like a good love story and a happy ending that leaves a smile on your face, I write historical romance.
Needless to say, I also love history, but rather than to dry facts and figures, I’ve always felt more drawn to ... let’s say, the quirkier side of history, ranging from the Romans’ preference for fermented fish sauce (according to one recipe, ingredients are to be left in the sun to mature for up to 3 months *shudder*) (can you imagine the smell???) to the 18th-century medical wax figures at the museum La Specola in Florence (I’ve got a book with pictures of the whole collection – gives me the creeps). And in my new series about the fictional Victorian periodical Allan’s Miscellany, I’m exploring the stranger aspects, the quirkier side of the Victorian Age. For A Tangled Web, which is set in 1846, I chose the controversy surrounding Matthew Cotes Wyatt’s equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington (aka. the monster statue).
After Wellington’s successes during the Napoleonic Wars, he became a prominent political figure. As he grew older, it was felt that something needed to be done to further honor his many achievements. And what could be more natural and more proper than to erect an equestrian statue of the great man (and of Copenhagen, his horse)? And not just any equestrian statue! The LARGEST equestrian statue in the whole of Britain!!!
By 1846 the statue neared its completion, and a preview was held a for the Duke of Wellington and other worthy people at the artist’s workshop. Members of the press were also invited and were expected to be duly impressed by the statue’s magnificence. Alas, they weren’t. And that’s an understatement. The Daily News called the statue an "atrocious violation of all artistic principle": "Never since the time of the Trojan horse, such an equestrian monster paraded the streets of the capital. […] Without any desire to detract from the glories of his Grace F.M. the Duke of Wellington […] we wish to know why respect to the Duke must express itself by outrage to taste? Because his Grace's merits outrun all measure of praise, must his statue violate all laws of proportion?" (16 Sept. 1846) The famous satirical magazine Punch gleefully poked fun at the statue by depicting the Duke’s head as either disappearing into the clouds or attracting a flock of birds.
But it was not just the statue itself which garnered scorn and ridicule, but also the place where it was to be erected: on top of the Wellington Arch, facing towards Apsley House, Wellington’s home: "'The Iron Duke' can thus never approach his windows without having his gaze retuned by his brazen counterpart outside" (Morning Chronicle, 30 Sept. 1856).
And what about the weight of that monstrous thing? Punch speculated "that the whole concern will come down with a tremendous crash, and that the Duke's horse will be found kicking and plunging about in the fearful gap his own weight will have occasioned." Indeed, Wyatt's creation, Punch surmised, would probably tear the world asunder when it fell of the arch.
On 29 September 1846 the statue was finally dragged with great pomp and circumstance from Wyatt’s workshop to the triumphal arch. It was accompanied by two military bands, a trumpeter, and more than 400 members of the Life Guards and Grenadier Guards. Hundreds of people lined the streets to watch the strange procession. Due to the sheer size of the “monster statue” the procession was much slower than had been planned – and it probably scared a few people witless, too, Mr. Punch thought.
Award-winning author Sandra Schwab started writing her first novel when she was seven years old. Thirty-odd years later, telling stories is still her greatest passion, even though by now she has exchanged her pink fountain pen of old for a black computer keyboard. Since the release of her debut novel in 2005, she has enchanted readers worldwide with her unusual historical romances.
She lives in Frankfurt am Main / Germany with a sketchbook, a sewing machine, and an ever-expanding library.
You can find her online at www.sandraschwab.com
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