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Commentary for Volume 2, Chapter 1: Celebrations and Diplomacy, 1814–15
Wellington spent three weeks in Toulouse after his grand entry on 12 April. The mood in Toulouse and throughout the south west of France was festive and relaxed. Those who remained loyal to Napoleon kept quiet, but there was no persecution and the great majority of the population gave every sign of being overjoyed at the end of the war and the return of peace. Wellington naturally took a prominent part in the celebrations in Toulouse, although he was edged into second place by the arrival of the Duc d’Angoulême on 27 April. Larpent noted that he ‘carries it off very well,’ and commented that it ‘will serve to break him in by degrees for England and peace’ – a remark which suggests that some of those closest to Wellington failed to realize just how high on the tree he had reached: there would be no return, then or ever, to the humdrum obscurity of private life (Larpent Private Journal vol 3 p 178 entry for 29 April 1814).
Even at Toulouse there were odd juxtapositions between public and private lives: Larpent wrote that ‘Just after the state levee yesterday, I saw him cross the crowded square in his blue coat and round hat, almost unnoticed and unknown even to the very people who half an hour before had been cheering him.’ And the same source suggests that Wellington was able to quietly carry on an affair with ‘Madame C_____, a Spanish beauty, married into a French family of rank without attracting comment or notoriety.’ (Larpent Private Journal vol 3 p 174 entry for 29 April 1814). These weeks at Toulouse were among the quietest and least demanding of the whole year, and gave Wellington a brief respite form the strain of commanding an army before he was caught up in a fresh whirl of activity which would leave him scarcely time to draw his breath for many months.
Wellington is offered the Paris Embassy:
The arguments for the against this appointment are discussed below but it is quite clear that the ministers really wanted Wellington to accept. Castlereagh wrote privately to Liverpool on 13 April 1814: ‘I wish he would at the outset undertake this embassy. His military name would give him and us the greatest ascendancy’. (Castlereagh Correspondence vol 9 p 458-9). When he received Wellington’s acceptance he wrote back:
I received with great satisfaction your letter by Charles, and shall write this night to impart my sentiments to the Prince Regent upon the importance of your taking charge of his affairs at this Court, where personal weight, decision, and judgment are essentially requisite to mature the auspicious results of this most glorious war. (WSD vol 9 p 42-43).
Liverpool does not seem to have been consulted in advance but wrote to Wellington on 3 May: ‘I am most happy to find, by a letter from Castlereagh, that you are not unwilling to accept the embassy to Paris. I am sure there is no situation in which you could at present be of more use.’ (WSD vol 9 p 59-60).
Wellington’s reaction and the political position of his brothers:
Wellington told Henry that ‘I must serve the public in some manner or other; and as, under existing circumstances, I could not well do so at home, I must do so abroad.’ (Wellington to Henry Wellesley, Toulouse 30 April 1814 WD VII p 473-4). The ‘existing circumstances’ presumably referred to the rift between the ministers and Wellington’s older brothers: he did not feel that he could take a senior office at home while Lord Wellesley was in opposition, and William Wellesley-Pole remained without a place. Yet this delicacy had a curious blind side, for it was quite possible that Henry Wellesley might have aspired to the Paris embassy himself. He was well qualified and heartily sick of Spain, which in any case was clearly not going to be so important to British interests as it had been during the war. But if Henry had any such thoughts, he loyally suppressed them, while the transfer of Charles Stuart from Lisbon to act in Paris until Wellington was ready to assume his duties was a clear indication of Castlereagh’s preferences. (Wellington to Sir Henry Wellesley 29 July & 13 Sept 1814 WSD vol 9, p 165-7, 244-5 deny that the ministers are dissatisfied with or indifferent to Henry). Henry’s reaction to the news was admirable: ‘I am happy to hear that you have not refused the Embassy to Paris. After all you have gone through, you will find diplomacy very pretty amusement’. (Henry Wellesley to Wellington 15 May 1814 WSD vol 9 p 74).
On the other hand, the monstrous ego of Lord Wellesley was mortified. He had already decided that the position in Paris would suit him perfectly and although it was most unlikely that Castlereagh, let alone Wellington, had any idea of this, he was strongly inclined to take Wellington’s appointment as a deliberate and unforgiveable insult. (Political Notebook of Richard Wellesley II undated entry  Carver Mss 54).
William Wellesley-Pole was much less unreasonable, but he too placed pressure on Wellington, which in a way was harder to resist for while Lord Wellesley thundered impotently, William pleaded. He had never ceased to regret his folly in turning down the War Department in 1812, and when it became obvious that the alliance between Canning and Lord Wellesley had failed to storm the ministerial barricades at the beginning of 1813, he chafed at his exclusion from office. This led him, in the summer of 1813 to engineer a dissolution of the alliance and an avowal that its members were free to take office, but no offer – other than organizing the Prince Regent’s fête to celebrate Vitoria – had been forthcoming. His letters to Wellington in the second half of 1813 were increasingly plaintive culminating in a direct request that Wellington press Liverpool to include Pole in the cabinet – for he would not sink his pretensions below cabinet rank. (Canning to Huskisson 24 July 1813 The Huskisson Papers p 91; Pole to Wellington 18 Dec 1813 Raglan Papers Wellington B no 124).
This was going too far, and Wellington disclaimed any ability to influence Liverpool on such questions, citing a real grievance – his inability to secure clerical patronage (preferably a bishop’s mitre) for Gerald. (Wellington to Pole 2 Dec 1813, 9 Jan 1813 [sic 1814] Raglan Wellington A no 66 & 67). There the matter rested for some months, but in the summer of 1814 Canning abandoned active politics for a time and took his family to Lisbon so that his invalid son would benefit from the climate. Before he left he secured places, peerages and other benefits for his most loyal supporters, effectively re-incorporating them into the government.
At the same time Liverpool created a place in the cabinet for Pole as Master of the Mint, although this was explicitly a concession to Wellington not Canning. (Aspinall ‘The Canningite Party’ p 193-199; Thorne History of Parliament vol 5 p 515 entry for Wellesley-Pole). It was unfortunate that the Mint offered only modest scope for Pope’s considerable administrative ability, while his persistent unpopularity – arising as much as anything by foibles of voice and manner – limited the benefit the government received from his activity in debates in the Commons. He never quite convinced his fellow ministers that his presence in cabinet added much to the strength or stability of the government.
William Wellesley-Pole and the Mint:
‘Sometime before 1823 George IV decided that the Mint should never again be a Cabinet Office; he regretted that it had ever been made such, and said that it would not have been but for the fact that this was the only favour which Wellington asked, on his brothers behalf, upon his return from the Peninsular War in 1814’. However Tierney was given it and a seat in cabinet in 1827 and Herries succeeded to both in 1828.
In 1821 Huskinson scorned both the Mint and the Treasurership of the Navy as a sinecure. Herries described it as ‘a mere sinecure’ when he held it. In 1801 Tierney had rejected Addington’s offer of it because, “it has uniformly been given as a sinecure, and is, in public estimation, only looked upon as a source of great and unmerited emolument to the person who can bargain to get it. To have held such a situation would be to mortify myself, and by lowering my character, to render me of less value to those I wish to serve”. But in 1827 he did accept.
(All this from Aspinall ‘Cabinet Council’ p 155-156).
However it should be noted that as Master of the Mint William Wellesley-Pole presided over the great recoinage of 1816 including introduction of the St George sovereigns with the much admired reverse by Pistrucci, which lasted for a century, replacing guineas in circulation.
Lack of obvious alternatives to the Paris Embassy:
It is rather difficult to see how else Wellington could have been employed. He might have gone to America, although this would have been a marked come down. Besides Wellington had already made it clear that he did not think that he could very much difference in America where the nature of the country limited Britain’s ability to sustain an offensive. (To Bathurst 22 February 1814 WD VII p 327-8). And there would have been some disinclination to supersede Prevost, who had, as yet, done well. Still the large reinforcement and Wellington’s prestige would have eased that.
Other possibilities included India, but Moira (Hastings) was already there and could not be lightly discarded. Or he might have been found a seat in the cabinet – which would have been possible, although he probably would not have wished to go straight into politics. The objection about his brothers could have been overcome and is rather odd – and it may have been the thought of returning to Parliamentary politics that he disliked. The obvious job – Commander-in-Chief – was, of course, not open, being held by the Duke of York.
Wellington visits Foy en route to Paris:
Foy was at Cahors, recovering from the wound he suffered at Orthez. He was delighted by the visit, shook Wellington’s hand repeatedly, and described his visitor as ‘slim, of medium build; he has an aquiline nose. His countenance is full of distinction, simplicity and kindness; just as one pictures our great Turenne.’ (Quoted in Longford Wellington: the Years of the Sword p 347).
Wellington in Paris, May 1814:
Soon after Wellington left Paris, the politician J. W. Ward wrote home to Miss Berry that,
Lord Wellington was here for a few days: his dukedom met him on his arrival. He was received in a manner that could not but give great pleasure to every Englishman. He seems quite unspoilt by success. He has not even contracted that habit of silence and reserve which so often accompanies dignity and favour, even when they produce no more unfavourable change. But he is just as he was – gay, frank and ready to converse.
Ward was particularly pleased to hear Wellington say how glad he was to never to have had to face Napoleon in battle regarding the Emperor’s arrival as equivalent to a reinforcement of 40,000 men. ‘I had heard the opinion ascribed to him before,’ Ward commented, ‘but I was glad to find that he had the liberality to repeat it after Bonaparte’s fall.’ (J. W. Ward to Miss Berry, Paris, 11 May 1814 Extracts from the Journals and Correspondence of Miss Berry… 1783 to 1852 edited by Lady Theresa Lewis 3 vols (London, Longmans 1865) vol 3 p 16).
While the Comtesse de Boigne wrote in her memoirs that,
I was in the midst of this ball that the Duke of Wellington appeared for the first time in Paris. I can see him now entering the room with his two nieces, Lady Burgers[h] and Miss Pole, hanging on his arm. There were no eyes for anyone else, and at this ball, where grandeur abounded, everything gave way to military glory. That of the Duke of Wellington was brilliant and unalloyed, and a luster was added to it by the interest that had long been felt in the cause of the Spanish nation. (Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne vol 1 1781-1814 (New York, Scribners, 1907) vol 1 p 358).
Blücher on Wellington and Lady Burghersh:
While in Paris Wellington was delighted to see Lord and Lady Burghersh – favoured ADC and favourite niece, now a delightful couple – and it was with the latter at least that he met Blücher who paid (or was said to have paid) a graceful compliment: “J’aime le Duc de Wellington et je respecte Lady Burghersh. Voilà ce que de ma bouche. Mais mon coeur dit au contraire. J’aime Lady Burghersh et je respecte le Duc de Wellington.’ (Journal of Mrs Calvert 6 June 1814 Calvert Irish Beauty of the Regency p 226 – the story is second-hand at least and it is usually said that Blücher had only a smattering of French, but there is no doubt of the meeting – see Parkinson Hussar General p 202).
