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Commentary for Volume 1, Chapter 14 : Dublin and Westminster (October 1807–July 1808)
It is possible to read AW’s letter either as affectionate teasing or real puzzlement, hurt and annoyance:
My dearest Kitty,
I have received your letter of Tuesday, & I am much concerned that you should have thought of concealing from me any want of money which you might have experienced. I don’t understand now how this want occurred, or why it was concealed; & the less there is said or written upon the subject the better; for I acknowledge that the conclusion which I draw from your conduct upon this occasion is that you must be mad, or that you must consider me to be a Brute, & most particularly fond & avaricious of money. Once for all you require no permission to talk to me upon any subject you please; all that I request is that a piece of work may not be made about trifles, & things of ordinary occurrence, & that you may not go into tears because I don’t think them deserving of an uncommon degree of attention. (AW to Kitty, London, 25 July 1807, Wellington Private Correspondence p 12-13).
Birth of Charles Wellesley – AW’s second son:
Charles Wellesley was born in Dublin on 16 January 1808. AW’s last letter dated from Dublin was written on the 16th; his first from London on the 22nd. Wilson (Soldier’s Wife p 107) says he left Dublin on the 20th and arrived in London on the 22nd. The Parliamentary session opened on the 21st, and he had to be in London, either in time for the opening or soon afterwards.
Godparents of AW’s sons:
The godparents were predictable and, in some ways, appropriate if not notable for their piety or religious feeling: Arthur Richard’s sponsors included Lord Wellesley, Lord Longford and the Countess of Mornington, while Charles’s were the Duke of Richmond, Lord Harrington and Lady Longford. (Wilson Soldier’s Marriage p 110).
Family life of Duke and Duchess of Richmond:
Richmond’s blind aunt Lady Sarah Napier, mother of the famous Napier brothers, gives a glowing account of the warm atmosphere she found when she stayed at the vice-regal lodge a few years later:
I feel no inconvenience for coming here; for I do not care if strangers say, “How can the Duke have that queer old blind woman in the corner,” & I do care very much that the affection of my dear nephew should induce him to have me here surrounded by his delightful girls, who absolutely vie with each other who shall attend most to me, & the D[uche]ss is kindness personified to me on all occasions. There are seven girls in this house, & I rejoice to hear from all quarters that those who are known meet with universal approbation from true judges; not people who think half a dozen masters form an education, but those who know how to appreciate modes by manners, good style, & the most regulated system of conduct without affectation, without levity, but with affable chearfulness [sic] & good breeding. Their minds are as well regulated as their manners, & their adoration of their father is the most delightful thing, for it produces a reciprocal good, as he enjoys their society & seems to depend on it for the comfort of relaxation at his leisure moments. To catch papa at a lucky minute & take him out for his good is the first object of their care, & the moment he appears in their room all his daughters flock around him, & he is like a brother with them. (Lady Sarah Napier to Lady Susan O’Brien, 7 Jan 1811 printed in Life and Letters of Lady Sarah Napier, 1745-1826 vol 2 p 243-4).
This does not mean that Richmond was a paragon of private virtue. His roving eye and indiscriminate hospitality caused the Duchess much distress and even some social humiliation while delighting the more malicious gossips of Dublin. Lady Bessborough, visiting Ireland in October 1808, reported that he was ardently courting Lady Edward Somerset – the wife of his ADC – and, over-ruling his wife’s remonstrances, insisted that she continue to dine with them every day. (Private Correspondence of Granville Leveson Gower vol 2 p 333). One anxious mother described him as ‘a great flirt’ and was delighted when her young daughter politely declined his invitation to dance at a ball. (Calvert Irish Beauty under the Regency p 171). And he was said to have encouraged the activities of two young Dublin belles who, lacking family connections or the formality of an invitation, nonetheless appeared at many social functions after he discovered them behind the counter of a shop. (Somerville & Ross An Incorruptible Irishman p 186).
