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Commentary for Volume 2, Chapter 15 Family and Friends, c1819–1827
Wellington and Kitty: the Quarrel of 1821:
Wellington’s ire was aroused when Kitty, who was at Stratfield Saye, sent him, at Apsley House, a list of persons to whom he had not given charity. It seems that her intention was to ensure that they did not either give two lots of money to the same person, or overlook anyone with a fair claim, but she did not make this clear, while he objected violently both to the implied criticism and to the fact that she had gathered this information from the servants. (Longford Wellington: Pillar of State p 75).
Longford observes that Wellington’s ‘private papers show great generosity in gifts, loans and time … [but that] he felt it his duty to concentrate on helping those who had served his armies.’ (ibid p 75).
Kitty’s reproachful last letter to Wellington:
It is possible, but most unlikely, that Kitty intended to kill herself when she wrote this, and then changed her mind; however that would have been most out of character and run completely counter to her religious convictions. Besides, she would then surely have recovered and destroyed the letter. Her health was not good in the 1820s, and it is much more likely that she genuinely believed that she was going to die, although the element of attention-seeking in the letter is obvious. (Longford Wellington: Pillar of State p 77).
In January 1822 Kitty wrote (and it is surely significant that she felt the need to write rather than to speak directly) to Wellington asking that her allowance of £500 be raised to £670. He declined, arguing that £500 was ample, only princesses had more. (This was probably not true, but £500 clear pin money was not unreasonable: however it is impossible to judge more precisely without knowing which personal expenses were included and which subsumed into the household accounts. But it would surely have been better if Wellington had assumed that Kitty was unlikely to ask any unreasonable indulgence, and granted the sum without quibbling).
Kitty responded to his refusal by explaining that she spent almost half her allowance on pensions to old servants and other needy persons, and that she had got into debt to the tune of £200. The resolution is not clear, but it seems likely that Wellington cleared the debt without increasing the allowance. (Longford Wellington: Pillar of State p 79-80).
Kitty and money:
Early in 1818 Kitty wrote to Longford asking urgently for the £1,000 that ‘must be mine at the death of our good old aunt Bess … do not be frightened there is no gaming in the case but much distress of mind Which would be instantly relieved by some arrangement which should put me in possession of the money.’ She could not say anything more. He replied sending her half the money at once and promising the rest promptly. She replied ‘dearest Longford, heaven blesses every act of brotherly kindness … You have saved me Longford, I can say nothing. For nothing that I could say would give you an idea of what I have suffered and do feel.’ Quoted in Eliza Pakenham Soldier, Sailor p 160-1. Pakenham does not know what this was about, but plausibly speculates that Kitty had either been swindled in her one of her charities or, less plausibly, that the need arose from her muddling the household accounts.
Kitty and Wellington’s family and Wellington and the Longfords:
Kitty got on well with both William Wellesley-Pole and with Lord Wellesley; whereas Wellington seems not to have much liked the Longfords – Kitty was reluctant to have her relatives to stay or to introduce them to him, and he accused them of spreading reports that he neglected or mistreated her. (Pakenham Soldier, Sailor p 162, 149-50, 180; Longford Wellington – Pillar of State p 74-5 quoted in main text).
Wellington’s neglect of Kitty arouses Peel’s disapproval:
Robert Peel, happily married to the lovely Julia, disapproved of Wellington’s attentions to other women and sympathized with the poor, neglected Duchess of Wellington, which, added to the differences in temperaments and outlook, made any strong personal friendship between the two men unlikely. On a visit to Stratfield Saye in January 1827, as he told Julia, he
came down, or rather left my room, for it is on the ground floor, earlier than the rest, and found the Duchess of Wellington alone in a small room near the breakfast room. Poor thing, she was as affected and uneasy about the Duke [who had been ill] as if he had treated her with the kindness which is her due. I told her not to be alarmed, for that I thought the Duke before his attack was better than I had seen him for years. I said he was fuller and larger in his person. She said “That is the effect of age. People about his time of life get larger.” I said his face was larger. She replied, “I am so short-sighted I cannot remark his features, I can only judge by the colour, and when I look at that precious face, it seems to be very pale.”
She burst out a-crying, and such things make me still more hate the sight of those who can find it in their heart, even if they have no sense of virtue, to usurp her place.
She seemed to really feel what she said to me yesterday “What a comfort I should have found Mrs Peel to sit with me of a morning.”
It really seems something to her to have me to talk to. What wickedness and what folly to undervalue and to be insensible to the affection of a wife! (Robert to Julia Peel, Strathfieldsaye, 22 January 1827 Peel Private Letters p 95-96).
And in the following year, on a visit to Lord Hertford’s, he told his wife ‘I see no signs of the influence of Mrs A. having abated. She takes her place next to him at dinner as if it were a matter of course.’ (Robert to Julia Peel, Sudburn, n.d.  Peel Private Letters p 110).
(For more on this, and the implications of the mutual dislike between Peel and Mrs Arbuthnot, see main text p 431)
Kitty and Lord Liverpool:
Norman Gash quotes Lady Erne (Liverpool’s sister-in-law) describing a party at Coombe Wood (Liverpool’s country house) after Lady Liverpool’s death. Liverpool had ‘his two Cronies, the Duchess of Wellington and Lady Bathurst, and they will be such excellent aids I cannot be wanted.’ (Gash Lord Liverpool p 207). This rather unlikely friendship seems to have arisen during the Peninsular War when Lord and Lady Liverpool (especially Lady Liverpool) befriended Kitty: see Jane Wellesley Wellington. A Journey through My Family p 181, 184, 186. But other than Lady Erne’s remark there is very little evidence of how the friendship developed after the war.
