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Commentary for Volume 1, Chapter 17 : Politics, Scandal and Wellesley’s Return to Portugal (January–April 1809)
Ever since Sir Arthur Wellesley had returned from Portugal at the beginning of October he had been pre-occupied with the controversy over the Convention of Cintra. He had seen his family, attended to some Irish business and ridden to hounds at Hatfield, but these relaxations occupied only the few spare days left over from the all consuming struggle to salvage his reputation. As soon as the Enquiry finished taking evidence he returned to Dublin and was in Ireland for Christmas. When the Enquiry’s report was published, his first inclination was to join the army in Spain as quickly as possible. (AW to Castlereagh, ‘Private’, 9 Jan 1809 WSD vol 5 p 526, WP 1/231/4). The government’s delay in deciding how to respond to the report thwarted this wish, and then news reached England that Moore was in full retreat to the coast, hotly pursued by the French. The first, unofficial, account of Coruña reached London with Lord Paget on 22 January, and Wellesley wrote to Harrington’s secretary, ‘You see the account of the action at Coruna. I was certain that nothing could save the army but an attack by the French; and it is only to be lamented that we have lost two such valuable men as Sir John Moore and Sir David Baird. The latter, I conclude, cannot live.’ (AW to Col. H. M. Gordon, WSD vol 5 p 537-8). In fact, Baird did survive the unusual and difficult operation of having his left arm amputated at the shoulder socket, and though he saw no further active service he married in 1810 and lived until 1829. But the greater grief for Wellesley and all the Irish establishment was the loss of Anstruther who died of exhaustion and an inflammation of the lungs, and was buried, like Moore, on the ramparts of Coruña.
In the meantime Wellesley carried on the business of his Irish office, bestowing and withholding patronage, soothing Lord Manners (the Irish Lord Chancellor) when his advice was overlooked in the appointment of an assistant barrister in Wexford, and consoling the Earl of Rosse when the ministers in London preferred to give their support to Lord Mountjoy to fill a vacancy in the Irish representative peerage. (AW to Lord Manners, 11 Jan 1809; AW to the Earl of Rosse, 14 Jan 1809 both in WSD vol 5 p 527-9, 537).
News of Coruña; opinion of AW in January 1809:
Walter Scott wrote to Southey on 31 January 1809:
I fear it will be found that Moore was rather an excellent officer than a general of those comprehensive and daring views necessary in his dangerous situation. Had Wellesley been there, the battle of Corunna would have been fought and won at Somosierra, and the ranks of the victors would have been reinforced by the population of Madrid. Would to God we had yet 100,000 men in Spain. I fear not Buonaparte’s tactics …. The Opposition have sold or bartered every feeling of patriotism for the most greedy and selfish egoisme. (Letters of Sir Walter Scott vol 2 p 158-61).
AW and the Clintons:
AW worried that Anstruther’s death might open the way for the appointment of Henry Clinton as Adjutant-General in Ireland. William Clinton as Quartermaster-General was bad enough – he had recently been deliberately obstructing the government’s plans for establishing a chain of semaphore stations across Ireland – but the prospect of a second Clinton on the staff was so alarming that Wellesley asked Harrington to use his influence to avert it. (AW to Col H. M. Gordon, ‘Private & Confidential’ 22 Jan 1809 WP 1/233/3 printed with names suppressed in WSD vol 5 p 537-8; for Clinton’s obstruction of the semaphores, see diary of William Clinton, 5 Nov 1808, vol 47 p 93 Ward Papers 300/3/1).
AW’s seat in Parliament:
AW had obtained the seat of Newport (Isle of Wight) from its proprietor, Sir Henry Holmes, in May 1807, on the understanding that he could hold it for eighteen months (see above, chapter 12). At the end of 1808 Sir Henry expressed a wish that AW vacate it early in the new session of parliament. This would have been most inconvenient, and Charles Long and Henry Wellesley, acting on behalf of the government, succeeded in pacifying Holmes, at least for the moment. (Henry Wellesley to AW ‘Private’ 11 Jan 1809, WP 1/228/47). It is not clear how this was achieved, or on what terms AW retained the seat, except that he probably could not expect to do so when he ceased to be a member of the government. Henry Wellesley had even enlisted the Duke of Portland who expressed the wish that AW be permitted to hold the seat for another year on the same terms. Of course, Holmes may simply have wished to remind the ministers of the assistance he was giving them, and not have it taken for granted.