Another witness describes the Duchess as ‘sawcy [sic] & ill tempered to a degree my pen cannot do justice to. She is jealous not only of his attentions to ladies, but of his being amused, & a walk, a ride, a dance is treasonable! ! ! he did all those things with the sweetest good temper & really seems a most delightful character to please in society, condescending & affable, with great dignity to all about him – and tho’ she was very civil, yet I confess her tantrums to him made me think her disagreeable.’ (Lady Charleville, on 18 October 1809 in The Marlay Letters p 129 quoted in Brett-James Wellington at War p 145n).
The Duchess (the eldest daughter of the 4th Duke of Gordon) has been described as ‘excessively proud, and disdainful of persons of inferior rank’, and has been accused of ruining her husband by her gambling (ODNB).
When Richmond visited Londonderry at the end of 1807, a report commented on his ‘extreme affability’, and he had a reputation for good cheer and hospitality that was notable even by Irish standards. (Sir G. F. Hill to AW, 3 Jan 1808, WP 1/187/12). In 1811 Lord Enniskillen told Sir Arthur Paget, ‘I must rejoin my Regt in Dublin on the 25th, of course shall have much hard drinking with the old Boy of Richmond, who has kept it up pretty warmly the entire summer.’ (Lord Enniskillen to Sir A. Paget, 9 Oct 1811, The Paget Brothers p 217). Richard Bourke who, as well as being a fine soldier, was an ardent Irish whig and therefore prejudiced against Richmond, commented:
He is … famous for nothing but extreme drinking. As in the worst and last days of the Roman Empire the generals used to be chosen and preferred as they were supposed most capable of drinking with the Goths, so probably the Duke of R_____ has been sent over to drink with the Irish, and in this he has succeeded beyond all praise, as the merest Castle-Hack complain of the hardness of his head…. (Col R. Bourke to J. G. Le Marchant, 3 June 1808, Le Marchant Papers Mss 5a quoted in Ward Papers 300/8/2).
Richmond’s drinking and social indiscretions did not have any adverse effect on his popularity in Ireland. He was not loved as he might have been if his policies had favoured the Catholics, but he was widely liked and was probably the most successful Lord Lieutenant for many years.
AW works well with Harrington and the staff in Ireland:
Wellesley continued to be on excellent terms with most of the leading soldiers in Ireland. He worked well with Lord Harrington, the Commander of the Forces on plans for the defence of Ireland and the suppression of disturbances in the southern counties. Harrington’s son, Fitzroy Stanhope, had served as Wellesley’s ADC at Copenhagen and would do so again in Portugal and Spain, while Wellesley asked Harrington as well as Richmond to be godfather to his second son. Harrington’s military secretary, Col H. M. Gordon wrote to Wellesley in a tone suggesting warm friendship and a complete lack of official friction. (See, for example, Harrington to AW, ‘Private’ 25 Oct 1807, WP 1/175/66 and same to same 16 March 1808 WP 1/193/63; and also AW to Richmond, 4 Jan 1808 WSD vol 5 p 277-8. Col H. M. Gordon to AW, ‘Private’ 21 July 1807 and 3 Feb 1808 WP 1/173/96 and 1/190/9).
The arrival of the Russian ships in Lisbon so soon after Junot’s troops was a remarkable coincidence, but nothing more. Siniavin’s squadron had been recalled to the Baltic and had only sought refuge in Lisbon because it had been damaged by a succession of Atlantic gales once it passed the Straits of Gibraltar. But alarmists in Britain naturally saw Napoleon’s genius at work, and the most despondent imagined that Junot’s men would scarcely break stride in boarding the Russian ships and would have landed in Ireland before additional precautions could be taken. (Lord Auckland to Grenville, 28 Nov 1807 and Buckingham to Grenville, 3 Jan 1808, HMC Dropmore vol 9 p 152-3, 164-66; and Richmond to Hawkesbury, 9 Dec 1807, BL Loan Ms 72 vol 16 f 114-16). The ministers were less alarmed. It is true that William Wellesley-Pole told Arthur, ‘We all deserve to be damn’d for letting the Russian fleet get into Lisbon. But of this, we must not say a word. I did everything in my power to prevent it.’ (William Wellesley-Pole to AW, ‘Private’, 2 Dec 1807, WP 1/179/7). But this was before news arrived of the emigration of the Portuguese court, which they greeted with relief and delight. Canning wrote to Richmond, ‘I know how warmly your Grace will participate in the triumph of our success in the Tagus; which, important as it is in other points of view, is not more so perhaps in any other than as it relates to the safety and tranquillity of Ireland.’ (Canning to Richmond, ‘Private’, 21 Dec 1807, Richmond Papers Nat Lib Ireland Mss 59 no 151). Even so, the French presence in Lisbon gave encouragement and a new source of hope to those Irish who hated British rule and looked to Napoleon for liberation. (See, for example, Trail to AW, 18 Jan 1808, WP 1/188/23).