Kitty and her sons and adopted children:
As well as Lord Douro and Lord Charles Wellesley, Kitty gave a home and affection to:
- Arthur Freese, the son of Mrs Isabella Freese, whose father may have been Wellington (see Wellington: the Path to Victory p 102).
- Gerald Wellesley, the son of Henry Wellesley’s first wife whose father was either Henry Wellesley or Lord Anglesey.
- Kate Hamilton and at times also her two brothers: these were the orphaned children of Kitty’s sister Helen. (Helen had died in 1807, two years after her husband James Hamilton).
- William and James Long-Wellesley, the sons of Wellington’s nephew ‘wicked’ William Pole Tylney Long Wellesley. William’s unfortunate wife Catherine had died in 1825 legal action resulted in the Duchess of Wellington and William Courtenay being appointed their guardians, with Wellington’s approval. (Longford Wellington: Pillar of State p 250-55; Fisher History of Parliament 1820-32 vol 6 p 816).
- Lord Arthur Lennox, Wellington’s godson, and youngest son of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond. In October 1819, after the death of the Duke of Richmond, Wellington wrote that, ‘I have proposed to take the youngest boy now, and to educate him, and send him in tme to the academy at Woolwich. If any care had been taken of the education of the boys there would now be no difficulty, but it is not easy to employ Lords of high rank and family, who scarcely know how to read.’ (Extract of a letter from Wellington, possibly to Lady Charlotte Greville, 7 October 1819 in Ellesmere Personal Reminiscences of Wellington p 122.)
Longford gives some interesting details of these children and their relations with the Duchess:
The young loved her …. Young Freese … made a successful career in India, thanks to the Duke’s money and influence with Charterhouse School and the East India Company, and kept up a glowing correspondence with Kitty, his ‘dearest lady’ or ‘dearest friend’. The younger adopted children treated her with the same uninhibited affection as her own boys. When the Duke of Richmond died of hydrophobia in Canada from the bite of a tame fox, his youngest son, Arthur Lennox, spent holidays at Stratfield Saye and wrote Kitty cheeky letters from school: ‘My Dearest Duchess, you are a Very naughty Boy for not writing to Me, and I think I must get Charles and Douro to wip You’ – and later, ‘I am very much obliged for the money you would have sent me if you had had any cash.’
Douro and Charles were her ‘first earthly consolation’, as she freely admitted to her sister. She spoilt them, let them bully her and now and then forgot their needs.
‘My dear Mama,’ wrote Charles at nine, ‘You must have everything ready as ready as possible or dread the most severe punishment from me.’ Had she remembered, asked Douro, to prepare for the medieval tournament in the spring holidays of 1820? ‘You shall get up every morning at eight o’clock precisely if you are good and obey my orders,’ wrote this thirteen-year-old from Eton, ‘but if you are bad … you shall get up at 6 o’clock without any fire or warm water and then stand in the corner with a fool’s cap upon your head till breakfast time.’ (Longford Wellington: Pillar of State p 82).
It is probably not surprising that boys at a public school in the early nineteenth century should think a good deal about beating and punishments, but not many mothers, at any time, would allow themselves to be persistently addressed in these terms; however it is possible that the quotations are not representative of the correspondence as a whole.
Lady Shelley, writing years later, observed that ‘The Duchess was the slave of her boys when they came home for the holidays. I have seen her carrying their fishing-nets, their bats, balls, and stumps, apparently not perceiving how bad it was for them to regard a woman, far less their mother, as a simple drudge, fit only to minister to their pleasures. In consequence her sons pitied, without respecting her.’ (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 312: written in 1852 on the day of Wellington’s funeral).
Wellington worries about Kitty’s influence on their children:
According to Lady Shelley the Duchess made the boys ‘as afraid of speaking openly to him as has she was herself. The words, “Don’t tell your father”, were ever on her lips’. (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 311: written in 1852 on the day of Wellington’s funeral). And in 1825 Mrs Arbuthnot observed,
I think the Duke’s unfortunate marriage has pursued him even in his relations with his children. He dreads their inheriting her narrow mind and he says, instead of directing them to useful pursuits or urging them to read or occupy their time, she is continually seeking out for them the most trivial & childish amusements. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 20 October 1825 vol 1 p 422)
Wellington’s views on education:
In 1825 Wellington wrote to Lady Shelley, with advice for her son, a young officer:
As for John, you must impress upon his mind, first, that he is coming into a world at an age at which he who knows nothing will be nothing. If he does not chuse to study, therefore, he must make up his mind to be a hewer of wood and drawer of water for those who do. Secondly, he must understand that there is nothing learnt but by study and application. I study and apply, more, probably, than any man in England.
Thirdly, if he means to rise in the military profession – I don’t mean as high as I am, as that is very rare – he must be master of languages, of the mathematics, of military tactics of course, and of all the duties of an officer in all situations.
He will not be able to converse or write like a gentleman – must less to perform with credit to himself the duties on which he will be employed – unless he understands the classics; and by neglecting them, moreover, he will lose much gratification which the perusal of them will always afford him; and a great deal indeed of professional information and instruction.
He must be master of history and geography, and the laws of his country and of nations; these must be familiar to his mind if he means to perform the higher duties of his profession.
Impress all this upon his mind; and moreover tell him that there is nothing like never having an idle moment. If he has only one quarter of an hour to employ, it is better to employ it in some fixed pursuit of improvement of his mind, than to pass it in idleness or listlessness.’ (Wellington to Lady Shelley, London, 30 August 1825, Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 128).
