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Commentary for Volume 2, Chapter 30: In the Midst of Life
Wellington’s old age:
Several of Wellington’s friends depicted his last years as being unhappy and lonely in their reminiscences. For example, Ellesmere wrote
His private life of latter years was very lonely. His increasing deafness made conversation laborious to him, and the intercourse of the dinner-table what it always must be for the deaf, tantalizing….
While Arbuthnot remained to him, it was easier for him to entertain common friends of both than it afterwards became, and though to the last I could depend upon the same cheerful and cordial reception by him at Apsley House, I would not on any account have suggested myself as a guest at dinner, as I sometimes did when Arbuthnot was at hand.
At Walmer he may be said to have been alone sometimes for weeks. His sound sleep by night never left him, though latterly he slept a good deal by day. I have often looked into his room at Apsley House, and found him fast in his chair, in a chaos of papers, which I might have read without a chance of rousing him. (Ellesmere Personal Reminiscences p 90-91).
And as early as 1842 Lord Mahon noted,
I have been painfully struck at remarking how much the Duke’s sources of enjoyment and relaxation are yearly declining. When I first knew him, who so fond of hunting and shooting? The latter he has more than eight years, the former more than two, relinquished. Riding he still uses as a means of health, but seems much less to delight in. Country visits were once very agreeable to him; from these he now wholly abstains. But what strikes me most of late is the loss of his taste for music. Formerly, whenever Lady Mahon or any other lady accomplished in music dined with him, he was always eager for some songs, and delighted in them when sung: now he often omits to ask for, of if he does ask for seems more apathetic in hearing, them. I have within the last year, or year and a half, observed nearly the same of him at concerts. Thus one by one all his pleasures have dropped from him like leaves from a tree in winter. One only remains – public or private business which … he transacts with undiminished alacrity and readiness. His zeal for public service – his determination to fill his part and do his duty – will never, I am persuaded, end but with his life.’ (Stanhope Notes 10 October 1842 p 283).
However these accounts must not be accepted too readily, for they are not entirely accurate and they present only a partial, one-sided, view of Wellington’s final years. To take a simple example: Mahon says that Wellington gave up hunting in about 1834 and shooting about 1840. But in his letters to Lady Wilton Wellington describes an – admittedly unsuccessful – day’s hunting at the end of 1841 (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 31 December 1841 Wellington and His Friends p 174-5); and a day’s shooting with Prince Albert in January 1842 in which he thought that ‘I walked as well as any of the Party, and shot better than any excepting Prince Albert’ (ibid 27 Jan 1842 p 177). In October 1846 he told Angela Burdett-Coutts ‘I have been out with the hounds and had a good gallop. The Hunt was at a greater distance than the day you was here, and the Sport better.’ The following January, ‘I have been Hunting since early hours this morning, and have returned without accident or catching cold.’ And in November 1847 at Walmer, ‘I have been out this morning with the Harriers between here and Dover.’ (Wellington to Angela Burdett-Coutts, 16 October 1845, [?] January 1846, 9 November 1847 in Patterson Angela Burdett-Coutts p 86, 88). As late as 1850 he told Lady Salisbury: ‘I have been out hunting all this morning with Harriers, the morning has been quite mild and beautiful but the weather is cold.’ (Wellington to Lady Salisbury, Walmer, 29 Oct 1850 Great Man’s Friendship p 144). And in 1852 he mentions that he intends to go out for a gallop with the hunt at Stratfield Saye (Wellington to Mrs Jones 27 February 1852 ‘Selection of Letters’ p 181).
Mahon’s claim that the Duke lost his taste for music seems equally doubtful, for there are many references to his attending concerts – both public events such as the choral performance at Exeter Hall in 1842, and private recitals like the concert at the Duke of Beaufort’s in July 1852, which are mentioned in the text. And in 1848 Wellington told Angela Burdett-Coutts: ‘I like Musick because I can hear it; and I prefer the best, which is, in my opinion, at present Jenny Lind. I don’t go to the Theatre to seek for Company or Gossip! On the contrary, when I can hear at the Theatre, I wish to avoid Company.’ (Wellington to Angela Burdett-Coutts, 5 August 1848 Wellington and His Friends p 263).
On the other hand it is true that he largely ceased country house visiting, telling Mrs Jones:
The country-house society is the most agreeable in England!
It is perfectly understood and well arranged in all parts of the country. I have been in the habit of visiting much, and enjoyed the society until I have become so deaf as to be unfit for social life; and I now go only to attend Her Majesty’s Invitation, or to meet Her Majesty as recently at Lord Ellesmere’s, as I find it irksome to pass eighteen hours out of twenty-four in Society, and not hear one word that is said. I never go anywhere now excepting to Lord Salisbury’s for a night. (Wellington to Mrs Jones, 15 October 1851 ‘Selections from Wellington’s Letters’ p 175; My Dear Mrs Jones p 20).
And when he was unwell, between 1839 and 1841, and perhaps for a little while after, he showed some signs of being inclined to withdraw from society. Greville wrote that,
The Duke of Wellington is remarkably well. I saw him yesterday for the first time since the Council at Windsor, and he said he never was better. But he is altered in character strangely. He has now a morbid aversion to seeing people, which nearly amounts to madness. Nobody can get access to him, not even his nearest relations. When anybody applies for an interview, he flies into a passion, and the answers which he dictates to letters asking for audiences (or asking for anything) are so brutally uncivil and harsh that Algy constantly modifies or alters them. The Duke fancies he is so engaged that he cannot spare time to see anybody, but this never prevents his receiving Wilton, who comes and bores him as much as he pleases; womankind retains its influence still. This peculiarity is the more remarkable, because formerly his weakness was a love of being consulted by everybody, and mixed up in everything. Nobody was ever in a difficulty without applying to him; innumerable were the quarrels, tracasseries, scandals, intrigues, and scrapes which he had to arrange and compose….’ (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey & Fulford) 24 November 1841 vol 4 p 427).
There is clearly a good deal of exaggeration in this account, but in December 1840 he wrote a rather odd letter to Lady Burghersh from Stratfield Saye informing her that Prosper Merimée, the celebrated French author, and Alava, would be visiting him and wondering if she might like to meet them? ‘But what I am most anxious about is to avoid to bore you or anybody with me and my neighbours.’ Two days later he wrote again:
It was all very well to invite people to come here when I had plenty of shooting to amuse the young and active, and horses to lend the young ladies. The residence here was then agreeable.
But the shooting being destroyed everywhere; and having for some years discontinued the keeping so many horses, as I could not ride them, I cannot but consider this residence and Walmer Castle a bore. There is no society for visitors excepting that of a Veteran; and a few vulgar neighbours, and people are much happier at home. (Wellington to Lady Burghersh, Stratfield Saye 7 and 9 December 1840 Correspondence of Lady Burghersh with the Duke of Wellington p 131-33).
The apologetic, under-confident tone of these letters is strikingly uncharacteristic, but it may arise from a furious row between the Duke and Lady Burghersh the previous August when he had been furious that she had let a protégé inspect his pictures without his knowledge or permission. (Haydon Diary 16 August 1840 vol 4 p 662). Whatever the hurt caused at the time, their relations recovered.
But again, it is important not to generalize too much from this incident. Wellington’s social life in London was intensely active right up to the end of his life, and some of his complaints to Angela Burdett-Coutts about his unfitness for society may have been because he was hoping to see Lady Salisbury, Mrs Jones or someone else at some other social event.
