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Commentary for Volume 2, Chapter 26 Leading the Lords, 1835–41
Wellington’s leadership of the Lords in these years was largely neglected by historians until recently, when the account given by Richard Davis in several articles and his Political History of the House of Lords (p 199-265) transformed our understanding of the subject, and I am deeply indebted to his scholarship for the interpretation advanced in this chapter. Other secondary accounts of these years, including those by Norman Gash in his life of Peel (Sir Robert Peel p 127-162, 193-272) and Neville Thompson in Wellington After Waterloo (p 157-201) also remain extremely useful, and they cover some of Wellington’s activities in more detail than I have been able to in this chapter. The complementary biographies of Melbourne by Philip Ziegler and L. G. Mitchell; Ian Newbould’s Whiggery and Reform and Boyd Hilton’s A Mad Bad and Dangerous People? are also excellent at establishing the context.
Primary sources include Wellington’s papers at Southampton and his letters to Lady Burghersh (Correspondence of Lady Burghersh with the Duke of Wellington) and Lady Wilton (printed in Wellington and His Friends). Lady Salisbury’s diary (published as The Gascoyne Heiress) gives a vivid and immensely enjoyable picture of Wellington in the first half of the period, while Stanhope’s Notes and Ellesmere’s Reminiscences contain a good deal of useful information. Charles Arbuthnot’s published and unpublished papers are important both for political subjects and the Duke’s health, while the correspondence printed in the Croker Papers and the The First Lady Wharncliffe and Her Family should not be neglected. And inevitably there is Greville’s journal which gives a voluminous and highly quotable account of the events of these years that has been mined by generations of historians and biographers so that Greville’s outlook and prejudices have coloured our understanding of the era. Partly for this reason, and because Greville is not always accurate and sometimes misunderstood what he saw, I have endeavoured to be sparing in my use of his journal in the main text. Besides, although Greville’s mother was an old friend of Wellington’s, and his brother was the Duke’s private secretary, Greville was not himself particularly close to Wellington and had a distinctly ambivalent, complicated attitude to him, which often influences his comments – for example see Greville’s journal for 6 April 1839 vol 4 of Strachey and Fulford edition p 144.
The House of Lords does not have much business until after Easter:
Charles Arbuthnot explained this to his son in February 1836, and it was generally true. ‘The Duke is generally at S. Saye, & he does not mean to be much in London till after Easter. There is never much to be done in the H. of Lords till then.’ (Arbuthnot to his son Charles, Woodford 27 Feb 1836 Arbuthnot Mss 3029/1/2/168).
Wellington’s extensive private correspondence:
Staying at Walmer in November 1835 Lady Salisbury noted that ‘The Duke receives numerous letters every morning from persons unknown to him. … He is consulted upon all sorts of affairs, public and private, by all sorts of people, and the letters he receives, all of which he makes a point of answering immediately, are endless.’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 11 November 1835 Gascoyne Heiress p 183). Eighteen months later she wrote that,
The Duke called here. Complained terribly of the incessant persecution of notes and letters on all subjects from everybody. Told me he had written fifty notes or letters that morning – that he had a secretary, an assistant and a librarian, and not one of them did anything.
“I declare that I dread going into my own house, from the heaps of letters that are ready to receive me there.” (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 3 July 1837 Gascoyne Heiress p 245).
And in 1840 Lord Mahon noted that,
The Duke had as usual a whole shower of letters. As a specimen of the way in which he is troubled by strangers, he mentioned two he had had this morning: one to inquire whether he had really declared that he would never sit again for his picture, and if so, which of all those he had ever sat for he thought the best; and another to ask whether he had ever worn a grenadier’s cap at a review, on which a bet depended. He added that he received not unfrequently letters of this last kind from people who chose to lay bets about him; but letters of this class he does not answer. (Stanhope Notes 17 April 1840 p 222-3)
The Portraits of Wellington by Wilkie, Pickersgill and Morton:
Lady Salisbury’s condemnation of Wilkie’s portrait is the more striking as she and her husband had commissioned it (Wellesley and Steegman Iconography of the Duke of Wellington p 51). On 2 March she had commented in her diary, ‘Went to see the picture Wilkie is doing for us of the Duke of Wellington. It is finely colored but I have seen likenesses of him that have pleased me better.’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 2 March 1835, Gascoyne Heiress p 155).
Croker told Peel on 4 May, ‘I dined at the [Royal] Academy on Saturday. A bad exhibition; several tolerable pictures of what the French call de genre but all the large ones (almost exclusively portraits) are infamous. There are three of the Duke, each worse than the other – Wilkie and Pickersgill vying in the art of sinking. I forget the author of the third.’ (Croker to Peel, 4 May 1835 Croker Papers vol 2 p 274). Peel replied that
Wilkie had always a fancy for painting the Duke of Wellington writing the report of the Battle of Waterloo, and to put a trumpeter or some such messenger standing by the table waiting to convey the dispatch as soon as it was sealed.
I told him that trumpeters did not so wait; that dispatches after Waterloo were written very much like other letters on ordinary business; that the only way in which he could attach interest to the representation of such an act would be, not by drawing upon fancy, but by really drawing the room in which the dispatch was actually written, the portrait of the pen with which it was written, the state of the Duke’s dress at the moment, if with a night-cap on, introducing the night-cap – in short by a perfectly faithful record of that truth which was possibly within his reach, and the deviation from which in a contemporary would be a fraud upon posterity. (Peel to Croker 5 May 1835 Croker Papers vol 2 p 275-6).
Four portraits of Wellington by Henry Pickersgill are recorded in the Iconography (p 40-41). It is not clear which of these was exhibited in 1835, but as the first is said to date from 1825-30 (and was purchased by the Army and Navy Club in 1852); the second and third date from 1845; it is most likely to have been the fourth, which is undated and was commissioned for Lord Hill, and which was later exhibited in Manchester in 1857. The Morning Chronicle of 6 May was sharp in its criticism:
With great deference to Mr Pickersgill, he has given us neither the face nor the figure of the Duke here. It is a full-length portrait, and placed in an attitude for which the artist must have travelled back to that early period in the great soldier’s career when he belonged to the awkward squad. We do not know in which of the military positions the right leg is placed; but certainly his Grace does not seem to “stand at ease”. The head is badly placed, betrays considerable hardness in the drawing, and in colour approaches the hue of a lobster’s shell after the animal has gone through the process of boiling. In thus missing the likeness and proper stature of his subject Mr Pickersgill has failed in high company as my be proved to the conviction of any impartial mind by a glance at 113, a still greater failure, by Wilkie. … With the exception of Jackson and Lawrence, the Duke’s physiognomy has hitherto baffled all efforts at accurate delineation. (Morning Chronicle 6 May 1835).
The portrait by Andrew Morton is said to have been painted for the Royal Naval Club, and the Iconography records its location as unknown (p 63). Three other portraits of Wellington by Morton are recorded (ibid p 37-38).
The Municipal Corporations Bill, 1835:
Peel wrote to Wellington on the subject as early as 24 April 1835 stating that he had no doubt that some reform must be accepted – there was too much evidence of abuse to ignore. He thought that the government would give control of the Corporations and their funds to the £10 householders, with annual election of officers. (In fact the government’s proposals were significantly less radical than this). And he added ‘my first wish, in office or out of office, will be to confer with you, and compare my opinions with yours, on any great public question; and my chief satisfaction will be that we should continue to act in entire mutual confidence and concert.’ (Peel to Wellington, ‘Confidential’ 24 April 1835 Parker Peel vol 2 p 313).
Wellington replied the next day that he would be very happy to discuss the question of the Corporations with Peel, but that he was confident that even without discussion they would take the same view of it. He had read the Commission’s report but not Palgrave’s objections to it which Peel had mentioned. He agreed that there was great abuse in the finances of the Corporations which must be set right, and stressed the need for an efficient magistracy free of the political influence of the democracy, that is the ten pounders. He was inclined to oppose the imposition of any uniform principle, unless it was on very favourable terms for the Crown. ‘That which is in my opinion most necessary in this Country is a Government. The most trifling accident would destroy the Power and Influence of this Country throughout the World, and we are exposed to such a one at every moment.’ And, ‘I am not unprepared therefore to make sacrifices of opinion upon some of these Corporation Questions which should not be important with a view to keep the Party together and to form a Party which should be strong enough to have a chance of governing.’ (Wellington to Peel 25 April 1835 WP 2/33/23).
Despite this promising beginning Lady Salisbury noted that the issue was causing irritation in June:
The Duke called upon me. He told me he had seen Peel yesterday – “As dry as dust,” as Scott says, and could get nothing out of him. He has not made up his mind on the Corporation question – just shows you what the man is – can decide nothing. He told me he had no communication with Stanley upon it, and Hardinge told me the same thing. But Aberdeen told me this morning that Stanley and Peel intended to try to get Ministers to put off the question for another twelve months. I think if they had managed it cleverly they might have turned them upon it – we had a very good case. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 10 June 1835 Gascoyne Heiress p 167-8)
Peel told Croker in late August that he had left London partly on medical advice – he was exhausted after the intense strain and demands of the past eight months ‘and partly because I do not concur with the policy of the course taken by the Lords with respect to the Corporation Bill.’ Collision between the Lords and the government was inevitable, but it should have been on ground that favoured the Conservatives – the Irish Church Bill, or even the Irish Corporations Bill, but not the English Municipal Corporations Bill. ‘The manner in which the Bill has been treated in the Lords, is more important than the changes made in it.’ He does not complain (although every line in the letter was a complaint), but the Lords must recognize that ‘I will not be necessarily made responsible for the consequences of it.’ In other words, if the government resigned on the issue Peel might stand aloof from any attempt to form a Conservative government, just as he had done in May 1832. He went on,
I went to London. I had two meetings with the Peers, who were members of the late Government in the Lords. I explained to them fully my views, my inability to be a party beforehand to amendments in the Lords, going far beyond amendments I which I had either moved or supported or suggested in debate in the Commons. Under no circumstances would I have done so; in the position in which I stood with regard to Lord Stanley on the particular measure it was impossible with honour.
Another course being taken, I blamed no one, but certainly believed that no public interest could be advanced by my remaining in London, when it was everyday necessary to consider the conduct of a line of policy in the Lords, to which I was not an assenting party. (Peel to Croker, 26 August 1835 Croker Papers vol 2 p 282-4).
According to Norman Gash these meetings with the Tory Lords took place at Peel’s house on 31 July and 1 August (Sir Robert Peel p 134-5). Thereafter Peel does not seem to have communicated with Wellington on the Lords’ deliberation, and this silence meant that the Duke and the other Tory lords were unprepared for Peel’s disavowal of some of their more controversial amendments. But whether it is right for Gash to write of ‘the aristocratic mutineers of the party’, or for Davis to condemn Peel’s conduct as sharply as he does, may be doubted. (Gash Sir Robert Peel p 136; Davis Political History of the House of Lords p 210-11, 213, 223, 259-60). Another comment by Gash offers a more balanced, and more convincing, assessment of Peel’s actions: ‘It was trying conduct in a party leader; it was also a trying party to lead.’ (Sir Robert Peel p 135).
When Peel announced that he would not support the Lords on the question of aldermen and some other controversial points, Lord Londonderry wrote to the Duke of Buckingham:
Peel has thrown the Lords over. The question is, are we to yield to him as Conservative leader or be firm. I hear from [the] Duke of Cumberland tonight Lyndhurst is firm and that his royal highness will be so. The Duke of Wellington is in a great dilemma how to act. His inclinations go one way, his friends push him the other. On Tuesday we have a meeting at the Duke’s to decide our course. Out of 140 of our party in the House [of Lords] only 60 [attended] today[’s party meeting] owing to disgust with Peel. (Quoted in Davis Political History of the House of Lords p 211).
Lady Wharncliffe explains the position of moderate Tory peers such as her husband,
… the Governor [Lord Wharncliffe] is gone to a meeting at the Duke of Wellington’s, which is rather nervous, as He & Lord Lyndhurst are expected to make a stand about the Aldermen for life, which may affect the whole fate of the Bill! ….
