‘Scotland for Ever!’: the story behind Lady Elizabeth Butler’s iconic painting

Lady Elizabeth Southerden Butler (née Thompson) (died 1933) - National Portrait Gallery: NPG 5314

Lady Elizabeth Southerden Butler (née Thompson) (died 1933) – National Portrait Gallery: NPG 5314

Lady Butler was amongst the foremost battle painters of her time. Her earlier works on the Crimean War had already seen her win praise from the public, art critics and royalty. Butler always did her utmost to accurately render the details of her military subjects. Whenever possible she interviewed veterans and sourced genuine period equipment. This proved problematic when portraying the events of Waterloo, some 66 years earlier.

The Roll Call

‘The Roll Call’, Lady Elizabeth Butler – an archetypal picture of the Crimean War. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

It is testimony to her diligence that only four small errors of uniform appear in her Waterloo work, as seen below: the addition of braided epaulettes on the lead officer, the inclusion of full-dress shabraques and regimental standard and the omission of the bearskins’ oil-skin covers.  However, Butler’s choice to inaccurately portray the horses at the gallop suggest that what could be read as errors were probably deliberate artistic choices to enhance the drama of the piece. Butler’s research also involved observing the Scots Greys on manoeuvres at Aldershot in 1879, twice having the regiment charge towards her to fully understand the effect she sought to capture.

LMG100000 Scotland For Ever! 1881 (oil on canvas) by Butler, Lady (Elizabeth Southerden Thompson) (1846-1933); 101.6x194.3 cm; Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Art Gallery) U.K.; (add.info.: charge of the Royal Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815;); English.

Currently on display at the Royal Armouries: LMG100000 Scotland For Ever! 1881 (oil on canvas) by Butler, Lady (Elizabeth Southerden Thompson) (1846-1933); 101.6×194.3 cm; Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Art Gallery) U.K.; ( charge of the Royal Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815) English. Bridgeman Images.

This research, dedication, and attention to detail, created the painting ‘Scotland for Ever!’ – capturing the moment just before the 2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons crashed into the column of the French 3rd Infantry Division. The combined charge of the 2,500 men of the Household and Union Brigades – the entirety of the British heavy cavalry – totally shattered the first French attack of the day.  General D’Erlon’s 1st Corps had been pushing back General Picton’s 5th Allied Division, until the British cavalry crested the rise and thundered into the unsuspecting French.  Eyewitnesses recorded that some of the 92nd (Gordon) Highlanders called out ‘Scotland for ever’ as the cavalry charged.

Although a great triumph in which two French Eagles were captured (one by Sergeant Ewart of the Greys), 15,000 infantry were dispersed and 3,000 prisoners taken, the charge did not end with the defeat of D’Erlon’s Corps and the supporting Cuirassiers.  Most of the British heavy cavalry regiments were inexperienced, with the Greys not having seen active service in 25 years.  Flushed by their initial success, the two brigades charged on to the French Grand Battery and overran the enemy artillery.  Disorganised, and on tired horses, the British fell prey to counter-attacking French Lancers and Cuirassiers as they belatedly tried to return to the Allied lines.  The Greys suffered particularly, unusually having more men killed than wounded, amongst them their four most senior officers. The two British brigades sustained almost 50% casualties, including their commander Major-General William Ponsonby who was killed by a lance thrust.  Although on balance a success, the impetuosity of the charge, so well captured by Butler, led to unnecessary causalities and robbed the Allies of an effective heavy cavalry reserve for the rest of the battle.

Below are two images of a Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword belonging to the 2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons (Scots Greys), which Lady Butler therefore incorporated into her work above. To find out more about the sword and it’s development, please click here.

DI 2014 3811

DI 2014 3812

DI 2014 3811 & DI 2014 3812: A heavily modified Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry Trooper’s sword with an acute spear point and with the inner guard ground down. The sword is marked to the 2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons (Scots Greys).’

To see this iconic painting alongside other key artefacts of Waterloo, be sure to visit the Royal Armouries museum’s ‘The Art of Battle’ temporary exhibition in Leeds. To find out more about the museum’s full events programme of commemoration, please visit our website.

Reporting From the Front

On 5 November 1854, one of the bloodiest battles of the Crimean War was fought. A large Russian army of over 40,000 troops counter attacked the Anglo-French forces besieging the Crimean town of Sevastopol, in an attempt to drive them away. After several hours of savage fighting the Russians withdrew, leaving over 12,000 dead on the field.

With the British troops at Inkerman was an artist, William Simpson. He was born in Glasgow in 1823 and became an apprentice lithographer. In 1851 he got a job as a lithographer with the firm Day & Son in London, and in 1854 was commissioned by the Fine Art company P&D Colnaghi to produce a series of illustrations depicting events during the Crimean War, which they intended to publish in a commemorative book.

Frontispiece

Frontispiece

Due to the lack of source material for the illustrations in England, Colnaghi’s took the unusual (for the time) decision to send Simpson out to the Crimea. He thus became one of the first war artists, depicting at first hand what was really going on. In 1856 his illustrations were published as The Seat of War in the East. This work comprised 81 colour lithographs with text in two series; the library at the Royal Armouries has copies of both, bound together into a single volume.

Second charge of the Guards at Inkerman

Second charge of the Guards at Inkerman

Several illustrations depict events during the Battle of Inkerman, and the whole volume is a magnificent testament to Simpson’s skills both as artist and reporter. After the Crimea Simpson went on to cover other British campaigns – including the Indian Mutiny – and worked all round the world covering military and civilian topics. His works appeared in numerous other publications and also newspapers such as the Illustrated London News. Simpson died in 1899, a successful and famous artist. He had even achieved Royal patronage from Queen Victoria herself.

The Field of Inkerman

The Field of Inkerman

Although the Russians were defeated at Inkerman, their attack did succeed in diverting the Allied efforts away from Sevastopol, ensuring the siege dragged on for many weeks longer, through the savage Crimean winter. The hardships the British soldiers endured during this time are well known, thanks to the efforts of William Simpson and the other early war reporters.

Blogger: Stuart Ivinson, Library Assistant