And in 1833 Lady Salisbury records him: ‘Speaking of men’s education, he observed that they learnt nothing at a public school and less at college, but that English public schools were chiefly valuable as forming the habits and feelings of a gentleman and giving a knowledge of the world, and an independence and originality of character rarely to be met with abroad. “You will find every Frenchman cast in the same mould, but every Englishman has a distinct character.” (Lady Salisbury’s diary 22 Dec 1833 Gascoyne Heiress p 100).
Mr Wagner, the private tutor to both Wellington’s sons:
George Gleig, who knew Douro well in the 1830s, wrote that: ‘Nobody who knew the late Vicar of Brighton will challenge either his scholarship or his high character, but a man may be both a scholar and the best of men, yet lack some of the qualities which are needed in a private tutor. In this case the error seems to have been an exaggerated notion of discipline, of which the effect was to make his pupils cordially detest him.’ (Gleig Personal Reminiscences of the Duke of Wellington p 278)
Wellington and his sons at University:
Wellington gave Douro, who was entered at Oxford as a nobleman, an allowance of £800 per annum, and Lord Charles, who was entered as a gentleman commoner, £500. ‘I beg that Charles’, Wellington wrote to their private tutor, ‘will observe that I make him this allowance, at present, that he may defray the expenses of his education. He must recollect, however, that he is only a younger brother, and that it is not at all clear that he will ever have so much again, unless he should make it by his own industry and talent; and I beg you will tell them both that when I entered the world I had just the sum for the whole year which I now give Charles every quarter.’ (Wellington to Mr Wagner, Hatfield, 10 October 1824 Wellington Private Correspondence p 26-29; also printed in Brialmont and Gleig Life of Wellington vol 4 p 163-6).
More surprising is the fact that when the boys were at Eton Wellington sent their Latin exercises to Lord Wellesley to peruse, who responded generously: ‘It was a great satisfaction to me to observe the regular progress of improvement, especially in Douro’s exercises, from the first to the last copy of verses. Douro’s verses, upon the character of Homer’s poetry, are highly creditable, and his four concluding verses of that exercise display considerable spirit and original thought. Tell him from me, that the boy who admires Homer much have made great proficiency.’ (Lord Wellesley to Wellington, 2 May 1821, quoted in Brialmont and Gleig Life of Wellington vol 4 p 166-8).
Was Mrs Arbuthnot Wellington’s mistress?
The verdict of everyone who has seriously examined the question is firmly that there was not a sexual relationship. The editors of her journal wrote:
What were their relations? Nearly all the Duke’s biographers and even some of his contemporaries, for instance Peel, believed that Mrs Arbuthnot was his mistress. It is difficult to imagine that anyone reading this Journal can continue to think this. The Duke’s feelings may be described in Landor’s words: ‘There is a middle state between love and friendship more delightful than either, but more difficult to remain in.’ If the Duke ever wished to move out of this middle state he must have realized that he risked losing Mrs Arbuthnot altogether. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p xiv)
Elizabeth Longford agreed: ‘the whole tone and temper of her journal leaves no room to doubt that [she did not have an affair with Wellington]’ (Longford Wellington: Pillar of State p 86); and so does E. A. Smith: ‘It was certainly not a sexual relationship. The evidence of Harriet’s journal, of her letters to her husband, and of her life and character in general, is clearly and unequivocally against it’. (Smith Wellington and the Arbuthnots p 63). There seems no reason to question this conclusion, although it is notoriously hard to prove a negative and the original manuscript of her diary and correspondence have not generally been made available to researchers, including Smith and myself.
Wellington and Mrs Arbuthnot:
Longford quotes an otherwise unpublished letter from Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot written on 13 September 1822 (a few days after he sent her the emerald and pearl bracelet for her birthday) which is as close to a declaration of love as we have: ‘I hope you will think of me sometimes, and whenever you think of me wherever I may be, you may feel certain that my thoughts and wishes are centred on you, and my desire that every action of my life may please you. God bless you. Your most devoted and affectionate Slave.’ (Longford Wellington Pillar of State p 95 – the description of himself as her ‘Slave’ is less significant than it sounds, part of an established pattern of jocular nicknames in which Mrs Arbuthnot was ‘La Tyranna’ who determined which social engagements he might accept.) This is much less explicit than his letters to Angela Burdett-Coutts, written more than twenty-five years later (see main text, chapter 30).
Lady Cowper commented a little jealously in early 1823: ‘… people say he is more in love than ever with Mrs Arbuthnot. I wish Ly Jersey would make a diversion for she is an odious little woman.’ (Lady Cowper to her brother Frederick Lamb 16 January  Letters of Lady Palmerson p 118).
The Duchess of Wellington and Mrs Arbuthnot:
The relationship between the two women, so different and with such competing interests, was bound to be difficult; but they succeeded in maintaining the appearance of friendship. In 1820, at the height of the Queen Caroline Affair, Mrs Arbuthnot wrote in her Journal:
Dined at Mr Pole’s and went at night to a concert at the Dss of Wellington’s … I made up a quarrel I had had with the Dss of Wellington. She took offence at my having told her one night that there was a row in the streets, & fancied it very unfeeling of me to talk so coolly to her of what might put the Duke’s life in danger. I thought it very ridiculous of her to take it up in that way, but she was perfectly satisfied by my assuring her I had had no intention of frightening her, & we are now better friends than ever. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 17 July 1820 vol 1 p 28).