Here is the Governor. The Aldermen are given up & he is much relieved. What a pass we are come to, to be glad to pass a measure which in its amended form is so democratic, rather than divide the party. However the Lords are saved for the present by it, & the Ministers are evidently most anxious to conciliate them & acknowledge their rights whilst they blame them. (Lady Wharncliffe to Mrs J. C. Talbot 3 Sept 1835 First Lady Wharncliffe and Her Family vol 2 p 268).
The political effects of the Municipal Corporations Bill:
While the Bill’s ostensible purpose of reforming the system of local government and correcting abuses was undoubtedly genuine, this does not mean that it did not contain a large measure of partisanship. Joseph Parkes, one of the government’s election managers comment that it would ‘break to pieces the Tory cliques of the old corporators.’ And,
The Corporation Bill will be poison to Tory-ism. … I am organizing for country meetings and local deputations from the towns. … When the Bill is public the meetings will go off like minute guns in Martello towers. Nothing but agitation – agitation – agitation will on this question keep the Cabinet up to the mark or beat off the Tories. The Household Sufferage will be the grand field of battle … [that and] a thorough purge of the existing Corporators. Peel must denounce it: that will place him in his proper anti-reforming position. (Quoted in Boyd Hilton A Mad, Bad and Dangerous People? p 498).
And after the bill had become law, complete with all the amendments successfully introduced by the Conservatives, Creevey told his stepdaughter:
There never was such a coup as this Municipal Reform Bill has turned out to be. It marshals all the middle classes in all the towns of England in the ranks of Reform; aye, and gives them monstrous power too. I consider it a much greater blow to Toryism than the Reform Bill itself; tho’ I admit it could never have been effected without the latter passing first. It is a curious thing to be obliged to admit, but it is perfectly true, that Melbourne and the leavings of Lord Grey’s Government are much stronger than Lord Grey’s Government was when it was at its best… (Creevey to Miss Ord, 29 January 1836 Creevey Papers p 650-1).
It is true that Francis Bonham assured Peel in 1840 that the bill had done ‘hardly any, if any mischief’ to the party, but in the longer run the loss of the solid base of support provided by the closed Tory corporations must have contributed to the long dominance of the Liberal party in mid-Victorian England. (Bonham quoted in Hilton Hilton A Mad, Bad and Dangerous People? p 498-99).
Wellington in good spirits in the autumn of 1835:
Lady Salisbury commented:
‘He looks a little fagged: no wonder: but he was in very good spirits playing with my little boy, and as good humoured and apparently without care as if he had nothing on earth to do. This is one of the most wonderful qualities of his mind: the power of throwing aside all care in a moment, and completely turning his attention from the more serious subjects which engage him, to the amusement of the moment.’
His kindness in going to Woodford to see Charles Arbuthnot who is solitary and broken-hearted; whereas Wellington has had ‘not a day to bestow upon his own affairs for many months.’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary 9 September 1835 Gascoyne Heiress p 177).
Wellington’s attitude to a possible change of government, February 1836:
On 11 February Wellington wrote to Peel:
I quite concur in the opinion that it is not desirable that the King should make any attempt at present to change his Government. Indeed, I cannot conceive a course of events which would render it advisable for the King to originate the change. Such a measure may be forced upon him, and the difficulty must be encountered. But it is very desirable that it should be delayed as long as possible. (Wellington to Peel 11 February 1836 Parker’s Peel vol 2 p 323-24).
Cumberland and the Ultras, 1836:
On 9 February Lady Salisbury recorded in her diary that ‘Peel … had said to Hardinge, “I wish the Duke could get rid civilly of the Duke of Cumberland.” (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 9 February 1836 Gascoyne Heiress p 197). On the following day Lady Salisbury passed on this message to Wellington at Stratfield Saye, and recorded his response:
He observed that many of the Conservative Peers, though not holding Ultra politics or inclined to support the Duke of Cumberland, were yet of the old Tory, Church and King Party and would be highly disgusted at a quarrel with the Duke of Cumberland, especially if brought on without any provocation on his part. “Besides I have no motive for quarrelling with the Duke of Cumberland, the chief harm he does is to annoy me. I am the sufferer, who have to keep him in order. I never allow him to interfere with my measures, and if he does any outrageous thing, then it will be time enough to quarrel with him.” (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 10 February 1836 Gascoyne Heiress p 197).
And he wrote to Peel directly:
There is no person who feels more than I do the inconvenience of the Duke of Cumberland. I feel it every day, and all day. Others feel it only occasionally. But I can’t see a remedy. His whole business is to pass the time. His amusement is mischief, preparing for it, hearing parties about each other, and talking of it afterwards. But I never could discover that he felt any real interest in any question, or entertained any serious opinion.
As long as we are engaged in measures which have for their object only to prevent the Government from doing mischief, I don’t see what harm the Duke of Cumberland and those whom he affects to lead can do, excepting to annoy me and the few persons who must keep him in order. If a Government, or any other combination, were to be formed to direct a course of proceeding, in which the Duke of Cumberland should think proper to interfere, it might be necessary to cease all communication with him. But till this times comes I am convinced that, however inconvenient to me personally, it is best to bear with him, and to have his support. In several instances I have separated from him in the House of Lords, and must do so again when the public service will require it. (Wellington to Peel 11 February 1836 Parker’s Peel vol 2 p 323-24).
Speculation that Melbourne might resign, June 1836:
There was some speculation that Melbourne might resign in June 1836 after he had been involved in Caroline Norton’s divorce case and there were rumours that some of his confidential letters – including very disrespectful comments about the King and his colleagues – might be published. (See Charles Arbuthnot to his son, n.d. [20 June 1836] Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 192-3).
The House of Lords, July 1836:
Edward Littleton, Lord Hatherton, who had only been elevated to the House of Lords the previous year, describes the scene in the House of Lords in July 1836: ‘Lord Londonderry spoke an hour and a quarter on a petition abut the surplus revenues of the See of Durham. He kept addressing Ld. Melboune, who, with Ld. Duncannon by his side, were both fast asleep the whole time, while the Dukes of Wellington and Cumberland were asleep behind them; and three out of seven Bishops equally happy.’ (quoted in Mitchell Lord Melbourne p 164).
Constitutional position of the House of Lords:
Charles Greville makes the interesting point that the role played by the House of Lords in these years in regular and settled opposition to the government of the day was a constitutional innovation. ‘It is curious that none of them – not even Lyndhurst himself, perhaps not the Duke of Wellington – seems to perceive that in the midst of their horror of innovation and dread of constitutional changes, they have themselves made a great practical change in the constitutional functions of the House of Lords; that it is a departure from the character and proper province of that House to array itself in permanent and often bitter hostility to the Government, and to persist in continually rejecting measures recommended by the Crown and passed by the Commons.’ (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey and Fulford) 20 August 1838 vol 4 p 92). This partly reflected the disappearance from both the Lords and the Commons of the ‘party of the Crown’ (that is, members who would support the government of the day almost irrespective of its composition); and partly the sharper ideological division of politics in the 1830s in which a great many Lords (both temporal and spiritual) regarded the Whig government as hostile to their interests.
Wellington weary of politics, August 1836:
Politics were seldom a source of much pleasure at the end of a long session and when summer was making Lords and Commoners alike eager to depart for the country. Wellington complained to Croker:
Things are taking their course. We had last night a free conference with the House of Commons [on Appropriate clauses of the Irish Tithe Bill]. Nothing could be more ridiculous than the whole proceeding; but in due time it will produce its mischief; particularly as we have nobody in the House of Commons to expose the folly, inconsistency, and wickedness of such proceedings…..
I must protect those who support the good cause in the House of Lords or give it up. But I am tired of the trade. (Wellington to Croker London, 12 August 1836 Croker Papers vol 2 p 307).
Wellington and Stanley:
Throughout 1835-37 Peel was steadily strengthening his ties to Stanley, gradually drawing Stanley, Graham and their small group into the orbit of the conservative party. This made him a little more intolerant than he might otherwise have been of the attitudes of the Tory Lords, although he was careful not to appear too eager in his approaches to Stanley. There was, in Norman Gash’s words, ‘a sediment of old hostility’ between Wellington and Stanley, but this gradually dissolved and in early 1837 Croker could report to Lord Hertford that, ‘The Duke and Stanley met for the first time at Peel’s on Tuesday, to consult and concert, and it was all very cordial; Stanley and Peel sit together as closely as Peel and I used to do …’ (Croker to Lord Hertford, 8 February 1837 Croker Papers vol 2 p 313; Gash Sir Robert Peel p 161).
Wellington’s later praise of William IV:
In 1840 Wellington told Lord Mahon, “It is impossible for one man to have treated another better or more kindly than the King did me from [the day of his accession] to the day of his death. And yet it was also impossible for one man to have run another harder than I did him as Lord High Admiral. But he showed no resentment of it. People talk of Louis the Twelfth of France, and Henry the Fifth of England, but I think this case entitled to quite as much praise.” (Stanhope Notes 30 November 1840 p 258).
Early impressions of Queen Victoria:
Wellington told Arbuthnot, ‘that he could not have been less alarmed & nervous than she was, & he said that he would not but have been present for the whole world.’ (Arbuthnot to his son, 28 June 1837, Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 195-6).
According to Lady Salisbury: ‘Lord Hill is charmed with her [Queen Victoria] – her punctuality, her attention to business, her anxiety to do right, the observations she makes etc. etc. He does not believe a word of the report that he is to be turned out. Others say that her papers are much in arrear for want of signature…’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 28 June 1837 Gascoyne Heiress p 245).
Lady Salisbury was herself rather more critical: ‘it certainly requires all the prestige of royalty to cheat one into the belief of her being pretty.’ But she was impressed with the Queen’s manner in proroguing Parliament: ‘Her voice is clear and harmonious, her delivery admirable – and altogether I never saw a thing better done.’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 17 July 1837 Gascoyne Heiress p 248-9). And personal acquaintance improved the impression: at the beginning of August Lady Salisbury dined with the Queen and noted in her diary, ‘As far as I can judge, I think her decidedly clever, quick of observation with a great turn for seizing the ridiculous, perfectly unaffected and natural and, I should suppose, disliking the reverse of these qualities in others.’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 2 August 1837 Gascoyne Heiress p 252).
Greville had low expectations, writing in March 1838: ‘Nobody expects from her any clever, amusing or interesting talk, above all no stranger can expect it. She is very civil to everybody, and there is more of frankness, cordiality, and good humour in her manner than of dignity. She looks and speaks chearfully: there was nothing to criticize, nothing particularly to admire.’ A fortnight later he was a little more generous: ‘The Queen was magnificently dressed, and looked better than I ever saw her. Her complexion is clear and has the brightness of youth; the expression of her eyes is agreeable; if She had a better mouth and did not show her gums and had more shade in her face, She would be pretty. Her manner is graceful and dignified and with perfect self possession.’ (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey & Fulford) vol 4 11 and 23 March 1838 p 41 and 43).
Wellington had been irritated by the Queen’s insistence on riding at a military review in July rather than attending in an open carriage: ‘“I would not wish,” he said, “ a better subject for a caricature, than this young Queen, alone, without any woman to attend her, without that brilliant cortège of young men and ladies who ought to appear in a scene of that kind, and surrounded only by such youths as Lord Hill and me, Lord Aberdeen and the Duke of Argyll. And if it rains, and she gets wet, or if any other contretemps happens, what is to be done? All these things sound very little, but they must be considered in a display of that sort. As to the soldiers, I know them; they won’t care about it one sixpence. It is a childish fancy, because she has read of Queen Elizabeth at Tilbury Fort. But there was a threat of foreign invasion, there was an occasion which called for a display then. What occasion is there now?”’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 9 July 1837 Gascoyne Heiress p 247-8).