The Opening of Parliament:
Parliament opened on 19 January but Wellesley did not reach London until late on the 21st – it is not clear what caused him to be late, but as he intended to leave Dublin on the 15th, it was probably adverse weather delaying to packet to Holyhead. Fortunately his absence mattered little: only about 250 members were present on the first night, the debate was dull and the Opposition did not move an amendment to the address, largely because it was not united in its views on either Spain or Portugal. (See Perceval to the King, 11.30pm, 19 Jan 1808, in Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 169 and further sources printed in Aspinall’s notes p 169n).
‘I arrived here on Saturday evening [21 January] and found that the government had been in much greater strength on the first day of the session than they had expected, and the opposition very weak; and I understand that the spirit of both houses is favourable to us, and that the attendance is likely to be good.’ (AW to Richmond, London, 22 January 1809, WSD vol 13 p 311-12).
The first draft of the King’s Speech in 1809 included a strong reference to the Convention of Cintra, expressing the government’s disapprobation. But at a meeting of junior ministers and leading government supporters held at Perceval’s house on the night before the session opened this attracted such criticism that it was replaced by a blander sentence which referred only to His Majesty’s formal disapprobation of some articles: in other words what had already been expressed in the official letter to Dalrymple. (Perceval to Canning, 20 January 1809, ‘1/2pOne am’ Chatham Papers PRO 30/8/368 f 149-51 printed in Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 168n; Perceval to Yorke, ‘Private & Confidential’ 20 Jan 1809, BL Add Ms 45,036 f 48. See also Diary of Charles Abbott vol 2 p 163-4 and Parliamentary Debates vol 12 col 1-4).
There was no debate in the Lords over Cintra, but in the debate over the King’s Speech, Lord St Vincent made a strong attack on the government, including some remarks on the Convention: ‘It was the greatest disgrace that had befallen the British arms, the greatest stain that had been affixed to the honour of the country since the Revolution [of 1688].’ (Naval Chronicle vol 4 p 181).
Moira’s protest at the Vote of Thanks:
The combination of a unanimous vote and a formal protest is odd, but one can see Moira’s point: he did not disapprove of thanking AW and the army, so agreed with the vote, but protested at Burrard’s exclusion.
Debate on the Vote of Thanks in the Commons (25 January 1809):
Hiley Addington (brother of Lord Sidmouth, the former prime minister), spoke in support of the Vote and mentioned his personal friendship with AW (of which few other traces survive) as justification for his presumption in seconding the motion. Lord Folkestone could not resist the opportunity of attacking one of his bêtes noir – Wellesley might be brave and popular in his army, but his victory had achieved nothing and if any thanks were to be given Burrard should be included. W. H. Fremantle had known Wellesley since his first days in Dublin Castle twenty years before and he warmly supported the Thanks. Whatever the result of the campaign the victory was glorious, and Wellesley’s talents were such that ‘we might form the most flattering hopes of what he would in future accomplish.’ After an old friend came a new one: the same Mr Blachford who had viewed the campaign from Wellesley’s headquarters. He expressed his ‘extreme regret’ at the treatment Wellesley had received on his return from Portugal, ‘instead of being hailed as a conqueror by whom the military glory of Great Britain had been enhanced, he had been dragged as a culprit to answer the charge of being a party to a transaction which he wished to prevent.’ And he added that if Wellesley ‘had continued in the command, the Convention of Cintra would never have taken place’, and the British army, rather than retreat through the wastes of Gallicia ‘would have been employed in driving the French over the Pyrenees.’ Samuel Whitbread, the leading whig closest to the radicals, cheerfully gave his support to the Vote of Thanks but wanted Burrard included in it. Charles Stewart, Castlereagh’s half-brother, responded that it would be impossible to make the army understand for what Burrard was being thanked. Stewart had arrived in Portugal soon after the battle and was much impressed by the enthusiasm felt for Wellesley throughout the army. Whitbread then withdrew his amendment and the Thanks were carried with Folkestone the sole dissident.