Catholics and Protestants in Ireland in 1807-1808:
Meanwhile all the normal business of the Irish government continued. Applications for patronage were considered, grievances noted, legislation prepared for the coming session of Parliament, and proposals of all sorts considered. One issue which gained attention for a while in late 1807 was the obligation for Catholic peasants to pay tithes to the Anglican Church. Some landowners sought popularity by publicly urging the abolition of these tithes. Wellesley was annoyed at these tactics: he knew that tithes were a source of bitterness and dissension, but also that many of the arguments against them were exaggerated and dishonest, while he suspected that any benefit from their abolition would soon be transferred from the peasant to the landlord by an increase in rents. Above all, he was incensed at the short-sighted folly of gentlemen who would stir such an explosive issue when their own title to their estates was equally vulnerable to agitation and attack. (AW to Hawkesbury, 22 Oct 1807, and AW to Lord Clarina, 22 Oct 1807, WSD vol 5 p 142-3, 144-7). However Wellesley was not blind to the deficiencies of the Church of Ireland: he felt that it should do more to defend itself when attacked, and he accepted the need for some reforms, including the enforcement of residency on the clergy. (AW to Perceval, 27 Oct 1807, and AW to Hawkesbury, 11 Feb 1808, WSD vol 5 p 150-2, 334).
These measures reflected Wellesley’s sympathy with the approach of Hawkesbury and Perceval who were strong supporters of the Protestant Establishment in Ireland, rather than Canning and Castlereagh who were more inclined to favour concessions to the Catholics. Wellesley also agreed with Perceval on the need for an enquiry into the government funded seminary at Maynooth which had been established some years before so that Catholic priests could be trained in Ireland rather than exposed to the dangerous doctrines abroad on the Continent in the 1790s. Grenville’s government had proposed to increase the grant to Maynooth from £8,000 to £13,000 per annum. Perceval and his fellow evangelicals, who were uncomfortable with the existence of the College, wished to cancel the increase. Wellesley’s motives were probably less ideological and more pragmatic – he seems to have genuinely believed that the increased funding would make the College larger than was necessary, but his alignment on an issue on which the government itself was divided was important: if Wellesley had opposed an enquiry as too provocative, he would probably have carried the day. In the end, the government decided on a compromise: the grant was fixed at £9,250 – a result which hardly justifies the accusations of Protestant bigotry which were made by some critics at the time and even subsequently. (AW to Perceval, 27 Oct 1807, WSD vol 5 p 150-2; Hawkesbury to AW and reply, 23 and 27 Dec 1807, WSD vol 5 p 254-7; Gash Mr Secretary Peel p 149; S. J. Connolly in New History of Ireland vol 5 p 32, 36 – Connolly says that the Talents proposed to make the grant £13,000, Gash says £12,000; Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 72-75 (which supports the figure of £13,000); Brynn Crown and Castle p 142; Hinde Canning p 189-90).
AW and the attendance of Irish MPs in early 1808
The account of this in the text simplifies a complicated story. AW issued an urgent summons to his supporters on 24 January, soon after arriving in London, but relaxed it on 1 February – and it is this letter which gives the explanation of the disadvantages of bringing Irish MPs over to London too early in the session. (Wyatt to Trail, 24 Jan 1808, WP 1/189/117; Trail to AW 28 Jan 1808 WP 1/188/68; Richmond to AW 1 Feb 1808 WP 1/190/2, and same to same 1 March 1808 WP 1/193/1).