The election of 1837:
During the election there was a last flicker of Wellington’s previous unpopularity. On 27 July he told Lady Salisbury that ‘as he went through the Green Park yesterday, he was hooted, and they called out “Waterloo, Ah!” and hissed, as a term of reproach.’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 27 July 1837 Gascoyne Heiress p 251). However the tide was now flowing strongly in his favour, and the common reaction to his public appearances was a mixture of curiosity, respect and enthusiasm.
On 10 August Lady Salisbury noted that Wellington ‘ called upon me before I left town. He seems in good spirits about the election upon the whole – lays the whole blame of our failures in the boroughs upon the alterations Peel forced on the Lords in the English Municipal Bill, said that Ellice kept the Ministers in perpetual alarm by telling them that if the Tories ever got firmly seated in power, they would be impeached…’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 10 August 1837 Gascoyne Heiress p 253-4).
Wellington’s view of the reaction in favour of the Conservatives in 1836-37:
After the election Wellington told Lady Salisbury,
I do not believe in the reaction as it is generally understood. Those who were Radicals remain Radicals, but the difference in the elections arises from the number of Conservatives who have been awakened to a sense of their danger. The Destructive party consist of four classes – first the old Dissenting party, who have always been inimical to the existing order in the Church and the State, the representatives of the Puritans, 2nd the atheist, the republicans in principle, who are prepared to ally themselves with the papists as a means of bringing about a revolution; thirdly, the Catholic party, and finally, the old Whig nobility and gentry, who are induced by party feeling to patronize measures they cannot approve. From this latter class alone, we can hope for converts. (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 23 August 1837 Gascoyne Heiress p 256).
Co-operation between Wellington, Peel and the Ministers:
L.G. Mitchell describes Melbourne’s relations with Peel as ‘respectful and amicable’ with a considerable mixture of Whiggish condescension because Peel was ‘an underbred fellow’. He felt an equal respect and much greater personal affinity with Wellington who was ‘a favourite of the whole Lamb family.’ ‘In his view, the Duke was quite often monumentally wrongheaded, but he was “a very great and a very able man,” which whom he could live in “charity”.’ They agreed on many substantial areas of policy including the need to defend the rights of the House of Lords and the Corn Laws, and resisting radical pressure for the ballot and further parliamentary reform. (Mitchell Lord Melbourne p 183 for relations with Peel and Wellington, p 185 for the House of Lords, p 191-5 for the Corn Laws, p 195-7 for the ballot and other radical proposals).
Mitchell goes on to write that ‘Wellington was so often taken into Melbourne’s confidence that he could be regarded almost as an honorary member of the government. The Duke’s views were valued over a wide range of issues, far beyond the military matters on which he had particular expertise.’ (Mitchell Lord Melbourne p 186). Up to a point this is quite true: Wellington gave influential advice to the government in the aftermath of the revolt in Canada, and during the Eastern Crisis. Melbourne consulted him through Frederick Lamb over relations with the Ottoman Porte in early 1836 (Wellington’s reply dated 6 March 1836 is printed in Lord Melbourne’s Papers p 342-7), and over the Regency Bill in 1840 (see below) and no doubt over many other questions. But relations were not quite as comfortable as this suggests: Melbourne did not feel able to approach Wellington directly when seeking his opinion on relations with the Porte, or testing his attitude to a coalition after the 1837 election, or his attitude to the question of Prince Albert’s precedence, while his ease at their interview about the regency was worthy of comment (see below or text of chapter for all these examples). Nor did Wellington hesitate to attack the government with great vehemence, both in parliament and in private, on many subjects, ranging from its foreign policy to the appointment of magistrates with radical leanings (one of whom was later convicted of treason for leading an insurrection). Wellington may have regarded Melbourne’s government as the least bad administration likely to be formed in these years, but he did not have a high opinion of it, or of Melbourne personally.
Wellington’s view of the state of politics in late 1837:
On 7 December 1837 Wellington sent Lord Egerton (formerly Lord Francis Leveson Gower, the future Earl of Ellesmere) a long letter summarizing his view of the political topics of the day. In this he wrote:
I think that things are going on generally as they did heretofore. The Ministers, that is to say Lord Melbourne and the Conservative faction among them, in great favour at Court. The others not so much in favour, and it is said that there are symptoms of jealousy in the Cabinet as now formed. I do not believe that anybody of our way of thinking has been near the Court, excepting myself. I dined there, and the Queen was as usual very civil to me. (Wellington to Egerton, 7 December 1837 in Ellesmere Personal Reminiscences of the Duke of Wellington p 162-3).
Wellington on the Duke of Cumberland’s activities in Hanover:
In his letter to Egerton Wellington also discussed the Duke of Cumberland’s activities in Hanover:
There are two or three awkward questions in movement on the Continent. First Hanover: King Ernest writes that he is very popular. In the meantime his dragoons are keeping the University of Göttingen in order. The truth is that the great Powers, Austria and Prussia, have informed him that he must settle his affairs to the satisfaction of the Hanoverians. That he must not look to them for military support. That they will not allow the Diet to deliberate on the subject of his proceedings. That all the Constitutional States of Germany are against him. I have no very high opinion of the judgment of King Ernest. If he can go wrong he will, and I should not be surprised if that affair was to end ill. (printed in Ellesmere Personal Reminiscences of the Duke of Wellington p 164).
Wellington on Foreign Affairs, late 1837:
Wellington went on to discuss other aspects of foreign affairs: ‘In respect to foreign affairs, we are in the usual state: not upon good terms with France; on very bad terms with the rest of Europe; Spain and Portugal going to destruction.’ He was particularly concerned with the situation in Belgium: ‘King Leopold, who is bound to neutrality, and having a great many more fortresses than he can garrison by his own means, wishes to build more, in order, as he says, to secure himself against the King of Holland – as if he had any security except the good will of the Powers of Europe and the Revolutionary strength of France. The Powers of Europe, instigated, I conclude, by the King of the Netherlands, have expressed great alarm upon this subject, particularly Prussia; Austria likewise has been induced to disapprove strongly this course…’ (Wellington to Egerton, 7 December 1837 in Ellesmere Personal Reminiscences of the Duke of Wellington p 163-4).
British Politics and the Revolt in Canada:
On the last sitting day before Parliament rose over Christmas, news arrived of a rebellion in Lower Canada (Quebec). The causes included French Canadian resentment at the influx of greater numbers of English speaking settlers and pressure for the local legislative assembly to be given greater powers. Soon afterwards a similar though smaller revolt broke out in Upper Canada which had its own somewhat different grievances. These revolts were quickly suppressed, but they caused alarm in England and prompted comparisons with the beginnings of the American Revolution. More than a year later, in January 1839, Melbourne explained to a colleague why he feared that Canada might become a running sore: ‘…how these provinces are to be settled with anything like security, I do not see. The French population entirely hostile and ready to rise whenever called upon, the frontier thronged with refugees, the Americans always exciting and ready to assist rebellion, and the English population loyal according to their own fancy, and upon condition that they have their own way in everything’. (Melbourne to Howick, 2 January 1839 quoted in Ziegler Melbourne p 281).
The cabinet was deeply divided over the extent of the concessions that should be granted once the rebellion was suppressed, and many ministers and other Whigs privately – or not so privately – agreed with the radicals who sympathized with the rebels and furiously assailed the Colonial Secretary Lord Glenelg (Charles Grant) for his failure to give way to local demands sooner. Melbourne, who had little interest in colonial questions, attempted to solve two problems at once by appointing radical Lord Durham, Governor General of Canada, with sweeping authority to devise and impose a settlement. Like many clever ideas this backfired badly, but in the short term it did something to soften radical criticism and soothe the consciences of troubled Whigs. (Ziegler Melbourne p 281-5; Mitchell Lord Melbourne p 197-200).
Criticism of the government’s Canadian policy came more from the Radicals than from the Tories. Peel told Wellington on 7 January 1838, ‘I apprehend that there can be no doubt that we ought to give a cordial support to any measures which the government may propose for the suppression of revolt in Canada, provided that they are likely to be effectual for the purpose’. Wellington agreed and went further. He feared that the trouble in Canada might act as a magnet attracting unemployed soldiers and liberal adventurers from across Europe, just as the wars of independence in Latin America and the Greek revolt had done previously, an as the continuing civil wars in Spain and Portugal were still doing. There was the further danger that prolonged instability in Canada would open the door to American interference, perhaps even reviving American dreams of annexing the British colonies, and that this might lead to war, or at least to extensive and costly precautions against an American attack. He prepared a detailed memorandum for Lord Hill (the Commander-in-Chief) based on his study of the defence of Canada in the 1820s, and his cheerful remark “Why it looks as if we were at our old trade again”, rather obscures the seriousness with which he regarded the problem. (Peel to Wellington 7 January 1838 Parker Peel vol 2 p 355-357; Wellington to Hill, 23 December 1837 and memorandum for Hill of same date, WP 2/48/123-124; Greville Memoirs (ed by Strachey & Fulford) 2 and 5 January 1838 vol 4 p 2, 6 and 10).
The government had weathered the first storm but it remained weak and vulnerable. In February the radical Sir William Molesworth gave notice of a motion condemning Glenelg’s management of Canadian affairs, and there was intense feeling on the conservative backbench that they should support it and bring down the government. Lady Salisbury wrote in her diary, ‘I think the prospects of our party very bad; it will be impossible to keep them together if they are not brought to action’. The normally moderate and sensible Aberdeen wanted to support the motion, and Peel and Stanley were torn between the dangers of action and inaction, although they were reluctant to precipitate a crisis when they could not see a way of resolving it. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 3 and 17 February 1838 Gascoyne Heiress p 272-3; Gash Sir Robert Peel p 203-4). Wellington threw the whole weight of his influence against uniting with the radicals in their attack on the ministers. Lady Salisbury was somewhat startled by his vehemence:
The Duke called here. I never saw him so annoyed. He sat the whole time, leaning back in his chair, with his finger between his teeth, and scarcely looking at me who sat on one side of him. I found him very decided in his opinion of the impolicy of supporting Molesworth. “I should like to know, when they have carried the motion, and turned Ministers out, what is to be the next step? Eh? What is to happen then?” He said the immediate consequence would be a rebellion excited by O’Connell in Ireland – our troops being absent in Canada. That this Parliament would not grant troops to put it down, and serious mischief would happen before you could assemble another. Besides, how to carry on Irish elections in a state of civil war? I could not deny the difficulties that would attend a Tory Government and could only oppose the danger of the party splitting on Molesworth’s motion ….
Duke “The party! What party? What is the meaning of a party if they do not follow their leaders? I don’t care sixpence if they split! D___m! ’em: let ’em go!” ….
He spoke also of the danger of driving the whole Whig party into the most violent opposition, by forcing out their Ministry; whereas if they break up of themselves some might be expected to join us. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 19 February 1838 Gascoyne Heiress p 273-4).
Eventually a solution was found: the Conservatives moved their own censure motion carefully framed so that the radicals could not support it. The motion was defeated, the government survived, and discontented Tories began to call Wellington the ‘Lord Protector of the Government’. (Stanhope 6 July 1839 Notes of Conversations p 146-7).
The storm over Wellington’s speech exculpating the government over Canada:
On 3 February 1838 Lady Salisbury wrote in her diary:
The storm about the Duke’s speech is subsiding, but it has been really very great. In the City, some of the more violent proposed to abandon the petition against the sitting members “as it was no use – the Tories only supported Government.” I think the prospects of our party very bad; it will be impossible to keep them together if they are not brought to action, in the H. of Commons particularly. On the other hand is the doubt whether a Tory Government, when formed, could stand – the risk and impoverishment of a dissolution, and the formidable strength that would be given to the now insignificant democratic party by the junction of Whigs and Radicals in opposition. (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 3 February 1838 Gascoyne Heiress p 272).