An undated letter from Harriet to Charles Arbuthnot sheds further light on their relations, evidently after another disagreement:
I shd. have refused the Duke at once … but I have thought it an excellent opportunity for writing the enclosed to the Duchess. After all it is very desirable for us to be well with her, tho’ she is odious, and if you approve what I have written, pray send it on to her. It wd. make it still better if you wd. add a line saying you join with me in anxiety to set ourselves right with her. (Harriet to Charles Arbuthnot, n.d. [c 1824] Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 72).
On 1 May 1827, Wellington’s 58th birthday, the Duchess wrote to Mrs Arbuthnot:
Do you recollect what day this is? It is the Duke’s birthday! On this day last year we dined with you, we were together! He was lately returned from Russia, and in high spirits and in high favour! And now I am here alone, and most anxious, while [he] is probably with you! Pray for me, Mrs Arbuthnot, it will be praying for me to wish everything good to him. He feels far more deeply & often more painfully than he allows himself to express, and I cannot but apprehend that he often suffers that which none suspect.’ (Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 87)
And later that year Mrs Arbuthnot wrote to Lady Shelley that ‘The poor Duchess is as foolish as ever, if not more so, and provokes me to a degree! I am sorry for her too; and still more so for him, for every year he must suffer more and more from it.’ (Mrs Arbuthnot to Lady Shelley, n.d. [June-July 1827] Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 157-8.
When Arbuthnot died in 1850 Greville wrote in his journal that:
few men ever enjoyed so entirely the intimacy and unreserved confidence of so many Statesmen and Ministers … besides being on very good terms with many others with whom he had no political opinions in common. He had in fact a somewhat singular and exceptional position; much liked, much trusted, continually consulted and employed, with no enemies and innumerable friends. This was owing to his character, which was exactly calculated to win this position for him. Without brilliant talents, he had a good sound understanding, a dispassionate judgement, liberality in his ideas, and no violent prejudices. He was mild, modest, and sincere; he was single-minded, zealous, serviceable, and sympathetic (simpatico) and he was moreover both honorable and discreet. The consequence was that everybody relied upon him and trusted him, and he passed his whole life in an atmosphere of political transactions and secrets. …. He was buried at Kensal Green, and the Duke is said to have been very much affected at the funeral. (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey and Fulford) 25 August 1850 vol 6 p 254-55).
Wellington’s letters to Lady Shelley:
Wellington seems to have written much less to Lady Shelley than to Mrs Arbuthnot, and his letters are rather different: less full of political news and less confidential, but light hearted and playful, even slightly flirtatious. They are full of banter and much is made of a running joke that he is a ‘slave’ to a ‘tyrant’ who will not permit him to write or visit as frequently as he wished. The ‘tyrant’ in question turns out to be Mrs Arbuthnot whose superior claims to Wellington’s time and attention are acknowledged and who sometimes joins in the correspondence – expostulating, for example, in mock horror when the Duke signs a letter to Lady Shelley ‘Ever your most affectionately’. (Wellington to Lady Shelley, Woodford, 18 September 1825 with postscript by Mrs Arbuthnot Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 130).
Marianne, Lady Wellesley in 1831:
When Maria Edgeworth was visiting London in 1831 she met Lady Wellesley and described her in a letter home to her stepmother:
Lady Wellesley is not nearly so tall and magnificent a looking person as I had expected but more delicate – not much taller than Honora – say 5ft 5 – Very ladylike in her motions and manner – as unlike all we have seen or imagined of Americans – her face beautiful – ivory colour – fine eyes. Her manner is rather too English – too composed – compassé rather more than appears quite natural – as if studiously formed on English manner and as if she were steering diplomatically clear of all difficulties yet without having been born or bred long enough in a court to do it instinctively – not the perfection of art which is never to let the art be seen. People say too often she has a remarkably good manner. Perfectly good manners should never be remarkable. It should be felt not seen. By what she praised it was easy to see what she wished to be admired for herself. She praised the Queen’s manner for never letting her emotions get the better of her. (Maria Edgeworth to Mrs Edgeworth, 14 March 1831 Edgeworth Letters from England p 486-7)
There is a eagerness to find fault in this which may be attributed to Maria Edgeworth’s fondness for Kitty, or to her evident prejudice against Americans (which was rather odd, as she must have experienced a good deal of the prevailing English prejudice against the Irish which was quite similar). Lady Wellesley was at this time a Lady in Waiting to Queen Adelaide, and much liked by both the King and Queen; while her biographer attributes the calmness of her manner to her lifelong struggle against serious asthma (Wake Sisters of Fortune p 41-2, 242).
George IV, on the other hand, had described as ‘one of the most sensible and highly bred women he had ever conversed with,’ (quoted in Wake Sisters of Fortune p 201).
William Wellesley-Pole retires from Cabinet:
According to her son-in-law Lady Maryborough was delighted at the change as she ‘has at length the great wish of her heart, a pretty country place of her own in England not too far from town’. (Charles Bagot to Lord Binning 23 September 1823 Bagot George Canning and His Friends vol 2 p 194; see also Peel to Bathurst 26 August 1823 HMC Bathurst p 542).
Little more than a year later after the death of his wife, Worcester eloped with her half-sister (Anne Wellesley’s daughter by her second marriage, to Charles Culling Smith): a marriage whose legality was open to challenge, and which confirmed the reputation of two generations of Wellesleys for private lives of unusually varied irregularity. (Complete Peerage vol 2 p 56; Bagot to Binning, 22 July 1822, Bagot George Canning and His Friends vol 2 p 126-30; Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich, 2 July 1822, p 184-5; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 30 April and 28 June 1822 vol 1 p 160-1, 171-2).