Fremantle reported to the Marquess of Buckingham after the debate: ‘With respect to Wellesley, it was quite an unanimous feeling in the House; and I am very glad I judged your wishes. I felt myself very lucky in the manner in which I was enabled to express myself on this question.’ (W. H. Fremantle to Marquess of Buckingham, 26 Jan 1809, Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George III vol 4 p 308-9).
Lord Bulkeney had written before the debate: ‘There will be a badger in the House today, on the thanks to Sir Arthur Wellesley. They said that they King protects Burrard, but has ordered Sir Hew Dalrymple to be run down.’ (Bulkeney to Buckingham, 23 Jan 1809, ibid vol 4 p 303-4). But he was wrong.
AW is Thanked by the Speaker:
On Friday 27 January Sir Arthur Wellesley attended the House and stood bareheaded in his place while the Speaker, Charles Abbott thanked him on behalf of the nation
amidst the contending opinions which have prevailed upon other questions, the public voice has been loud and general in admiration of your splendid achievements. It is your praise to have inspired your troops with unshaken confidence and unbounded ardour; to have commanded, not the obedience alone, but the hearts and affections with the skill and promptitude which have so eminently characterized all your former exertions, you have again led the armies of your country to battle, with the same deliberate valour and triumphant success, which have long since rendered your name illustrious in the remotest parts of this empire. (Wellington’s Speeches vol 1 p 46; Parliamentary Debates vol 12 col 172-3).
Wellesley replied in a neat if conventional speech and used the occasion to pay a warm tribute to General Anstruther. (Wellington’s Speeches vol 1 p 46; Parliamentary Debates vol 12 col 172-3). And he wrote to the surviving generals and commanding officers conveying the Thanks of Lords and Commons to them and asking that they convey this to their men. (AW to Generals Spencer, Hill, Acland, Nightingall, Bowes, Craufurd, Ferguson and Fane and to the commanding officers of regiments and corps, London, 28 Jan 1809, WD III p 181). Just what ordinary soldiers thought of such Thanks is not clear, but three years later on a similar occasion one cynical officer declared that most men would value it less ‘than a pot of Whitbread’s Entire’. (Mocker-Ferryman Life of a Regimental Officer p 198 letter of 22 May 1812. ‘Whitbread’s Entire’ was a variety of porter or beer).
The Debate over Cintra:
Sir George Nugent spoke but ‘in so low a tone of voice’ that The Times’s reporter found it ‘impossible to collect his meaning’ (The Times 22 Feb 1809).
Canning spoke towards the end of the debate, admitting that he had been unhappy with the Convention, but refusing to support Petty’s motion. According to Fremantle, ‘Canning’s speech was a reproof both to Ministers and Generals’, and most of his friends left before the vote. A few other speakers followed Canning, including General Ferguson who said that he was too junior to judge such questions, but that if forced, he would come down against the Convention. Fremantle commented to Lord Grenville, ‘No one made out any defence whatever for the want of cavalry, for the change of Generals or for the total want of all general instructions, and the argument was completely on our side and was most manfully maintained.’ (The Times 22 Feb 1809; Parliamentary Debates vol 12 col 969-73; 973 (Ferguson). Fremantle quoted by Aspinall in Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 207n).
The Speaker, Charles Abbot, wrote in his diary that ‘Lord Henry Petty, Canning, Bathurst, and Whitbread [were] the best speakers.’ (vol 2 p 168). On 26 January Fremantle was pleased to think that the Opposition would divide 130 strong on Cintra; three weeks later he raised his estimate to 150, possibly the Opposition benefiting from the outcry over the the Duke of York. (Fremantle to Marquess of Buckingham, 26 January and 16 February 1809 Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George III vol 4 p 308-9, 318-21).