Wellington’s reluctance to force a change of government:
Although Wellington’s reluctance to force Melbourne’s government from office was mainly based on his calculation that there was little prospect of forming a strong conservative government, it was reinforced by a residual Tory belief that the views of the monarch should have some part in selecting the ministers of the day. When arguing against supporting Molesworth’s censure motion on the Government Wellington said, ‘“Besides, I ask you, in common justice, in common morality, am I justified in forcing this poor girl into all these embarrassments, against her will. That’s the thing – against her will. With William IV it was different.”’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 19 February 1838 Gascoyne Heiress p 273-4; see also Greville Memoirs 12 August 1838 vol 4 p 91).
Wellington’s reaction to his enthusiastic reception at the Queen’s coronation:
Lady Salisbury wrote in her diary:
I think, however, [that] although he always despises mob popularity, that he was gratified with the applause which came from the most respectable people, judges and privy councilors included, which attended his leaving the Abbey. He remarked upon it to me. But a feeling – a real and sincere feeling, tho’ almost a romantic one, that the chief attention and homage is on all occasions due to the Sovereign when present (the effect of that extraordinary devotion to the Crown which I never saw approached in any other person) diminished his gratification, and even gave him a degree of annoyance. He looked back to see if the Queen was coming, with an air of vexation, as if to say, “This is too much; this belongs of right to her”. I left him at supper at half past two in the morning, apparently not the least tired. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 28 June 1838 Gascoyne Heiress p 287-88).
Given the role of the Lords in thwarting the passage of the government’s legislation Melbourne might have been tempted to use the Queen’s coronation – a traditional occasion for the creation of new peerages – to attempt to redress the balance. But in fact the Coronation Peerages were limited in number and minimal in their political implications. (There were eleven peerages in all, including the elevation of several existing peers for example Lord Mulgrave, the Whig Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, became the Marquess of Normanby and Lord King became Earl Lovelace and Zetland, while four of the eight baronies were granted to Irish and Scottish peers. Cockayne Complete Peerage vol 2 p 654 in original numbering; vol 1 n.p. in six volume micro-print edition). This restraint reflected Melbourne’s own conviction that too many peerages had been created in recent years, notably by Grey’s government (Mitchell Lord Melbourne p 161-2). But it was also due to the fact that the conservative majority in the Lords was now unassailable: 204 to 123 in October 1837 according to Richard Davis (Political History of the House of Lords p 219), with a steady drift of peers away from the Whigs and to the Tories maintaining or even increasing the Tory majority. The difference was increased because Whig peers were, understandably enough, less regular in their attendance, although neither party was very assiduous and the numbers attending when a great debate was not expected could be embarrassingly small (ibid p 219-220; on the difficulty of securing the attendance of lords, particularly Whig lords, at committee meetings see Hatherton diary 18 July 1835 in Aspinall (ed) ‘Extracts from Lord Hatherton’s Diary’ 18 July 1835 p 254-55).
‘It is really curious to see the manner in which Soult has been received here, not only with every sort of attention and respect by persons in the most respectable ranks of life, members of all the great trading and commercial bodies, but with enthusiasm by the common people; they flock about him, cheer him vociferously, and at the review in the park He was obliged to abandon both his hands to be shaken by those around him. The Old Soldier is touched to the quick at this generous reception… It is very creditable to John Bull, but I am at a loss to understand why He is so desperately fond of Soult; but Johnny is a gentleman who generally does things in excess, and seldom anything by halves.’ (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey & Fulford) vol 4 14 July 1838 p 41).
Wellington claims to be indifferent to abuse:
On 2 July 1838 the Duke told Croker that not concerned about some abuse of him in a pamphlet:
I have been abused, vilified, slandered since I was a boy; and I don’t believe that there is a living creature who thinks the worse of me for all the horrible crimes of which I have been accused, and which to this moment remain unanswered.
I would much prefer to get rid of the rheumatism in my shoulders and neck than I would of all the libels of all the Jacobins, Republicans, Bonapartists, Radicals, Reformers, and Whigs in all Her Majesty’s dominions, including her ancient kingdom of France, and her colonies in N. America. (Wellington to Croker, 2 July 1838, Croker Papers vol 2 p 331-2).
Wellington and British involvement in Afghanistan, January 1839:
On 24 January 1839 Lord Egerton noted that,
The Duke read me his correspondence with Lord Hill, on the subject of our movement in Afghanistan. It strongly deprecates our choice of the particular chief, Shah Souja, whose cause we are embracing. In a military point of view, he seems to think our force sufficient in numbers, both for the main operation and for watching Burma and Nepaul. The two latter, however, he considers as full of formidable contingencies in the matter of expense. Lord Amherst’s Ava business cost more than Tippoo and Seringapatam. The point of General Fane’s measures on which he is most anxious is his present design of making one place, Shirarpore, the rendezvous for the stores (and, I think, the passage) of both armies, the Bengal, and the Bombay, to be transported down the Sutlej for the former, and up the Indus for the latter. “If Fane does this,” he said, “relying on what he can find at Shikarpore for the further transport of the armies, he will land 20,000 men on the other side, and be utterly unable to move them. He expressed altogether a strong hope that if Herat should hold out, the entire expedition might be found unnecessary. Herat did hold out, but in an evil hour Lord Auckland persevered. (Ellesmere Personal Reminiscences p 167).
Reaction to the Murder of Lord Norbury, 1839
There was strong reaction, especially in the Lords, to the murder of Lord Norbury, a rather obscure Irish peer, on his estate in broad daylight. Despite Wellington’s private opposition, an inquiry was established by the Lords into the state of crime in Ireland in terms which were tantamount to a condemnation of the performance of Lord Normanby, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in preserving law and order. O’Connell inflamed the situation, and Russell said that he would seek a vote in the Commons to vindicate Normanby and the government, even though the inquiry had yet to make its report. This prompted rumours that the ministers were looking for an excuse to resign, which were heightened when Melbourne sent Wellington a message, through Lady Burghersh, that if the government was defeated he would advise the Queen to send for the Duke. However Peel skillfully defused the situation by a speech arguing that the establishment of the inquiry did not imply any censure. (Gash Sir Robert Peel p 217-19; Davis Political History of the House of Lords p 240-3).
Hatherton, who represented the government on the committee and was naturally inclined to defend Lord Normanby, nonetheless was unsparing in his criticism of the Lord Lieutenant’s conduct during a tour of Irish gaols: ‘Had the House of Commons investigated his conduct at the time, he could only have escaped impeachment by a miracle. Never was a greater instance of abuse of prerogative. In the gaol of Country [sic County ?] Leitrim, there was not another prisoner under sentence, whom he did not either liberate or whose sentence he did not mitigate by parole order.’ (Quoted in Davis Political History of the House of Lords p 242). Given this it seems unreasonable to condemn out of hand the concerns of the Irish peers, whether or not they were ultras.
Lady Flora Hastings:
Relations between the Queen and the conservatives were already embittered at the time of the Bedchamber Crisis by the scandal surrounding Lady Flora Hastings. Lady Flora was a Tory, unmarried, and a Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen (although Victoria regarded her as a spy for the Duchess of Kent and Sir John Conroy). Early in 1839 Lady Flora began to complain of stomach pains and she began to swell. The Queen, encouraged by Melbourne, freely speculated that she was pregnant, suggesting that Sir John Conroy might be the father of the child. When the rumours began to spread more widely, the Queen ordered Lady Flora to be examined by her doctor Sir James Clarke, on 17 February 1839. Lady Flora was naturally outraged but submitted and the doctor signed a certificate declaring that she was not pregnant and had not committed any impropriety. However this did not end the gossip and the wretched doctor was subsequently equivocal in his statements. Although Wellington counselled everyone to say nothing, Lady Flora’s mother and brother now demanded that her reputation be publicly vindicated and Sir James Clarke dismissed. The press naturally inflamed the dispute, and the reputation and popularity of both the government and the court were severely embarrassed when Lady Flora died on July and an autopsy revealed that she had been suffering from liver cancer. Greville’s comment on the affair is interesting: ‘though such things sometimes happen in the servants’ hall, and Housekeepers charge still-room or kitchen maids with frailty and pregnancy, they are unprecedented and unheard of in good society, and among people in high or even in respectable stations.’ Even if this is exaggerated, it is clear that the affair was badly mishandled and that Queen was ill-advised by Melbourne, but even more by the Whig ladies of her court who should have had sufficient experience to advise her how to handle such a situation with more discretion. (Ziegler Melbourne p 272; Thompson Wellington after Waterloo p 179; Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey and Fulford) 2 March 1839 vol 4 p 132).
Wellington and the Flora Hastings affair:
Greville wrote in his journal of 15 August 1839 that he had had a long conversation with Wellington on a range of subjects, ‘all more or less interesting, and rendered particularly so by his quaint natural and lively style of narration, together with the certainty that every syllable was strictly true.’
‘In the Hastings affair he has been consulted or appealed to by all parties, and in communication with the Duchess of Kent, Conroy, the Queen, the Ministers and Lord Hastings. … His advice was to hush the matter up, on every account to prevent the story going out of the four walls of the Palace …’ More should have been done to conciliate the Duchess of Kent. Could not dismiss the doctor without giving him a chance to defend himself, and that would have ‘been attended with the most painful results to all parties’ – especially as the symptoms really were very similar to pregnancy. Elaborates on the details of the affair.
‘The Duchess of Kent consulted the Duke on every occasion and in every step of the affair; and he appears uniformly to have given the soundest and honestest advice, and to have kept his eyes steadfastly fixed on the two great objects of saving the character of the Queen, and putting her and her mother upon decently amicable terms.’ (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey & Fulford) 15 August 1839 vol 4 p 196-7).
Queen Victoria and the Bedchamber Crisis:
Queen Victoria wrote in her journal on 8 May 1839: ‘wrote one line to the Duke of Wellington to request him to come. Till nine, I sobbed and cried convulsively … and went to bed calmer at 12.’ After her first interview with Peel on the 9th she commented that he was ‘such a cold, odd man [that she] can’t make out what he means.’ And she wrote to Melbourne to alert him that something unexpected ‘may happen in a very few hours. Sir Robert has behaved very ill, and has insisted on my giving up my Ladies, to which I replied that I would never consent, and I never saw a man so frightened.’ She interpreted Peel’s request as ‘an attempt to see whether she could be led and managed like a child.’ (All quoted in Stanley Weintraub Victoria p 121-3).
The Queen’s description of Peel as a ‘nasty wretch’ and Wellington as ‘this wicked old foolish Duke’, date from a little later, when disputes over Albert’s income and precedence had further embittered relations. (Hibbert Queen Victoria: A Personal History p 113).
Wellington’s interview with the Queen:
According to court gossip she began their interview with alarming frankness, ‘My Lord Duke, I have sent for you with great reluctance. I am grieved to be obliged to part from my present Ministers, and particularly Lord Melbourne whom I look upon as a friend and almost a father, but I feel the necessity of doing so …’ He could only reply that she must send for Peel ‘who was a gentleman and a man of honour and integrity’. (Lady Cowper’s diary 8 May 1838 Arlie Lady Palmerston and Her Times vol 2 p 12; Queen Victoria’s journal quoted in Weintraub Victoria p 122).
Bedchamber Crisis: the Whigs intend a vigorous opposition to Peel’s government:
‘While the Tories were rejoicing in their victory, the Whigs, greatly exasperated, were already beginning to meditate the organization of a strong opposition, and providing the means of carrying on an effectual war against the new Government. They do not chuse to look upon their expulsion as attributable to the defection of their Allies, but as the work of the Tories upon a mere party question, and that a very unjustifiable one, and treated in a very unjustifiable manner.’ (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey & Fulford) vol 4 10 April 1839 p 161).
Contemporary comments on the Bedchamber Crisis:
Hatherton admitted in his diary, ‘I must own that I think Peel quite right in desiring to remove Lady Normanby – a very clever, engaging, intriguing woman, who has the greatest influence with the queen, and is her principal confidante.’ (quoted in Davis Political History of the House of Lords p 245-6).
