PDA

View Full Version : "Waterloo. . . playing fields of Eton" quote was meant literally, not metaphorically?


stuyguy
08-25-2001, 09:16 AM
Ever hear the quote "The battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton"?

I always assumed it was meant metaphorically: the British soldiers (or more likely, the officers) acquired the strength, discipline and mettle to win the battle from their stoic and gentlemanly English upbringing that began when they were wee lads at that fine old English boarding school for boys. (They probably learned not to reach for the fallen bar of soap in the shower when the headmaster was around too, but that's way off topic.) Or put another way, that the grand old British traditions built superior men.

Yesterday, however, a pal of mine told me that she read that the quote was literal! That Eton actually owned the Belgium land on which the battle was fought. My instinct was to pooh-pooh her without a second thought, but I've heard of some pretty wacky landgranting going on in MerryOlde so maybe there's some truth to it. I told her it was a perfect Q for the SDMB, so here it is!
___________________________

Google is not my friend. We stopped speaking after I caught him flirting with my girlfriend. And I'm pissed at Search too.

Chez Guevara
08-25-2001, 11:11 AM
I find it difficult to believe that Waterloo was fought on a vast tract of land owned by Eton School. I do not remember and cannot find any reference to this fact when reading about the battle.

The actual quotation is:

'The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton'.

It is often attributed to the Duke of Wellington who always refuted it. I believe, but I am prepared to be wrong, that the words were written by Montalembert in 'De l'Avenir Politique de l'Angleterre'.

Another interesting fact about Waterloo is that the battle was not, in fact, fought there. The main action on June 18 took place at Mont-Saint-Jean. It is thought that Wellington chose Waterloo as the 'name' because it is more of an anglicised appellation.

mongrel_8
08-25-2001, 11:49 AM
Here is what my Merriam's-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions has to say on the subject: [quote]Playing fields of Eton- English public (meaing private) schools, said to be the source of British leadership, character, and competitiveness which prevailed at the battle of Waterloo. That's what the Duke of Wellington is said to have said. The implication is that British officers had acquired all important traits through their elite education.
The expression is attributed to the Duke of Wellington and is used today not only to suggest the character-building virtues of sports but to describe the priveleged environment of elite private schools both in Britian and the U.S.
It is doubtful that Wellington ever actually said these words. Elizabeth Longford, one of his biographers, says there were no organized games at Eton during his three unhappy years there. She also notes that the quotation did not make its appearance until 3 years after the duke died. A French writer quoted Wellington as saying during a visit to the school, "It is here that the battle of Wellington was won." No mention of playong fields; that was added by later writers."

stuyguy
08-25-2001, 01:27 PM
Yes, Nostra you are right; the saying is "... playing fields."

That's what I meant to say (see wording of subject heading) but I inadvertently left off "playing" in the OP text. Sorry.

DAVEW0071
08-26-2001, 01:27 PM
Maybe Waterloo was where Eton played their "away" games.

Sofa King
08-26-2001, 05:14 PM
Here's what may be the origin of the story (http://www.troutmag.org/vultp.html). Middle of page. Looks pretty tounge-in-cheek to me:

In fact the vast bulk of Eton College's income comes from a number of highly shrewd overseas land-deals, chiefly relating to prime packets of real-estate in what is now Belgium, which were struck by the college's third headmaster, Geoffrey De Tention, in the late fifteenth century. However, since 1703, when the headmaster of Harrow School managed to buy the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts and attempted to turn it into a penal colony for boys caught with their bottom waistcoat-button undone, British educational establishments have been banned from overseas real-estate deals. The board of trustees of Eton College, unfazed by this, promptly reclassified all their overseas properties as 'sports facilities' and hid them in the 'miscellaneous' section of their accounts.

I've found no other reference to this claim. However, Eton may have donated property (http://netministries.org/see/churches/ch00278?frame=N) for a British school which was near the battlefield(s) of Ypres (Great War, 1914 &c).

(As an aside which may or may not be relevant, Harvard University was actually used as a sort of fence in a complicated scheme to gain and control a large tract of land for the Massachusetts Bay colony in the 1640s. I don't think anyone has ever fully unraveled the exent and intent of that land-grab, but Harvard eventually relinquished or forgot about its claim to land in Rhode Island and Connecticut. I mention it because this may be an example of a more widely used practice.)

False_God
08-26-2001, 07:47 PM
[QUOTE]Originally posted by Sofa King
Here's what may be the origin of the story (http://www.troutmag.org/vultp.html). Middle of page. Looks pretty tounge-in-cheek to me:

In fact the vast bulk of Eton College's income comes from a number of highly shrewd overseas land-deals, chiefly relating to prime packets of real-estate in what is now Belgium, which were struck by the college's third headmaster, Geoffrey De Tention, in the late fifteenth century.

Geoffrey De Tention?

Sound it out here: De Tention.

I'd say that's so far tongue-in-cheek he's licking the back of his head.

APB
08-28-2001, 04:17 AM
As a further aside, a large chunk of the battlefield is now owned by the current Duke of Wellington, having been given to his ancestor as a reward for his victory. Some Belgians are unhappy about this and are now campaigning for him to hand it back. They are also demanding that the Belgian government stop paying a pension which was granted to the 1st Duke and his heirs in perpetuity.

Walrus
08-28-2001, 05:01 PM
"...Some Belgians are unhappy about this and are now campaigning for him to hand it back. They are also demanding that the Belgian government stop paying a pension which was granted to the 1st Duke and his heirs in perpetuity...."

APB,

Sorry old sport, but the Belgians stopped paying that back in thesixties/seventies I believe (Wellington didn't need it so there was a gentlemens' agreement, he got a payoff and they stopped the pension).
I'm not sure about W owning bits of the battlefield, but if he does at least it stops the Francophiles putting up yet another "Boney was robbed" site (If someone went there without knowing the history, they could be excused for thinking that the Frogs won).

Walrus

bonzer
08-28-2001, 06:05 PM
Some Belgians are unhappy about this and are now campaigning for him to hand it back. They are also demanding that the Belgian government stop paying a pension which was granted to the 1st Duke and his heirs in perpetuity
Sorry old sport, but the Belgians stopped paying that back in thesixties/seventies I believe

Well, in that case APB is no more out of date than at least one Belgian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4199769,00.html). He certainly still seems unhappy.

London_Calling
08-28-2001, 08:16 PM
Yet strangely, the 70 farmers paying rent seem quite happy, at least according to this:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/europe/newsid_631000/631041.stm

Difficult not to catch the waft of a politician trying to make a name for himself, IMHO.

bonzer
08-29-2001, 05:25 PM
Difficult not to catch the waft of a politician trying to make a name for himself
Absolutely.