AW and routine business in Parliament:
Debates such as that over Cintra were the highlight of the Parliamentary session, but much routine business of government also had to be conducted, and a share of this fell to Wellesley in his capacity as Irish Secretary. On 6 February he moved for leave to bring in a Bill permitting Irish bishops and archbishops the privilege of franking letters from the clergy of their diocese, and for a similar provision for the secretary to the Commander of the Forces in Ireland. Surprisingly, this apparently trivial administrative change produced some determined, if quiet, opposition and had to be dropped. (The Times 7 Feb 1809; AW to Col H. M. Gordon, 5 April 1809, WSD vol 5 p 640-1. Curiously this debate is not recorded in Parliamentary Debates). A bill consolidating acts for raising and training the Irish militia also provoked some discussion, but Wellesley succeeded in resisting the suggestion of Colonel O’Dell that recruits to the militia be given the same bounty – ten guineas – as in England. (The Times 7 and 17 Feb 1809. Nor is this debate). The Army Estimates on 27 February allowed Henry Martin, an active Opposition MP, to criticise the cost of establishing a chain of semaphores across Ireland, ‘the atmosphere of which was well known not to be fit for that species of communication’. Wellesley explained the purpose and planned route of the semaphores, acknowledged that trials had not proved successful, but expressed confidence in the new improved methods to be employed. (The Times 28 Feb 1809; Parliamentary Debates vol 12 col 1122; Wellington’s Speeches vol 1 p 68-9. Only Parliamentary Debates identifies Mr Martin as Henry Martin, not Richard Martin (‘Humanity Dick’) the Irish Whig and opponent of cruelty to animals. On Henry Martin see Thorne History of Parliament vol 4 p 556-7). On the same day he denied that the Irish government was delaying unduly the publication of a report into financial abuses in Irish schools, making the age-old ministerial excuse that more time was needed for further enquiries. (The Times 28 Feb 1809; not recorded in Parliamentary Debates). And so it went on, Wellesley again proving himself a capable junior minister: well-briefed on his subject, aware of the sensitivities of the House, ready to yield a point when necessary, but robust in his defence of the government, and a competent – though no more than competent – speaker.
AW defends the Duke of York when the allegations are first raised in Parliament:
The allegations were first raised in Parliament on 27 January on the same day that Wellesley was Thanked. AW spoke, calling for a full, open Inquiry – this being the line that the ministers and the Duke had decided to take – and attributing the efficiency of the army he commanded in Portugal to the Duke’s care and attention. (Parliamentary Debates vol 12 col 188-90; Wellington’s Speeches vol 1 p 47-49). Colonel J. W. Gordon, the Duke’s military secretary, watched the debate and told His Royal Highness, ‘Sir Arthur Wellesley spoke in his place just after he had received the thanks of the House and in such a manner, so warm and so decided and so proper in every sense that I take the liberty to say he has made Your Royal Highness much his debtor.’ (Col J. W. Gordon to the Duke of York, 9pm 27 Jan 1809, BL Add Ms 49,480 quoted in Ward Papers 300/3/5. This is not the original, but rather a copy sent by Gordon to Wellington after the Duke of York’s death, which raises some doubts of its authenticity, but they are dissipated by the text of Wellesley’s speech, and by the glowing account of it given by Perceval to the King: Perceval to the King, 27 Jan 1809, Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 179-80.). Privately Wellesley told Richmond,
Between ourselves, I believe it will be proved that Mrs Clarke did receive large sums of money; and it was generally understood that applications to her were likely to reach the Duke, and to be successful…. I am positively certain that the Duke could not have been aware of her selling his favours; whether we shall be able to prove it or not, is another question; but we shall be able to prove that the business of his office is conducted in the most regular manner, and that everything has been done by him to prevent the clandestine and irregular traffic in commissions. (AW to Richmond, 1 Feb 1809, WSD vol 5 p 553-4).
The Decision to hold the Inquiry into the Duke of York in Public:
The government’s decision to establish a committee of the whole House to examine the allegations, rather than a small select committee which might have taken evidence in private. proved a mistake and was roundly criticized after the event (e.g. by Romilly Memoirs vol 2 p 270) but that was with hindsight, and it is easy to imagine how a private inquiry by a select committee would have been depicted as a cover-up by these same critics, and the gossip which would have appeared in the newspapers on the subject.