Modern interpretations of the Bedchamber Crisis:
L.G. Mitchell writes that, ‘The Bedchamber Crisis seriously impaired the reputation of the monarchy. Victoria was publicly seen to be a Melbourne partisan. As such, it was doubted whether she could properly perform her allotted, constitutional role of being above party.’ (Mitchell Lord Melbourne p 242). But this comes perilously close to an anachronism. There was no general acceptance in 1839 that the monarch should avoid playing any part in politics or had to appear neutral. William IV had certainly never been neutral even after he was forced to accept the return of Melbourne’s government, and nor had his predecessors. Melbourne’s concern was that the Queen should not so closely identify herself with the Whigs that she would find it humiliating to accept a conservative government, (and he also wished to give her a more sophisticated understanding of politics than her youthful partisanship displayed), but he had no wish to do without her support, and in the election which followed her accession the Whigs made great use of her support on the hustings. Of course the Tories complained about this – a Whig monarch appeared to them unnatural, almost a contradiction in terms – but neither they nor the Whigs expected that the monarchy should be neutral.
Victoria’s behaviour in the Bedchamber Crisis may have breached constitutional conventions but in a much narrower sense. For while there was no requirement that the monarch be impartial, it was expected that the Queen would deal fairly with her minister and that there could be only one responsible set of advisors. From the moment Victoria commissioned Peel to form a government to the moment she accepted his withdrawal he was her responsible minister and it was improper of her to look for advice on sensitive subjects from other sources. But she did so, detailing what was taking place in the negotiations to Melbourne and he replied by encouraging her to refuse to make any concessions over the Ladies of her Household. (Mitchell Lord Melbourne p 242). Her conduct was natural enough given her youth, her inexperience, and her reliance on Melbourne; his was far more indiscreet in a politician of his experience, although it is a murky area and precedents can probably be found of outgoing ministers giving advice while their successors are in the process of taking office. All the evidence suggests that he genuinely failed to understand the significance of the Ladies of the Household until it was too late, and he realized that he was fully committed to a position that was, at the very least, curious for a Whig minister. Her motivation is less clear, but she does not seem to have been unhappy with the result.
Norman Gash’s conclusion is convincing: ‘The decisive role, however, was played by Victoria herself. It was evident from the start that she had made up her mind to yield as little as possible to Melbourne’s successor. The question of the ladies became important because it was the first issue demanding immediate decision on which there was room for disagreement. But Victoria’s hostility was because she was losing her minister, not her ladies. As she said significantly to Russell afterwards, “I have stood by you, you must now stand by me.”’ (Gash Sir Robert Peel p 226).
The creation of the monarchy standing above politics, on good terms with both sides but aligned to neither, was largely Albert’s vision, first expressed in his memorandum concerning the composition of his household, but neither Victoria nor Melbourne accepted this at first, even in the limited circumstances of the Prince Consort’s Household, which they filled with Whigs on the same principle that the Queen’s Household was filled with Lords and Ladies aligned with the government of the day. Albert’s vision only came to prevail gradually in the course of the 1840s, and even then contained an element of useful fiction. The Crown’s influence was greatly limited by the constitutional revolution of 1828-35, but it was not rendered completely powerless, and when forces were finally balanced it could still play a significant role. (On Albert’s role see Daphne Bennett King without a Crown. Albert, Prince Consort of England p 37-39 for the household question and p 45-84 for his slow battle to gain influence e.g. p 71 even after the Queen’s confinement and the birth of their first child Victoria did not regularly permit Albert to see the cabinet boxes and her official papers).
“I have no small talk, and Peel has no manners”
This remark, attributed to Wellington, is sometimes invoked as an explanation of their difficulties with the Queen over the Bedchamber Crisis. However it is almost certainly spurious, and cannot be traced back further than 1841 when it was quoted in the Bristol Mercury (22 May 1841) in an article headed ‘Club Gossip’, where it is given as showing Wellington’s belief that the Conservatives would not take office. It also crops up in the Christian Observer for 1843 (p 128) where it is prefaced by the cautionary ‘as the tale runs’. It was then revived in G. W. E. Russell’s Collections and Recollections (vol 1 p 142) along with much other dubious material. While it is an appealing witticism, Wellington’s success in society and obvious ease in talking to women, rob it of any real edge.
Aftermath of the Bedchamber Crisis:
On 14 May there was a debate in the Lords about the crisis in response to demands from Brougham for a full explanation. Melbourne acknowledged that the ministers were open ‘to the charge of intrigue, to the charge of personal considerations, to the insinuation of having beforehand settled this objection to render abortive any attempt to form another administration.’ He denied this and stated categorically that ‘as to the ladies of the household I gave her Majesty no advice whatever’, which fell very little, if at all, short of being an outright lie, told to Parliament on a point of central importance to the debate. (Ziegler Melbourne p 296-7; on p 292 he quotes the memorandum which Melbourne read to the Queen when resigning his government in which he said, ‘Your Majesty had better express your hope that none of your Majesty’s household, except those who are engaged in politics, may be removed.’)
This was followed at the end of the month by a speech from Melbourne in the Lords in which he indicated that he would not embark on further reforms simply in order to secure guarantees of radical support. Wellington welcomed this assurance with a conciliatory speech in which he said that he had never seen any reason for the ministry to resign over the Jamaican question, and urged the Prime Minister ‘to stick to his duty and trust to the good sense of the legislature and the country for support’ (Thompson’s paraphrase, not Wellington’s exact words). The Duke went on, ‘And although certainly I have the misfortune of differing from him on many subjects, I think I may venture to tell him that he will not find Parliament fail him if he will honestly and sincerely perform his duty.’ (Quoted in Thompson Wellington After Waterloo p 181 cf Ziegler Melbourne p 299 for a different account of the context of the speech). According to Greville, ‘the Duke’s assurance of support to Melbourne exasperated his own people to the greatest degree, and produced a sulky article in the ‘Times’, and the usual complaints at White’s and the Carlton of the Duke’s being in his dotage, and so forth.’ (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey and Fulford) vol 4 1 June 1839 p 175). Sir James Graham illustrates this in a letter written to Arbuthnot the day after the debate:
You will have read the report of the debate in the House of Lords last night. I was present; and the Duke of Wellington’s speech is fairly given in the Times. It has produced a great effect and given rise to much doubt and uncertainty among our friends at a juncture when a dissolution is impending, and when confidence is of primary importance. It was natural that the Duke should be anxious to disclaim all alliance or tacit understanding with Brougham, whose speech, tho’ able contained many passages at variance with the Duke’s better feelings and principles; but in executing this purpose he probably went further than he originally intended, and protected Melbourne to an extent, of which at the moment he might hardly be aware. He acquitted Melbourne entirely, notwithstanding W. Cowper’s Address, of anything like bad faith in the recent transactions at the Palace. This is a matter of opinion, and the Duke’s verdict is of immense value to Melbourne; but from so generous an opponent he was perhaps intitled [sic] to expect its avowal.
In the next place the Duke declared his opinion that Melbourne was not justified in resigning by the vote of the Commons on the Jamaica Bill. This declaration from such an authority gives to the Ministers an immense advantage … it affords an answer to all our taunts of a self-condemned Administration returning to power by means of a Bedchamber intrigue…
… [And] at the end of his speech the Duke told Melbourne emphatically that if he did his duty in Parliament as well as out of it, he might trust to the good sense of Parliament and of the people to support it… (Sir James Graham to Arbuthnot ‘Private & Confidential’ 1 June 1839 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 201-2).
Graham was disturbed that Melbourne had not more clearly disavowed any radical leanings and feared that Russell would announce further steps of parliamentary reform in a few days’ time. When on the contrary Russell denounced such proposals and committed himself to opposing them, Graham had the grace to visit Apsley House and acknowledge Wellington’s ‘superior foresight … the Duke was as kind as possible, in very good spirits, and entertaining a more favourable opinion of public affairs than he has done for some time. He said “don’t be in [a] hurry and all will come right; and when I complimented him on his never-failing sagacity, he said in his most characteristic manner, “I never mind what I see; my life has been passed by finding out what they are doing on the other side of the hill.’ (Sir James Graham to Arbuthnot ‘Private’ 5 June 1839 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 204).
The Queen’s unpopularity following the Bedchamber Crisis:
When the Queen attended the races at Ascot soon after the Bedchamber Crisis and the well publicized death of Lady Flora Hastings two women in the crowd jeered and called her ‘Mrs Melbourne’ (Weintraub Victoria p 126). And when she went to prorogue parliament at the end of August, she was hissed by spectators as she passed through the Park whereupon ‘the police, who were stationed there in large numbers, immediately drew out their bludgeons and threatened to knock down any man who dared to hiss’. This in turn led to a letter to The Times from a spectator, protesting at the police action and defending the right of free expression. (The Times 28 August 1839).
Banquet for Wellington at Dover, 30 August 1839:
A grand banquet was held in Wellington’s honour as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports at Dover on 30 August 1839. The Duke’s arrival in Dover was marked by a salute of 19 guns from the heights, and the streets were lined with spectators who cheered his progress with great enthusiasm. According to the Times, ‘The Duke … appeared in buoyant health and spirits’, and he was greeted with ‘indescribably enthusiasm’. The paper goes on to give a detailed account of the toasts proposed and speeches made, but says little of the food except that apart from at the top table it was mostly ‘cold viands’ and that ‘the arrangements for this part of the entertainment were excellently made’. ‘About 500 or 600 [people] must have been present’. (The Times 31 August 1839).
Wellington was delighted with the occasion, telling Lady Wilton,
We had our feast at Dover on Friday. Nothing could be more ma[g]nificent or beautiful. There were present above 3000 People, including 5 or 600 Ladies in the Gallery. The Rest well accommodated at Dinner; each one with a full view of their Guest!
Lord Brougham was invited to propose the Health of the Lord Warden, which he did in a most admirable Speech….
I never saw People so pleased and delighted as the whole of the Meeting. My Hands are now sore by their scrambling to catch hold of them as I was going out. They were so anxious to touch me that they almost pulled the Coat off my back… (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 1 September 1839 Wellington and His Friends p 120-22).
The event was just one of a number of occasions in these years (and ever since Wellington’s inauguration as Chancellor of Oxford University) which served both to celebrate Wellington’s growing popularity and also mark the revival of the Conservative party.
Chartism and the Radical Revival of 1838-39:
The summer of 1839 saw a revival of popular radicalism which had its origins in the trade slump of 1837-38 and hostility to the new Poor Law. The People’s Charter was published in May 1838 and that September the foundations were laid for the Anti-Corn Law League. Although this wave of radicalism would prove to be largely respectable and orderly in its methods and ethos, the initial signs were not particularly promising with numerous reports of sinister torchlight processessions and secret drilling with pikes and pistols. Melbourne and Russell were alarmed, but characteristically did as little as possible, not wishing to offend the radical MPs on whom their government depended, and arguing that prosecutions would only inflame feelings and create martyrs. (Zielger Melbourne p 307-9). In July 1839 the House of Commons summarily rejected the ‘National Petition’ which set out Chartist demands and was supported by approximately 1.2 million signatures. This prompted serious riots in Birmingham and a show of force at Newport in Wales which left up to twenty-two Chartists dead and their leader (a former Mayor of the town) charged and convicted of treason. Even before this Wellington had reacted strongly, blaming the violence at Birmingham on the weakness and incompetence of the magistrates, which in turn he attributed to failings of the government and the effects of the Municipal Corporations Bill. While this was debatable he certainly went too far when he claimed that Birmingham had suffered more in the riots than a town taken by storm, but it is possible to sympathize with his frustration that when comparable events occurred under a Tory government they were regarded as of national significance while under the Whigs they scarcely warranted a moment’s pause (compare the fame of ‘Peterloo’ with the obscurity of the Newport rising). (Thompson Wellington After Waterloo p 182-3).
In September Sir James Graham told Arbuthnot, ‘I was rejoiced to see the Duke mark strongly his disapprobation of the appointment of Chartist Magistrates by John Russell: the Bolton case was outrageous: it is almost a ground for impeachment, were it not dangerous to let loose this chained lion in the angry struggle of balanced parties.’ (Sir James Graham to Arbuthnot, ‘Private’, 12 September 1839 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 207-9).