Wellington’s health and spirits, 1846-52:
In February 1847 Greville noted: ‘I saw the Duke of W. last night for the first time for many months, in high health and spirits.’ (Greville Memoirs ed Strachey and Fulford [8 February 1847] vol 5 p 417). Two months later Wellington described the first meeting of the Lords in their new Chamber to Lady Wilton and added: ‘I am sorry to say that all find that it is a bad hearing Room, otherwise beautiful and convenient beyond description. I have not yet found a Place in which I can hear at all. It is almost time that I should withdraw.’ (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 17 April 1847 Wellington and His Friends p 205-6). In June Greville remarked that, ‘He is, however, very happy on the whole, in excellent health, and treated with the greatest deference and attention by everybody. The Queen is excessively kind to him. …. All these attentions marvellously please him.’ (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey and Fulford) 19 June 1847 vol 5 p 454-55). A few weeks later Greville presented a more critical picture:
He is in wonderful vigour of body, but strangely altered of mind, which is in a fitful uncertain state, and there is no knowing in what mood he may be found; everybody is afraid of him, nobody dares to say anything to him; he is sometimes very amiable and good-humoured, sometimes very irritable and morose. …. Then he is astonishing the world by the strange intimacy he has struck up with Miss Burdett Coutts, with whom he passes his life, and all sorts of reports have been rife of his intention to marry her. Such are the lamentable appearances of decay in his vigorous mind… (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey and Fulford) 13 July 1847 vol 5 p 460-1).
But it is hard to see how Wellington’s friendship for Angela Burdett-Coutts could possibly be interpreted as a ‘decay in his vigorous mind’, which casts doubt over the rest of Greville’s comments. Sir George Napier wrote in 1847, ‘The Duke is a very difficult man to deal with, in his old age, & if once made angry, there is an end to everything.’ (quoted in Sweetman Wellington’s Legacy p 18). This may well be true, although it may also have been said with equal truth of Wellington in the Peninsula.
In October 1848 Brougham remarked that ‘The D[uke] is better than ever & in great force’ (Brougham to Charles Arbuthnot, Walmer Castle [22 October 1848] Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 250). While in the following year Hobhouse recorded hosting a dinner at which ‘I sat next to the Duke of Wellington, who told me that one of his ears, the left, was of no use to him, the other of very little, and that he could scarcely hear at all in the House of Lords. He looked very well… He is a very wonderful man in every way, and, as Napier said to me, “I hope that he may be long spared to us.”’ (Broughton Recollections of a Long Lifetime vol 6 p 232 Diary 10 March 1849).
In late 1850 Wellington told Lady Salisbury, ‘I have very little, if any cold. But the Rheumatism in my neck is very bad. It gives me a good deal of trouble. But I hope to rub it off at last.’ (Wellington to Lady Salisbury, 18 December 1850 Great Man’s Friendship p 162). And on New Year’s Day 1851 he added, ‘I still continue to feel Rheumatism and intolerable Deafness. I really should not care about it; if people would leave me alone! But they will insist upon keeping Company with me. I do not feel it so much in London as I am more alone! but with company in my house in the country, I am annoyed all day. I am certain I catch cold in my Ears at night! Which causes Deafness and Rheumatism in my neck next day.’ (Wellington to Lady Salisbury, 1 January 1851, Great Man’s Friendship p 168). Almost a week later he was no better:
I assure you that for some whole days I never hear the Human Voice Divine!
Yesterday Lord FitzRoy Somerset came down here. Poor Sir Willoughby Gordon’s death had rendered necessary our conversation by word of mouth. I saw him as soon as he came and heard him perfectly.
We dined as usual at seven. There were Lord and Lady Charles, Lord Fitzroy and myself, and from that time forwards till I went to bed at eleven I never heard one word that was said….
The truth is that a Personage as deaf as I am has no business with social life. If there had been ten, twenty, thirty persons I might have done very well, but with two or three it is not possible. (Wellington to Lady Salisbury, 6 January 1851 p 171).
Yet less than a month before he died he declared that ‘I have none of the infirmities of old age! excepting Vanity perhaps! But that is a disease of the mind, not of the Body! My deafness is accidental! If I was not deaf, I really believe that there is not a youth in London who could enjoy the world more than myself or could bear fatigue better! but being deaf, the spirit, not the body, tires! One gets bored, and in boring others, and one becomes too happy to get home.’ (Wellington to Lady Salisbury, 29 August 1852 Great Man’s Friendship p 314-15).
The sculptor Edward Hodges Baily experienced Wellington’s temper at its worst when, through no fault of his own he missed an appointment and kept the Duke waiting for a whole afternoon. On the next day, Baily appeared and
The Duke came down as soon as Baily was announced, & on entering flew at him in a fury. Baily told me he actually said “God damn & blast ye; why can’t ye be content with what ye have all done without harassing me in this damn & blasted manner?” Baily said he bent his fist to knock the clay model to pieces, but the Duke got up on the horse, & he modelled away.
When he had done sitting & he withdrew, Baily took his bag up to the Steward, & retired to the Inn to dine. The Steward said, “Sir, the Duke expects you at dinner, & to sleep here.” “Tell the Duke,” said Baily, “I’ll be damned if I’ll dine at the table of any man who used me as he has done.”
Baily went up to the Inn & was drinking his wine, when he saw a groom galloping towards the House. He enquired for Mr Baily. He was shewn in. Baily said, “Tell the Duke I’ll neither dine or sleep at his table or House.”
The next day he went again. The Duke came in, in a very bad temper, & said, “I suppose I may read my letters!” He say & read, & tore open his letters in a fury. Baily finished. The Duke began to melt & excuse himself, offered to sit again, but Baily refused.
Haydon, who records the story, is charitable enough to add, ‘I like this burst of character, & thank God, he is human like ourselves.’ (Haydon Diary 10 June 1844 vol 5 p 370-1. Haydon spells Baily’s name Bailey, but Baily appears to be the correct form. He notes that ‘Bailey assured me he had exaggerated nothing’).
The best verbal description of Wellington’s appearance in the last years of his life comes from Thomas Carlyle, although it too is not free from Victorian sentiment:
Truly a beautiful old man; I had never seen till now how beautiful, and what an expression of graceful simplicity, veracity and nobleness there is about the old hero when you see him close at hand. His very size had hitherto deceived me. He is a shortish slightish figure, about five feet eight, of good breadth however, and all muscle or bone. His legs, I think, must be the short part of him, for certainly on horseback I have always taken him to be tall. Eyes beautiful light blue, full of mild valour, with infinitely more faculty and geniality than I had fancied before; the face wholly gentle, wise, valiant and venerable. The voice too, as I again heard, is ‘aquiline’, clear, perfectly equable – uncracked, that is – and perhaps almost musical, but essentially tenor or almost treble voice – eighty-two, I understand. He glided slowly along, slightly saluting this or that other, clear, clean, fresh as this June evening itself, till the silver buckle of his stock vanished into the door of the next room and I saw him no more. (Carlyle quoted in Guedalla The Duke p 451-2).
However there was no denying that age took its toll on Wellington’s handwriting, and by the late 1840s it often presented a formidable puzzle to his many correspondents. On one occasion Croker returned a letter to the Duke’s private secretary, with a request that he decipher it, only for the secretary to admit defeat. ‘The Duke,’ he told Croker, ‘always writes without spectacles; he fancies his eyes are much stronger and better than they were twenty years ago. He consequently often writes parts of words only, often omits them altogether.’ Unfortunately the secretary’s own hand resembled the Duke’s all too closely, sometimes even surpassing it in opacity. (Croker Papers vol 3 p 213 (note by the editor). The secretary was Algernon Greville, brother of the diarist).