On 23 April Bathurst wrote to Wellington:
I suggested to you yesterday in my letter which was to go by Paris, that the Regent might probably create your Lordship a Duke, in consideration of your distinguished services.
Lord Liverpool is authorised to make this communication to Lady Wellington this evening; and she is to consult Lord Wellesley on the subject of the recent title, for it is thought desirable not to delay the creation’. (WSD vol 9 p 29-30).
And on 3 May Liverpool wrote ‘Your promotion to a Dukedom will appear in the Gazette of this night’. (WSD vol 9 p 59-60). And it does so – p 8 of issue 16,894 (p 936 of 1814).
- W. Ward’s comments are borne out by those of Lord William Pitt Lennox describing Wellington at Combe Wood for dinner with Lord Liverpool in August 1814: ‘Nothing could exceed the good-humour and affability of the great man, who told anecdotes of the late war, laughed, jested, and kept the whole company in a state of delight’. (Pitt-Lennox Three Years with the Duke p 5).
Wellington at Toulouse en route to Spain:
Wellington arrived back in Toulouse on the evening of 13 May where he was overwhelmed by the accumulation of paperwork. He dealt with the most urgent matters with his usual speed and efficiency and gave a splendid ball and supper. The latest reports from Spain were quite alarming: ‘Things are getting on very fast’, he told Castlereagh, ‘and the army have already taken different sides; O’Donnell and Elio for the King, the former having issued a very violent declaration; and Freyre and the Principe de Anglona for the Constitution. I think, however, I can keep them both quiet.’ (Wellington to Castlereagh Toulouse 15 May 1814 WD VII p 486). This confidence was increased over the next few days as he travelled south and reviewed the Third and Fourth Spanish armies. He found that reports of their disaffection were greatly exaggerated – their senior officers seem to have been more concerned to avoid committing themselves prematurely than actively opposed to Ferdinand’s measures. Nevertheless Wellington took the opportunity ‘of urging them in the strongest manner to preserve the discipline of the troops under their command, and to prevent fractious persons of any description from influencing the conduct of the officers and troops, in order to produce a civil war.’ (Wellington to San Carlos, Mondragon 21 May 1814 (two letters) WD VII p 491-2).
The Marquess of Buckingham, newly arrived with his militia brigade, greeted his old friend with an embrace and kiss on the cheek. Larpent noted that Wellington seemed ‘not a little surprised… He had not been in the habit of receiving these embraces à la mode Française, and, I take it, prefers very much the kind attention of the fair ones here, with whom he is a universal favourite.’ Larpent also commented that all Wellington’s travels and exertions ‘make him look thin and rather worn; but he was very gay, and in excellent spirits whilst here.’ (Larpent Private Journal 21 May 1814 vol 3 p 207-8).
British public opinion on Spain:
It seems likely the denunciation of Ferdinand and the restored government of Spain by British Whigs and radicals gained an added zest because it helped to discipline the aura of glory and success which surrounded the government and Wellington in the wake of the fall of Napoleon. Both Ferdinand and Louis XVIII were probably judged more harshly by critics in Britain because British troops had helped restore them to their thrones.
The Times’s attack on Wellington, November 1814:
On 23 November 1814 The Times wrote: ‘The general opinion of the public respecting the Duke of Wellington’s embassy to Paris will, we have reason to suppose, be verified by his Grace’s recall. His life is even said to be exposed to some danger in the French capital, from the evil passions which his presence there has excited; and the most ordinary civility or proposals are received with coldness and caution, only because they come from him …’ elaborates and speculates that Harrowby will replace him and Wellington joining cabinet as Master General of the Ordnance while Mulgrave takes Harrowby’s place as Lord President of the Council.
A week later on 30 November came the main attack preceded, in the same issue, by a passing jibe re America: ‘The public, however, still ask with surprise, why do they not see one of our most celebrated Generals at the head of our army in America? Why is not a Picton, a Hill, or even a Wellington, entrusted with a task, which is found as much too for weaker hands?’ The main piece begins ‘The affairs of Spain are still such, that we can look to them with neither pleasure nor hope’, and proceeds:
Having been greatly disappointed there, in the conduct pursued by the King since his return, we have recourse to the common refuge of disappointment, and are now charging each other with the evils which we lament. Sir Henry Wellesley is said to have shown too much countenance to the King of Spain in his Majesty’s personal cause against his country; for such, we suspect, is the summary of the quarrel as it now exists in the peninsula. What Sir Henry Wellesley may have done to incur this imputation we know not: but we see very clearly, that he has not obtained, or not accepted, the rewards which generally decorate those who are really of the Royal Party: he has not received a grandeeship of the first class, he has not received an estate in Spain – nor the Order of Charles III. All these he might have had, if the King had entertained the same opinion, with respect to Sir Henry’s attachment to him, which certain politicians in England profess. In fact, if we were to judge from these external signs, and they may contain pregnant argument, the Duke of Wellington has been more friendly to the King of Spain than his brother Sir Henry Wellesley, in the recent changes which his Majesty has made in the government of the country: for his Grace did actually accept from the King those honours, which the Cortes had first conferred upon him, even after the leaders of that body had been carried from their homes to dungeons, when by such acceptance, at such a time, he might naturally be thought to give countenance to the proceedings of the court.
The paper to call for the publication of a letter from Wellington to the Duke of San Carlos which would fully explain Wellington’s attitude to the odious proceedings of the King ‘and what interest he took in the fate of those unhappy men to whom he owed his first honours, and the estate which he still enjoys in Spain’.
Madrid to Bordeaux:
The exact date Wellington left Madrid is not clear but he intended to do so on 5 June, and it is likely that he did so. A story appeared in the British press that he had been waylaid and assassinated on the road to Madrid. (The Times 10 June 1814 contradicts the report – which it had not carried the previous day. See also Pakenham In the Absence of the Emperor p 66). He arrived at Bordeaux on the 10th and left on 15 June.
Wellington Farewells the Army:
The Spanish and Portuguese troops were already well on their way home as were thousands of camp followers, many of them Portuguese boys employed by British officers to look after their baggage and animals and to forage for supplies. Many tears were shed at both sides in parting and many faults – again on both sides – were forgotten. The British regiments too were departing in different directions: the cavalry to march overland to the Channel Ports, while part of the infantry was embarked to cross the Atlantic to put an end to the tiresome war with the United States. Some officers and men groaned at the prospect of further service and wished to go home and enjoy the fruits of peace; but for others the choice between half pay and peacetime garrison duties was dire, and they welcomed a last chance to distinguish themselves in action and so gain advancement.
On 13 June Wellington resigned his position as commander of the Spanish army and on the following day he issued a General Order farewelling his British troops. He thanked the army and commented that ‘The share which the British army have had in producing those events, and the high character with which the army will quit this country, must be equally satisfactory to every individual belonging to it, as they are to the Commander of the Forces, and he trusts that the troops will continue the same good conduct to the last.’ (GO 14 June 1814 WD VII p 517n). But there was no talk of glory or place in history, or recitation of the army’s triumphs, and some – at least among the more romantic officers – felt disappointed, even short-changed. It was all too evident that Wellington was preoccupied with other matters and that his attention had already moved on, so that his parting tribute bordered on the perfunctory. At the time, this probably mattered little: the officers and men were themselves looking forward not back, and were not yet ready to wax nostalgic over the days of their youth. But as the years passed it became a greater grievance to some, especially those officers who felt disappointed in their subsequent careers and for whom Wellington’s pledge that ‘he will never cease to feel the warmest interest in their welfare and honour, and that he will at all times be happy to be of any service to those whose conduct, discipline and gallantry their country is so much indebted’, rang hollow.
Too much weight should not, of course, ever be put on such promises and Wellington’s record in later years was far from discreditable, but one man’s discontent outweighs the thanks of a dozen, especially as the latter will usually suppose that they have merely been given their due – or part of it. He had already taken care of some of those who had worked most closely with him. Their wants varied: Robert Kennedy the Commissary General desired a baronetcy, while George Murray was embarrassed by the offer of a command in America – whereupon Wellington needed him to handle the breakup of the army and the idea was dropped. Wellington unsuccessfully urged that Alava be appointed Spanish ambassador to the Netherlands, but Alava’s political views meant that he was out of favour in Madrid, and in October the Duke was shocked to learn that he had been arrested. Strong representations from Wellington, including a personal letter to King Ferdinand, secured his release, and he again served as Spanish representative at Wellington’s headquarters in the following year. At the other end of the scale, Wellington literally went out of his way to introduce James McGrigor to Lord Bathurst who was to present him at court to receive his knighthood – an act of personal kindness and consideration that made a great impression on McGrigor. (Wellington to Bathurst 23 April 1814 (re Kennedy) WD VII p 465-66; Murray to Wellington 1 May 1814 WSD vol 9 p 57; Wellington to Torrens 15 May 1814 WD VII p 486 (re Murray); Wellington to Prince of Orange 19 April 1814 WD VII p 452; Wellington to Minister of War, 13 June 1814 WD VII p 516; Wellington to the King of Spain 22 Oct 1814 WD VII p 583-4 and to Henry Wellesley 20 Oct 1814 p 582; McGrigor Autobiography p 358-9). (Murray was given a command in North America later in the year).
Napier expressed the grievance with customary style, ending the penultimate chapter of his History ‘Thus the war terminated, and with it all remembrance of the veteran’s service’. (History vol 6 p 175 Bk 24 Ch 5). But it is not mentioned in many memoirs, and it is possible that the feeling was less wide-spread than the influence of Napier’s work makes it appear. (The only memoir where I have found it discussed is Grattan’s Adventures in the Connaught Rangers p 332).
Wellington in Paris in June 1814:
Wellington travelled from Bordeaux to Dover via Paris, pausing there briefly, and dining with with Mme de Staël – she wrote to her cousin on 21 June: ‘Lord Wellington passed an evening with me the day before yesterday; of his two days in Paris he gave me one; it is his simplicity that excites admiration’. (Unpublished Correspondence of Mme de Staël with the Duke of Wellington p 4). He actually spent a little more than two days in Paris on this occasion, for he was there on the 18th, and still there on the 20th, although planning to leave on the following day.
Wellington lands at Dover:
It was five in the morning when the sloop Rosario shipped into Dover roads and fired a salute. Within minutes the yards of all the ships of the squadron were manned and their guns were returning the salute. As Wellington came ashore the batteries on the heights added their voice to the clamour, while on the pierheads an eager crowd gave three cheers. Despite the early hour it was reported that 5,000 people were assembled to welcome Wellington home, with more arriving at every minute, and he had no sooner set foot on shore when he was lifted high and carried to the Ship Inn. (Annual Register 1814 Chronicle p 55 entry for 28 [sic] June 1814). According to Ellesmere’s Personal Reminiscences of the Duke of Wellington ‘the first order he gave at the Ship Inn was for an unlimited supply of buttered toast.’ (p 94).