Mary Anne Clarke charms the House:
Wilberforce admitted that despite two hours of cross-examination ‘in the old Bailey way’ she had ‘clearly got the better of the struggle.’ (Gray Perceval p 196 quoting Wilberforce Life vol 3 p 402). Like other successful courtesans of the day, she combined elegance, quick wits, humour and charm with a teasing, lightly impertinent manner, and the members enjoyed hearing her evidence so much that the government’s attempts to discredit her by pointing to the outright errors and inconsistencies in her story only aroused their chivalrous instincts.
Corruption and patronage: the context of Mary Anne Clarke’s activities:
Abuses such as those perpetrated by Mrs Clarke and her confederates were probably inevitable in a system which relied so heavily on personal recommendations for appointments to official positions. Many of the victims lacked contact with anyone who might legitimately recommend them – such as their local MP, or the great landowner in the district – and were gulled into believing that underhand payments to persons claiming to be intermediaries, were the normal practise. In fact, such crude corruption seems to have been rare, although the rapid expansion of the army in the early 1790s (before the appointment of the Duke of York to the Horse Guards) had seen a wide variety of disgraceful practises. The exposure of these abuses led to a closer scrutiny of all appointments, which had the effect of reducing the influence of the less powerful, while increasing that of grandees who clearly had no personal stake in the favours they requested. On the day after Wellesley’s name was mentioned, he wrote to Sir Charles Saxton in Dublin, enclosing a list of appointments to the position of supervisors of hearth-money and adding, ‘I have scratched out the name of Lady ______’s friend from the list of collectors, because I have witnessed such horrible scenes of corruption in the appointment of offices here, that I am afraid of taking any recommendation from a person who, like her Ladyship, is in distressed circumstances.’ (AW to Sir Charles Saxton, London, 12 Feb 1809, WSD vol 5 p 568 i.e. AW feared that Lady ______’s poverty might have led her to accept money in exchange for her recommendation.).
AW again defends the Duke of York:
The Committee took its last evidence on 22 February, the day after the Cintra debate, and Wellesley used the opportunity to testify to the Duke’s success as Commander-in-Chief:
The army was most materially improved in every respect, both in soldiers and in officers. The Staff of the Army was much better than it was formerly, the cavalry was better, and the officers of the cavalry were better also. The army was more complete in numbers, and superior in subordination and discipline to what it had been. It was superior in everything of interior economy, in provisions for subsistence and cloathing. He was convinced that those improvements had been owing principally to the regulations introduced by His Royal Highness, and by his superintendence and influence over the General Officers and others who were to carry these regulations into effect. (The Times 23 Feb 1809; for a fuller account of AW’s evidence see Parliamentary Debates vol 12 col 1030-1 or Wellington’s Speeches vol 1 p 65-67.).
Debate on the Duke of York:
The debate opened on 8 March with Wardle leading the attack with a three hour speech calling for York’s resignation. Wellesley told Richmond on the 12th: ‘We have had three days’ debates upon the Duke of York’s concerns. Perceval made the best speech I ever heard in Parliament; but the impression is very strong against the Duke, not on the score of corruption, or on the knowledge or even connivance or suspicion of corruption, but on the score of imprudence and submission to the influence of Mrs Clarke.’ (AW to Richmond, 12 March 1809, WSD vol 5 p 604-5).
Perceval’s speech was also admired by W. H. Fremantle, who told Lord Grenville: ‘Perceval never spoke so well in his life and undoubtedly he made a very strong impression.’ (quoted in Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 221n).
Link between Debates over Cintra and the Duke of York
It may be that the Opposition chose to concentrate their attack over Cintra on the government, and the state of the army, rather than on AW, in part because they could then criticise the forces he had been given for the campaign – lack of cavalry, poor artillery horses etc – which fitted rather neatly with their simultaneous attack on the Duke of York. But it is just as likely that they realized that further attacks on Wellesley, after the Inquiry into Cintra, would attract little support from wavering MPs – the subject was exhausted and the general feeling was that Wellesley had gone a good way towards clearing his reputation.