In January 1840 Wellington drew the attention of the government and the House of Lords to a settlement of Owenite socialists at Queenwood in Hampshire, and claimed that in general magistrates seemed to be reluctant to prosecute such dangerous individuals. Using his own authority as Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire he wrote, on 1 February, to the justice of the peace near Queenwood, urging him to ‘observe and take Cognizances of the Proceeding of such an institution; more particularly as this Association has commenced and Published that it has objects inconsistent with the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, with the Duties of Christians with Morality and with the very existence of Society.’ He should note any breach of the law and exert his influence to draw the attention of influential people in the neighbourhood to the ‘Danger and Mischief which will probably result from the establishment of this Institution among them, and to induce them to refrain from giving their Attendance upon its Meetings and to persuade their Servants and Dependents to follow their example.’ (Quoted in Thompson Wellington After Waterloo p 191).
The political implications of the revival of radicalism were more ambiguous: on the one hand it highlighted the dangers of keeping Melbourne’s feeble administration in office when it could not be relied upon to deal promptly and effectively with such trouble; but on the other, the responsibilities of office forced the Whigs to condemn such popular radicalism rather than seek to curry favour with the radicals. Fortunately the radical revival soon faltered and opinion in the country as a whole continued to shift towards the conservatives.
Wellington does not desire a change of government in late 1839:
On 12 November 1839 Wellington told Croker that, ‘It is very difficult to form a judgement what will become of Lord Melbourne. … I am not quite certain that its continuance will not give us a better chance of tranquility than a Government formed by a scramble of Tories.’ (Wellington to Croker, Walmer Castle, 12 November 1839 Croker Papers vol 2 p 357). And six weeks later he reinforced the point, telling Croker that he had written to Conservative Peers advising them of the meeting of parliament and urging their attendance. ‘I can neither do nor say any more.’ If the Govt have any sense they will make the speech so that an amendment can’t be proposed, and ‘If the House of Lords act wisely, they will not be in a hurry to attack the Government. I can say no more.’ (same to same, Stratfield Saye, 29 December 1839 ibid p 360).
At the same time he explicitly told Peel, ‘I don’t think it is desirable that you should have at this moment the option even of taking charge of the Government.’ And, ‘I am convinced that those who are so clamorous to turn out the Government, are not prepared for the adoption of the measures which must be adopted in order to enable any honest man to perform his duty, who may undertake the conduct of the Government.’ He went on to recognize the incongruity of he, of all people, being reluctant to take office: ‘I have always been ready – by some thought too ready – to serve the Crown, if my services should be called for, and should be necessary. But there is a great difference between that readiness, which I feel now as strongly as ever I did, and the volunteering in a course of measures which are to have for their object to force the Administration to resign, and the Sovereign to call for the services of others, myself included.’ (Wellington to Peel, 18 December 1839 Parker Peel vol 2 p 416-20).
Wellington’s friendship with Lady Salisbury:
On 19 June 1835, the day after Waterloo Day, Lady Salisbury wrote in her diary: ‘I had a long walk with the Duke after dinner – from about eight till past eleven, when we came away with him. His kindness, his expressions of friendship, of real and friendly attachment, I can never forget. I sometimes think how can I be worthy of the friendship of such a man, what have I done to deserve the highest honour a woman can attain to be his friend.’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 19 June 1835, Gascoyne Heiress p 169). And in 1837 Wellington advised her against coming to stay at Walmer without Lord Salisbury: it should not provoke gossip but it might (see Gascoyne Heiress p 255).
Wellington’s friendships: death of Rosslyn and Creevey:
Lady Salisbury was the most important of Wellington’s friends to die in these years, but not the only one. Lord Rosslyn died on 18 January 1837. After the fact, but before he knew of it, Wellington wrote to Lady Burghersh, ‘I am sadly alarmed about Lord Rosslyn. He (is) such a loss to me that I scarcely know how I can get on without him, particularly at this moment – the eve of the opening of Parli[ament].’ While he later described Rosslyn’s death as ‘a terrible loss’. (Wellington to Lady Burghersh, 21 and 29 January 1837 Correspondence of Lady Burghersh with the Duke of Wellington p 87-88). Lady Salisbury commented: ‘He was universally popular and will be universally regretted. In him the Duke has lost a real and steady friend and a most useful assistant, whose place, politically, it will be difficult to fill.’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 21 January 1837 Gascoyne Heiress p 231).
Thomas Creevey died in the following year although his unlikely friendship with Wellington had waned some years before. According to Greville for some years before his death Creevey was living with a young woman whom he had found working as a prostitute. He left her all his papers and other possessions and Brougham and some of Creevey’s other old friends (not including Wellington), were not particularly scrupulous in their methods of obtaining his correspondence and diaries from the young woman, while she acted with great propriety and good feeling ‘and only wants to do what they tell her She ought to do under the circumstances of the case’. However Greville may well have improved the story somewhat in the telling. (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey and Fulford) vol 4 20 February 1838 p 27-29).
Mary Stanley, daughter of the 12th Earl of Derby, married Thomas Egerton, 2nd Earl of Wilton in 1821. She was the aunt of the Lord Stanley who played such a prominent role in British politics in the 1830s, 40s and 50s and who served with Wellington in Peel’s cabinet. Wellington’s correspondence with her began in 1838 and lasted until April 1848. It included much discussion of her children, the weather and other prosaic topics, and there is little sign that Lady Wilton had any great interest in politics. In 1835 Lady Salisbury had written of a conversation with Wellington, ‘We talked chiefly about different persons in society … Of Lady Wilton that she was a very sensible woman as she proved by her conduct, but that he had never discovered the smallest spark of feeling in her.’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary 9 August 1835 Gascoyne Heiress p 174; other details from editor’s introduction to Wellington’s letters to Lady Wilton in Wellington and His Friends p 115-116).
Evidently he got to know her rather better over the next few years, and when she and her husband set off on a tour to the Continent in 1839, leaving their children in Wellington’s care, he farewelled her,
I cannot express to you what I felt upon taking leave of you. It is possible that if you had remained in or near England I should not have seen more of you for some Months. It is possible that you may return before the Winter. But I should not be separated from you by the Sea. I should hear from you sometimes; of you frequently. I hope that you believe in the sincere regard, affection and attachment that I feel for you, and that you consider me as your best friend. If you don’t, you do not do me justice.
I intreat you to write to me whenever you will have an opportunity, if only to tell me that you are well. I will write to you constantly to let you know how your Children are… (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 7 August 1839 Wellington and His Friends p 120).
In January 1846 he told her, ‘I know of nothing that is so satisfactory to me and does me so much good in every way as to be able to communicate freely with you, for whose understanding I feel so much respect, and so much regard and affection for your Person.’ (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 7 January 1846 Wellington and His Friends p 201).
Wellington and Miss Jervis:
Wellington’s friendship with the musical Miss Jervis aroused some comment at the time which can be traced in three extracts from Lady Salisbury’s diary:
He laughs extremely at the notion of his being in love with Miss Jervis. “What is the good of being 67 if one cannot speak to a young lady?” He says she is mad, but has talent and intelligence, though with less powers of conversation than any educated person he ever saw… (Lady Salisbury’s diary 13 December 1836 Gascoyne Heiress p 224)
Went to town to dine at Apsley House. Miss Jervis sang beautifully. Giannora and one or two of the Opera people came to sing with her. I told the Duke his marriage was announced both with Miss Jervis and Lady G. Fane, to his great amusement. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 9 August 1837 Gascoyne Heiress p 253).
After church I had a conversation with the Duke which I shall always [A leaf is torn out of the Diary here. It apparently refers to Miss Jervis]. singing, but scarcely considers her as a rational person. She has certainly great musical talent, but is very mad and extremely vain, and anxious to give out that she has a great power over him, and to show him off. I was afraid his good nature would lead him to allow her to take liberties, and to comply with her caprices in a manner which might seem to give foundation to the reports she is anxious to spread. He was not at all offended, but laughed and said it was all nonsense. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 15 April 1838 Gascoyne Heiress p 280).
See also Herbert Maxwell’s Life of Wellington vol 2 p 376-78 which prints brief extracts from a number of Wellington’s letters to Lady de Ros concerning Miss Jervis, for example, ‘I saw the Syren [as he called her] last night at Lady Salisbury’s. … She was looking in great force, and says she is much improved in musick.’ (5 March 1838). ‘I dined with the Syren last week. It was the day of the Queen’s ball, and I returned from thence to the musick; but Lady Jersey was there and talked so much that she was interrupted. I therefore came away. … I hope that I shall not get into any scrape to render necessary my giving a retainer to the great lawyers in such cases…’ (31 May 1838). And ‘I should like to see the Syren married to Lord Lowther or anybody excepting myself – God bless her! I cannot conceive how she came to think of me; I am old enough to be her great-grand father.’ (11 August 1838).
There are echoes here of Wellington’s friendship for Lady Caroline Lamb when she was being shunned by society, as well as his constant willingness to defy gossip with his friendships with many different women.
Lady Burghclere, the editor of Wellington’s letters to the second Lady Salisbury published in 1927, adds some details of Miss Jervis’s later life, evidently from personal knowledge: ‘The entertainment and interest afforded to the Duke by a person of such abounding vitality is therefore easily understood. What she was in the [eighteen-]thirties, she remained, in a measure, into the [eighteen-]nineties. Kind, shrewd, and quite unexpected in her comments, it was a pleasure to pay a visit to the old lady, who would often be found sitting in a small room of her large house, with the splendid enameled and bediamonded sword presented by the Corporation of London to her distintguished ancestor at her right hand.’ Her marriage to Mr Dyce-Sombre was soon clouded by his insanity; but after his death she married Colonel Cecil Forester, later Lord Forester, ‘a marriage which proved the happiest of unions. When in 1893 the “Begum” – as she was called by her intimates – died, the large sums she bequeathed to charity served to found two hospitals.’ (A Great Man’s Friendship p 249-50).
Wellington’s correspondence with Miss Jenkins:
Excerpts from Wellington’s correspondence with Miss Jenkins were first published in 1889 at a time when very few of his private letters had reached the public, and this gave them a significance which they did not deserve. Most of Wellington’s letters are commonplace acknowledgements of the receipt of a number of letters from Miss Jenkins together with an enquiry as to the state of her health. Comparison with his letters to Mrs Arbuthnot, both Ladies Salisbury, Lady Shelley, Lady Burghersh, Lady Wilton and Angela Burdett-Coutts, clearly show that he did not confide in her in the least, and that his interest in her was relatively slight and fleeting. This impression is confirmed by the long intervals between their meetings: two years in one case, eight in another. That he continued to correspond with her at all is rather surprising, but he had a very strong habit of replying to letters of all kinds, and it seems likely that he had a genuine respect for her sincerity while finding her exhortations intermittently amusing. Although the letters are clearly genuine, there is little reason to believe her account of their first meeting in all its details. She evidently hoped to marry him, while he may well have thought initially that she was offering to become his mistress, but neither outcome was ever likely.
To give a flavour of the correspondence here is Wellington’s letter of 17 November 1839, which is typical of all the rest:
My dear Miss J., I am much obliged to you for your letter of the 15th in which you have enquired about my health as you had heard or read a report that I was indisposed. I am and have been quite well, thank God.
Ever yours most faithfully,
Wellington (p 109)
Wellington made a number of attempts to break off the correspondence, but Miss Jenkins’ persistence and his own reluctance to cause offense or pain always led him to resume it, albeit with palpable reluctance and often in the briefest manner. In 1850 Miss J. revealed that her financial affairs were in a poor state and Wellington offered to assist her, but she declined his help and this led to a final rupture. The correspondence is most interesting as an example of the demands made on the Duke’s time, and his refusal to be ruthless in putting a stop to them.
Wellington and his sons:
‘Douro, just arrived from abroad, after an absence of nine months, during which he has never written to his father, and his return was at last announced by the servant, who when the Duke told him who was expected to dinner, added, “and Lord Douro, your Grace, his servant is just come.” The Duke is very much afraid he has formed some connection abroad which may prevent his marrying, for which the Duke is very anxious.’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary 12 June 1836 Gascoyne Heiress p 203-4).