Wellington’s arrival in London:
There is not a particularly good first hand description of Wellington’s arrival in London. The Times waxes lyrical about his reception at Portsmouth but is bald about London – which rather suggests that not much happened. Muriel Wellesley and Longford give sharply differing versions:
From Dover he took carriage to London, his route thither a scene of continuous rejoicing.On arrival at Westminster Bridge public excitement reached its height; his carriage was stopped, the horses taken out, and men fought and struggled for the honour of drawing him home. Up Parliament Street they pulled him, along Whitehall, though the Haymarket and Piccadilly, until they reached his house in Hamilton Place, where the two proudest little boys in England with their mother, awaited the coming of their splendid father.
And even here the crowd would hardly leave him, but carried him from the carriage across the threshold of his home until at last by dint of good-humoured entreaties they were reluctantly persuaded to set him down and surrender him to his family. (Wellesley The Man Wellington p 317).
his carriage was mobbed at Dover and cheered all the way to London, with its occupant sitting up straight and stiff inside. Too much shouting was to be deprecated. If you once encouraged the mob to give tongue they might hiss you next time. He had always kept his soldiers as quiet as possible.
At Westminster Bridge there was a move to take out his horse in Hamilton Place, Piccadilly, lift him out and deposit him, amid acclamation, in the Duchess of Wellington’s arms. He was too quick for them. He galloped on alone. (Longford Wellington the Years of the Sword p 351).
Checking other biographies it is clear that Muriel Wellesley follows Brialmont and Gleig (vol 2 p 355) while Longford follows Guedalla (The Duke p 253-4) who in turn cites The Courier for 24 June 1814.
For what it is worth, the 1840 Life of Wellington by James Alexander says, ‘He travelled without ceremony or ostentation, and, upon this occasion his carriage was not recognized till it was passing up Parliament street, when a throng of people followed and greeted him with repeated shouts of welcome’ (vol 2 p 338).
Whitbread on Wellington:
Whitbread’s enthusiasm for Wellington was also demonstrated at the Artists’ Benevolent Society Fund on 31 March 1814 where he warmly praised Wellington’s intention of returning the Vitoria pictures to Spain, contrasting it to Napoleon’s plundering. (Farington Diary vol 13 new edition 1 April 1814 p 4477-8).
Wellington thanks the Commons:
On 1 July, Wellington, following consultation with the Speaker Charles Abbot, and a precedent set by the Duke of Schomberg, requested permission to thank the Commons in person. The House was crowded and the Speaker and Sergeant were in full dress, having just returned from Carlton House. Wellington was admitted and took his seat within the box, a chair being placed for him on the left of the entrance. ‘He was dressed’, Abbot wrote in his diary, ‘in his Field Marshal’s uniform, with the blue ribbon of the Garter, and another over his shoulder, and the Golden Fleece in magnificent diamonds handing from his neck upon the blue ribbon.’ After the speeches he withdrew and ‘the acclamation in the House and in the lobby and passages was loud, long and reiterated.’ Even Hansard was caught up in the occasion, noting that this was ‘the most dignified and at the same time the most affecting proceeding that we ever witnessed in parliament.’ (Diary of Charles Abbot 1 July 1814 vol 2 p 506; Parliamentary Debates vol 28 col 489-92).
Wellington’s Golden Fleece:
Lady Shelley commented
‘We thus had an opportunity of examining the Spanish Order of the Golden Fleece, given to him by the Princess of the Peace [the niece of Charles IV], an order which descended to her from her father, and which she had previously given to her husband, the celebrated Godoy. It is superb, being composed entirely of diamonds, suspended by a red ribbon’. (vol 1 p 67).
Charles Abbot also commented on the ‘magnificent diamonds’.
The Regent’s Fête:
On 21 July the Prince Regent gave a superb fête in the gardens of Carlton House in Duke of Wellington’s honour. Everything was done on a most magnificent scale with some 2000 guests including many officers who had served in the Peninsula. The weather was kind and the gardens were brilliantly illuminated affording pleasant walks. The company began to arrive at nine in the evening; the Queen and her daughters came at ten (and were jostled and insulted by the crowd outside); but it was one o’clock in the morning before the last guests had even arrived – the Queen did not leave till after four and it was after six before the party was finally over. Wellington was again dressed in his Field-Marshal’s uniform with all his Orders and was, of course, the grand attraction of the night. Thomas Lawrence told Farington that Wellington ‘made a striking figure. He is 5 feet 10 inches high. – Much attention was paid to him wherever he moved. One of the temporary rooms was devoted to the display of military trophies, including the colours of the Horse Guards, the standard of England and ‘other military decorations’. Aware of the offense this might cause another room was devoted to the achievements and trophies of the navy. A ‘Corinthian temple’ contained ‘a large mirror, over which was a brilliant star, and the letter W. in cut glass. In front of the mirror was a bust of the Duke of Wellington, executed in marble, by Turnerelli. It was placed on a verde antique column, and formed an attractive and appropriate object from the polygon room’, in the opinion of the Annual Register. Naturally there was dancing and, a little before 2 o’clock a hot supper, after which the dancing was resumed. (Annual Register 1814 Chronicle p 63-65; Farington Diary new edition vol 13 p 452-3; Charles Abbot Diary vol 2 p 512).
Wellington’s visit to Hatfield:
Mrs Calvert described the scene:
Before dinner we all assembled in King James’s room, and the Corporations of Hertford and St Albans came and presented him with the freedom if their boroughs in gold boxes. They made him a speech to which he replied. There were about 120 people at dinner, a very fine one, the band playing all the time. Directly after dinner Lord Salisbury gave the health of the Duke of Wellington, which was drunk with bursts of applause. When the gentlemen came out, we all walked on the lawn; round the paling an immense crowd had assembled. The Duke shook hands with all he could reach, while they rent the air with shouts imploring blessings on his head, and calling him the “glory of England”. His modesty and unaffected simplicity of manner are quite delightful. (Calvert Irish Beauty of the Regency p 233-4).
Wellington and Benjamin Dean Wyatt:
When Wellington visited Wiltshire he took with him Benjamin Dean Wyatt who had been his private secretary in Ireland. Wyatt had also acted as an assistant to his father James Wyatt, and had begun practicing as an architect in his own account winning the competition for rebuilding Drury Lane Theatre in 1811. Wyatt told Lady Shelley ‘that it was most gratifying to see the respect with which the Duke was everywhere greeted – old men standing at a distance bowing, and bare-headed gazing at him, with tears in their eyes.’ (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 1 p 71 details of Wyatt’s career from J M Robinson The Wyatts p 97-98, 105-6).
Lady Shelley was clearly a little intimidated by Wellington, at least at first:
The Duke’s manner is formal, and, at first introduction, very imposing. He seldom speaks until he is well acquainted. He greeted Shelley with the utmost cordiality – having known him before he went to Spain. After an absence of six years, during which time the Duke had gained victories, and received honours enough to turn the brain of an ordinary great man, he retains that simplicity of character, and manner, which is still his distinguishing excellence. He remembers his old friends with the same interest as ever; and the youngest of his subordinate officers enjoys his society, and is indeed much more an object of his attention, than are those of more exalted station in life. In the course of the evening, when I had lost something of the awe which the Duke’s presence inspired, I ventured to converse with him. From that time, our acquaintance increased, till it has almost become intimacy. (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 1 p 67).
Dinner for Wellington at Wanstead:
Lady Shelley described a dinner given for Wellington by his brother William Wellesley Pole at Wanstead, his house in Essex. The ‘Prince Regent, the Dukes of York and Cambridge and ninety people – including the whole Wellesley family and all the foreigners who were still in London – sat down to the most magnificent banquet I ever saw. The royal table – laid for thirty people – was raised on a platform at the end of the room. Above it stood a Buffet, laden with gold plate, and surmounted by a bust of the Prince Regent. At the other end of the room stood a table laden with silver plate, surmounted by a bust of the Duke of Wellington.’ (Another age might deem such ostentation vulgar, but as this was the Regency it must be classified as elegant and sophisticated.) After the King’s health, and that of the Regent, had been drunk, the latter proposed Wellington’s health ‘in a very neat speech’. When Wellington rose to reply he had ‘had a broad smile on his face and seemed to regard all the pageantry and the honours of that day as nonsense, and fun’. He had not uttered six words of thanks before the Prince sat him down again, and far from resenting the royal interference he gave way ‘with all the delight of a schoolboy who has been given an unexpected holiday.’ That evening there was a ball; Wellington danced a polonaise, Blücher inveigled Lady Burghersh into a German country dance, and Platoff, the Cossack leader performed his national dance with Miss Fitzroy another of Wellington’s nieces (Anne’s daughter). This, according to Lady Shelley, ‘consisted in stamping his feet like a horse, and nodding his head. The whole thing was exquisitely ludicrous, and the Duke could not help joining in the general laughter. During the whole evening the Duke was making jokes with his nieces, and appeared to enjoy the ball quite as much as they did.’ (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 1 p 67-69).
Kitty and Depression:
Jane Wellesley bases her suggestion that Kitty was suffering from depression during the Peninsular War on the evidence of her journal, which certainly shows that she was frequently miserable and struggled to find the energy to do anything or face any challenge, and that she saw little meaning in her life. The suggestion raises the possibility that this was not the only time in her life that she was so afflicted; indeed it is possible that she succumbed to depression in her twenties, long before she was married, and never completely overcame it. This is pure speculation, and it is impossible for us to know whether her timidity and general ineffectualness arose from lack of confidence and quirks of character or from depression or some combination of the two. (Jane Wellesley Wellington. A Journey through my Family p 176-97 has a very useful chapter on Kitty’s life during the Peninsular War).
Kitty during Wellington’s absence in the Peninsula:
A letter of November 1812 to Colonel Malcolm paints an attractive scene,
I wish you could see the delight, hear the shout of joy, with which they fly out of the house after the confinement of a day of rain. They are absolutely wild. Woe to the old lady who happens to be turning the corner as Charley dashes round it! After running about the Common as long as they like, they return to me glowing with exercise and health. They are beautiful and good and a thousand times happier than they would be confined to town. (Quoted in Wilson A Soldier’s Wife p 148).
Miss Berry saw her at Tunbridge Wells a week after the arrival of the news of Salamanca: ‘I went to Lady Wellington’s, the new Marchioness. She appeared to have suffered a great deal from the uncertainty which everybody had been in, for more than a fortnight, and she spoke with an enthusiasm and a worship of her hero which was truly edifying. She goes to London today to be present when the Te Deum is sung in the Portuguese ambassador’s chapel in the honour of the victory’. (Journal 24 August 1812 Journal and Correspondence of Miss Berry vol 2 p 506).