Wellington and Foreign visitors:
Wellington’s eminence meant that foreign dignitaries looked forward to meeting him as one of the highpoints of their visit to Britain. Improved communications, railways and steamships, made travel quicker and easier, and this led to a considerable number of such visitors in the 1840s and 50s. Some were of real importance: the King of Prussia, the Emperor of Russia and Louis Philippe of France, all came in the space of a few years and engaged in significant diplomatic discussions, (although whether these actually led to improved relations or created misunderstandings is at least open to debate). Wellington was a prominent figure on all these occasions, for example greeting the King of Prussia at Greenwich wearing the uniform of a Prussian Field Marshal with the Order of the Black Eagle. ‘The King instantly seized both his hands and said, “My dear Duke, I am rejoiced to see you. This is indeed a great day.”’ Similarly he wore his Russian uniform at the military review held in honour of the Emperor Nicholas in 1844 and, placing himself at the head of the Grenadier Guards, saluted the Queen and Emperor, while the air resounded with cheers and Nicholas rode up and shook him by the hand. (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 23 January 1842 Wellington and His Friends p 176; Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey and Fulford) 24 January 1842 and 10 June 1844 vol 5 p 6 and 176-77).
Wellington was happy to take part in such grand occasions but found the demands of less significant visitors increasingly tiresome. In 1847 he complained about a visit from the Grand Duchess of Weimar and her fondness for long lunches: ‘It is really too hard upon a Man seventy-nine [years] of Age to be obliged to pass His Time in this way. I was nearly three Hours at Luncheon on Friday! Three Hours at Dinner yesterday; besides waiting at Home for this Prussian Prince the whole morning dressed in a Prussian Uniform covered with Stars and Ribbands and I shall be three Hours more with the Princes this day.’ A year later, entertaining another Prussian prince, he said that he was ‘bored to death’, and that he ‘ought to be allowed a little time’ to himself. (Wellington to Angela Burdett-Coutts, 4 July 1847, 25 and 26 April 1848 Wellington and His Friends p 244-5, 262-3. He was not seventy-nine in 1847 but had just turned seventy-eight, but he was never averse to stretching a point to emphasize a grievance).
The Queen’s visit to Stratfield Saye:
Queen Victoria’s determination to pay him the honour of a visit to Stratfield Saye in the winter of 1844-45 tested his habitual devotion to royalty to the limit. He told Lady Wilton, ‘Alas! it is but too true: the Queen is coming to pay be a visit at Stratfield Saye. I did everything I could to avoid the Subject: never mentioned the word Stratfield Saye, and kept out of Her Way. But I was summoned to Windsor last week…’ The house was really too small for the number of guests, and lacked the state apartments needed for royalty. ‘You recollect Poor Mrs Apostles the Housekeeper. I thought that she would have burst out crying while I was talking to Her of the Honour intended and the preparations to be made.’ In the event the visit was a success, and while Wellington was relieved when it was over (‘I thank God! the visitation is concluded’), the Duke reflected that it might well result in a practical benefit. ‘I think that the Result of this visit will be that the Prince will have a Tennis Court at Windsor, and a Billiard Table in the living apartments of the Castle, which will be a vast relief to the Habitués of the Castle. (Wellington to Lady Wilton, 2 December 1844 and 23 January 1845 Wellington and His Friends p 196-99).
The Queen gave a lengthy account of the visit in her private diary which is printed as an appendix in Wellington and His Friends p 291-3 which includes:
The Duke fetched us for luncheon at 2, & we sat at a small table, the others being at another one. The Duke helped us himself, – rather funnily, giving such large portions, & mixing up tarts & puddings together, but he is so kind & attentive about it. …. Some few other gentlemen came to dinner, & more neighbours afterwards. The Duke again sat next to me on the sofa, after dinner. He talked of Eu, of King Louis Philippe, – the receptions, the Royal Family, – the Princes, whom he thought ‘all very fine young men, in their way’, having received an excellent education. The Duke has each evening walked upstairs before me with a candle. (21 January 1845).
Mary Russell Mitford, the author of Our Village and many other works, lived at Three Mile Cross not far from Stratfield Saye and on the day the Queen left Stratfield Saye she arranged for all the children of the village, some two hundred and ninety of them, to line the Queen’s route at Swallowfield Lane to see the court pass and cheer. She described the event in a letter to Elizabeth Barrett, the poet,
The Queen looked pale and ill – simply dressed – smiling and well-behaved; the horses going at a foot pace, and the glasses [windows of the carriages] down. Prince Albert is decidedly handsome. Our Duke went to no great expense. One strip of carpet he bought, the rest of the additional furniture he hired in Reading for the week! The ringers at Strathfieldsaye … after being hard at work for four hours, sent a can to the house to ask for some strong beer, and the can was sent back empty! Also a poor band, who had been playing till the breath was out of their bodies, begged for a little dinner, and received such a piece of bread as is laid on a napkin for dinner and such a piece of cheese as is sent round on a napkin after dinner. … The Duke looked relieved beyond expression when he had made his last bow to his royal visitors; his whole countenance said plainly, “Thank God it’s over!” and no doubt he felt so. There was only one extraordinary thing in our children; Sir Robert Peel passed us, going to town by railway, just at the top of the village, and Jane says they hissed him! Is this not most remarkable? … they said, “There goes Sir Bobby,” and they hissed him. (Mary Russell Mitford to Elizabeth Browning, Three Mile Cross [autumn 1844] The Life of Mary Russell Mitford related in a selection from her letters to her friends edited by A. G. L’Estrange vol 3 p 182-5).
However this needs to be taken with more than a grain of salt. Miss Mitford was a warm Whig and, as she told Elizabeth Barrett in the next letter she wrote her, ‘my adoration of Napoleon … increases every day’ (ibid vol 3 p 185 letter of 28 November 1844). In other words she was predisposed to listen and repeat to any country gossip that disparaged Wellington.
In November 1841 he told Lady Burghersh, ‘On this very morning I have received not less than fifty letters, which might as well have been written to anybody else, as I have really nothing to say to that to which they relate.’ (Wellington to Lady Burghersh, 30 November 1841, Correspondence of Lady Burghersh with the Duke of Wellington p 142-3). While two years later he added, ‘I am tormented (that expression really represents what I undergo) to [present] something to a so-called Wellington Association at Glasgow. I can send nothing but such a medallion [by Wyon of himself]. Could you let me know where I could get such a one.’ (Wellington to Lady Westmorland, 23 August 1843, Correspondence of Lady Burghersh with the Duke of Wellington p 149).
In September 1847 he told Angela Burdett-Coutts, ‘My guests are gone thank God! My Dear Miss Angela, it is really the most unpleasant of all the Duties that I have to perform to find myself under the necessity of devoting my time to the entertainment of Silly people whose only occupation is to discover the means of filling their time; during the only moments when I might have a little relaxation!’ (Wellington to Angela Burdett-Coutts, 11 September 1847 Patterson Angela Burdett-Coutts p 92).
In September 1850 he wrote a long letter to Lady Salisbury full of grumbles, of which this is a taste:
I have frequently complained that the only animal in civilized Life who is never allowed any rest is the Duke of Wellington! All others are allowed some repose! The Duke of Wellington never any! It is quite curious that everybody thinks that he has a right to apply to me for everything.
If a foreigner comes to England, particularly an American, and wants to see anything, House of Lords, Palace, Tower, Arsenal of Woolwich, everything, he must apply to me; and the natives in the same way! Scarcely a day elapses that I have not to answer one or more that I am not a Show Man for the House of Lords, Tower, etc….