The Duke of York’s Resignation and replacement with Sir David Dundas:
William Warre commented: ‘Every officer I have heard speak on the subject is much dissatisfied with the new C-in-C, particularly those who most know him; and, setting H. R. Highness’s morality aside, he did incalculable good to the army, and I am sure we cannot have a better, at least that I know of, and this is the opinion of, I believe, the majority of the army.’ He elaborates bitterly on the regulations hindering the promotion of young men, &c. (Warre Letters from the Peninsula p 41-42).
AW’s later opinion on the Duke of York’s conduct
In 1833 AW, then Duke of Wellington, discussed the Mary Anne Clarke affair with Lady Salisbury who recorded in her diary:
The Duke is of the opinion that the whole of the present royal family are more or less tinctured with insanity. The late Duke of York [was] the best of them, but with much to condemn. He must have known of the infamous proceedings of Mrs Clarke – yet such was his infatuation for her that he gave way to them, and swore to a total ignorance of things of which he must have been conscious. (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 22 Dec 1833, Oman Gascoyne Heiress p 99).
It is quite possible that this was careless talk mixed with hazy recollection, and that at the time AW really believed that York had been guilty of nothing worse than indiscretion and carelessness; but it is also possible that he somewhat moderated his real opinion in his letters to the Duke of Richmond and others.
‘Publish and be Damned’
‘Publish and be Damned’ is one of the most famous and appealing phrases attributed to Wellington. It is usually said to be his response to demands for money, either from Harriette Wilson herself or from her publisher Joseph Stockdale, to suppress the passages of her memoir mentioning him. Unfortunately there seems no good basis for the story. Two letters from Stockdale to the Duke survive and neither has the phrase dashed across it, let alone in flaming red ink as the most colourful versions of the story claim, while the second letter strongly suggests that Duke had, more wisely if more prosaically, simply threatened to sue for libel. The story is said to have its origins in a work by Harriette’s friend and rival Julia Johnstone: Confessions of Julia Johnstone in Contradiction to the Fables of Harriette Wilson (London, Benbow, 1825), a work no more reliable than Wilson’s own. (Longford p 166-168; Norman Gash Wellington Anecdotes: a Critical Survey ‘The Fourth Wellington Lecture’ University of Southampton 1992 p 8-9; Wilson The Courtesan’s Revenge p 224-5).
AW and the collapse of Henry Wellesley’s marriage:
Arthur Wellesley gave his brother what comfort and support he could in his affliction, and told Richmond that ‘Paget appears to have gone mad …. He has written a letter to his father which bears evident symptoms of derangement.’ (Quoted in Pearman Cadogans at War p 106). But he was astonished and alarmed when Henry temporarily took Charlotte back when Paget served in the Walcheren Expedition. Arthur feared that the reconciliation, which apparently included a resumption of conjugal relations, might threaten the divorce proceedings, or possibly even require a re-marriage. He told William, ‘I conclude that poor Henry will again be dragged through the Mire, & will marry this blooming Virgin again as soon as she will have been delivered of the consequences of her little amusements.’ But he strongly advised against any interference: Henry had made his choice and the least hint or look of disapproval from his brothers would only increase his unhappiness. (Wellington to William Wellesley-Pole, 16 Nov 1809, ‘Letters to Pole’ p 27-28). In fact the reconciliation may never have been serious – certainly it did not prevent the divorce. Henry remained miserable and his children suffered. The paternity of the youngest, Gerald Wellesley, was disputed, and in the end Kitty, with Arthur’s approval, gave him a home. (Wilson Soldier’s Marriage p 122, 140-42; Longford p 204).
There were unfounded press stories of AW fighting Paget in a duel (One Leg p 99).