She annoyed both William Wellesley-Pole and Lady Liverpool, who had befriended her, by refusing to attend festivities they had organized to mark Wellington’s victories, and greatly compounded the offence by dishonesty and prevarication. (Wilson A Soldier’s Wife p 149-50, 153). Her sense of inadequacy was extraordinary. In 1813 her old friends the Edgeworths were proposing to a visit to England and she confided to her diary, ‘I cannot express with what consternation I heard of the intended visit – particularly as my mother has written to desire me to be of use to them. What does that mean? I cannot, unless they desire me, introduce them to the very few people of high rank with whom I am acquainted; and strange to tell, I have no other society. I have no box at the Opera or Play, thinking that if I had it to spare £250 a year may be spent in a more satisfactory way…’ (Quoted in Wilson A Soldier’s Wife p 152). Of course, as Kitty ought to have known, Maria Edgeworth and her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth needed no help to make their way in London, being welcomed as one of the leading novelists of the day and an important, if sometimes eccentric even tiresome innovator respectively. Maria viewed Kitty with affection and tenderness, reporting home that, ‘The more we see of Lady Wellington the more we both admire and love her and the more comparisons we make with others the more we feel her easy, graceful superiority.’ (Edgeworth Letters From England 31 May 1813 p 68). In such approving company Kitty warmed and gave a glimpse of the irreverent charm that had first attracted Wellington more than twenty years before:
Lady Wellington diverted us by an account of the serious and friendly counsels she has had from many not to neglect her dress.
“My dear Lady Wellington” said one lady “How many times a day do you think of your dress?”
“Why three times – Morning, evening, and night besides casualties.”
“But this won’t do you must think of it seriously – at other times and when you go out into the country always dress to keep the habit my dear Lady Wellington.” (Edgeworth Letters from England 16 May 1813 p 61-62).
Wellington’s letter to Kitty and Her Reply:
Wellington’s letter to Kitty from Madrid does not seem to have survived – at least neither Wilson nor Longford quote from it, and it is not in the Wellington Papers in Southampton. Both Longford and Wilson draw extensively on her reply with Wilson giving the more complete version:
‘My dearest Arthur, I have received your letter of the 26th from Madrid, in which you permit me to decide for myself with respect to accompanying you to Paris or not. From the moment I heard of your acceptance of the appointment, I had no other thought than that of going with you and my wish would have been the same had your appointment been in any other part of the world to which you could, with safety, have permitted me to accompany you. I have no hesitation in deciding to go, no other wish than to go. I think, with you, that your task is a most arduous one, attended with what to many people would appear extreme difficulties; but to an Ambassador’s wife there are no difficulties which I do not feel myself equal to overcome, no duties which I am not willing to perform and I may venture to add that you shall never have reason to regret having allowed me, on this subject, to decide for myself.’ (Wilson A Soldier’s Wife p 158).
Kitty’s liking of titles:
Another of Kitty’s letters from 1813, to Lady Hood, leaves no doubt:
I believe I had better not begin the subject of Lord Wellington: it would be an endless one. I will only just tell you that his noble character rises upon every trial, and that I am more convinced that I ever was, that he will be the savior of Europe. I recollect you once told me the titles which you liked the best were those of Viscountess or Marchioness. I have tried both, and like them equally well, all my titles being acquired, as my little Douro says, “Because papa does his duty so well”. I am proud of them all, and much gratified by his having just received the Blue Ribbon, vacant by the death of the Marques of Buckingham … My little bay’s title is Baron Douro. They wanted to change his title and raise his rank, but I roared and screamed. The passage of the Douro, the most brilliant and least bloody of all his father’s achievements, shall not be forgotten, and he shall keep the name’. (Anonymous ‘Seaforth Papers: Letters from 1796-1843’ published in [Littell’s The Living Age 12 Dec 1863 p 493, where it was reprinted from The North British Review).
In 1814 writing to a friend who was visiting Broadstairs Kitty recalled the resort fondly: ‘I have an old regard for Broadstairs. I have heard there of many a victory. It was there that I was first called Viscountess Wellington …’ (Duchess of Wellington to Miss Hume, Stratfield Saye 22 August 1824 quoted in Wellesley Wellington in Civil Life p 56).
The Portraits of Kitty:
The difference between the Duke and Duchess of Wellington is well illustrated by the abundance of surviving portraits of him – mostly oils done in the grand manner – and paucity of images of her: a pencil and coloured chalk sketch from 1811, a miniature painted in France in 1814 or 1815 by Autissier (both reproduced in Wilson A Soldier’s Wife), a fine chalk drawing by Lawrence and a memorable pencil sketch by John Hayter showing an extremely short sighted Duchess working intently on a sketch of her own. (An engraving based on the chalk drawing by Lawrence is reproduced in volume one of this biography (plate 6) and the original in Levey Sir Thomas Lawrence p 187; and the Hayter is reproduced in volume two of this biography). Levey states that the Lawrence drawing was commissioned by Kitty’s sister and writes of it ‘Perhaps it was a relief to portray this unassuming woman, who looks artless, charming and cheerful in her feathered hat – and, with one hand fingering the frilled collar of her dress, even a touch untidy’ (p 187). Other than the Lawrence none is particularly attractive and it is hardly a surprise that she was a reluctant sitter. The loyal Maria Edgeworth also suggests that she was not an easy subject, commenting on one picture ‘Lady Wellington is not like: it is absurd to attempt to draw Lady Wellington’s face; she has no face; it is all countenance.’ (Maria Edgeworth to Mrs Mary Sneyd November 1811 Life and Letters of Maria Edgeworth ed. by Hare vol 1 p 180).
Wellington sits to Lawrence:
On 15 July 1814 Farington jotted some notes of Lawrence’s conversation which shed some light on Wellington’s appearance and conversation when sitting (Diary new edition vol 13 p 4556):
Dined with Lawrence – Robt. Smirke – success in portrait of Duke of W. – acct of Him – uppr. part & abt eyes own Eagle – mouth when speaking bad – tooth lost – nothing from Him but suitable to Character – sentiments so proper – His observations – Bonoparte’s last campaign His greatest ability shown gained 5 battles with inferior force – error was thinking so slightly of Schwartzenburgh [sic Schwarzenberg] – & made one of His bold dashes to cut off communications – to cause Him to retreat – Schwartzenburg pressed forward and got 5 days march …. regretted war not being continued 6 weeks longer if it had no necessity for treaty – B would have been beaten down
Duke said if I had in a scrape my troops would have got me out of it, not so Soults army
His remarks on necessity for moral conduct. Thought Princess C[harlotte] at 18 should not be cooped at Carlton House.
The composition of the portrait of Wellington holding the Sword of State is not entirely successful, while the sword itself, in its highly decorated scabbard, has the look of a bell-pull as if the Duke was summoning the servants – a resemblance which did not go unnoticed at the time! (Hibbert Wellington. A Personal History p 329).
Other portraits of Wellington painted at this time:
In his few weeks in London in 1814 many of the leading artists of the day did their best to capture Wellington’s features. The results included a fine half-length portrait by Thomas Phillips for Lord Talbot, and a rather less convincing portrait by Sir William Beechey commissioned by Beresford. There were busts by Chantrey and George Garrard, a miniature by Grimaldi, a watercolour by Henri L’Eveque and a dramatic, if not entirely successful, oil painting of Wellington in the Pyrenees by J. S. Copley.
The Fair held at the end of the season:
The season of festivities was brought to a close on 1 August 1814 with a fair in the three London Parks (Hyde, Green and St James’s) marking the centenary of the accession to the throne of the House of Brunswick. The press, which had grown bored with reporting magnificent spectacles, and the Opposition, which could not resist baiting the Prince Regent, mocked and lampooned the event in advance, but failed to set the public against it and the general impression was that it was remarkably successful. The fireworks were superb, even if the Chinese pagoda on the British in St James’s Park caught fire with the loss of a few lives, and the crowds were civil and well-behaved. (Annual Register 1814 Chronicle p 67-70 Farington Diary new edition vol 13 p 4569-70).
Marriage of Fitzroy Somerset and Emily Wellesley-Pole:
Before Wellington left for France he attended a regimental dinner and the wedding of Emily Wellesley Pole. Throughout the celebrations he had delighted in the pleasure and gaiety of his ADCs and other young officers from his staff, and seen much of his nieces. Already Georgiana Fitzroy (Anne’s daughter by her first husband) had married Lord Worcester heir to the Duke of Beaufort. Now on 6 August Emily Pole, the last of William’s three beautiful daughters to remain unwed, married Worcester’s uncle, the 26 year old Fitzroy Somerset, Wellington’s most trusted assistant. Before the end of the year Somerset would resume his place at Wellington’s side as the Secretary at Embassy in Paris and would go on to act as Minister Plenipotentiary when Wellington left for Vienna, but first he and his bride had a few months of leisure while Ulysses Burgh delayed his own holiday to fill the gap. Somerset’s biographer, John Sweetman, writes of the marriage:
The match was not financially attractive, for his father had left an annuity of just £600 to Lord Fitzroy, payable moreover only during the son’s lifetime. “Very much admired and courted”, Emily might have done better. Priscilla recorded her father’s positive reaction: “I had rather see my daughter married to him, than to the richest Duke in the kingdom, so admirable do I think his conduct and disposition. Besides which, with his talents and industry, and high character, he is quite sure to become a distinguished man”. She added: “My father’s affection and respect for him were as constant as his own affections. To the day of his death my father consulted him on everything, and he left him his executor.” Moreover, Priscilla claimed, “those who had doubted very soon came to the opinion we all agreed on, that she [Emily] was the most fortunate of women in her marriage.’ (Sweetman Raglan p 49 quotes from a late Memorandum printed in Correspondence of Lady Burghersh with the Duke of Wellington p 216-220).
According to Lady Shelley:
On August 5, 1814, the Duke dined with his regiment a Windsor, and on the following morning returned to town to be present at Emily Pole’s marriage with Lord Fitzroy Somerset.
While passing through Brentford the wheel of his carriage came off twice. The Duke immediately sprang into a market cart, in full costume as he was, and arrived at the church only a few minutes after the time fixed for the wedding. He gave the bride away, and then dressed for the opera … (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 1 p 71).
However Sweetman states, certainly correctly, that the marriage was performed by special license at her father’s house (3 Savile Row) on the evening of 6 August (Raglan p 48). And it seems unlikely that Wellington – rather than her father – would have given Emily away.
Emily died on 6 March 1881.
