The compelling story of Northumberland’s tie to the Battle of Waterloo

The Duke of Northumberland, his sister Lady Victoria and Professor Brian Cathcart at the new exhibition at Alnwick Castle.
The Duke of Northumberland, his sister Lady Victoria and Professor Brian Cathcart at the new exhibition at Alnwick Castle.

‘This was probably the most momentous news to come to this island in the whole of the 19th century,’ the news being the end of the Battle of Waterloo.

This was in a time before news travelled fast, people could use a 140-character tweet and when information was only trusted from the official channels.

The new exhibition at  Alnwick Castle about the Battle of Waterloo.

The new exhibition at Alnwick Castle about the Battle of Waterloo.

Journalism professor Brian Cathcart made a special trip up to Alnwick Castle earlier this week to tell the tale of Major Henry Percy, great, great, great-uncle of the present Duke of Northumberland.

For his new book, the professor of journalism at Kingston University in London, has spent more than 18 months researching the journey that Henry Percy took all those years ago.

Cathcart gave an insight into his book, The News From Waterloo: The Race to Tell Britain of Wellington’s Victory, while explaining the tedious journey Henry Percy endured to deliver the Waterloo Dispatch to London.

Described as a tall, dark, handsome and charming aide de camp to the Duke of Wellington, Percy was a grand pedigree – he was an old Etonian, the son of the Earl of Beverley and the grandson of the Duke of Northumberland – surprisingly little is known about Percy.

The new exhibition at Alnwick Castle about the Battle of Waterloo.

The new exhibition at Alnwick Castle about the Battle of Waterloo.

A new exhibition at Alnwick Castle, which runs throughout the summer, delves into the history of the man who spent little of his short life at the castle here in Northumberland.

Speaking at the exhibition Prof Cathcart said: “It was the last really important news that arrived without any help from steam ships or steam railways or from electric telegraphs. It arrived basically, on the muscle power of horses and the wind power of sail so in that sense it’s a landmark in news history.

“It’s also just a fantastic illustration of, frankly, anything and everything that can go wrong with news.

“Poor Henry Percy is delayed by every possible disaster along his way and who could imagine that such important news could end up being conveyed 15 miles of open sea in a rowing boat by sailors pulling oars, it’s absurd to us.

Speaking about how he went about his research, he said: “I relied quite heavily on the newspapers of time.

“I’m very fortunate because many are now digitised and you can read them and word search them online, which is very helpful.

“If you just focus on the papers that appeared in that week, and you look really closely at what was being said, you can find evidence of unofficial versions of the story arriving.

“But the problem was that they weren’t trusted, people only trusted the official news in those days, there were no journalists, there was no live TV coverage and there certainly weren’t any tweets from the battlefield.”

The exhibition runs in the Alnwick Castle State Rooms throughout the summer period and on September 9, Sir William Mahon will be giving a talk entitled, War and peace - the times, life and loves of Henry Percy, Waterloo messenger.