Only Lord Edward Somerset was excused from AW’s initial summons, and then only because Richmond could hardly spare him, as his other ADCs had already departed on various other duties. Whether Richmond’s retention of Lord Edward Somerset had anything to do with his supposed pursuit of Lord Edward’s wife, is open to speculation. But it is interesting that so many ADCs to the Lord Lieutenant were detached on other duties – and raises the question of just how many of Buckingham’s (and Westmorland’s) aides in the 1780s and 90s actually spent their time in Dublin – including AW – although that was in peacetime.
Croker’s assistance in debates in 1808:
The debates on Ireland also gave occasion for some discussion of the re-appointment of John Giffard to a sinecure position. Wellesley was annoyed when John Wilson Croker, in defending Giffard’s appointment, actually made things worse, provoking further discussion. But despite this blunder Croker made a great impression in Parliament and proved a valuable ally. His quick tongue and caustic wit may sometimes have carried him to excess, but they intimidated opponents and gave him a hearing while easing the strain on Wellesley who never particularly relished the cut and thrust of debate. (On Giffard see Brynn Crown and Castle p 97-98; Inglis ‘Sir Arthur Wellesley and the Irish Press’ p 20-23; Parliamentary Debates vol 10 col 878; J. Giffard to AW, 9 March 1808, WP 1/193/31; AW to Richmond, and AW to Hawkesbury both 13 March 1808, WSD vol 5 p 361, 361-2. On Croker see AW to Richmond 13 March and 4 June 1808, WSD vol 5 p 361-2, 443-444 and Thorne History of Parliament vol 3 p 533-8).
Debate on Dr Duigenan’s Appointment:
According to AW Duigenan was made a Privy Councillor ‘at the express desire of Lord Hawkesbury’ (AW to Richmond, 12 May 1808, WSD vol 5 p 419). S. J. Connolly in New History of Ireland p 35 says that Duigenan was secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. See Perceval’s account of the debate in Perceval to the King, 11 May 1808, Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 73-75.
Lord Wellesley in 1807-1808:
Lord Wellesley had languished in the second half of 1807, feeling acutely his self-imposed exclusion from office. Characteristically he hankered after some mark of official approval – he had a UK marquessate or the Garter in mind – and sulked when these were denied. Canning offered him the post of British minister in Sicily, intending that he should have authority over British military as well as diplomatic affairs throughout the Mediterranean, but Wellesley declined. In January, shortly before Parliament opened Arthur Wellesley wrote to his brother urging him to make an effort, ‘There never was such an opportunity for you; the House of Lords will be the field of battle throughout the Campaign and all the combatants are on one side.’ (AW to Lord Wellesley, 15 Jan 1808, BL Add Ms 37,415 f 41; Canning to Chatham, ‘Private & Secret’ 14 Nov 1807, Canning Papers Bundle 31 (describing the offer to Wellesley); Canning to Lord Wellesley, ‘Private’, 26 Nov 1807 Canning Papers Bundle 39 (regret at his refusal); Brashares ‘Marquess Wellesley’ p 190-1 on Wellesley’s desire for an honour. (AW’s comment probably referred to Grey’s elevation to the Lords and the comparative weakness of the government’s front bench there in speakers). This prompting had some effect, and before the end of February Arthur was able to tell John Malcolm, ‘Lord Wellesley has got the better of the impressions that the base attacks upon him had made upon his mind. He has lately made a most distinguished speech in the House of Lords.’ (AW to Malcolm, 25 Feb 1808, Malcolm Papers, Uni of Southampton, Ms 308/124 printed in WD III p 12-13 with several names suppressed). But this fresh energy soon flagged – Lord Wellesley was never able to sustain his Parliamentary efforts, brilliant as they sometimes were – and he became distracted by squalid domestic disputes, and the acquisition, for £16,000, of Apsley House, from his friend Lord Bathurst. (Brashares ‘Marquess Wellesley’ p 192-3; Butler Eldest Brother p 382-91).
