Wellington and Russia

In February 1826, the Duke of Wellington attended the funeral of Tsar Alexander I as the representative of the British government. His visit was widely recorded in the Russian press. He was hailed as the “commander who struck the last blow against Napoleon”, and his presence caused a great deal of excitement in social circles in St Petersburg.

Wellington recorded in letters home his impressions of St Petersburg and the details of the elaborate ceremony surrounding the funeral of Alexander I in Kazan Cathedral, before the traditional burial in the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Despite the freezing temperatures Wellington rode on horseback with the Tsar and the Prince of Orange, each of the important guests had been given Yakutzk and Kamchatka sable coats to help them keep warm. These expensive coats formed only part of a range of generous commemorative gifts which Nicholas presented to the most honoured guests at the funeral.

Wellington returned to London with a collection of outstanding examples from the Royal workshops. The gifts included a pair of malachite-topped pier tables with bronze stands which can still be seen in the Red Striped Drawing Room today.

A large pair of Korgon porphyry torcheres is now on display in the Waterloo Gallery. A similar pair can be seen in The Hermitage Museum today.

Two large mirrors are also listed as arriving at Apsley House, but are no longer part of the collection. It is unclear when and why they left the house.

These were all rich additions to Apsley House as it reached the end of lavish restoration under Benjamin Dean Wyatt.

On a more mundane but no less interesting note was Wellington’s fascination with Russian secondary glazing. Although the weather was freezing, Welllington notes in his letters home how warm Russian apartments are, sometimes too warm for him.

He was intrigued by the secondary glazing, and when he returned to Apsely House he asked for it to be installed. Unfortunately it was later removed, possibly because of changes to windows or shutters, but it can be seen in the Thomas Shotter Boys watercolour of the Red Striped Drawing Room of 1853.