On Douro’s marriage a bill was introduced to settle a jointure on Lady Douro. They [the lawyers, I think is meant] urged him to entail all the curious and valuable things given to him by Emperors and Kings. Wellington agreed, but when he saw the draft he disliked it, thought it looked ‘flashy’ and wanted it dropped. At last they added a clause that anything he nominated by deed within two years should be included in the entail, (but not listing the treasures). On the very last day of the two years he signed the deed. ‘If his two Sons die without issue, which is very probable, the disposal of all these valuables reverts to him.’ (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey & Fulford) 24 November 1841 vol 4 p 427-28).
Wellington and Lady Douro:
As a wedding present, Wellington gave Lady Douro a coronet set with the diamonds that Louis XVIII had given him in the Order of Saint Esprit, the order having been abolished by a later French government, Wellington had the jewels reset; they were said to be then worth £50,000. (Stanhope Notes 27-28 November 1840 p 256). See p 108 of main text for the original gift.
Wellington’s illness in February 1839:
This is very poorly documented. Lord Mahon mentioned in passing in a note covering February that he had not mentioned ‘Wellington’s attack on the 22nd’ (Stanhope Notes p 135) and in his account of the November attack he wrote that ‘we cannot alas! conceal from ourselves that it is a repetition of last February’s coming back with aggravated symptoms and proceeding much further than before.’ (Stanhope Notes 23 November 1839 p 204). And Croker told the King of Hanover, ‘When I recollect that his Grace had a similar attack last February, I cannot see the recurrence of it without alarm.’ (Croker to the King of Hanover, 21 November 1839 Croker Papers vol 2 p 357-8).
At the time, a denial had been published in the press:
Alarming reports prevailed yesterday afternoon respecting the health of the Duke of Wellington. It was confidently stated that his Grace had been seized with a sudden attack, and that no less than three physicians had been summoned to attend him. Upon inquiry at Apsley House we ascertained, with more than ordinary pleasure, that there was no foundation for the reports in question. We understand, however, from other sources, that the Duke is suffering from an attack of lumbago and that, although he yesterday transacted business as usual, he occasionally complained of pain in the back, and of stiffness in one of his knees. (The Times quoting The Observer 25 February 1839).
Wellington complains of overwork, October-November 1839:
Shortly before Wellington was taken ill in November 1839 he complained of overwork: ‘Rest! Every other animal – even a donkey – a costermonger’s donkey – is allowed some rest, but the Duke of Wellington never! There is no help for it. As long as I am able to go on, they will put a saddle upon my back and make me go.’ (Stanhope Notes 29 October – 4 November 1839 p 194). This was probably nothing more than the habitual grumbling that was one of Wellington’s most characteristic pleasures, but the timing may suggest that he had been feeling under strain prior to the attack, even though the autumn of 1839 was – by his standards – a relatively calm season.
Wellington’s health, early 1840:
The Austrian diplomat Philipp von Neumann returned to England at the end of 1839 and saw Wellington for the first time in six years in early January 1840: ‘I found him changed, but his mind is still active, and his ideas clear.’ And Wellington’s brother Henry told Charles Arbuthnot on 11 February that ‘In Parliament his [Wellington’s] delivery is slower than ever – but his voice is strong, & the substance of his speeches full of good sense, information, & knowledge of his subject. He is more disposed to attack the Govt. than he used to be, and is sometimes very severe upon them…’ (Neumann Diary 6 January 1840 vol 2 p 136; Lord Cowley to Charles Arbuthnot, 11 February 1840, Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 217).
The Attack of February 1840:
Croker told the King of Hanover,
The Duke of Wellington has had another – that is the third – attack, which no one can doubt to be paralytic, and I am sorry to have to add that it has been much the most severe of the three. It happened on Thursday afternoon. His grace had been paying a visit to Lady Burghersh, and seemed quite as well as usual, and he mounted his horse to ride away, but his groom observed him drop the reins, and alighted and ran up to him, and, giving him the reins again, contrived to get him home, where he was put to bed speechless and paralysed on one side. I cannot, however, conceal from your Majesty, my apprehension that the Duke’s public life is over. Shaken as he must be by these repeated seizures, it will be dangerous to his existence, even if it were physically possible, that he should be exposed to the worry of a constant attendance and active direction of the House of Lords. I know how unwilling he will be to give in, but I am sure all his personal friends are convinced that the day of retreat is arrived; he may still, if he will spare himself, give us for a few years perhaps the assistance of his counsels and countenance, but I confess I do not wish him to take an active part. (Croker to the King of Hanover, 17 February 1840 Croker Papers vol 2 p 360-2).
But Croker was an alarmist and on the very next day Lady Holland told her son, ‘The Duke of Wellington is today remarkably well, fretting at his confinement. Even yesterday he felt so well that he put on his boots and resolved to ride; but the rain made him listen to advice. The attack was the severest he ever had.’ (Letters of Lady Holland to Her Son p 183). And on 22 February Charles Arbuthnot wrote that ‘the Duke is quite well.’ (Charles Arbuthnot to his son, 22 February 1840 Arbuthnot Papers 3029/1/2/228).
Initial distrust of Prince Albert:
Baron Stockmar reported to King Leopold, probably with some exaggeration, that, ‘The ultra-Tories are filled with prejudices against the Prince, in which I can clearly trace the influence of Ernest Augustus of Hanover. They give out that he is a Radical and an infidel, and say that George of Cambridge, or a Prince of Orange, ought to have been the Consort of the Queen.’ (Quoted in Wintraub Victoria p 138).
Not that the Tories were alone in disliking the match at first: Melbourne was far from enthusiastic, expressing unease another connection with the Coburg family in July 1839 and warning the Queen that if he allied himself with her mother (his aunt) she would be in an uncomfortable position – an argument she promptly rebutted: ‘I assured him he need have no fear whatever on that score.’ Probably Melbourne did not want her to marry at all just yet (she was still very young and the emotional bond between them filled a void in his life, as much as in hers). (Ziegler Melbourne p 310; Mitchell Lord Melbourne p 244).
Prince Albert’s Precedence:
At the end of January 1840 Melbourne wrote to Lady Burghersh that he was ‘in the greatest embarrassment and anxiety to know what the D[uke] intended to do’ on the question of Prince Albert’s precedence. ‘Could no arrangement be come to with the D[uke] to avert more serious and fearful consequences – such as should not be caused by such a Question?” Lady Burghersh naturally sent the letter straight on to Wellington who called on her and explained that most of the other senior Tory Lords were out of town ‘and without consulting them I cannot enter into any sort of negociation or understanding with Lord M.’. He thought a compromise might be possible, but was not sure that he could persuade the other lords to accept one ‘so strong is the feeling against the Bill – and it is impossible for me to hint at such a thing to Lord M. without the knowledge and consent of the Party. Indeed, it would be highly disagreeable to the Party and probably very injurious if I shd. lend myself to any communication with Lord Melb. out of the H. of Lords, and it is a matter of great consideration and prudence how far you may go in writing or talking to him…’ She felt that Wellington was ‘extremely mild – but very determined to stick by the Party’. They agreed on a reply for her to send Melbourne – that she had seen Wellington and that his intention was to pass the second reading of the bill but to make alterations in committee, and that her impression was that he was ‘very unwilling to do anything to embarrass the Govt.’ but that he appeared to consider ‘that the Question at present stood upon very awkward grounds.’ Wellington was willing to grant Albert precendence during the Queen’s life over everyone except the Heir Presumptive or Apparent, but he could not commit himself to this without the consent of his fellow Tory lords. (Lady Burghersh to her husband Lord Burghersh, 31 January 1840 Correspondence of Lady Burghersh with the Duke of Wellington p 123-26).
Melbourne also sent Lord Clarendon (a member of the cabinet) to discuss the question with Wellington directly, but Clarendon found the Duke implacable. (Ziegler Melbourne p 312).
On 3 February Wellington told Lady Wilton that Melbourne ‘has been in communication with me through two or three Channels; and I hope that we shall settle the Precedence this day without Debate, and without injustice to anybody.’ (Wellington to Lady Wilton 3 February 1840 Wellington and His Friends p 128). And on the following day:
You’ll see in the Newspapers the Report of the giving up the Precedence Clause in Prince Albert’s Naturalization Bill. There was not a Reasonable Man in the House who was not delighted at that Result of the last week’s Discussions. But I have always thought that if an Angel from Heaven was sent to manage our Affairs, some would be dissatisfied. Accordingly Lord Brougham, Lord Kenyon, Lord Londonderry, Lord Wynford were not pleased because we did not divide and beat the Government; at the same time profuse in expressions of Loyalty and attachment to the Queen.
There were many in the House very unwilling to vote, and afraid of the Consequences to their Wives and daughters of Voting! Some indeed had declared they would not vote. The Royal Family did not appear. All were delighted to have the Affair settled by the Government giving it up. (Wellington to Lady Wilton 4 February 1840 Wellington and His Friends p 128-9).
Attempted Assassination of the Queen, June 1840:
‘You will in common with us all have been horrified & shocked at this dreadful attempt upon the life of the poor little Queen [on 10 June]. …. Lds Melbourne & Normanby went to her immediately on her return to the Palace, & found her well & tolerably composed. She told them she saw the man distinctly take aim when he fired the second pistol, adding “It was not at all pleasant, I assure you.” …. There are many conjectures as to the motives which actuated the wretched man, such as whether he belonged to a Secret Society, either of Chartists or fanatical Protestants, or if a political tool for change of Sovereign. Nothing has transpired as yet.’ Lady Holland to her son, 12 June 1840 Letters of Lady Holland to Her Son p 186. The Queen was pregnant – see next entry p 187 where her ‘interesting’ condition is visible].
Provisions for a Regency and the Court’s rapprochement with the Conservatives:
Although Melbourne had failed to avert a controversy over Prince Albert’s precedence, he had more success some months later in agreeing with Wellington on the issue of a regency (in the event of the Queen dying in childbirth but the baby surviving) before the question became widely discussed. Lord Mahon noted a discussion with the Duke in the summer of 1840:
He gave me an account of the interviews between himself and Lord Melbourne on the subject of the Regency Bill. Lord Melbourne, having written to ask to see him, called at the time appointed at Apsley House, threw himself into an armchair, like an old friend, with great glee and rubbing of hands, and began at once with – Well, now, what do you think about the Regency? “Upon this,” said the Duke, “I came the Scotchman over him, for I said, Why, I should like to know in the first place what you think of it.”
Lord Melbourne said at first that there was a great pressure upon him in favour of the Duke of Sussex from some of “the supporters and followers of the Government,” but he afterwards let out that some of his own Cabinet were very urgent. His own opinion was decidedly for Prince Albert as sole Regent.
The Duke said that such was also his decided opinion – that he could not answer for any one else’s on the subject, but would communicate with Sir Robert Peel, Lord Stanley, Sir James Graham, &c., and let Lord Melbourne know what they thought – which he did accordingly in perfect unanimity at a second interview at Apsley House. (Stanhope Notes n.d. [20 July 1840?] p 242).
This agreement help begin an improvement in relations between the Court (especially the Queen) and the Conservatives. On 18 August Wellington wrote to Lady Wilton, ‘I am just now returned from Windsor … I never was so well received. I sat next to the Queen at Dinner. She drank wine repeatedly with me; in short, if I was not a Milksop I should become her Bottle Companion. It is impossible to be in better Humour than she was with me. Prince Albert and King Leopold visited me in my Room yesterday; and I saw the Premier this morning before I came away…’ (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 18 August 1840, Wellington and His Friends p 139-40). Shared alarm at Palmerston’s diplomacy strengthened the thaw in relations, and this in turn made the change of government in the following year much easier for the Queen to accept.
In February 1841 Wellington stood proxy for Albert’s brother at the christening of the Queen’s first child and Victoria wrote in her journal ‘The Duke is the best friend we have.’ (Quoted in Weintraub Victoria p 153-4).