AW and the defence of Lord Wellesley, 1807-1808:
In the Commons, Paull’s accusations were taken up by a handful of radicals including Lord Folkestone, Lord Archibald Hamilton, and Thomas Creevey, but they had little support, for members were weary of the affair. Arthur Wellesley shared the feeling, telling Malcolm, ‘I hope that we shall be able to bring the House of Commons to a vote upon the Oude case, in the course of next week; not that I think that it signifies essentially whether we do or not, as time has had its usual effect upon the sense or the folly of the publick, and has convinced them that the man they have been in the habit of abusing was the best Governor for India. It is desirable, however, to come to a vote on this question, as several of Lord Wellesley’s India friends are anxious about it, as well as others who have more respect than I have for what passes in Parliament.’ (AW to Malcolm, 25 Feb 1808, Malcolm Papers, Uni of Southampton, Ms 308/124 printed in WD III p 12-13 with several names suppressed). This was unusually jaundiced, but the long drawn out battle in Parliament had been dispiriting and any shred of reason or principle in the original attack had long since been abandoned, so that Wellesley’s critics appeared motivated by nothing more than personal spite and partisan politics.
Support for Lord Wellesley’s defence and impression AW made on James Hall:
Arthur Wellesley played a leading part in securing his brother’s vindication, but he received help from many quarters. These ranged from his brothers William and Henry, to old India hands like Colonel Allan and Stephen Lushington, and political friends like Thomas Wallace and the Buckingham connection. To these was added a newly elected independent MP of advanced views, Sir James Hall, whose son recalled,
I remember his coming home one evening from the House, and expressing to me his great admiration of the way in which the whole these Eastern questions were treated.
“I was much interested tonight,” he remarked, “with the resolute manner in which this topic was taken up by Sir Arthur Wellesley, brother to the late governor-general. He stood forward on the floor of the House, demanded investigation, and defied all the attacks against his relative with such an unusual degree of confidence, as went far to satisfy me that everything must be right in that quarter. Indeed,” he added, “I have seldom seen anything more vigorous or manly, in all respects, than Sir Arthur’s challenge, and I should feel it a sort of duty, were it on this ground alone, to go to the bottom of the affair whatever time or labour it may cost me. (Basil Hall Voyages and Travels p 176-77 – the story sounds almost too good to be true, but its substance is confirmed by Thorne History of Parliament vol 4 p 124).
Hall accordingly made an intensive study of all the relevant documents and made his maiden speech on 15 March 1808 in Lord Wellesley’s defence. His obvious independence and conviction made his support all the more valuable on this occasion – although they would also lead him to vote against the government (and Arthur Wellesley) on many later occasions, including the debate on the Convention of Cintra. (Thorne History of Parliament vol 4 p 124).
AW and the Baltic Expedition, spring 1808:
Newspapers speculated at the beginning of March that Wellesley would be given command of a force sent back to the Baltic to aid the King of Sweden against his Russian, French and Danish foes. As a result a Mr Swann wrote immediately begging that Wellesley take his son – an ensign in the Scots Guards – with him on his staff; Captain Paget R.N. wrote saying that he would be delighted to take Wellesley and his suite on his ship H.M.S. Goliath; and George Murray submitted a long, carefully reasoned memorandum on the possible roles a small British army might play in the north. An expedition was being prepared, and when, at the beginning of April, Wellesley learnt that the ministers were looking for an intelligent officer to make advance arrangements for the arrival of the force, he recommended Murray for the position, and played a role in advising Castlereagh on how to frame Murray’s instructions. On 17 April Castlereagh formally recommended to the King that Sir John Moore be sent to Sweden with 10,000 men. The expedition was not a success and led to considerable ill-feeling between Moore and the ministers in which Murray sympathized with Moore. Castlereagh was certainly to blame for not explaining his intentions more clearly, but the underlying problem was that the Swedish king had little use for the British troops unless they could be deployed against the Russians in Finland, and this the British government, quite naturally, refused to permit. The anticipated French and Danish threat from Norway and Zealand never developed, so that Moore and his army felt that they had been send on a wild goose chase, while their presence actually poisoned Anglo-Swedish relations. Yet in the spring of 1808 it had been natural for the British government to feel an obligation to assist in the defence of its last remaining ally in northern Europe, and the Swedish minister in London seriously misrepresented his ruler’s attitude to British aid. (Mr H. Swann to AW, London, 7 March 1808, WP 1/193/20; Capt P. Paget to AW, HMS Goliath , the Downs, 11 March 1808, WP 1/193/40; Lt-Col G. Murray to AW, Dublin, 14 March 1808, WP 1/193/53; AW to Murray 19 March and 8 April 1808, WSD vol 5 p 375-6, 399-400; Castlereagh to the King, 17 April 1808, Later Correspondence of George III p 65-66; Carr ‘Gustavus IV and the British Government’ p 58-62).