Wellington’s voyage to the Low Countries:
On 7 August 1814 Wellington left London and dined and sent the night at Combe Wood, Lord Liverpool’s house in Surrey. He reached Dover on the following afternoon but it was too rough to embark there so he went on to Deal and boarded HMS Griffon bound for the Low Countries in the early evening. After a brisk and lively passage – ‘strong gales’ and ‘heavy squalls’ are recorded in the ship’s log – the Griffon reached Bergen-op-Zoom and Wellington disembarked to a salute of fifteen guns on the evening of 9 August. (Ship’s log quoted in Pitt Lennox Three Years with the Duke p 8-9). On the following day he proceeded to Antwerp, visited the dockyard and Arsenal, and on the 11th went on to Brussels where he stayed for a week.
Britain and the Kingdom of the United Provinces:
In the eighteenth century Belgium had been an outlying province of the Hapsburg Empire whose rulers had found it a strategic liability and had even attempted, unsuccessfully, to exchange it for Bavaria. French armies had over-run it early in the Revolutionary War and it had been incorporated into France for twenty years. Following the defeat of Napoleon it had been given to the Prince of Orange whose dominions, the United Netherlands were proclaimed a Kingdom early in 1815. In all the peace negotiations Britain was the champion of a strong, independent Netherlands, powerful enough to resist French pressure. According to Renier Great Britain and the Establishment of the Kingdom of the Netherlands p 200 the union was unpopular in Holland as well as in Belgium.
Wellington in Belgium:
Wellington received an enthusiastic welcome in Brussels and was the star attraction at a ball to celebrate the Prince Regent’s birthday on 12 August – although it seems likely that the loudest cheers came from the many British families who had taken up residence in Brussels in order to economize – just as Lady Mornington had done thirty years before. (Wharncliffe The First Lady Wharncliffe and her Family vol 1 p 203; Anglesey (ed) The Capel Letters p 66-67). He set out on the tour of the frontier on 17 August, accompanied by his small personal staff, three engineer officers: Colonels Carmichael Smyth, Chapman and Pasley and the Hereditary Prince and his entourage.
A few months later he justified the policy of building fortresses despite their expense, and the fact that they had gone out of fashion in most military circles, not by citing his experiences in Spain, but by pointing to their political and deterrent effect. ‘Depend upon it, it is the only way of settling the minds of the people under the government of the Prince of Orange, and of the French to the cession. They now think they can march into Belgium, as they could into Alsace, or any other of their provinces. If the Netherlands were fortified, they would know the conquest would take time, and occasion some broken heads, which they don’t like better than others.’ (Wellington to Bathurst 18 January 1815 HMC Bathurst p 325 printed in WD VII p 641 with name deleted).
French attitudes to the Slave Trade in 1814:
‘The truth is’, Wellington told J. C. Villiers at the end of August, ‘There is no general Knowledge, and therefore no general opinion, in France upon the Slave Trade. Those who know any thing upon the subject are proprietors of estates in the West Indies, or slave traders, ship owner, or trading politicians; and the opinions of all these are strongly in favour of the continuance of the trade; and the efforts of Great Britain to put an end to it are not attributed to good motives, but to commercial jealousy, and a desire to keep the monopoly of colonial produce in our own hands.’ (Wellington to Villiers Paris 31 August 1814 WD VII p 543-44).
Cape Formosa is on the west coast of Africa and marks the western edge of the Niger delta. It really makes no sense to refer to trade ‘north’ or ‘south’ of it as the coast here runs east-west, but this is the terminology used by Castlereagh, Wellington and other contemporaries. The intention was to protect the coast west of the Cape which had previously been the centre of the slave trade.
Routine business as ambassador:
Among other business, Wellington protested repeatedly at the use made of French ports by American privateers, citing specific examples where they over-stretched any conventional idea of neutrality. (Wellington to Talleyrand 4 September 1814; Wellington to Jaucourt 8 and 30 October 1814 WD VII p 546-7, 577, 591). And he appealed for the restoration of the property of British subjects seized in the early days of the French Revolution – in particular the papers and works of art belonging to the English Benedictines. (Wellington to Jaucourt 26 September and 21 November 1814 WD VII p 569-70, 604). He sent home for the government to consider a proposition from an English solicitor resident in Paris concerning the papers of James II; and, separately, an overture from the holder of bonds issued jointly by the Prince Regent and the Dukes of York and Clarence in their youth to raise £100,000, on which the capital and almost all the interest remained unpaid. (Wellington to Castlereagh 2 October 1814 WD VII p 573; Wellington to Liverpool 14 September 1814 WSD vol 9 p 255). He assured Lord Liverpool that steps had been taken to discourage the Princess of Wales from visiting Paris in her travels, and for ensuring that she would not be received at court if she did come; but added that he doubted if it would be wise to extend such measures to Italy lest she be induced to return to England! (Wellington to Liverpool 12 September and reply 15 September 1814 WSD vol 9 p 240-1, 259).
Humbler British citizens also attracted his attention: he took some pains to introduce an English doctor, with a special interest in the diseases of the eye, to his colleagues in Paris, although as the doctor neither spoke nor understood French and had no translator, Wellington was not surprised that his visit was unrewarding. (Wellington to Bathurst 21 September and to Castlereagh 1 October 1814 WD VII p 562, 572-3). He personally intervened to ask clemency for two British subjects detained at Marseilles for unwittingly breaking the quarantine; and sought the discharge of a British subject enlisted in the French army. He even arranged for the return home of an English vagabond or tramp. (Wellington to Jaucourt 18 September, 29 September and 8 October 1814 WD VII p 560, 571, 577).
In all this business Wellington was conscientious, patient and thorough, but correspondent who ventured to take liberties received a magnificent snub:
Col Burgh has received the Duke of Wellington’s directions to acknowledge the receipt of Mr ____’s letter of the 27th, and to endorse him the copy of Mr Mackenzie’s answer to the reference made by the Duke to that gentleman of Mr ____’s complaint, Mr Mackenzie being the official person appointed by government to receive and forward such complaints to the French government.
From the specimen the Duke of Wellington has received of Mr ____’s peculiar style of writing to persons filling responsible situations, he is not surprised that Mr Mackenzie should have given directions that his letters should be returned to Mr ____ unopened; an example which the Duke proposes to follow. (To Mr ____, Paris 28 October 1814 WD VII p 589).
Wellington’s staff in Paris:
Wellington was assisted by a small staff including Ulysses Burgh and Lieutenant Colonel John Fremantle, who had both served with him in the Peninsula. They were joined by Major Henry Percy, grandson of the Duke of Northumberland, who had been one of Moore’s ADCs at Coruña. He had been captured by the French near Celorico in September 1810 and despite strenuous efforts Wellington had failed to secure his exchange. There was also Lord William Pitt Lennox, the fourth son of the Duke of Richmond accompanied them but he was too young to be much more than a heedless schoolboy (he turned fifteen in September 1814). Far more useful was Mr Lionel Hervey. Wellington told Lord Liverpool in December that he ‘possesses talents to become a very useful servant to the public, and I should wish to see him employed in some situation in which he would be paid for his services.’ (Wellington to Liverpool Paris 25 December 1814 WSD vol 9 p 504). Hervey was the younger brother of Colonel Felton Hervey, who had continued to serve with distinction in the Peninsular War even after losing his arm at Oporto. But while this may have predisposed Wellington in his favour, he was evidently a good worker and went on to hold a number of diplomatic posts of the second rank over the next decade. (Biographical info on Lionel Hervey is hard to find but see George Canning and his Friends vol 2 p 236n and British Diplomatic Representatives).
A comment in a letter from Wellington to Mrs Bagot (his niece) suggests that Hervey was treated as one of the official family: ‘Lionel Hervey who was with me at Paris, and who sometimes had the impertinence to venture to laugh when I call a certain person Pauline’. (Wellington to Mrs Bagot 14 December 1817 Bagot George Canning and His Friends vol 2 p 63-64).
Wellington’s own spoken French was, like Castlereagh’s, good enough, although not perfect and it naturally improved considerably with practice. Foy had commented in May that Wellington spoke French ‘with difficulty’ but this is not supported by other testimony. He wrote French fluently although not always quite correctly and apparently with some trace of Belgian influence dating back to his first introduction to the language in Brussels in 1785. In April 1814 he wrote a long, important letter to the Duc d’Angoulême in English ‘as I have not the power of expressing myself in French with the accuracy which I wish.’ (Wellington to Duc d’Angoulême Toulouse 24 April 1814 WD VII p 466-8; comments on Wellington’s written French generally and especially Belgian influence are based on an interesting thread on the Napoleonic Discussion Forum in January 2004; Foy’s comments are quoted in Longford Wellington: the Years of the Sword p 347. See also Guedalla The Duke p 29. On Castlereagh’s French see Webster Foreign Policy p 51).
The purchase of the Paris Embassy:
Wellington had hesitated over the purchase, reluctant to urge the expenditure of such a large sum but neither he nor Sir Charles Stuart could find nearly so suitable an alternative. Once the decision was taken however Wellington soon became convinced of its merits and even maintained that the purchase was ‘remarkably cheap’. (It cost 863,000 francs (approximately £36,000) paid in installments over several years). He offered to pay £2,000 p.a. from his salary as rent but the Foreign Office and Treasury hastily reduced this to a more modest figure arguing that subsequent ambassadors, without Wellington’s means, would be ruined by such a precedent. (Wellington to Sir Charles C. Stuart 13 July and to W. Hamilton 29 August 1814 WD VII p 533, 542. Hamilton to Wellington 2 September 1814 WSD vol 9 p 216).
Money to Pauline Bonaparte:
It is very tempting to believe that, as Pauline opened her purse to assist Napoleon in 1815, it was possible that the British government indirectly and inadvertently helped finance the escape from Elba! But the evidence virtually disproves it. All accounts agree that Pauline gave Napoleon her finest diamond necklace, and that this was captured by a Prussian cavalryman in his carriage after Waterloo. Presuming that the necklace was left over from the days of the Empire it wasn’t bought with British money, while it had done Napoleon no good. No account suggests that she gave him any other money.
Wellington and Lady Bessborough:
When Lady Bessborough and her party arrived at their lodgings on 1 November, a few hours later than expected, they found that Wellington had already called; and before they were properly settled in Colonel Burgh came with an invitation to enclose any letters home in the diplomatic bag that was about to be sent off. The next day the Duchess of Wellington and Lady Burghersh paid a visit, while the Bessboroughs frequently dined and attended a ball, routs, receptions and other events at the embassy in the course of their stay. Of course, Lady Bessborough was from the very highest rung of British society, the sister of the late Duchess of Devonshire, a member by birth and by marriage of two of the great Whig families, and, what may have counted most, mother of one of Wellington’s most promising young officers Colonel Fredrick Ponsonby. (Lady Bessborough to Granville Leveson Gower 1, 8, 13 and 17 November 1814 Granville Leveson Gower: Private Correspondence vol 2 p 502-9).