Henry’s misfortune does not seem to have given Arthur any uneasiness about his own marriage, for he remained distant and cold towards Kitty. Probably he knew her too well to have any fear that she would be seduced by a dashing cavalryman; or perhaps he would have felt that the distress and humiliation endured by Henry was a price worth paying to regain his independence. Beneath his neglect and harshness towards Kitty can be glimpsed a deep sense of resentment at being tied, indissolubly, to a woman he could neither love nor respect, and who was an inescapable reminder of his own folly.
Glimpse of AW in Bond Street:
A vivid impression of Wellesley at this time comes from Roderick Murchison, the young ensign of the 36th who had watched the general come ashore at Mondego Bay the previous August. One day in late March or early April 1809 Murchison was in London with his commanding officer Colonel Burne, and they were ‘parading Bond Street in the stream of fashionable loungers when Sir Arthur Wellesley came up.’ He was wearing a ‘”Coat double-breasted, with brass buttons, buff waistcoat, kerseymere shorts, and brown top-boots, leaving a good deal of daylight behind.” Recognizing the Colonel, he stopped …. “Ah, my dear Burne,” said he, “glad to see you once more. One of your younkers – eh? Well things won’t do as they are. I shall soon be at it again, and then I can’t do without the 36th.'” (Quoted from Murchison’s recollections in Geike Life of Murchison vol 1 p 49-50). But the 36th were not to return to the Peninsula until 1811, and Murchison took a position as ADC to his uncle in Sicily, seeing no more fighting and surviving to become an eminent geologist. (Murchison’s uncle was the same Alexander Mackenzie who had been with AW at Angers, and who had almost been his second-in-command in 1808).
The Portuguese request for a British General:
The Portuguese specifically asked for a lieutenant-general, but Beresford was only a major-general. Villiers privately doubted that AW would be willing to accept the position, or that the government would be inclined to spare him (Villiers to Canning, ‘Private’, 26 Dec 1808 and ‘Private and Confidential’, 3 Jan 1809, Canning Papers 48/12 and 13). Canning replied on 28 January that ‘Sir Arthur is thought too good for the Portuguese – Will Doyle do? He is sent for; but not yet come up.’ (Canning to Villiers, ‘Private’ 28 Jan 1809, Canning Papers 48/4).
In fact the Duke of York believed that ‘Sir John Doyle is the only British Officer who would undertake or be pleased with the Situation of Commander n Chief of the Portuguese Army.’ (Duke of York to Col J. W. Gordon, 27 Jan 1809, BL Add Ms 49,473 f 3). But Doyle was not appointed: according to one account the letter summoning him to London from Guernsey (where he was Lieutenant-Governor) was delayed for almost a month by a series of gales. (Royal Military Chronicle vol 2 p 125. The Duke of York’s letter cited above seems to read ‘summoned from Surrey’ but the handwriting is hard to read, and it may well be ‘summoned from Guernsey’). Whatever the reason, the result proved fortunate for Doyle was senior to Wellesley and if he had been appointed to command the Portuguese army it would have been difficult for Wellesley to be given command of the British forces in Portugal, without Doyle assuming overall command.
Cradock in Portugal:
There was already a small British army near Lisbon – mostly troops who had remained there when Moore advanced into Spain – which was now commanded by Wellesley’s old friend Sir John Cradock. However Cradock’s force was weak, and after Moore’s campaign he had little confidence in his ability to withstand a French advance, while he was also anxious that the Portuguese population might try to prevent his embarkation if it became necessary to abandon them. (Cradock’s official letters home are in WO 1/232 and WO 1/240; see also his private letters to Lt-Col J. W. Gordon BL Add Ms 49,488 esp those of 7 Feb and 23 March, f 1-2 and f 185-6). His task was made more difficult by a sudden request to send a force to secure Cadiz which robbed him of some of his best troops. This request came not from the Spanish government, but from a British military representative in the great port – Sir George Smith – who, with the best of intentions, acted far beyond his instructions. When the troops arrived they found no French within hundreds of miles and the Spanish authorities, not surprisingly, were alarmed and suspicious, fearing that the British hoped to gain a second Gibraltar. The result was a serious diplomatic row at a time when opinion in Britain was deeply disillusioned with the Spanish cause – Moore’s men had returned home in rags with dreadful tales of privation and bitter against Spanish apathy and indifference. The British force spent five weeks off Cadiz before Cradock recalled them to Lisbon in March to help resist a French advance. On the way they encountered another British expedition under Sherbrooke which had been sent from England to Cadiz in January but had been delayed by winter gales. With the arrival of these two forces – about 8,000 men altogether – in the middle of March, Cradock began to feel a little more positive. (Cradock’s correspondence cited above and Muir ‘British Government and the Peninsular War 1808-1811’ p 136-45 or, more briefly, Muir Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon p 79-81).
