Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Battlefield Royal: The "Black Duke" of Brunswick
The Duke raised and outfitted his own corps of men, known variously as the Black Legion or the Black Brunswickers because of their ominous uniforms; all black and sporting large silver skulls. Some have said this was done as a sign of mourning for the occupation of their native land by the French. A less romantic view is that the Duke intended it as a symbol of his utter lack of mercy for his enemy; that death was the business of these men and the French could expect no pity from them. They certainly made for an imposing image and, lest we be too hard on the Duke, his hatred of revolutionary France and Napoleon was fully returned. In fact, Napoleon sent him a message telling him so, presumably because the Duke was so closely related to the British enemy Napoleon despised the most. The Duke was a grandson of the late Frederick, Prince of Wales, and was the brother-in-law of the soon-to-be King George IV.
From 1813-1814 the Duke was restored to his lands, where he was beloved by the people as a national hero for his determined fight against their former occupiers. When Napoleon escaped from exile to make his second bid for power, the “Black Duke” did not hesitate, immediately reforming his old legion and leading them to the front once again. This time, however, they were not such a potent force as before, consisting largely of raw, young recruits but their commander had lost none of his determination nor his reckless courage. He was killed in action on June 16, 1815 at the battle of Quatre Bras in Belgium. However, his reputation only grew in subsequent history as he came to be seen as the ideal German prince. He refused to give in, refused to make any accomodation with France but instead risked all he had, his life, his fortune and his property to carry on the fight, under any flag possible, Austrian or British, until his homeland was liberated.