Then it is supposed that I am a good-natured Man, with whom Persons may venture to take liberties, and what the French call serviceable! that is with capacity to understand and do a thing if I undertake it. All of this put together is the cause of my being pestered as I am… (Wellington to Lady Salisbury, 29 September 1850 Great Man’s Friendship p 120-123).
But Haydon records his fellow artist David Wilkie’s shrewd comment on Wellington’s grumbling: ‘He told me the Duke complained of the loss of time sitting occasioned. “Yes,” said Wilkie, “but he would be mortified if he was not asked to sit! He complains of dining out so much & making speeches; but he would be more mortified,” said Wilkie, “if he was not asked, and if he did not make speeches.”’ (Haydon Diary 4 July 1839 vol 4 p 569; a very slightly different version appears in Haydon’s Autobiography and Journals p 564).
Death of Wellington’s brothers:
Richard’s characteristically inflated hope for a grand funeral at Westminster Abbey came to nothing, and he was buried in the Chapel at Eton. According to his grandson, who was a student at the school and present at the occasion, ‘It was melancholy to see all the old brothers with their Wellesley faces so like each other – three peers come to mourn over a fourth.’ And, ‘Lord Mornington [William had inherited the title from his brother, but not the despised Irish marquessate] and Dr. Wellesley [Gerald] were much affected … [but Wellington] folded his arms and looked sternly on the whole scene, what he felt he was determined not to show.’ While another account says that the Duke, who ‘had previously shown much feeling, being pale thoughtful and depressed’ became irritated when proceedings were delayed and told the undertaker, “Had you informed me that the funeral would not take place till eleven I could have been doing other THINGS!’ (Stanhope Notes 26 September 1842 p 278; Severn Architects of Empire p 517-18 quoting Richard Wellesley; Wake Sisters of Fortune p 315-16 quoting Hatherton).
Wellington was particularly attentive to William in his final illness, visiting every day and sending regular bulletins to William’s daughter Priscilla, formerly Lady Burghersh but now (following the death of her father-in-law) Lady Westmorland. Priscilla’s sister Mary died three weeks before her father, so Wellington’s kindness and support were particularly welcome. Henry served as British ambassador to France under Peel’s government, although the importance of the role was diminished by the strong personal ties between Aberdeen and Guizot. He remained in Paris after he left office, and died there on 27 April 1847. Wellington broke the news to Henry’s youngest son Gerald, who had been brought up by Kitty after his parent’s divorce, writing – as the historian John Severn remarks – ‘with great care and sensitivity.’ (Correspondence of Lady Burghersh and the Duke of Wellington p 160-70; Severn Architects of Empire p 518-26 quote on p 525).
Friendship with Brougham:
Lord Brougham was an even more unlikely friend than Anglesey, and in this case it is not clear how much real warmth the Duke felt for the maverick ex-Lord Chancellor, but they saw a good deal of each other in the Lords and in society, and Brougham stayed with Wellington at both Walmer and Stratfield Saye. ‘Lord Brougham … kept me sitting up half the night listening to His Gossip. He is still here, and I believe intends to stay this day; and I am writing this between breakfast time and going to Church; and [it] is quite clear to me that, if he stays, I shall not have a leisure moment from this time till I go to bed tonight…’ But whatever Brougham’s faults he was never a bore, and it is not hard to see the glint of amusement in the midst of Wellington’s grumbling. (Wellington to Angela Burdett-Coutts, 11 April 1847 Wellington and His Friends p 243).
Wellington’s letters to Angela Burdett-Coutts, Lady Salisbury and Mrs Jones:
Some 842 letters from Wellington to Angela Burdett-Coutts survive; but her letters to him do not. Extracts from his letters are published in Wellington and His Friends which were selected and edited by the seventh Duke. Curiously these do not include the passages suggesting much emotional closeness with the exception of Wellington’s letter declining Miss Burdett-Coutts’s suggestion that they marry. An overlapping but somewhat different selection of letters had already appeared in Angela Burdett-Coutts by Clara Burdett-Patterson published in 1953. (Remarkably the author as a child had known Angela Burdett-Coutts, her great aunt, around 1900). In Wellington and His Friends the seventh Duke comments that ‘the text [of Angela Burdett-Coutts] is wholly unreliable’. If this is taken to refer to the transcription of the letters, rather than the linking text, the judgement appears harsh, if not unfounded. There certainly are mistakes of transcription in Angela Burdett-Coutts: perhaps the most appealing being that ‘the Costermonger’s donkey’ is elevated to become ‘the Lord Mayor’s donkey’ (p 125), but they are not all that frequent, and Wellington’s late handwriting was notoriously difficult. Strangely the most interesting the revealing quotes from the Duke’s letters appear in Edna Healey’s Lady Unknown. The Life of Angela Burdett-Coutts and it may be significant that this was published after the death of the seventh Duke.
Wellington’s letters to Lady Salisbury were published in 1927 as A Great Man’s Friendship edited by Lady Burghclere, who was a friend of the family who says in the preface that she ‘owed Lady Derby [as Lady Salisbury became on her second marriage] a deep debt of affection and gratitude’. She based her text on copies of Wellington’s letters made by Lady Salisbury (although the originals were preserved and presumably consulted on occasion), and it is possible that some less discreet passages were omitted at some point in this process. Not that there is any suggestion that there was anything improper in Wellington’s friendship for Lady Salisbury: everything we know about it suggests quite the contrary. It is, however, surprising that the letters are so inconsequential, and do not include more politics, but perhaps Wellington felt that as Commander-in-Chief, and retired from the frontline of party politics, he needed to be more discreet than he had been earlier in his life; or perhaps Lady Salisbury was not then as interested in public affairs as she later became. (Still, this had not stopped him writing letters full of politics to Lady Wilton, who had clearly only a slight interest in it). Lord Salisbury was a Protectionist, and in opposition to the government until the fall of Lord John Russell and Derby taking office.
Finally Wellington’s letters to Mrs Jones were first published as ‘Selections from Wellington’s Letters’ by her daughter Mary Davies-Evans in The Century Magazine vol 30 no 2 in December 1889 p 163-83 and reprinted without the editorial introduction as My Dear Mrs Jones in a slim volume by the Rodale Press in 1954. Nothing in these letters suggests the warm flirtation that London gossip reported, but it is likely that if there was any such evidence in the originals, it would not have been published.
The partial nature of the evidence makes it hard to accurately assess Wellington’s relations with these three women, and raises the possibility that there were other friendships that are almost or completely unknown because the both parties destroyed the letters written at the time. Yet even if we had the full text of every letter from both sides of the correspondence we would still only see one friendship in one mode: what was said between them when they were together, how they behaved and looked at each other, is irretrievably lost, and without it even the full correspondence would lack context.
Wellington’s relations with Angela Burdett-Coutts:
On 26 February 1847, less than three weeks after Wellington’s letter declining her proposal, he wrote to her from Stratfield Saye, telling her that he had been ‘looking out and measuring walls with a view to break out doors and make passages, with a view to make fresh communication with my Apartment. In recollection of what you said to me some time ago as to your wishes.’ According to Healey this resulted in the construction of a private staircase which would facilitate communication between the Duke’s modest bedroom on the ground floor and the apartment used by Miss Burdett-Coutts immediately above. (Healey Lady Unknown p 91 including the quote). However the Seventh Duke apparently suggested that the staircase, which still exists, was intended rather for the Duke’s valet. (Hibbert Wellington. A Personal History p 392n).
After the Duke’s death Wellington’s sons and daughters-in-law treated Miss Burdett-Coutts with marked consideration and courtesy, suggesting that they felt that she had a special claim on their father but also that she was a friend of the whole family. For example, Lady Charles wrote to her on 1 November:
My dear Angela…
I am so glad that you are able to remain on at Reigate, I feel sure it must on every account be so much better for you than being in London, until time has in a measure, softened the sorrow you must so acutely feel.