‘The Duke of Wellington’s Journal of 1830’ [sic]:
In the edition of Lord Hatherton’s diary published as The Hatherton Diaries there are entries under the dates of 7th and 8 March 1840 of Hatherton reading ‘the Duke of Wellington’s Journal of 1830’, and of having read no less than twenty-four years of this journal. Unfortunately this is a red herring produced by a mistake in the transcription and the passage refers to the journal kept by J. W. Ward, Lord Dudley, not one kept by the Duke of Wellington. Hatherton was one of Ward’s executors and after reading the journal, and transcribing a few innocuous passages, he destroyed the rest because of its indecency. (See ‘Extracts from Lord Hatherton’s Diary’ edited by Arthur Aspinall p 261 which gives an accurate transcription of the entry for 8 March 1840, and an e-mail from Liz Street of the Staffordshire Record Office, 2 April 2014, which confirms that in the manuscript of the diary Hatherton simply wrote of D’s journal.
Wellington’s compromise over Canada, 1840:
Sir James Graham expressed his concern at the possibility that Wellington might take a different line from Peel on the question: ‘all this [successes in the Commons] is lost labor, if Peel and the Duke will not be reunited; for while we endeavor to mitigate minor evils and to avert more distant dangers, this disunion, once made known, scatters to the winds the Conservative Party, renders a Conservative Government impossible, and gives a decisive victory, which can never be repaired, to anarchy, to the Movement and to the common enemy, whom we have now all but vanquished and by our union have checked so successfully.’ (Graham to Arbuthnot, [12 June 1840] Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 218-19).
Lord Mahon described Wellington’s speech, ‘I heard the Duke’s speech on Canada in the House of Lords. It was heard with breathless silence, and seemed to produce a great impression, especially the close, when with an energetic gesture he threw off all responsibility of the measure from himself, and left it “in the name of God” upon the Ministers. As he stood erect, his figure looked very thin – wasted and shrunken within his clothes; but his countenance beamed with noble expression…’ (Stanhope Notes 30 June 1840 p 241).
And towards the end of the year Mahon recorded that the Duke was still unhappy about it:
After our visitors had left us, the Duke spoke with the deepest emotion – I might almost say anguish – of the loss of Canada impending, as he fears, from the measure of last session. He condemned the Ministers strongly, as acting against their better judgement, and used these remarkable words: “I am an old man now – please God will remove me before it happens – but that it will happen some time or other I have no doubt.”
I have seldom seen him more affected… (Stanhope Notes 8 November 1840 p 252)
Wellington and the Eastern Question:
Wellington’s attitude to the unfolding crisis can be traced in the long series of letters he wrote to Lady Wilton which are published in Wellington and His Friends. On 19 August he told her that he had seen Lord Melbourne and ‘pointed out to him the state of His Forces, and the prospects before Him. I hope he may have stopped this expedition’ which was intended to attack Alexandria, which the Duke believed would inevitably lead to war with France. (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 19 August 1840 Wellington and His Friends p 140).
Four days later he wrote again:
I have heard no more of the Expedition excepting what is in the Newspapers. The friends of Government talk of the Government having Men enough to man the fleet in the Mediterranean. So that we are going to recommence the General War in Europe and the World, Not having an Army, and only supposed to have Men enough to man one of our fleets!…
P.S. I don’t like the State of Affairs in America, in Ireland or in China. A Nice Time for a renewal of the General War in Europe.’ (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 23 August 1840 Wellington and His Friends p 140-1).
Later letters elaborate on these points. On 21 September,
Lord Elgin has been here this morning, having arrived from Paris. He says that Nobody can tell whether there will be Peace or War; That it is supposed that the King will preserve Peace with England if he can, but that he is thought very insincere. … Lord Elgin says that he Hatred of the English Nation is quite extraordinary…
In the mean time we are doing little or nothing that is efficient in the way of providing for our defence, and to bring our various affairs to a satisfactory Conclusion. (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 21 September 1840 Wellington and His Friends p 145-6).
A few days later he passed on reports that the French, in the event of war, intended to attack their neighbours on the Continent nor embark on a maritime war. There were also rumours that Thiers, the French Prime Minister, had made a fortune speculating in the Funds and taken bribes from Mehemet Ali. The British cabinet were said to be more united than before and ready to support Palmerston’s policy, to which Wellington commented:
With all my Heart, if they would only set about making preparations in Earnest. They talk of 17 sail of the Line and a large Number of Steam Vessels in the Mediterranean in the end of this Month.
You see then that the Plot thickens; but I confess that I don’t yet think that we shall have War. The French Government have nothing to gain excepting by an attack upon us by surprise, so as to cripple us at the Commencement of the War. There may be much Individual Plunder in a Continental War; but no eventual gain for the French Government can be expected. On the other hand, if we adhere to our Allies, the loss of ships, Colonies and Commerce will be immense, besides Algiers and even Mehemet Alli Himself. (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 24 September 1840 Wellington and His Friends p 146-7).
On 1 October he struck an unusually pugnacious note:
There is a good deal of Alarm in London about War. But the Ministers deny that it is probable, excepting indeed Lord Melbourne. Lady Palmerstone says that Lord P. knows that the French are not in a state of Preparation! If they are not, in what state are we? I concur with you that it is to be apprehended that when the Chambers meet they may talk themselves into War. But in the mean time their funds are again falling… If our Ministers would arm, which they ought to desire to do on other grounds besides that of the Conduct of and that of the State of Armaments in France, I should be certain of Peace. They don’t like broken Heads in France better than they are liked elsewhere, however bitterly they may bluster and bully. (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 1 October 1840 Wellington and His Friends p 147-48).
On 13 November he stated that ‘The Porte cannot be independent of Mehemet Alli in Syria, and consequently not of France, if Mehemet Allis is not excluded from Syria altogether…. if a Door into Syria should be left open by leaving in His Hands St Jean D’Acre…’ (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 13 November 1840 Wellington and His Friends p 149-50). And by the 20th he was about to inform her ‘that the Allies are all agreed to enforce the execution of the Treaty; and they do not expect that the Peace of the World will be disturbed. They are unanimous in requiring the evacuation of Syria, of the Island of Candia, and of all the Dominions, towns &c. belonging to the Porte occupied by Mehemet Alli, save and except Egypt.’ (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 20 November 1840 Wellington and His Friends p 150-151).
Wellington’s dislike of Palmerston’s diplomacy:
The Eastern Question was not the only issue which aroused Wellington’s concern. On 13 August he wrote, ‘I perused last night the first pages of the first part of the Correspondence in the Boundary Question [dispute with USA over line of frontier between Maine and New Brunswick]. I don’t think that I was ever so Humiliated, sick, sorry and ashamed. I am astonished that these Ministers venture to shew their faces in a Diplomatick Assembly, or talk to the Ministers of other Powers on the general Affairs of the World. Alas! Poor Old England.’ (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 13 August 1840 Wellington and His Friends p 138).
Wellington’s leadership of the Lords:
Richard Davis gives an assessment of Wellington’s leadership of the Lords and his approach to politics more generally that is worth quoting at length:
Anyone who doubts the great pride the duke took in his influence ought to read his 1846 letters to Stanley, to whom he wished to bequeath it. He discussed his achievements, talking, for example, about how in the years 1835 to 1841, ‘I prevailed on the House of Lords to depart from many principles and systems which they as well as I had adopted and voted; on Irish tithes, Irish corporations, and other measures, much to the vexation and annoyance of many.’
But I recollect one particular measure, the Union of Upper and Lower Canada upon the early stages of which I had spoken in opposition to the measure, and had protested against it; and in the last stages of it prevailed upon the House to pass it, in order to avoid the injury to the public interests of a dispute between the Houses upon a question of such importance.
One reason this incident stood out in the duke’s mind six years later was doubtless the fact that it was a remarkable achievement, which it certainly was. But it also revealed some of the duke’s basic values: that over concern with consistency impedes actions necessary for the public good; that principles rarely fit exactly any given political problem; that therefore every problem had to be examined on its own merits, and a decision made as to where duty lay. By 5 July, Wellington had made such a decision and was in ‘perfect good humour …remarkably so, with everything and every body.’
The above qualities are almost the exact reverse of some of Peel’s. The latter was obsessed with consistency, quite understandable after 1829 (though the same experience had no effect on the duke). It therefore took him a long time to decide to abandon principles that might better have been abandoned earlier. Nothing above is meant to be an arraignment of Peel, but simply to put Wellington in perspective. Diarists and historians have often focused on his deafness and other infirmities, and on their effect on his behaviour, sometimes annoying his colleagues. So it is necessary to bear in mind that, despite being possessed of all his faculties, Peel too had his peculiarities, especially his extended bouts of childish petulance. But did these seriously affect his ability to lead his party and the country? They might have had they come too often, but fortunately they were infrequent, and others made allowances for him. In any case, his admirable achievements are sufficient answer to the question. Similar conclusions can be made about the duke of Wellington. (Davis Political History of the House of Lords p 259-60).
Wellington’s reputation for standing above the party fray and his growing popularity:
Between 1836 and 1841 Wellington gained a reputation for putting the needs of the country above purely party considerations. For example, Greville commented on a debate in July 1838 on a motion from Brougham calling for the production of some documents (instructions to a naval commander in the Mediterranean) that would embarrass the government,
The Duke of Wellington, according to his custom, refused to be factious, and when Melbourne said that it would be highly inconvenient to produce any instructions, he declared against the motion and left the House. Brougham was furious, and many of the High Tories greatly provoked … The Duke was quite in the right … Brougham cares for nothing but the pleasure of worrying and embarrassing the Ministers, whom he detests with an intense hatred … The Duke, whose thoughts are steadily directed to the public good, and to that alone, will lend himself to no such vexatious purposes; he looks at the position of the Government in relation to foreign Powers, and deals with it as a national and not as a party question. It is in this spirit that He constantly and inflexibly acts, though not failing to give Ministers a pretty sharp lecture every now and again. (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey and Fulford) vol 4 14 July 1838 p 75-76).
This was only a partial picture: Wellington’s actions were often more calculated and less naive than Greville acknowledges (for example his speech on Canada at the beginning of 1838), but the fact that he was perceived, even by such a close observer as Greville, to be driven by patriotic rather than political motives undoubtedly contributed to the rise in his popularity in these years. It fitted neatly with the reinterpretation of his character prompted by the publication of his Dispatches, and in particular to the publicity given to the nimmukwallah story.
Wellington’s gaiety and pleasure in life:
Throughout his life Wellington was a confirmed grumbler who expressed himself with little restraint or expression, but often most amusingly. This can suggest that he was more gloomy and depressed than was generally the case. Lady Salisbury knew him well and in November 1835, when staying at Walmer, wrote that,
Nothing can be more quiet and less exciting than his life. He gets up early, breakfasts before ten and then goes into his room to read and answer his letters and seldom reappears till luncheon time, when he never eats more than a jelly or a biscuit – often nothing. After luncheon I always walk or ride with him for an hour or two, and he was often occupied again till dinner time. We dined at 7, and seldom sat beyond half past eleven. Twice a week he goes out at this season with the harriers, and writes his letters when he comes home. He is consulted upon all sorts of affairs, public and private, by all sorts of people, and the letters he receives, all of which he makes a point of answering immediately, are endless.
But with all this he never seems absent or bored for an instant, always gay, always cheerful, entering with interest into everything that passes, even the most absolute trifles, and extracting amusement from them. His mind is equally energetic to whatever its powers may be turned, and he does not appear to know what a heavy hour is, or ever to feel low spirits or ennui. (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 11 November 1835 Gascoyne Heiress p 183).
Several years later, on a visit to Stratfield Saye, she added that, ‘We have now eight children in the house – three of mine, three De Ros’s, two Grosvenors – and the rush of delight they make when the Duke enters the room, and the way in which they surround his chair is quite touchant.’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 15 April 1838 Gascoyne Heiress p 280)
© Rory Muir