Wellington and other British visitors:
Wellington could not be this attentive to all the British visitors, and some may have felt a little aggrieved, but as Lord Hardwicke told Charles Abbot with unabashed snobbery, ‘The number of English at present in Paris is excessive, most of whom, with the exception of a few families and individuals, were never seen or heard of in any society in London.’ (Hardwicke to Charles Abbot Paris 16 October 1814 Diary of Charles Abbot vol 2 p 520-522 cf Lady Bessborough to Granville Leveson Gower 1 November 1814 Granville Leveson Gower: Private Correspondence vol 2 p 502-4).
Kitty joined Wellington in October:
‘I had a letter from the Duchess of Wellington the day before yesterday, dated from Deal, just when she was going to embark for France. The whole of the letter was full of her children and of sorrow for quitting them.’ (Maria Edgeworth to Mrs Ruxton Edgeworthstown 13 October 1814. Life and Letters of Maria Edgeworth vol 1 p 224; Pitt Lennox Three Years with the Duke p 21 says the Duchess landed at Calais on 7 October).
On 27 October Kitty wrote to Caroline Hamilton with an account of her first fortnight in Paris:
I have now been above a fortnight in la bonne Ville de Paris and find it much as it had been described very dirty … our House is splendid and comfortless not a table within for work or writing not a shelf for a book, by degrees I am succeeding in making it comfortable. I have myself had a great deal of ceremonial to go thro’! The presentation of an Ambassadrice is no joke I can tell you. It was written out for me to get by heart and if I can find it I will send it to you. I am sure you will pity me when you fancy me making a compliment to the Duchess of Angoulême in French and then seated on a Tabouret in the middle of her Salle d’Audience opposite to her and all Duchesses & Marechales of France making a circle round us. Oh it was horrid. With respect to society here, I am sure it will be much better than it has yet been, by degrees people grow less afraid of speaking to each other and there is a natural willingness to speak in the people of this country that meets you half way. I have made more way here in one fortnight than I had made in England in 3 years. As far as their sincerity as I do not want to be friends with them, that is their affair, but nothing can be more obliging more amiable than their manner. (Quoted in Pakenham Soldier Sailor p 140)
Pakenham adds that ‘When Talleyrand, now the Foreign Minister, came to call, he was sent away by an abashed Duchess, too swollen-faced with toothache to receive visitors. When he insisted on coming up anyway, she enjoyed every minute of his charming company, forgot her pain, and admitted she was sad to see him go.’ (Pakenham Soldier Sailor p 141).
Wellington and Grassini:
The Comtesse de Boigne claims that on one occasion Wellington established Grassini as the queen for an evening, seating her in a sofa on a platform in the ballroom never leaving her side, serving her before anyone else and showing ‘her attentions usually granted only to princesses’. The Comtesse felt deeply insulted but the high born English ladies present made light of it. However she puts this in the spring of 1816 and her memoirs are not very reliable. (Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne vol 2 p 126-7).
Wellington and Mlle Georges:
Several secondary sources state that Wellington also had an affair with Mlle Georges at this time; and that this was all the more provocative as she was not only a former mistress of Napoleon’s, but was appearing on stage with a bunch of violets, the symbol of Bonapartist hopes. However it is difficult to find any evidence for the story. Andrew Roberts says it is not well documented (Napoleon and Wellington p 130), Edith Saunders does not mention it in her biography of Georges (Napoleon and Mlle George), and there is no reference to Wellington in Mlle Georges’ memoirs published as A Favourite of Napoleon (edited by Paul Cheramy). All the references in modern biographies go back to Longford who refers vaguely, without a reference, to the stories Georges told in old age (Wellington the Years of the Sword p 375). But even if Mlle Georges did make this claim half a century later, it fails to explain why an affair, which was supposedly notorious for its indiscretion, should not be mentioned in any of the gossiping letters written at the time.
Mlle Georges (1787-1867) was born Marguerite-Josephine Weimer. Her name is spelt as either George or Georges.
Wellington and Harriette Wilson:
In her Memoirs (vol 2 p 599-600) Harriette Wilson describes – complete with verbatim, implausible, dialogue – an encounter with Wellington in Paris. Frances Wilson The Courtesan’s Revenge (p 145) implies the story belongs in 1814, although some of the other incidents she describes in the same paragraph definitely belong to 1815.
Wellington in Paris and the Congress of Vienna:
Wellington’s months in Paris coincided with the most important part of the Congress of Vienna. Castlereagh had paid a flying visit to the French capital for talks with Talleyrand and Wellington on his way to Vienna, and the Duke was kept well informed of every stage of the negotiations. His view was that Britain and France would probably emerge as the natural arbitrators at Vienna provided they understood each other and worked in co-operation rather than competed. However he warned against Talleyrand’s desire for an open connection from the outset as this would inevitably alienate the other great powers, some of whom wished to exclude France from the Congress entirely (Wellington to Castlereagh 18 August 1814 WD VII p 537). The two most contentious issues at the Congress were Russia’s claim to most of Poland and Prussia’s claim to Saxony. Austria, whose own ambitions in Italy had already been satisfied, opposed them both, although if forced to choose she would sacrifice Saxony to secure Prussian support against Russia in Poland. Castlereagh had come to share Metternich’s alarm about Russian expansion and to regard the Emperor Alexander as almost as dangerous as Napoleon, but this view was not generally shared by the public, or even the cabinet, in England where the partition of Poland was unpopular and the creation of a Polish Kingdom indissolubly linked to the Russian crown was commonly regarded as the least objectionable solution to a perennial problem (Castlereagh to Liverpool, ‘Private’, n.d. November 1814 in Yonge Life of Liverpool vol 2 p 52-3 see also Muir Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon p 335-8). Metternich and Castlereagh could only hope to prevail if they had the firm support of Frederick William of Prussia, and when affairs reached their crisis this was lacking, and Alexander got almost all the territory he demanded. France had played little role in these negotiations – her activity would only have alienated the Prussians, while public opinion over Poland was as ambivalent in France as in England. But all this changed when the focus of negotiations shifted to Saxony. The idea of the extinction of an ancient country and its ruling house offended the public on both sides of the Channel and while the legitimists could sympathize with the travails of an unfortunate monarch, Bonapartists groaned at the fate of Napoleon’s most loyal German ally. Having lost in Poland Metternich could not afford to lose over Saxony, and Prussia and its King were not as intimidating as Alexander and Russia. Yet having gained Poland with Prussian help Alexander was bound to help the Prussians satisfy their ambitions in Saxony. The result was a tense confrontation in which both sides talked openly of war, and Castlereagh gained the advantage by bringing France into the equation signing a formal alliance on 3 January 1815. Prussia was offered on third of Saxony and compensation elsewhere in Germany especially on the left bank of the Rhine, where Castlereagh was eager to create a powerful check to future French expansion. Russian support for Prussia now appeared less than reliable and the Prussians gave way – leading to bitter recriminations in the army and among the public in Berlin. Subsequent negotiations over details resulted in so many concessions on small questions that the cumulative result felt little short of equating to the gain of all Saxony, so that Metternich and many in Vienna came to doubt the value of his success. Prussian soldiers however would have much preferred the acquisition of a solid block of territory close to home rather than scattered and vulnerable territories far to the west, so that they remained unmollified. Yet in the long run these western territories proved extremely valuable and played a crucial part in Prussia’s rise to dominate Germany over the next half-a-century. But not even the wisest statesman can be expected to anticipate such developments and the Vienna settlement gave Europe a relatively peaceful century which was no small achievement. (Muir Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon p 338-42).
Wellington’s role in all these negotiations was naturally limited. As early as 8 October he alerted Castlereagh to the strength of French feelings over Saxony and a little later conveyed a message from the French minister that although ‘the King would not go to war for Poland, the country was not disinclined to make an exertion to save Saxony’ (Wellington to Castlereagh 8 and 25 October 1814 WSD vol 9 p 325-6, 370-1). He provided advice on broad strategic questions, for example arguing that from a military point of view it was preferable all the territories on the left bank of the Rhine be held by the Netherlands and Prussia, rather than that they be divided among several powers or given to a country like Bavaria which would never be strong enough to defend them. Luxembourg had to be kept out of French hands if the Netherlands frontier was to be secure, but including it in the Netherlands would risk over extending the new country. On the whole he thought that the best solution was for Prussia to hold the fortress but failing that he preferred that it should go to the Netherlands rather than Bavaria. (In the event the Prussians declined it and it was garrisoned as a fortress of the German Confederation – the worst possible outcome, other than French occupation, in Liverpool’s view). (Wellington to Castlereagh Paris 17 October 1814 Liverpool to Wellington 1 November 1814 WSD vol 9 p 346-7, 4000-1).
This concern with the danger of future French expansion did not imply any hostility to the existing French government, as Liverpool made plain:
The more I hear and see of the different Courts of Europe, the more convinced I am that the King of France is (amongst the great Powers) the only Sovereign in whom we can have any real confidence. The Emperor of Russia is profligate from vanity and self-sufficiency, if not from principle. The King of Prussia may be a well-meaning man, but he is the dupe of the Emperor of Russia. The Emperor of Austria I believe to be an honest man, but he has a Minister in whom no one can trust; who considers all policy as consisting in finesse and trick; and who has got his government and himself into more difficulties by his devices than could have occurred from a plain course of dealing. (Liverpool to Wellington 23 December 1814 WSD vol 9 p 494).
Wellington worked hard to maintain a good understanding between the British and French government and their representatives at Vienna, and his efforts did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. On 21 November Castlereagh wrote:
I cannot sufficiently express to you my thanks for your most useful and seasonable co-operation. You have succeeded in rendering the French influence here much more accommodating; and if I have not been able to bring the Prince de Talleyrand to the point of common exertion, His Highness has been to me personally most obliging and conciliatory, and has ceased to thwart me as he did, possibly unintentionally, at first. (Castlereagh to Wellington Vienna 21 November 1814 WSD vol 9 p 446-7).
Wellington and French plans for an expedition against Murat in Naples:
Wellington outlined a plan for a combined British, Spanish and Portuguese force to oust Murat from Naples, but Liverpool informed him that there was no appetite in London for direct British action even if Metternich was willing to abandon Murat. (Wellington to Liverpool 25 December 1814 and reply 31 December 1814 WSD vol 9 p 503-4, 517-18). This left the possibility of French action. No one in London or Vienna was happy at the thought of a French army returning to Italy so soon, and there was the obvious doubt over whether an essentially Napoleonic army, already seething with disaffection, would actually be willing to fight against Murat, one of its most illustrious leaders and the Emperor’s brother-in-law, or would it desert en masse? Even more alarming was the thought of intervention by Napoleon himself exiled, but not detained, on Elba only a few miles off the Italian coast. But despite these obvious dangers the French government was strongly attracted to the idea, hoping that a successful expedition to Naples would ease the tension in Paris and give the regime legitimacy in the eyes of the army. Wellington did not go this far but he did warn that ‘Murat’s continuance at Naples increases the chance of disturbance in France, which would again disturb all Europe.’ For the moment no action was taken but once the Saxon question was settled and France was assured of her place at the top table, she raised the issue again, this time explicitly warning that if necessary she would undertake the operation alone. (Wellington to Castlereagh 26 December 1814 WSD vol 9 p 511-12; see also Wellington to Liverpool December 25 1814 and 23 January 1815 WSD vol 9 p 503-4, 543).