I often think of you and grieve for you dear.
The children are quite well…
They all send you their love and kisses.
Believe me dear Angela,
Most affectionately and sincerely yours
Sophia C. W.
And the second Duke wrote to her several sympathetic letters (quoted in text and below) about the lying-in-state and the funeral, and was eager to make arrangements for her to attend the lying-in-state with privacy and convenience, signing his letters ‘Ever affectionately’ and ‘Yours affectionately’; while his brother, who wrote to say that he would accompany her to Chelsea, added, ‘You may naturally suppose that I have enough to do, so I shall only assure you how anxious I am to see you again. Yours affectionately…’ (All these letters printed in Patterson Angela Burdett-Coutts p 130-32).
This is all rather hard to interpret: it is most unlikely that Wellington’s sons would have written in this tone if they had believed that Angela Burdett-Coutts had been their father’s mistress; and quite certain that Lady Charles would not have written at all – let alone sent the ‘love and kisses’ of her children. Yet there is something more here than just consideration for a close friend of their father’s. Some piece of the context is missing, and without it speculation is likely to be misleading.
Mrs Jones of Pantglas:
She was born Margaret Charlotte Campbell, daughter of Sir George Campbell, 4th bart. probably in 1825 Her brother George, born 1824, became an Indian administrator (lieutenant-governor of Bengal in the early 1870s) and a Liberal party politician. Her uncle was Lord Campbell, the Liberal Lord Chancellor. In 1845 she married David Jones (1810-69), the High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire – a wealthy Welsh banking family. In 1850 they purchased the Pantglas estate in Llanfynydd and built a grand house there. He was elected (unopposed) MP for Carmarthenshire in 1852 as a Conservative, and held the seat for 16 years, never being opposed.
They mixed in the same social and political circles. For example on 8 February 1851 Wellington attended Lady Palmerston’s reception, and Mrs Jones was among the (admittedly long) list of other guests mentioned in the newspapers (Morning Post 10 Feb 1851). And again on 22 February (Morning Post 24 Feb 1851). On Monday 10 March Wellington attended a ‘delightful ball’ held by the Marchioness of Westmeath to celebrate the marriage of her niece, and again Mrs Jones was among the other guests (Morning Post 11 March 1851). On 2 June 1851 she held a small ‘thé dansant’ (a ‘tea dance’ or early evening dance) with Wellington and Lady Douro, and a very fashionable crowd (Morning Post 4 June 1851). On 18 June 1851 Angela Burdett-Coutts held a grand dinner for the Duke of Cambridge – Wellington came in about 11 o’clock (fresh from the Waterloo Banquet) and stayed an hour – and Mr and Mrs Jones were among the other guests (Morning Post 19 June 1851). Many similar parties in 1852.
Wellington’s letters to Mrs Jones were first published as ‘Selections from Wellington’s Letters’ by her daughter Mary Davies-Evans in The Century Magazine vol 30 no 2 in December 1889 p 163-83 and reprinted as My Dear Mrs Jones in a slim volume by the Rodale Press in 1954. Jane Welsh Carlyle reproached her husband for supposing that love played a small part in men’s (as opposed to women’s) lives, by referring to Wellington’s ‘love’ for Mrs Jones (Jane Welsh Carlyle The Simple Story of my own first Love accessed through The Carlyle Letters Online at http://carlyleletters.dukejournals.org), while Sarah Disraeli commented on it to Mary Anne Disraeli on 1 October 1851 Benjamin Disraeli Letters vol 5 p 480n. It is curious that neither of these women had first hand knowledge of the subject, while those who were in a position to observe Wellington’s behaviour directly have not left evidence of their reaction.
Wellington and Lady Georgiana Fane:
She was the daughter of Lord Westmorland, but not born until 1801 so Wellington didn’t know her, even as a child in Ireland. (She was the first child of his second marriage, in 1800, to the heiress Jane Saunders; so she was the half sister of Lady Jersey as well as the cousin of Mrs Arbuthnot). Palmerston knew her in the 1820s and had twice proposed to her and been refused in 1825 (Bourne Palmerston p 222-4). At that time she was often present in the same circles as Wellington, attending parties, singing with Alava in the boat coming back from Greenwich etc. According to Bourne she then declined into a mysterious and supposedly psychosomatic illness for many years and then there was the incident with Wellington. He also quotes Peel’s description of her as ‘the most impertinent and odious woman in England’, but that may simply mean that she was intelligent and vivacious and Peel was anxious to reassure Julia that he wasn’t attracted to her.’
Greville gives the most detailed account of the affair:
The only thing I have heard worth recording is a strange matter enough regarding the Duke of Wellington. He has got himself (at 82 years of age) into, if not a scrape, an embarrassment with Lady Georgiana Fane, who is half-cracked. It seems that he has for some years past carried on a sort of flirtation with her and a constant correspondence, writing her what might be called love letters, and woefully committing himself. He has now broke with her, and She persecutes him to death. She is troublesome and He is brutal. He will not see her or have anything to do with her. She tries to get at him, which it seems she can only do as he comes out of Church (early service) at St James’s; and she made a scene there not long ago. She says all she wants his that He should behave kindly to her, which is just what he will not do. Meanwhile she has placed his letters in the hands of her Solicitor, Mr. Frere (an outrageous thing), who tells her they are sufficient to establish a case against him for a breach of promise of marriage. Nothing of this queer but lamentable affair seems to have got out, and for the credit of the Duke it is to be hoped it may not. It would be painful to see him the object of ridicule and contempt in the last days of his illustrious life. My mother told me this story. She had it from Lady Georgiana Bathurst, to whom Lady Georgiana Fane herself told it and showed her the Duke’s letters, wanting her to get the Duchess of Gloster to read them, who however declined to do so. He has always had one or more women whom he liked to talk to and go to and be intimate with, and often very odd women too; but the strangest of all his fancies was this tiresome, troublesome, crazy old maid. (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey and Fulford) 25 July 1851 vol 6 p 297-8).
And this is at least partly confirmed by the letter of 22 October 1851 from Wellington to her mother described in the Sotheby’s catalogue of the Fulbeck sale 8 October 2002 p 187. (Her mother was the Countess Dowager of Westmorland, that is, the step-mother-in-law of Wellington’s niece, Priscilla, the current Countess of Westmorland).
Birth and Death of Wellington’s First Grandchild:
‘The Duke is leading a very solitary life. He dines out nowhere and gives no dinners. Arbuthnot and Lord and Lady Charles (Wellesley) his only society till yesterday, when Lady Charles was brought to bed of a son and heir, to the Duke’s great delight and relief, for she was ill for some hours, and he was in as great an agitation as a young husband could have been.’ (Memorandum by Ellesmere, 6 May 1845 in Ellesmere Personal Reminiscences p 179).
When the boy died in July 1846 Wellington told Miss Jenkins,
I have received your letters of the 12th and friday [sic] last on the subject of the loss I recently sustained of my Grandson, the eldest Son of my second son. Poor boy! he died on Tuesday! By the Mercy of God! the second son, an infant, has recovered. But at one time I was apprehensive that the grief of the Mother who was nursing the youngest child would have affected Her Health; and that we should have lost that Child; and eventually the Mother. But thank God! Both are now safe! (Wellington to Miss Jenkins, 13 July 1846 The Letters of the Duke of Wellington to Miss J. p 154).
