A Real-Life Waterloo Hero

Annie Burrows, Louise Allen and Sarah Mallory explain the real-life inspiration for their Brides of Waterloo Trilogy.

For anyone interested in history it will have been impossible to miss the fact that this year is the bicentenary of Waterloo. When we decided to collaborate on the Brides of Waterloo trilogy, one of our first discussions was about how on earth do we tackle such a huge event? We decided that the exploits of one artillery troop would be perfect.

The artillery was a little different to other regiments at Waterloo. They were not subject to Wellington as commander-in-chief but to the master-general of Ordnance. Also their officers could not purchase their commissions, promotion was by seniority rather than purchase, their uniforms were provided by the Board of Ordnance and they were trained at the Royal Military Academy (this had been going on since 1741; the Royal Military College for cavalry and infantry was not established until 1802). This made them practically unique in the army in the fact that every one of them had received professional training.

It was the journal of one brave artillery officer, Cavalié Mercer, which was our inspiration for our heroes.

CaptainmercerMercer was born in Yorkshire in 1783 into a military family and after receiving his training he was posted to G Troop and served in South America. He did not go to the Peninsula and next saw service at Waterloo. His troop arrived at Quatre Bras too late to fight, although they were involved in an “incident” with the rocket brigade, who were supposed to be firing at the enemy. The rockets were notoriously erratic and Mercer tells us, “…one of these, following me like a squib until the shell exploded, actually put me in more danger than all the fire of the enemy throughout the day.”

Mercer’s troop played an important part in the Battle of Waterloo and there is a memorial stone marking the spot where his battery was placed, an innocuous field, now, but the site of a bloody conflict. The orders were for the artillerymen to shelter inside the infantry squares just behind them whenever the French cavalry charged, but Mercer realised the Brunswickers making up those squares were inexperienced and he feared that if they saw his men running for cover then they would panic and not remain at their posts. To withstand a cavalry charge, it was imperative that the squares stay intact. Mercer therefore decided to keep his men in position and continue firing or shelter beneath their guns during the cavalry charge. It was against orders, and extremely dangerous, but it worked; the squares held and the cavalry were repulsed.

Grave of Captain (General) Mercer at Cowley ExeterNot only did Mercer’s action provide the backdrop for the first of the trilogy, it also provided information for the other two books, because Mercer also described what happened at Waterloo after the battle, including this fascinating incident that happened the very next day, while his men were eating the first hot food they’d had for three days, and surrounded by the dead and injured. A carriage arrived, full of civilians. “One, a smartly-dressed middle-aged man, in a high cocked hat, came to our circle, and entered into conversation with me on the events of yesterday. He approached holding a delicately white perfumed handkerchief to his nose; stepping carefully to avoid the bodies (at which he cast fearful glances en passant), to avoid polluting the glossy silken hose that clothed his nether limbs…”

Mercer survived Waterloo and remained in the artillery until 1854. He died in 1868 and is buried near Exeter, in Devon, beneath a simple gravestone.

Don’t miss the fabulous Brides of Waterloo trilogy:

brides of waterloo

A Lady for Lord Randall by Sarah Mallory

A Mistress for Major Bartlett by Annie Burrows

A Rose for Major Flint by Louise Allen

Is there a particular period of history which fascinates you? If so, do tell us about it in the comments box below!

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Comment ( 1 )
  1. HJ
    July 10, 2015 at 6:59 am
    Reply

    What an interesting article; thank you! The details about the artillery, their training, and the fact that they were promoted on merit are particularly interesting.

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