Wellington and the Westmeath Affair:
Another friendship which led to unexpected trouble was with Emily, Lady Westmeath. She was a Cecil, daughter of the 1st Marquess (and 7th Earl) of Salisbury, and Wellington had known her since childhood: there were strong ties between the Wellesleys and the Cecils which were further strengthened when Henry Wellesley married Emily’s sister Georgiana in 1816. When Emily Cecil married the future Lord Westmeath in 1812, and Wellington gave the couple a ‘beautiful breakfast service in old plate … complete with his crest’ as a wedding present. Emily was twenty-four when she married, three years younger than her husband. It was a love match and the couple seemed well matched, but difficulties soon arose, mostly caused by his infidelity, meanness and violent temper, compounded by her distaste for life in Clonyn Castle in Ireland and her unwillingness to compromise. By 1818 the marriage had broken down completely, and Emily obtained a private settlement on very favourable terms which avoided an open breach, while reducing him to the position of a lodger in her house in London. Fresh quarrels soon arose, and at Easter 1819 George asked Wellington to arbitrate. For four or five days he talked to Emily in the drawing room and George in the dining room trying to settle their differences, but without success. Finally there was a quarrel, hot words were exchanged and George challenged Wellington to a duel. Wellington apologized and George withdrew the challenge, but ordered the Duke to leave, even though it was Emily’s house, not his. Wellington denied any improper behaviour and called on Emily the next day. George burst in upon them, and Wellington withdrew rather than exacerbate the situation. More arguments followed with George seeking to withdraw concessions he had made in earlier disputes and attempting to gain custody of the children. There was some talk that George might sue for divorce on the grounds of adultery and name Wellington as the co-respondent, although it is not clear whether he was really suspicious of the Duke, or merely using this as a marital and legal tactic in response to his wife’s allegations of physical cruelty and multiple adultery. (He had also quarrelled violently with a previous mediator). There was some gossip at the time, but the affair was soon forgotten, especially as there is little evidence that Wellington saw much of Lady Westmeath once she had obtained a separation from her husband. However the story was revived and embellished when, in 1829, he secured a pension for her of £385 despite the objections of Lord Anglesey, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; although this was, at least in part, given in response to an appeal from the Duke and Duchess of Clarence (then heir to the throne), in whose household Lady Westmeath now held a position.
There is a detailed account of the affair in Lawrence Stone’s Broken Lives p 284-346. Five letters from the Marquess of Buckingham to W. H. Fremantle 14-26 March 1821 in the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies D/FR46/11/46-50 show how Westmeath used the claim that he had evidence that the Duke had had an affair with his wife to attempt to put pressure on the Duke to persuade his wife to accept terms more favourable to him. I am most grateful to Charles Fremantle for bringing these letters to my attention. In late 1837 Wellington wrote to the Whig Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring Rice, explaining that the Duke of Clarence had approached both him and King George IV seeking a pension for Lady Westmeath, and that the King raised her name with Wellington rather than the other way round: Wellington to Spring Rice, 7 December 1837, WP 2/48/91.
Lord Westmeath’s allegations that Wellington had had an affair with Lady Westmeath:
On 23 March 1821 the Marquess of Buckingham wrote to W. H. Fremantle, ‘I must assure you that the evidence detailed to me [by Lord Westmeath] is compleat.’ (Buckingham to Fremantle, Confidential, 23 March 1821, Fremantle Papers, Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies D/FR 46/11/48). However Buckingham was a friend of Lord Westmeath’s, and favoured him in the quarrels with Lady Westmeath, even providing a home for Lord and Lady Westmeath’s daughter after her father had forcibly removed her from her mother’s care; and Buckingham was writing to ‘warn’ Wellington of the danger of the case becoming public if he did not persuade Lady Westmeath to drop her proceedings against her estranged husband. The attempt at blackmail – or something very like it – failed; and yet Lord Westmeath did not sue for divorce on the grounds of adultery nor make his ‘evidence’ public. On the whole it seems more likely that Wellington got caught up in a particularly unpleasant separation, than that he ever had an affair with Lady Westmeath.
Lady Westmeath’s allegation that Lord Westmeath previously encouraged her to have an affair with Wellington:
One of the stranger twists in the Westmeath tale is the claim – made many years later by Lady Westmeath – that when visiting Paris in 1815 Lord Westmeath’s mother urged her to have an affair with Wellington in order to put her husband ‘at the top of the tree’. When she reported this to her husband he simply laughed and said “Oh! My poor dear mother, she did not know what an old square-toes she was speaking to when she said that to you.” (Quoted in Stone Broken Lives p 300-301). This is most plausibly explained either as a joke in poor taste, or a later invention arising out of the bitterness of the divorce and legal proceedings which occupied much of Lady Westmeath’s life.
A few years later an acquaintance described Malcolm at a dinner in his honour attended by a number of senior politicians including Wellington, which gives a sense of his exuberance and charm:
Malcolm rattled away precisely as he would have done at his own table in Bombay, kept everybody in good humour, though he took all the talk to himself, and really commanded my admiration for his ease and independence among a class of people for whom I know him to entertain so excessive a respect. He made no attempt to adapt his conversation to them, or please anybody but himself … I can now account for his popularity with all people of note whom I have heard talk of him. It could never have been gained by mere courting of favour, or sustained by any one who had less frankness, good humour and talent. (Colebrooke Life of Elphinstone vol 2 p 300 entry for 28 March 1831).