Wellington and children:
Haydon, the artist, noted a conversation with Lady Burghersh in 1839 when she told him that while she was sketching her picture Alcestis Wellington had held her daughter on his lap: ‘“He is very fond of Children. Don’t you recollect, my love,” said Lady Burghersh, “when Dukey took you on his lap?” The terror of Napoleon! – Dukey to his niece! “We call him Dukey,” said she, “here, Mr Haydon.’ (Haydon Diary 28 June 1839 vol 4 p 566).
‘There is also the story of the Java sparrows which the Burghersh children had smuggled into Deal Castle, then occupied by their grandfather, Lord Maryborough. Lord Maryborough, who was not so indulgent as his brother the Duke, had given orders that pets were not to be kept in the house. Unfortunately, the twittering of the birds disclosed their hiding place and they were immediately banished. “In this dilemma the children went over to Walmer and laid their trouble before the Duke, who soon solved it by telling them to bring the birds to him, and he would take care of them till their return to London.”’ (Wellesley Wellington in Civil Life p 362 citing Weigall Lady Rose Weigall).
And ‘My children, who are here, are eager attendants upon my opening the letters in the morning before breakfast, in order to get the covers, from which by way of amusement they pick the Seals and the Stamps.’ (Wellington to Lady Salisbury, 17 October 1851 Great Man’s Friendship p 207).
The Opening of the Great Exhibition:
The Great Exhibition opened on 1 May without trouble from radicals or sparrows. John Cam Hobhouse, once a radical himself and now a member of Russell’s cabinet, was overwhelmed. ‘I shall not attempt any description of the scene or the ceremony; they were indescribable. I was much affected by them, so were others of a far sterner nature … The grandeur and vast extent of the fairy palace, the multitudes within, almost lost in the distance, when seen from the end of the nave, the gorgeousness of the display of all productions of art and industry from all corners of the globe … The good conduct and good temper of the thousands within, and hundreds of thousands without the building, were most striking. The beauty of the women added much to the enchantment of the ceremony, and the rapturous reception of the Queen and the Duke of Wellington as the procession walked through the long avenue of human beings filled me with delight.’ Palmerston agreed: ‘The royal party were received with continued acclamation as they passed through the parks and round the Exhibition House; and it was also very interesting to witness the cordial greeting given to the Duke of Wellington. I was just behind him and Anglesey … during the procession round the building, and he was accompanied by an incessant running fire of applause from the men and waving of handkerchiefs and kissing of hands from the women, who lined the pathway of march during the three-quarters of an hour that it took us to march round.’ (Hobhouse diary 1 May 1851 in Broughton Recollections of a Long Life vol 6 p 279-81; Palmerston to Normanby, 2 May 1851 in Ashley Life of Palmerston vol 2 p 178).
Wellington mobbed by admirers on the cheap day at the Great Exhibition:
The admission price fell gradually as the season advanced and his visit on 7 October only a few days before the Exhibition closed almost ended in disaster:
I went to the Glass Palace … never did I see such a mob, or get such a rubbing, scrubbing and mashing. There were 100,000 people in the Building. The Police advised me not to enter, and if they had not exerted themselves to take care of me, I should never have got out! They rushed upon me from all directions – Men, Women, and Children, all collecting into a crowd and endeavouring to touch me! I had rode there and sent my horses from the Eastern Entrance to the Southern one opposite Princes Gate into the Park, and many followed them and met me in the Transept. I expected at every moment to be crushed, and I was saved by the Police alive! (Wellington to Mrs Jones of Pantglas 7 October 1851 ‘Selections from Wellington’s Letters’ p 172 My Dear Mrs Jones p 11-12).
Douro succeeds to the title:
Lord Douro was at Baden Baden when he was informed of his father’s death and his accession to the title. He returned as quickly as possible and arrived at Walmer at noon on 17 September. (Times 18 September 1852). As late as 5 November he was still signing a letter to Angela Burdett-Coutts as ‘Douro’ although this may have been done from laudable consideration for her feelings (Patterson Angela Burdett-Coutts p 132).
Mrs Allen the Housekeeper at Walmer:
Mrs Allen once described Wellington and Arbuthnot as ‘our two dear old gentlemen so happy together’ (Correspondence of Lady Burghersh with the Duke of Wellington p 192). Two days after the Duke’s death she replied to a letter of condolence from Lady Salisbury: ‘I am indeed … quite overwhelmed with grief but oh! how thankful I am that he was here and that I saw him and kissed his dear hands just before the last sigh. He was so well on Monday night and so cheerful and conversant that no one could have the most distant idea that all was to be so quickly over…’ (Mrs Allen to Lady Salisbury, 16 September 1852 Wellington Private Correspondence p 222). Three days later she wrote again to Lady Salisbury:
… It will indeed by agony when we lose Him altogether [i.e. the removal of the body]. At present I know nothing but it must come and it will be a fearful struggle and my next trial aftert aht will be the desolation of the happy Home for 20 year I have past here looking forward from year to year to meet that kind lovely smile which shone with light and life upon my existence. I cannot express dear Lady what I feel for you who was so much comfort to him and it will be some consolation to you hereafter to know and feel that you were so… (Mrs Allen to Lady Salisbury, Walmer Castle, 19 September 1852 Wellington Private Correspondence p 223).
Reaction of Wellington’s head gamekeeper:
Years later the son of one of keepers recalled the news:
But I shall never forget September 14, 1852. I was out with Jonathan [the head keeper] and father partridge-shooting, for we had orders to send some game to Walmer Castle. Up came one of the grooms at a gallop, and he said, “Bad news, Jonathan; His Grace is dead;” and Jonathan burst out crying and my father had a rare job to stop him. But Jonathan dried his eyes when he found out the Duke had left him £75 a year for his life. (Quoted in Wellesley Wellington in Civil Life p 327-28).
Reaction to News of Wellington’s Death: in Britain
According to the Annual Register:
The event was simultaneously communicated to London by the electric telegraph, and thence as instantaneously to every part of England, and to Edinburgh and Glasgow. As the intelligence spread from town to town, there appeared the signs of national mourning. In the Thames and at all the ports the shipping of all nations dropped their flags to half-mast; the bells of the churches in the large towns were muffled and tolled; those of many parish churches were tolled; where it had been usual to display a flag on the church towers they were now half hoisted; the great exchanges of commerce carried on their business with shutters half closed; in garrisons the usual military music was forbidden. (Annual Register 1852 Chronicle p 144).
Reaction to News of Wellington’s Death: around the Empire:
Professor Miles Taylor, in the Fifteenth Wellington Lecture, gives a useful account of how the news was received around the British empire:
Montreal in Lower Canada was the first colonial town to report the Duke’s death, at the end of September, having received the news from Halifax, Nova Scotia – some eight days’ sail from Liverpool. The black-bordered Montreal Gazette lamented that ‘the foremost man of all this world is gone’, whilst in Toronto in Upper Canada, the local Globe mourned the passing of the man ‘who conquered the conqueror of the world.’ By the middle of October enterprising Toronto booksellers were taking out large adverts for copies of Maxwell’s Life of Wellington, and Colonel Gurwood’s Selections from Wellington’s Dispatches. A Canadian edition of Stocqueler’s Life of the Duke was hurriedly put out in the new year of 1853. And on the same Sunday in November that the Duke was the subject of sermons throughout the UK, the Reverend John Smithurst of St George’s in Guelph, Ontario, delivered his own tribute. Smithurst, who had fled west to Canada having been spurned by Florence Nightingale (or so he said), compared Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon to the heroism of Othniel, who had saved the Israelites from attack by the Mesopotamians. The providential point of Wellington’s life was echoed in British Guiana, on the tip of South America, where the news of the death arrived on 11 October. Napoleon, a local paper suggested, had been chosen by God to put down the anarchy of the revolution, and Wellington chosen in turn to strike down the French Emperor when his deed was done.