Government’s treatment of Cradock:
There was a brief discussion of the question in Parliament on 14 April when the Earl of Buckinghamshire who, as Robert Hobart, had been Chief Secretary in Dublin when Cradock and Wellesley were both ADCs (senior and junior respectively). Buckinghamshire went out of his way to praise Wellesley, but wanted, and received, assurances that Cradock’s supersession cast no slur on his military character. (Parliamentary Debates vol 14 col 29-31).
Napier is characteristically vehement on the subject:
His measures had all been approved by the government, he had struggled through great difficulties, and had just stepped on the path of glory when he was required to yield his command to Sir Arthur Wellesley, a younger officer, and go to Gibraltar. This change was not without a contest in the cabinet, and though neither the choice nor the principle of bringing forward a man of great ability can be censured Sir John Cradock was used unworthily. A general of his rank would never have accepted his command on such terms, and it was not just nor decent to entrap him into this unmerited mortification. (vol 2 p 92 Bk 7 ch 1)
Which is all very well, but what would Napier prefer? That Cradock remain in command at Lisbon with Wellesley his subordinate or still in Dublin? Ministers can hardly be blamed for not anticipating Moore’s defeat and death and the total transformation of the state of affairs from the position at the time when they appointed Cradock. It is easy to share Napier’s sympathy for Cradock, but difficult to see that ministers had a better choice open to them.
AW’s role in superseding Cradock:
I cannot conclude this letter without telling you that it is impossible for me not to feel that the late arrangements in respect of this Country are not very agreeable to you and that I regret exceedingly that I should at last have been the instrument by which an arrangement has been made which must be injurious to Your feelings. All that I can assure you is, that the proposition did not originate with me & that when made I acted as You would have done, as an Officer who did not consider that private feelings or motives of any description ought to induce him to refuse to give his services when they are called for. (AW to Cradock, Lisbon, 23 April 1809 WP 1/257/8 passage deleted from version printed in WD III p 187).
This says less than appears on the surface: AW denies that the idea originated with him; but not that he did not subsequently urge it. The final point is red herring – no one would suggest that he should have declined the appointment because of his friendship with Cradock. Still, it is a useful statement of his belief in accepting any employment regardless of personal considerations.
AW’s Memorandum on the Defence of Portugal:
Fortescue vol 7 p 126n-7n has an odd note discussing the Memorandum and saying that if he had not seen the manuscript in Wellesley’s hand he would have suspected that its opening paragraphs had been added by Castlereagh because the tenses are inconsistent!
‘Beyond all doubt the memorandum was written to Castlereagh’s order, and possibly at first with some diffidence. The original, as usual, shows very few corrections, and it is possible that Castlereagh furnished a rough draft of the opening paragraphs.’
This is wrong-headed and shows the danger of approaching the subject with strong pre-conceptions. Fortescue knew that Castlereagh was the architect of the defence of Portugal, and when he could find no evidence to support this preconception he began to see things that simply weren’t there.
The manuscript of the Memorandum is in WP 1/248, the title (in the margin) is simply ‘Memorandum, March 7th 1809’; it is unsigned but in AW’s hand and there are numerous unimportant differences in spelling, punctuation and capitalization between it and the printed version, but none of any significance. It is also printed – again with trivial variations – in Castlereagh Correspondence vol 7 p 39-42 where it is erroneously attributed to Castlereagh. (Is this the origin of Fortescue’s delusion? If so, he should have said so.)
© Rory Muir