In 1823 when Alava arrived in England, Wellington took him to Coutts & Co. his bank and introduced him: ‘This is my friend, and as long as I have any money at your house, let him have it to any amount that he feels proper to draw for.’ (Edna Healey Coutts & Co. p 250 citing the bank’s archives. Alava told the story in the same words himself, many years later: Stanhope Notes of Conversations 19 June 1840 p 240-1).
It was commonly believed that Alava was the only man to have fought at both Trafalgar and Waterloo (in the Spanish navy and on Wellington’s staff, respectively); however it appears that Henry Bellairs, who died on 17 March 1872, had been wounded twice when serving in the Navy at Trafalgar, and then served with the 15th Hussars at Waterloo. (Foster Wellington and Waterloo p 176).
In 1824 Wellington told Mrs Arbuthnot, ‘Alava has been in town since I brought him up last week; and I am sorry to say he passed two days at Holland House while I was at Pansanger. I am sorry for this, as it will give occasion for the King & others to attack him for his Communication with the Opposition. I confess also that I know enough of Alava not to be very willing to talk freely before him, if he passes much of his time with the Opposition. He is not very discreet, as you will have seen; and he quotes his Authority very freely…’ (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot, 31 August 1824, Wellington and His Friends p 45-46).
Alava accompanied Wellington to the Netherlands in 1825 where, according to Mrs Arbuthnot, he quarreled with the Duke:
The Duke appeared to have been highly pleased with his tour thro’ the Netherlands & to Paris, & gave me a laughable account of a correspondence he had had with Alava who went with him as far as Bruxelles, where they found “La bête feroce” [Mrs Panther or Parnther with whom Alava was in love, and whose portrait is reproduced in Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 413]. The Duke told me that, all the while they were at Bruxelles, Alava behaved shamefully to her, was cross and out of temper the whole time and was evidently very much displeased at the attentions which the Duke paid to her. The Duke took her to the play & to see the sights of the place, went over the field of Waterloo with her and did all he could to make up for Alava’s ill humour. Alava was furious at all this, and was so excessively jealous that he made himself and the Duke the jest of all Bruxelles and of all England. After the Duke left Bruxelles, Alava wrote to him complaining of his misfortunes and the treatment he had met with, & the Duke took the opportunity of remonstrating with him on his gross folly. He reminded him that he had no right to act in that manner to any woman, much less by one who had given him no authority over her; that Mrs Panther did not desire to have a lover and that, if she did, she wd. certainly not choose either of them. He entreated Alava to consider the folly of making them the talk of all England, un vieillard sur des bequilles accusant un autre vieillard de lui avoir soufflé sa maitresse! Alava got a little more quiet after this lecture, and we expect him back in England next month.’ (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 21 September 1825 vol 1 p 413).
Mrs Panther’s reluctance to accept Alava as a lover is partly explained by Mrs Arbuthnot’s comment a few months previously 1825 that ‘tho’ he is very amiable and charming, he goes on crutches, has black teeth & is not at all what one can fancy as a heros de roman.’ (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 22 July 1825 vol 1 p 409).
In 1831 Charles Arbuthnot told his wife, ‘Last night [the Duke] was very warm about Alava. It drives the Duke wild everything being repeated out of his house. He feels that he has proofs of Alava’s repeating everything. He says that if Alava was not going away he shd have an explanation with him. He is quite sure that not a single thing is done in the House, not a visit paid, & not a Person dining there without its being told all over London.’ (Charles to Harriet Arbuthnot, 15 Dec 1831 Arbuthnot Papers, University of Aberdeen 3029/1/10).
According to George Gleig, ‘Alava was a Spaniard to the backbone, and a liberalized Spaniard. Whether he had any religious belief at all, is doubtful, but certain it is, that he hated the Roman Catholic priesthood with no ordinary hatred, and that feeling extended itself during his residences in England, till it embraced the whole body of the clergy of the Established Church, and the ministers of all denominations.’ Gleig adds that Alava never learnt to speak English fluently and that even his French was poor, and ‘His conversation consisted entirely, either of the gossip of the day, or of anecdotes of the Peninsular War, neither very interesting in themselves, nor very articulately repeated.’ However Gleig’s hostility is palpable and so his evidence needs to be treated with some caution. (Gleig Personal Reminiscences of the Duke of Wellington p 151-3).
Wellington’s visit to the battlefield of Waterloo in 1825, and his remark that ‘They have spoilt my battlefield’:
This was probably Wellington’s last visit to the battlefield, and it does not figure prominently in any of the primary sources (the passing reference in Mrs Arbuthnot’s journal quoted above being the most substantial). Work on the Butte de Lion Monument had already begun at this time, and if Wellington ever made the remark that ‘They have spoilt my battlefield’ (or ruined, or destroyed), it is likely to have been on the occasion of this visit. However there is no good source for the remark, and it seems likely that the words have been put into his mouth, possibly a few years later by Victor Hugo. (See also Foster Wellington and Waterloo p 111).
Wellington and London Clubs:
Several amusing if surely apocryphal stories are told about Wellington and Clubs. He is said to have warned the Kildare Club in(Longford Wellington: Pillar of State p 150). Dublin ‘Very well, think what you are about, but if you let in the bishops, mind your umbrellas.’ And, barely more plausibly, ‘While the Guards Club was closed for seasonal cleaning its members were enjoying the hospitality of the Oxford and Cambridge. A young visitor from the Brigade threw himself into a chair next to an elderly gentleman hidden behind a newspaper. “I say,” drawled the affable visitor, “you fellows in the middle classes do yourselves well and no mistake!” The newspaper was lowered to disclose the face of the Duke of Wellington.’ (Longford Wellington: Pillar of State p 150).