The British government attempts to persuade Wellington to leave Paris:
There had been similar rumours of threats to kill Wellington before, but the latest reports seemed more authentic and the ministers took alarm. Liverpool wrote to Wellington that the cabinet had decided that he should leave Paris as quickly as possible. As it was important to imply no lack of confidence in the French government, or any fear of disturbances, the Prime Minister suggested two possible pretexts for Wellington’s departure: either he could go to Vienna to advise Castlereagh in the negotiations over the frontier of the Netherlands, or he could take command of the British forces in North America with full powers to bring the war to a close whether by negotiation or active operations. (Liverpool to Wellington 4 November 1814 WSD vol 9 p 405-7). Liverpool expressed no preference to Wellington which of these he should choose, but in a letter of the same date to Castlereagh he admitted that he was ‘most anxious’ that the Duke ‘should accept the command in America’. (Liverpool to Castlereagh 4 November 1814 WSD vol 9 p 404-5). The government’s concern over the American War had recently been sharpened by early reports of Prevost’s defeat at Plattsburgh and a consequent hardening in the attitude of the American negotiations in the talks at Ghent. On 28 October Liverpool told Wellington that he had almost given up hope of peace without another campaign to put pressure on the Americans, whom he felt were being unreasonable. (Liverpool to Wellington 28 October 1814 WSD vol 9 p 384). With Prevost discredited by failure a new commander had to be found and other than Wellington, Liverpool could only think of Sir John Hope (now Lord Niddry), who had yet to fully recover from the wounds he had suffered in the final French sortie from Bayonne. Altogether Liverpool saw the need to remove Wellington from Paris and state of affairs in North America as dovetailing neatly together. He told Castlereagh,
The Duke of Wellington would restore confidence to the army, place the military operations upon a proper footing, and give us the best chance of peace. I know he is very anxious for the restoration of peace with America if it can be made upon terms at all honourable. It is a material consideration, likewise, that if we shall be disposed for the sake of peace to give up something of our just pretensions, we can do this more creditably through him than through any other person. (Liverpool to Castlereagh 4 November 1814 WSD vol 9 p 404-5 see also Liverpool to Wellington 28 October 1814 (on negotiations at Ghent) and Torrens to Wellington 3 November (news of Plattsburg) WSD vol 9 p 384, 403-4.).
However Wellington proved reluctant to fall in with Liverpool’s plans. He acknowledged the danger of remaining in Paris: there ‘are so many discontented people, and there is so little to prevent mischief, that the event may occur on any night; and if it should occur, I don’t think I should be allowed to depart. I have heard so frequently, and I am inclined to believe it’. And he claimed to feel ‘no disinclination to undertake the American concern’, but ‘I confess I don’t like to depart from Paris, and I wish that the government would leave the time and mode at my own discretion’. There was no good reason for going to Vienna, and as for America, ‘to tell you the truth, I think that, under existing circumstances, you cannot at this moment allow me to quit Europe’. Given the instability of France and Italy, and the threats of war that were to arise in the negotiations at Vienna over the next few months, this was realistic, however self-important it sounds. It was bad enough that the cream of the British army was on the other side of the Atlantic, if Wellington had followed it, the Continental Powers would conclude that Britain was incapable of serious action in Europe, and Castlereagh’s hand in the negotiations would be greatly weakened. Wellington did suggest that he could be summoned home for a few days to give evidence at the court martial of Sir John Murray and then detained on other business, and he conceded that ‘I entertain a strong opinion that I must not be lost’. This was quaint enough to raise a smile even from Liverpool, but in the end Wellington’s advice was plain enough: ‘It must likewise be observed that to go at all at the present moment is, in the opinion of the King’s friends, to allow him and ourselves to suffer a defeat, and we must not do that. I likewise observe that that I flatter myself I am daily becoming of more use to Lord Castlereagh here, and am acquiring more real influence over the government, and it would not answer all at once to deprive him of this advantage. … [government] must not withdraw me in a hurry, and must not sacrifice the advantages which they would derive from leaving me here a little longer’. (Wellington to Liverpool 7 November 1814 WSD vol 9 p 422-3).
Liverpool was not satisfied with this, and wrote again on the 13th that whatever the pretext – and he still favoured the American command even if Wellington never actually sailed – ‘we shall not feel easy till we hear of your having landed at Dover’. The cabinet would not go so far as to give Wellington an explicit order to leave his post, but the very fact that Liverpool said so, indicated that it was resolved to have its way on the question. Wellington at once withdrew any opposition writing that he would ‘make immediate arrangements for quitting Paris’, although he could not resist adding that ‘No man is a judge in his own case; but I confess that I don’t see the necessity for being in a hurry to remove me from hence’. (Liverpool to Wellington and reply 13 and 16 November 1814 WSD vol 9 p 430-1, 434). And yet he remained in Paris. Newspaper reports originating in England announced his impending recall and the reasons for it, creating a sensation in Paris, and Wellington wrote home again that ‘I really don’t like the way in which I am going away’. He then rehearsed the arguments used previously before adding, ‘I must say that I feel my own character a little concerned in this transaction, and I hope, therefore, that the government will allow their object to be accomplished in the way with which I shall be the least dissatisfied’. This was decisive and Liverpool immediately backed down: ‘as the government can have no idea of urging you to do anything which is contrary to your feelings, and repugnant to what you consider as due to your character, I have only to desire on their part that you will use your own discretion both as to the time of your leaving Paris, and as the reason avowed for your departure’. (Wellington to Liverpool and reply 18 and 21 November 1814 WSD vol 9 p 435-7, 449).
Wellington’s views on the American War:
In the course of his exchanges with Liverpool about leaving Paris, Wellington explained his views on the war in America. He believed that there was already enough troops in Canada to defend it or ‘for the accomplishment of any reasonable offensive plan’, and he did not believe that the Americans could hope to hold the field against his Peninsular veterans ‘if common precautions and care were taken’.
That which appears to me to be wanting in America is not a General, or General officers and troops, but a naval superiority on the Lakes. Till that superiority is acquired, it is impossible, according to my notion, to maintain an army in such a situation as to keep the enemy out of the whole frontier, much less to make any conquest from the enemy … (Wellington to Liverpool 9 November 1814 WSD vol 9 p 424-6; see also Wellington to Sir George Murray Paris 22 December 1814 WD VII p 627).
Consequently he believed that Britain had no right to demand any concession of territory from the United States in the peace negotiations, despite the success of her forces on both land and sea in most of the fighting, notwithstanding the occasional hiccup such as Plattsburg. Privately he approved of the conduct of most of the operations, but was extremely critical of the expedition to New Orleans on which Edward Pakenham was killed on 8 January 1815, writing to Lord Longford that it originated in Admiral Cochrane’s desire for plunder and that ‘as plunder was the object, the Admiral took care to be attended by a sufficient number of sharks, to carry the plunder off from a place at which he knew well that he could not remain. The secret of the expedition was thus communicated in this manner this evil design defeated its own end. The Americans were prepared with an army in a fortified position which still would have been carried, if the duties of others, that is of the Admiral, had been as well performed as that of him whom we lament’ (Wellington to Longford 22 May 1815 printed in Guedalla The Duke p 255-56, also printed in Pakenham Soldier Sailor p 134). This may have been a little over-stated – as Admiral Cochrane was the uncle of the radical admiral Lord Cochrane and of Lieutenant Colonel Basil Cochrane of the 36th Wellington was hardly predisposed in his favour, while the occasion was unsuited to an impartial analysis of Pakenham’s role in the defeat – but it is also clear that Wellington had no great enthusiasm for the American war and certainly not for more ambitious ideas of territorial gains that were flouted in some circles in 1814.
Liverpool told Castlereagh on 18 November: ‘you are probably aware that it is the Duke of Wellington’s opinion that no material military advantage can be expected to be obtained if the war goes on, and he would have great reluctance in undertaking the command unless we made a serious effort first to obtain peace without insisting upon keeping any part of our conquest’. (WSD vol 9 p 438-9).
Bathurst on Wellington and the American Command:
Bathurst also wrote to Wellington on 4 November 1814 a letter which was either being extremely careful to avoid placing undue pressure on the Duke, or which reflects rather less enthusiasm for sending him to America. ‘I must beg you not to allow a sense of military duty to decide your conduct. The question is not whether you ought to accept the command when offered, but whether you think, as a statesman, that, under the present circumstances, not of Paris exclusively, but of Europe, it is better for the Duke of Wellington to go to Vienna or to America’. (WSD vol 9 p 416-17).
Soult at the War Department:
Fitzroy Somerset told Liverpool on 23 February: ‘It has been rumoured, within these few days, that Marshal Soult is about to retire from the War department. He is certainly very unpopular; but, whatever may have been his ulterior views, he has rendered essential service to the government in removing from the capital thousands of unemployed officers, whose presence was dangerous to the existence of the Royal Family, and he has been indefatigable in fulfilling the duties of his office’. (WSD vol 9 p 575).
Wellington was Castlereagh’s obvious replacement in Vienna:
Liverpool expressed this warmly in a letter to Castlereagh which Wellington may have been meant to see, but which was nonetheless true:
In the present state of affairs in Europe, it is quite impossible for any person to do justice to the cause of this country without a full discretion to act for the best, according to circumstances; and such a discretion the Prince Regent and his government would not like to entrust to any individual out of the Cabinet, except to the Duke of Wellington. In addition to his consideration, he is the only person after yourself who could be expected to have any personal authority over the Allied Sovereigns or their ministers, and his name would reconcile the people of this country to arrangements which might be viewed with considerable jealousy and distrust if concluded by any one who did not possess a large share of confidence. (Liverpool to Castlereagh 1 December 1814 WSD vol 9 p 461-2).