The island of Ceylon first heard the news in the east, in the middle of October. A vessel en route to Madras stopped at Galle, the principal port on the island, and a pigeon carried the headline onwards to Colombo. Within its black borders the Colombo Examiner declared ‘The Duke of Wellington is dead! The announcement will vibrate through the heart of the British dependencies as it has already in England.’ And the Examiner’s rival, the weekly Colombo Observer, published a memoir of the Duke that stretched over eight issues. Next on the Indian sub-continent to report the death of Wellington was Madras – some thirty-three days out from London. Flags were hoisted at Fort St George, the Duke’s old HQ, there was a gun salute, and ships in the vicinity lowered their flags to half-mast. In Calcutta, in Bengal, civilians and military competed for coverage of the great event. There was an eighty-three gun salute, and a run on Wellington memorabilia. Thacker’s Life and Death of Wellington was rushed out from London, and copies of famous portraits by Lilly, Winterhalter and Daubrawa were put on sale.
And so the sad tidings continued to travel – to the Cape where the sober subjects of the colony did not at first believe the news, refusing to accept a rumour of the Duke’s death picked up by a ship which passed Plymouth on 15 September, until it was confirmed by a latter vessel. By mid-December the news had reached New South Wales. The Sydney Morning Herald was blunt:
The news is summed up in one item – THE DUKE IS DEAD. The greatest man of the age, the greatest military commander of any age or nation, whose fame for half a century has filled the civilised world, is no more.
As in Calcutta the trade in death took over, with busts and medallion-portraits being advertised for sale. And finally, in early January the news reached New Zealand. Some four months after the Duke’s death a small tug docked at Wellington, carrying the Australian mails from the Comet, recently arrived at Nelson across Cook Strait. (Miles Taylor ‘Wellington’s World: the Duke of Wellington and the making of the British Empire’ the Fifteenth Wellington Lecture, University of Southampton, 2003 p 5-7).
Reaction to Wellington’s death: hostility and opposition to public funeral:
Not quite everyone responded to Wellington’s death with a eulogy, as John Wolffe records:
Dissentient voices were rare. The Chartist Star of Freedom portrayed Wellington as a superannuated relic of past despotism, and viewed the discussion of his funeral with thinly veiled contempt. It judged the ceremonies to be a waste of public money. A similar line was taken by Samuel Carter, an MP and former Chartist, who described the funeral as a ‘national folly’ and ‘man paying idolatrous worship to the clay of his fellow worm.’ Patrick Brewster, another erstwhile Chartist sympathiser and Minister at Paisley Abbey, also thought that veneration for the Duke was misplaced. War was an ugly and undesirable business, and the Duke’s services as soldier and statesman had in any case been rendered to the ruling classes rather than the mass of the people. Wellington had no place among ‘those noblest of heroes and patriots and philanthropists who have devoted their lives to the glorious cause of human emancipation and human progress’, and was accordingly deficient in the qualities of a really great man. Brewster considered the funeral to be ‘a glorious pageant to impose upon the ignorant and unreflecting.’ An unusual critical note from with the establishment was struck by the Oxford-educated chaplain to the Queen, Arthur Philip Perceval, who took particular exception to the ‘revolting’ delay in the Duke’s interment. Perceval considered that in any case a public funeral was not justified. Granted the Duke’s distinction as a soldier, his failures and lack of integrity as a politician since 1815 made such recognition inappropriate. Perceval objected particularly to the Duke’s alleged tendency to treat ‘religious principle’ as a matter of ‘secondary and comparatively trifling value.’
Such public questioning of the legitimacy of the whole proceeding appears, however, to have been limited to a few eccentrics. (Wolffe Great Deaths p 46-47).
There is also the army officer quoted in Strachan’s Wellington’s Legacy who felt that the news was ‘a happy release for the Army’ (p 35), but such reactions were highly unrepresentative.
Disposal of the Duke’s honours:
Disraeli reflected that Wellington’s death ‘has brought us a shoal of patronage; but I question whether its tendency, otherwise, is to strengthen the Government. The Duke was very warmly with us of late, and still exercised a beneficial influence for those he wished to serve.’ Meanwhile Lord Derby, who was staying at Balmoral, soon made plans for the disposal of the Duke’s offices: Lord Hardinge, not Fitzroy Somerset, would succeed to the command of the army, but Somerset would be consoled with the Ordnance vacated by Hardinge; Lord Combermere would be the new Constable of the Tower; Lord Winchester, the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire; Lord Londonderry would inherit Wellington’s Garter; the Duke of Cambridge would become Ranger of the Parks, and, perhaps the most covetable position of all, that of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, would be given to Lord Dalhousie on his return from India. (Disraeli to Lord Henry Lennox, 16 September 1852 and Derby to Disraeli, 18 September 1852 Disraeli Letters no 2398 voly 6 p 147, 149n.).
Where should the Duke be buried?
Once the decision had been taken to give the Duke a state funeral it was obvious that he would be buried in London, but there remained the possibility that he might be buried in Westminster Abbey rather than St Paul’s. Walpole, the Home Secretary, favoured this, arguing that Wellington was a statesman as well as a soldier and that there was a vacant vault under the great tower, while the comparable position at St Paul’s under the dome was already occupied by Nelson’s sarcophagus. Delane, the editor of the Times, also initially assumed that Westminster Abbey would be preferred. But Derby, the Prime Minister, was convinced that Wellington should be buried in St Paul’s ‘there to rest by the side of Nelson – the greatest military by the side of the greatest naval chief who ever reflected lustre upon the annals of England.’ (Wolffe Great Deaths p 32). And given the way that Wellington was to be remembered, both in the immediate wake of his death and for many, many years to come, this emphasis on the soldier over the statesman was certainly appropriate.
The French ambassador is persuaded to attend the Funeral:
The story is told by Henry Reeve in his edition of Greville’s diary: ‘Count Walewski, the French Ambassador in London, expressed some reluctance to attend the funeral of the conqueror of Napoleon I, upon which Baron Brunnow said to him “If this ceremony were intended to bring the Duke to life again, I can conceive your reluctance to appear at it; but as it is only to bury him, I don’t see you have anything to complain of.”’ (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey & Fulford) vol 6 p 372n). This seems a little too good to be true, and might just as easily have been remarked at the time of the repatriation of Napoleon’s remains from St Helena. However there is fairly good evidence that Count Walewski, (who was always understood to be Napoleon’s illegitimate son by Countess Walewska), did seek instructions from Paris whether or not he should attend the funeral, and that Louis Napoleon said that he should do so because he ‘had always reason to be grateful for the friendly terms in which the late Duke had spoken of him; and that he desired to continue on the best terms with England.’ (Blanchard Jerrold The Life of Napoleon III derived from State Records… vol 3 p 440-1: reference from Andrew Roberts Napoleon and Wellington p 285).