Wellington’s membership of Crockfords, despite his dislike of gambling, was ascribed by some to a desire to be able to blackball his sons from becoming members! (Longford Wellington: Pillar of State p 150).
Wellington and Lady Cowper:
Lady Cowper was not naturally one of Wellington’s circle, being the sister of William Lamb (later Lord Melbourne) and mistress (and later wife) of Lord Palmerston, but her letters in the early and mid 1820s show a real friendship and admiration: ‘I cannot express how fond I am of that Man. There is always something so honest and straightforward in all he does and says.’ And ‘[The] Duke [of] W[ellington] is to dine with us on the 22nd, and to toad out him [sic], I have invited Mrs A[rbuthnot]. There is nothing I would not do to please him, he is such a love…’ (Lady Cowper to her brother Frederick Lamb 25 May  and 14 July  Letters of Lady Palmerson p 125, 138).
The fête at Woolwich, 6 August 1822:
Princess Lieven also took part in the occasion, but she was less enthusiastic about it, telling Metternich,
I spent twelve solid hours at Woolwich, from noon till midnight. I took a complete course in practical gunnery. I loathe the noise of cannon, but I had to put up with it standing at the very mouth of one of the wretched things. I watched the assault; I watched the cannons crossing the river like ducks; I had a miserable lunch in the company of three hundred people; I watched a ball and, after that, fireworks. Later I went for a walk in the illuminated shrubberies – and all the time on the arm of the Duke of York. I forgot to mention the review of two regiments. I felt out of place; I have not a military mind, and my cavalier did not succeed in explaining anything. Heavens, how he bored me the whole day! What an excellent way of learning to dislike someone, to be compelled to spend twelve hours side by side! (Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich, 6 August 1822 Private Letters p 187-88)
Wellington gives Mrs Arbuthnot a necklace for her birthday:
Wellington’s letter accompanying the present is worth quoting, as it shows side of his personality that is too easily overlooked:
Tomorrow is your Birthday; and I enclose you a petit Cadeau which you will receive when you awake tomorrow morning, which I hope will serve to remind you sometimes of one who has a sincere regard and affection for you. It is peculiarly appropriate to the 10th of September. The Stones were strung upon a sword given to me by a Mahratta Chief upon the occasion of the first Battle I ever won on my own Bottom; and it was won upon an early anniversary of your Birthday, as far back, I am sorry to say, as twenty two years ago. They cannot be better employed than as a feeble token to you of my sincere regard offered on the anniversary of the same day that I gained them; of which I sincerely hope you may live to enjoy many returns. (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot, London 9 September 1822 Wellington and His Friends p 30-31).
Princess Lieven described Lady Granville in terms which make friendship with Wellington easy to understand:
My friend in London is quite distracted at the thought of spending her days amongst the Dutch ladies. She will make an extremely odd Ambassadress. She cannot bear any kind of constraint; and her sole pleasure in society is to get into the most obscure corner of a drawing-room, equipped with her lorgnettes, so that she can see how ridiculous all the surrounding faces are, and accompanied by someone she can laugh with. She has never learnt how to be polite. I have often seen the King of England call her to sit by him – and two minutes later she would leave him because she did not find him amusing. (Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich, 30 January 1824 Private Letters p 307-8).
Wellington in Society:
Wellington would not always rise to the bait of talking of his campaigns and military matters: in 1828 Lord William Russell noted in his diary, ‘Went across the country to Laleham. Duke of Wellington came to dine, looking well but thin. I endeavoured to make him talk on military discipline, on which he has clear, sound, but peculiar notions, but he prefers telling gossiping stories to the ladies, probably as a délassement after his labours.’ (Diary of Lord William Russell, 7 April 1828, in Blakiston Lord William Russell and His Wife p 163).
And in 1819 Maria Edgeworth, whose fondness for Kitty often made her highly critical of Wellington, wrote that ‘His manner [was] very agreeable perfectly simple and dignified. He said only a few words but listened to some literary conversation that was going on as if he was amused laughing once heartily’. (Maria Edgeworth Letters from England 2 April 1819 p 191).
Edward Littleton describes Wellington’s visit to his house in the country:
Lord Wellesley’s son-in-law, Edward Littleton entertained Wellington with shooting and hunting in November 1821. He arrived late on the first day but was persuaded to come in to dinner without dressing. ‘He seemed in high spirits, and told us by way of apology for his late arrival, that they had detained him at Walsall, though it was dark, to look at him. I afterwards heard, that inhabitants had assembled and that the Mayor had addressed him in complimentary terms …’. The third day of the visit of the visit was spent shooting: ‘The Duke seemed to enjoy it very much, though he was evidently a little fagged. His precision in making the wheels in covert, for we were at least 30 persons in line including the keepers and beaters, and his remarks as to the best mode of driving the wood were characteristic of him’. And on the last full day Littleton organized a hunt: ‘The country folk were anxious to see the Duke, and I thought this the best mode of showing him, and he himself remarked that it was not a bad way of being seen. About 400 persons were assembled on the Chase…’ (Hatherton Diary 18-21 November 1821).
