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Battle of Waterloo: what are the odds?

On 18th June 1815, two armies battled in muddy Belgian fields. The Duke of Wellington with the allied British army and Napoleon with the seemingly unstoppable Imperial Guard. Outnumbered, the British forces fought fiercely for their country. Their victory at the Battle of Waterloo represents one of the bloodiest battles in British military history and also one of our most celebrated strategic victories.

3rd Earl of Harewood

3rd Earl of Harewood painted by Francis Grant

The 3rd Earl of Harewood, Henry Lascelles, was an Ensign, a junior rank of commissioned officer, in the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards and he found himself at the historic battle. Although we don’t know much about his involvement, we know he was injured on 18th June 1815 and that he received a medal for his part in the events of that day.

6th Earl of Harewood

6th Earl of Harewood by John St Helier Lander

Almost a century later Europe was plunged into the next brutal chapter of conflict with the outbreak of World War One. It was in France, on the 18th June 1915, that the 6th Earl of Harewood, Henry Lascelles, was wounded in battle. A truly amazing coincidence that members of the same family should be injured exactly 100 years apart in two of the most significant wars ever fought in Europe! Henry Lascelles later married to the King’s only daughter, Princess Mary, in 1922 bringing Harewood into the Royal household. They moved to Harewood House in 1929 where they lived for many years raising their family in Yorkshire.

Lord Harewood

7th Earl of Harewood in WW2 uniform

The 7th Earl of Harewood, George Lascelles, was the next member of the family to be drawn into a European war. World War Two saw the highest loss of life in any conflict. On the 18th June 1944, George Lascelles was injured and captured in France. The irony was not lost on him; in his autobiography, The Tongs and the Bones he wrote, “We were the three Earls of Harewood who saw active service in the ninetieth and twentieth centuries and the coincidence is at least odd.”

What are the odds?

The odds of such a fascinating coincidence happening are long! For the statisticians among us, the chances of all three Earls being wounded in each war on the 18th June is 1 in 1.472 million. You’re 49 times more likely to get struck by lightning!

Harewood is home to portraits of all three Earls which are hung in the State Dining Room along with the Napoleonic medal received by the 3rd Earl. Visitors can see each figure represented in their military uniforms and learn about who these men were and how they influenced Harewood.

Explore the rooms in the House on our website.

Odds calculated that the three Earls would be injured on the same date by:
Firstly, using the total number of people that fought in each war vs the total number of people who were injured/killed in each war – the odds that any solider would be injured or killed in each war were calculated.
Secondly, the likelihood of this injury occurring on the 18th June within each war was calculated.
Finally, the two sets of odds were combined to produce the 1 in 1.472 million chance of three people being injured on the same date in a war.
NB: The likeliness that people from the same family would be injured could not be easily calculated without significant research.
Lightening: according to The Improbability Principle by David Hand, the odds of being killed by lighting in 1 in 300,000.