Castlereagh, while understandably annoyed that the petty concerns of domestic politics should take priority over the peaceful settlement of Europe, agreed that ‘There is no person in whom the government, the public, or myself could feel the same confidence’, adding generously that not only was Wellington already fully informed of the progress of the negotiations, he had been taking an active part in them, albeit at a distance. (Castlereagh to Wellington Vienna – [c18] December 1814 WSD vol 9 p 459-60: Wellington replied to this letter and Castlereagh’s dispatches of the 18th at the same time). Wellington had no hesitation in accepting the offer. He had already admitted that his presence in Paris was disagreeable to many, and he was sincere when he wrote that ‘I mean to serve the King’s government in any situation which might be thought desirable’; even though in practice he would find it very difficult not to prefer his own judgment of what was best to that of anyone else. (Wellington to Castlereagh 27 December 1814 WD VII p 628; Wellington to Liverpool 18 November 1814 WSD vol 9 p 435-7 conceded that his presence is disagreeable to many).
Wellington decides not to go to Vienna via London:
There was some discussion over whether Wellington should make a brief visit to London to consult the ministers before going on to Vienna, but it was soon decided that he would gain more from spending the time with Castlereagh and so, on 24 January 1815, he left Paris accompanied by Lieutenant-Colonel Fremantle and the young Lord William Pitt Lennox while Fitzroy Somerset remained behind as Minister Plenipotentiary. Wellington to Liverpool 5 January 1815 WD VII p 634 announces his decision as Liverpool would be at Bath anyway. Lord Bathurst warmly approves, thinking that the time will be better spent with Castlereagh: Bathurst to Wellington 13 January 1814 WSD vol 9 p 534-5.
Kitty stayed on in Paris:
She did not leave until March after news of Napoleon’s return – see a fleeting reference in Fitzroy Somerset to Wellington 14 March 1815 WSD vol 9 p 594-5. This adds to the impression that Wellington expected to return to the Paris embassy from Vienna (British Diplomatic Representatives p 49 refers to his ‘temporary absence’ at Vienna).
Date of Wellington’s arrival in Vienna:
This is strangely difficult to determine. Castlereagh wrote to Liverpool on 6 February that Wellington arrived on the 3rd (Castlereagh to Liverpool Vienna 6 February 1815 WSD vol 9 p 552-3 same letter in Castlereagh Correspondence vol 10 p 248-9 with same date). That would seem simple enough, however Bagot George Canning and His Friends vol 2 p 2-3 prints a letter from Wellington to Charles Bagot dated ‘Vienna 2 February 1814’ and Lord William Pitt Lennox in Three Years with the Duke (p 91) says that they arrived on 2 February. Nor is this all, for on 8 February Talleyrand wrote to the King that Wellington had arrived on the 1st! (Talleyrand Correspondence of Talleyrand and Louis XVIII p 303).
I have no solution for this puzzle but it shows how unreliable even the best sources – letters written at the time about an unconcealed public event – can be.
Wellington’s reception in Vienna:
Several grand dinners were held to welcome the Duke. Talleyrand gave a sumptuous banquet for sixty guests including ‘all the distinguished men in Vienna’, and such illustrious women and the Duchess of Dino and her sister the Duchess of Sagan, Metternich’s lover (Gentz quoted in McGuigan Metternich and the Duchess p 438). Talleyrand’s chef was the great Carême and a modern historian gives an this account of one of his dinners at this time:
The moment the guests sat down at table, liveried servants bore in great silver tureens of soups – at least eight different kinds – followed by eight or ten varieties of fish, as many as fifty delicately composed entrements, which was uncovered and passed with great ceremony. Carême, writing fondly and poetically of his career, recalled how those dishes “diffused throughout the dining room the suaved perfumed odors of fine cuisine”. There would be roast larded plover, poulets à la reine, stuffed red partridge, pullets with watercress, pheasant garnished with ortolan (a tiny bird highly cherished by gourmets) and woodcock, followed by a dozen or more roasts, a dozen “flying platters” of tiny sweet soufflés, apricot, orange, apple, chocolate; by parmesan fondus and jellied fruit, and finally the cutting of the elaborate set pieces of desserts. (McGuigan Metternich and the Duchess p 437-8).
Metternich followed on Sunday 5 February with a dinner for Wellington with several hundred guests invited to the reception afterwards. And two days later he presided again over a splendid Mardi Gras ball. Fortunately for everyone’s health and figure that signaled the end of the grander and more sumptuous forms of entertainment as Lent imposed a degree of restraint on the more obvious forms of indulgence. (McGuigan Metternich and the Duchess p 438).
Talleyrand told Louis XVIII: ‘On Saturday last I gave a great dinner to the Duke of Wellington. All the members of the Congress were present. I was glad that he should be introduced to them through the medium of the French legation’. (Talleyrand to Louis XVIII Vienna 8 February 1815 Talleyrand Correspondence of Talleyrand and Louis XVIII p 305).
It is unlikely that Wellington greatly enjoyed these gaieties. He had come down with a bad cold as soon as he arrived, which Castlereagh blamed on the contrast between the cold of his long journey over the roads of central Europe in January, and the warm houses of Vienna. He seems to have taken some time to recover, for as late as 12 March he told Liverpool ‘I am getting quite well. The hot rooms here have almost killed me’ (Castlereagh to Liverpool Vienna 6 February1814; Wellington to Liverpool 12 March 1815 WSD vol 9 p 552-3, 588). Nonetheless he attended all the functions and was keenly observed by many inquisitive eyes. The Russian soldier Alexander Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky had a poor opinion of most of the British delegation, especially Charles, now Lord Stewart, but went out of his way to praise, ‘the noble qualities of Lord Cathcart [ambassador to Russia] and Lord Wellington, who remain the same whether they are in their office or on the battlefield’. (Quoted in Alexander Sopojnikov ‘The Congress Of Vienna in the Memoirs of a Russian Officer’ in Denmark and the Dancing Congress of Vienna p 146). A young German bookseller and publisher wrote an account of the Mardi Gras ball in his diary: ‘Very crowded. Around Midnight Wellington showed up … Whenever he appeared, a great crowd would gather, flowing back and forth in his wake. Wellington in civilian attire, blue in colour, round hat with a red band, above average height, excellent features, a serious mien that seems to savour itself. Beaming a benign smile on the crowd, he disappeared in the gallery.’ (Carl Bertuch in Spiel The Congress if Vienna p 234). And Count De La Garde wrote that ‘When [Wellington] entered in the company of Lord Castlereagh, arm in arm with a masked lady thought to be Lady Castlereagh, the whole mob rushed to follow him. Though undoubtedly used to such scenes, he must nonetheless have felt greatly flattered by this general show of adulation. His arrival in Vienna even caused a flurry on the stock market, where the profits and losses in government bonds reached several millions.’ (Quoted in Spiel The Congress of Vienna p 234-5).
Grassini in Vienna:
Two of the accounts quoted in Spiel The Congress of Vienna state that Grassini accompanied Wellington to Vienna. This seems inherently rather unlikely, simply because does not appear anywhere else, and is such a juicy piece of gossip that it would surely have been widely reported. Nostitz says: ‘As Lord Nelson once traveled with Lady Hamilton, so Wellington also has his lady, the well-known singer Grassini, with him, a lady who has often before accompanied prominent men, as for example the Duke of York on his visit to Germany’. (Spiel The Congress of Vienna p 233). And Starhemberg wrote ‘The Duke of Wellington does not go out. The English told me yesterday: “He has a cold”. Others, more concerned, speak of an incipient nervous fever. But so far there is no reason to believe this nonsense. He has brought a nurse along from Paris who will keep him company I mean Mme Grassini, who is in his retinue’. (ibid p 236).
A query on the Napoleonic Discussion Forum (19 August 2007) and produced several replies saying that Grassini was at Vienna – mostly citing indifferent secondary sources. I tracked back through these and found that the only additional evidence was a police report mentioning the rumour that Grassini had arrived with Wellington printed in Weil’s Les dessous du Congrès de Vienne. However consulting this through Gallica revealed a later report, dated 22 Febrary 1815, headed ‘Wellington et la Grassini’ which explicitly contradicts it: ‘Il ne semble pas que Wellington ait amené avec lui jusquà Vienne la Grassini’. (vol 2 p 237).
Impressions of Wellington at Vienna:
Karl Von Nostitz, a Prussian soldier in the service of Russia was sorry to see Wellington play the part of a diplomat: ‘He who rose to such military heights must now debase himself as a politician. His role should have remained to guide the sword that cuts the evil Gordian knot. Britannia ought not so carelessly dispose of the “Victor of the World”.’ Nostitz attended one of the functions that marked Wellington’s arrival and recorded his impressions, although they may owe as much to his preconceptions as to actual observation.
He is a tall man whose simple but firm bearing invites trust. He carries head and shoulders with an easy openness, his nose is decidedly aquiline, his forehead high, his eyes are clear, though not very bright or penetrating. He lets people talk and listens alternatively. His answers are to the point, his objections couched in courteous terms. His whole being exudes calmness rather than pouncing forcefulness and shows a soberness that is most attractive. His eagle-eyed, dignified appearance is adversely affected when he opens his mouth, who crooked teeth disturb the harmony of the whole. But, without searching out the details, one is struck by an overall expression of sureness and simplicity … (Quoted in Spiel The Congress of Vienna p 233).
Prussian attitude to Wellington’s arrival:
Zamoyski Rites of Peace (p 405) quotes Hager’s police who reported that ‘Wellington’s arrival is not to the taste of the Prussians, who pretend to make light of the fact with jokes, saying that they will bring Blücher to make up the party’.
The details of the Saxon settlement, and in particular the fate of Leipzig, were not resolved until the first week of February. They left the Prussians very sore indeed, although Wellington naturally did not play any part of consequence in the negotiations, as Castlereagh was still present.
Talleyrand on Wellington:
Talleyrand went on ‘It is not only to the Emperor of Russia that the Duke of Wellington sounds your Majesty’s praises. He repeats them in every direction, not only alone in general terms, but entering into details, quoting facts, and thus adding to the great estimation in which your Majesty’s character is held here. … He owns that everything in France is not exactly as he would have it, and he adds that all will come right in time. According to him, the thing wanted above all others is a ministry. “There are,” he says, “ministers, but no ministry”.’ (Unpublished Correspondence of Talleyrand and Louis XVIII p 304).
Date of Castlereagh’s departure from Vienna:
This is almost as uncertain as the date of Wellington’s arrival. Webster Foreign Policy of Castlereagh p 396 and Bindoff et al. British Diplomatic Representatives p 3 both say that he left on 14 February 1815. However Castlereagh Correspondences vol 10 p 253 prints a letter dated ‘Vienna February 15 1815’.
Wellington’s social life in Vienna:
Lady Shelley records that in Paris after Waterloo she went with Wellington to call on Talleyrand: ‘As we entered the room Madame St Edmond Perigord ran up to the Duke, and kissed him on both cheeks. She showed the most naïve joy, and called him her savior. They had been much together at Vienna. She is a very pretty little woman, and expressed without the slightest hesitation, and with a natural impulse, the adoration which I also feel for Wellington.’ (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 1 p 112). This was the Duchess of Dino (sister of the Duchess of Sagan).
© Rory Muir