Shooting at Stratfield Saye:
The Times of 14 February 1825 lists the party assembled at Stratfield Saye in mid January as: ‘H.R.H. the Duke of York, Earl of Westmorland, Lord Frederick Cholmondeley, Lord Palmerston, Marquis of Salisbury, Sir John Shelley and Lady, Right Honourable Charles Arbuthnot, his Lady, and two daughters, Colonel Ponsonby, and C.S. Lefevre, Esq’.
In four days the party shot 414 pheasants, 20 woodcock, 284 hares, 142 rabbits, 3 partridges and 4 snipe’ (quoted in Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 371n).
Wellington as host:
‘A kinder or more considerate host than the great Duke of Wellington could not be. He made you at home in the happiest manner possible by leaving you throughout the greater part of the day to take care of yourself, and making it optional whether you would or would not join any combined excursion that might be proposed.’ (Gleig Personal Reminscences of the First Duke of Wellington p 141).
The house of Stratfield Saye:
The Rev. George Gleig, who first got to know Stratfield Saye a decade after Wellington had taken possession of it, was more charitable in his description: ‘There is a noble hall open to the ceiling, and the living-rooms, though narrow and low in the roof, are extremely comfortable. They run off into long galleries of which the effect is good, and the bedrooms are both numerous and convenient.’ (Gleig Personal Reminiscences of the First Duke of Wellington p 126).
Wellington playing cards:
According to Princess Lieven Wellington was far from skilled but reluctant to admit it:
Yesterday I held a hand of cards for the third time in my life. I settled down to a game of picquet with the Duke of Wellington. He knows as little about it as I do; and the only difference between us is that I play badly and know it, and he plays badly and thinks he plays well. It is incredible how his pride has a share in everything that he does. It plunges him into despair not to be able to do something, or to do it badly. It is a strange vanity. Men have a great deal of it, a hundred times more than we have… (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich 6 January 1821 p 101-2).
Wellington takes women’s opinions seriously, unlike some modern historians:
In 1833 Lady Salisbury noted in her diary that ‘He thinks men generally inferior in real and useful information to women, and that many a young man reads to be fit for the society of women.’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 22 December 1833, Oman (ed) Gascoyne Heiress p 100).
Not all modern writers are as enlightened. Even a fine historian like Peter Jupp could write ‘the Duke [by 1829] … reserved his most active hours to Mrs Arbuthnot and an admiring and, it would seem, pliant coterie of women friends…’ (P. J. Jupp ‘Irish Parliamentary Elections and the Influence of the Catholic Vote, 1801-1820’ Historical Journal vol 10 1967 p 195). The implications of this snide and condescending remark are simply wrong at almost every level: the suggestion that Wellington was a lazy prime minister is absurd, and is amply disproved both by the original sources and by Jupp’s own later study of Wellington’s government, where he remarks that Wellington ‘proved to be a prodigiously hard-working prime minister’ (Jupp Eve of Reform p 45). It is also wrong to suggest that Wellington socialized mainly with women: he spent his time in mixed company, but our impression of his social life in the 1820s is skewed by the fact that a number of his close women friends kept diaries (Lady Shelley, Mrs Arbuthnot and, later, Lady Salisbury) which give a richly detailed view of his views and of him in society; the balance was somewhat redressed in later years by notes of his conversation kept by Stanhope, Ellesmere and other men friends. Nor is it correct to suggest that Wellington was surrounded by a coterie of sycophantic admirers: his friends included as many Whigs as Tories, and they were far from uncritical of him; and he clearly enjoyed Mrs Arbuthnot’s company in particular because she was willing to challenge and contest his opinions. The same can hardly be said of many of his contemporaries, or indeed of many modern male politicians. Finally there is an underlying implication that a man would only turn to women friends for uncritical admiration or sexual favours (for that is surely the meaning of ‘pliant’ in this context) which, whatever it says more about attitudes in 1967, is a serious misreading of Wellington’s personality and outlook. (Jupp was not the only first rate historian to reveal such attitudes: something similar can be seen in the first volume Norman Gash’s otherwise superb biography of Peel published in 1961: Mr Secretary Peel e.g. p 659).
Longford’s interpretation of Wellington’s character:
Longford writes that:
It might be thought, however, that Arthur was neither fair to Kitty in his earlier charges, nor accurate in his self-analysis. Eulogies of a quiet home life were all very well; but the women with whom he could have been happy – Lady Charlotte Greville, Mrs Patterson, Mrs Arbuthnot herself – attracted him by their beauty, wit, grasp of politics and social graces rather than their domesticity. Wellington’s ideal life was an army mess and his ideal family the military ‘family’ of his aides-de-camp. ‘My boys’, as he called his young staff officers, could never be entirely supplanted in his imagination even by his own sons. Though he thought the opposite, he would not have been the easiest of men to live with as a husband. (Longford Wellington: Pillar of State p 81).
This seems almost willfully wrong-headed. Wellington’s yearning for domestic comfort clearly does not imply a withdrawal from society and the substitution of ‘slippers by the fireside’, but rather the happy domestic life of the Arbuthnots, where both husband and wife shared a passion for politics and were important figures in London society. Nor does anything in Wellington’s life in the years after 1818 support the idea that he would have been happier in the all male society of an army mess. It is true that he occasionally recalled his life on active service with a tinge of nostalgia, but he did so talking to one of his many female friends in her drawing-room, or walking in her garden, not in the female-free society of a gentleman’s club. And while the final point – that Wellington would not have been the easiest man to have as a husband – is undoubtedly true, his behaviour to Mrs Arbuthnot, Lady Shelley, Marianne Patterson and, in later years, Angela Burdett-Coutts, shows a great reserve of tenderness and consideration that never found an adequate outlet.
© Rory Muir