Copenhagen was a chestnut stallion of Arabian and Thoroughbred breeding who saw the Duke of Wellington emerge unscathed and victorious at Waterloo. But that’s not all there is to his story.
Copenhagen’s dam, Lady Catherine, was the war horse of a brigade commander at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807. Unbeknownst to her rider, she was actually pregnant with Copenhagen at the battle – so when the strong, sturdy colt was born in 1808, he was named after the battle. Copenhagen’s sire was a Thoroughbred racehorse called Meteor, who was sired by Eclipse, and Copenhagen was a descendant of both the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian through both his sire and his dam.
Despite his impressive breeding, Copenhagen’s racing career was brief and uninspiring. He was just 15.1 hands high, but nonetheless strong and hardy – characteristics that were attributed to his half-Arabian dam. The Duke of Wellington said of him, ‘There may have been many faster horses, no doubt many handsomer, but for bottom and endurance I never saw his fellow.’ His exposure to crowds at the races no doubt prepared him to remain calm on the battlefield, and after travelling to Lisbon as a five year old, Copenhagen proved himself a superior warhorse. At first he was ridden by Sir Charles Stewart, who was under the command of the Duke of Wellington. The Duke must have had his eye on Copenhagen, because when Sir Charles needed some cash and sold his horses, Copenhagen ended up in Wellington’s stables. There he caused quite a stir, becoming known as a difficult horse with a lightning-fast kick and a strange habit of eating his food while lying down!
Wellington, unlike everyone else, was capable of handling the stallion and ensured he was physically and mentally exercised daily, often using him as a hunting horse and following the hounds over hedge and under dale for hours. This gave Copenhagen the strength and endurance that was necessary when he carried the Duke for seventeen hours at Waterloo. After this battle, the story goes that Wellington dismounted and gave Copenhagen a celebratory pat on the rump, to which the horse responded by aiming a double-barrel at Wellington’s head!
The Duke of Wellington and Copenhagen rode in many battles together, and in every one of them, the Allies emerged victorious. When the Napoleonic Wars came to an end, Copenhagen remained in Wellington’s stables and was still used as a hunting horse for many years. His cantankerous nature combined with the pleasure he took in receiving attention made him a favourite with the ladies of Paris, who frequently requested to ride him under the watchful eye of the Duke!
Wellington and Copenhagen returned to England in 1818, where Copenhagen received an especially warm welcome. Admirers came from far and wide, and it became fashionable among the ladies of society to wear a piece of jewellery containing a strand of his hair. Copenhagen lived out his days in the very best paddock at the Duke’s country estate in Hampshire, where the Duchess visited him almost every day with a piece of bread or sponge cake. This enamoured Copenhagen to ladies’ company even more, and he soon mellowed enough to allow them to ride him unassisted on the estate. He still made the odd public appearance, and Wellington still rode him when he visited Hampshire, until Copenhagen was finally retired in 1828. Despite becoming deaf and blind, he was given the very best care until his death at age 28 in 1836.
Image credits: James Ward via the National Army Museum, Thomas Lawrence.