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This article is taken from PN Review 247, Volume 45 Number 5, May - June 2019.

Pictures from a Library
Pictures from the Rylands Library
44. Copenhagen’s Hair: a Horse’s Tale
Stella Halkyard
BOOMER WAS A MARCbot or Multi-Function Agile Remote Controlled robot and his job (he was apparently a ‘he’) was to seek out and disarm explosives in theatres of war. Blown up on a mission in Taji, Iraq in 2013, his heroism was awarded a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and he was given a funeral with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute. In battle soldiers ‘tend to humanize their robotic aids in ways similar to a human or a pet’ and though inanimate it seems that they can inspire affection and loyalty. In the military conflicts of the past, however, animate beings were as a likely to be included in a soldier’s arsenal. Sixty thousand horses, for example, were at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Amongst a sheaf of desiccated papers in the Raffles Collection in the Rylands, an object of a different kind survives in the form of a few strands of hair stitched to a sheet of paper as shown here. This paltry lock once graced the mane of Copenhagen, the stallion that carried the Duke of Wellington for some seventeen hours, ‘so nobly on the field of Waterloo’. A fragment of a once living creature transformed into a keepsake bearing the burden of a Nation’s heavy history.

In life, Copenhagen stood at fifteen hands, had a muscular, if inelegant physique and, Boomer-like, a well-developed personality. Ill-tempered, eccentric (he would, for example, insist on lying down to eat) but utterly reliable he carried Wellington with complete composure, into the fray of the enemy and cannon fire. As the Duke himself observed, ‘there may have been faster horses, no doubt many handsomer, but for bottom and endurance I never saw his fellow’. Returning to Britain, Copenhagen was feted as a conquering hero and ‘heir of all those who had ever been victorious’ (Walter Benjamin). Melding military might to political power, he trotted up Downing Street with his master, the newly elected Prime Minister, on his back. In his dotage Copenhagen was put out to grass on Wellington’s estate at Strathfield Saye. Indulging his appetite for ‘sponge cakes, Bath buns and chocolate creams’, he cultivated a sweeter nature and a ‘confiding familiarity with ladies’. So on his death in 1836 this poor, old, tired horse was buried with full military honors under a turkey oak far from the madding crowd or the spoils of war.

Lock of Copenhagens hair

Lock of Copenhagen's hair,
Thomas Raffles Collection English Manuscript 343.
(© University of Manchester, 2019)

This article is taken from PN Review 247, Volume 45 Number 5, May - June 2019.

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