The Duke’s body at Walmer:
According to the Times:
During the day [10 November] the room in which the coffin lay was visited by thousands of people, who came from all parts of the neighbourhood for the purpose. The numbers were much greater than on Tuesday, for the fact of admission being allowed had become well known, and so large was the influx of spectators that the beach all the way from Deal wore the appearance of being traversed by an immense funeral procession. … The greatest good order and propriety of conduct prevailed, and the respectable manner in which all were dressed was again the subject of just observation. … Nearly all the married people who visited the Castle for the last two days brought their children with them, believing that they would treasure up as one of the great events of their lives the recollection of the little room in which Wellington died, and of the grand coffin, lined with crimson velvet, in which his body rested. A poor flyman we met with, whose wife had neglected to take the youngest of their flock, six years old, with the rest. He thought that the little fellow would recollect the sight, and, leaving work, he took him at the last moment to the Castle, arriving there, to his great happiness, just before the gates were closed against visitors. The removal took place shortly after 7 o’clock, and was conducted as privately and with as little pomp as was possible under the circumstances. Three mourning coaches followed the hearse, the first containing the new Duke and Lord Arthur Hay; the second Mr March, who attended from the Lord Chamberlain’s office; and the third Mr Kendall and Mr Collins, the late Duke’s oldest and most confidential servants. The hearse itself was of the usual kind, surmounted by plumes, and drawn by four horses, preceded by the undertaker’s men, bearing torchlights, and protected by a strong escort of the Rifle Brigade. As the cortège at a slow funeral pace started from the Castle, the cannon from the lower battery announced its departure, and through the dark night the minute gun flashed. (Times 11 November 1852).
The Lying-in-State at Chelsea:
On the first day, 11 November, the Queen, Prince Albert and their children paid their respects. When they left the Chelsea Pensioners, the Life Guards and Grenadiers and the boys and girls of the Duke of York’s schools were admitted. The second day, 12 November, was reserved for nobility and gentry who had obtained a ticket from the Lord Chamberlain. However there had been a miscalculation and too many tickets had been issued: some 10,800 persons passed through the hall between 9 am and 5 pm and many thousands of others with tickets were unable to obtain admission. ‘The day was very wet and boisterous; and the long trains of gentlemen and delicate and lightly clad ladies who patiently waited their admission or hours, suffered grievously.’ The following day, Saturday 13 November, was the first for general admission and it was here that there were scenes ‘of confusion, crushing, screaming and injury’. Even before the gates were open the crowd was tremendous, and the police had far too few officers on the spot (according to Wolffe, 225 officers were initially deployed although they were soon reinforced. The numbers increased on subsequent days with 1,877 officers attending on the last day, Wednesday 17th – Wolffe Great Deaths p 36). The Lying-in-State was not open on Sunday, 14 November; and the final three public days, (Monday 15th to Wednesday 17th) were much better conducted with approximately 60,000 people gaining admission each day. Even so the Annual Register attributed two further deaths to the pressure of the crowd, making a total of five. (Annual Register 1852 Chronicle p 188-90).
The Reaction of Wellington’s sons to the Lying-in-State:
The family disliked the grandeur. The second Duke, as Douro now was, reported to Angela Burdett-Coutts,
Charles and I have just been there when it was getting ready for the Queen…
In the first place privacy is out of the question, inasmuch as at least 100 persons are essential to the “pomp”. And you must not expect escaping attention.
In the second place I never saw a thing more disappointing and devoid of good taste and feeling. It neither elevates the imagination with the sense of glories, putting them so vividly before the eye that for the moment one can forget that they are past. Nor is there that solemnity which fits into distress.
It is nothing but State, and such state as Madame Vestris would be ashamed of. (Second Duke of Wellington to Angela Burdett-Coutts, 11 November 1852 quoted in Wellington ‘The Great Duke’s Funeral’ p 784. ‘Madame Vestris’ (Lucia Elizabeth Vestris) was an actress and singer who had become a theatre producer and manager known for her burlesques and extravaganzas.).
Lord Charles Wellesley wrote to Angela Burdett-Coutts on 11 November: ‘I am afraid that you will not be pleased with the arrangements there [at Chelsea], the effect is tawdry, and the decorations (foreign orders I mean) are made quite subordinate to the gewgaws of the Heralds and Ld. Chamberlain’s department.’ (Patterson Angela Burdett-Coutts p 132). And, as well as the letter of 11 November quoted in the text, the Second Duke wrote to Angela Burdett-Coutts on the 13 November: ‘The Lying-in-State is really a disgusting affair, 7 people they say were killed by the crowd today, and I shall carefully consider whether or not it will do for us to countenance such a disgraceful way of doing honor.’ And again on 15th: ‘Both Charles and I have often expressed to each other our half regret that the Funeral has not been private, but we never have regretted that we placed ourselves at the disposition of the country. If the country has desired that which in real good taste is not reverential, at least it has an opportunity of displaying unexampled respect, and attachment while it perhaps violates our feelings.’ (Letters quoted in Wellington ‘The Great Duke’s Funeral’ p 784.)
The size and behaviour of the Crowd attending Wellington’s funeral:
The estimate of 1,500,000 given in the Times is repeated in the Annual Register 1852, but there is no hint of any basis for it. The only hint of any other figure on that scale is the statement that there were a total of 300,000 seats along the funeral route (Annual Register 1852 Chronicle p 192). This seems a rather low proportion (could four standing see for every one sitting when so much of the route was lined by buildings or banks of seats?) and in any case there is really no reason to suppose it has any more solid foundations than the figure for the overall total. The report in the Times also estimates the crowd at two points along the route: 30,000 within sight of the corner of Piccadilly and St James’s Street; not less than 40,000 at Waterloo Place. These are large numbers but probably not as large as they would need to be if a total of 1.5 million was to be reached. But again they are nothing more than guesses, and there was little experience in 1852 at calculating the size of such large crowds.
But if contemporary statements as to the size of the crowd need to be treated with considerable scepticism, the evidence of its behaviour is too clear-cut to be doubted, even allowing for some glossing for the occasion. The Times declared, almost with surprise, that ‘it is due to the public to say that they never were better behaved’ and ‘nothing could be more remarkable than the decorous and orderly conduct of the multitude, who preserved an imposing and expressive silence as the car went by.’ And the Annual Register agrees: ‘The conduct of this immense assemblage as the solemn procession passed was creditable to the national character. As the head of the column approached every sound was hushed; and as the dark mass of the Rifles appeared, and the solemn dead march was heard, the people were deeply affected – very any, of both sexes, to tears.’ (Annual Register 1852 Chronicle p 192).
Psalm 90 or Psalm 9?
In ‘The Great Duke’s Funeral’ the seventh Duke says that ‘The 39th and 9th Psalms were sung to chants composed by the Duke’s father’ (p 782); but the Annual Register 1852 says that ‘The Choir then chanted the 39th Psalm, “Dixi Custodiam,” and the 90th Psalm, “Domine Refugium” (the music composed by the Earl of Monrington)’ (Annual Register 1852 Appendix to the Chronicle p 494). The title confirms that the 90th, not the 9th, was meant and that the reference to the 9th was a misprint.
Wider significance of Wellington’s funeral:
John Wolffe makes some interesting comments:
Wellington’s apotheosis formed part of a sequence of events at mid-century, notably the ‘Papal Aggression’ of 1850, the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854, which both illustrated and reshaped the dimensions of British national consciousness. A specifically Protestant sense of national identity was still strong, and it had its echoes in interpretations of the Duke’s career and funeral. At the same time, Protestantism could no longer provide the dimensions of overarching consensus that it had offered in the eighteenth century. Behind the numerous impulses that contributed to make up the ‘solemnity’ of 18 November 1852, one therefore detects a searching for alternative articulations of nationhood, still linked to religion, but also drawing on secular aspects of the national past as a springboard for facing the future with a clearer sense of identity. In a very real sense therefore, Wellington’s funeral was not so much an end, as the beginning of a process of partial reinvention of the nation… (Wolffe Great Deaths p 55).
Many of these themes and others along similar lines are explored in much greater detail in Peter Sinnema’s The Wake of Wellington.
© Rory Muir