This week marks the one hundred and ninety-ninth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, one of the most defining moments in British history. In 2014, we remember the battle via the social media, in countless blog posts as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. In the 19th century, however, British men and women had a more personal, and more lasting, method of commemoration: they wore rings.
The rings shown here are often called Waterloo rings, for the simple (and obvious) fact that they have the battle's name on them. The gold ring, above, includes a profile portrait of the duke surrounded by blue enamel ribbons, while the ring below features a single garnet.
But most of these rings, like the one above, weren't made directly after the battle. They were made much later, as mourning jewelry following the death of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, in 1852. While Wellington's long, illustrious career as a soldier, politician, and diplomat included many high points, the Battle of Waterloo was the most memorable for most people, and two are forever linked together.
At the time of his state funeral, commemorative rings like these were worn not only in Wellington's
honor, but also as a more general patriotic symbol. Much like the two paintings from Monday's post, Waterloo had already acquired the burnished glow of the historical past. Forty years had gone by since the battle, and yet there were still many in Britain who had never forgotten the husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, and friends that had been killed in the dreadful slaughter. I'm guessing that many of the people who wore these rings were remembering their lost loved ones as well as the Iron Duke that led them - a double tribute that still carries an emotional charge nearly two hundred years later.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.