AW, Miranda and plans for expeditions to Latin America:
The earlier plans for the easy conquest of all South America and Mexico had been abandoned even before news arrived in September 1807 of the disastrous failure of Whitelocke’s attempt to recapture Buenos Ayres. The emigration of the Portuguese court to Brazil opened new possibilities, and before the end of the year Castlereagh proposed that Britain seize Montevideo as an entrepôt for British trade. Although this idea had the support of the Dukes of York and Portland the cabinet declined to commit to it, evidently believing that opportunities for action might arise closer to home. (Castlereagh ‘Memorandum for Cabinet measures suggested respecting South America’, 21 Dec 1807, Castlereagh Correspondence vol 8 p 96-100; Duke of York to Col J. W. Gordon, 20 Dec 1807, BL Add Ms 49,472 f 123; Portland to Castlereagh, 21 Dec 1807, Castlereagh Correspondence vol 8 p 100-101). However the ministers did agree to send a strong brigade to occupy Madeira, which was achieved without difficulty or bloodshed. (Robinson Bloody Eleventh p 303-5).
British policy towards South America was given a new twist at the beginning of 1808 by the arrival in England of Francisco de Miranda, the great champion of independence. For the last fifteen years Miranda had lived in exile trying to persuade successive British, French and United States governments to adopt his cause. Pitt had been interested in his proposals, but the suitable moment to act had never arrived. More recently, Miranda had attempted to raise a rebellion in his native Venezuela (then still known as the Kingdom of Terra Firma) but lacked the resources to convince his compatriots that he was likely to succeed. Castlereagh embraced Miranda’s proposals with some eagerness, willingly abandoning any remaining thoughts of conquests in the Americas in exchange for the promise of local co-operation. He does not seem to have consulted Wellesley over the Montevideo plan – Wellesley was still in Ireland and the time – but he now brought Wellesley and Miranda together. This was natural: Wellesley was trusted by the ministers and he had already given detailed consideration to operations against the Spanish colonies. Wellesley and Miranda had a number of meetings in London in late January and early February as a result of which Wellesley revived and modified his earlier plans and presented them together with a covering memorandum and several supplementary papers on 8 February. Overall, Wellesley was confident that an attempt to ‘liberate’ Spain’s American colonies was likely to gain considerable local support and to succeed – although he warned that the army needed to be strong enough to be independent of any active co-operation from the locals – the less help was needed, the more likely it was to be offered. Nonetheless it seems clear that he had some reservations about the project, even arguing that its success would risk undermining Britain’s trade war – for friendly, independent, neutral South American countries would claim the right to unimpeded trade with Europe which could not be blocked as readily as when they were enemy colonies. (AW Memorandum [on Spanish America] WSD vol 6 p 61-66; Robertson Life of Miranda vol 2 p 9-12).
Wellesley’s main concerns were the practical problems of mounting the expedition, and he addressed them with his customary attention to detail. He was undecided whether it would be better to act first against Mexico or Terra Firma, balancing the advantage of having Miranda to rally support in Terra Firma against the risk that action there would lead to an immediate response by France or the United States in Mexico. (These fears had some foundation: see Rydjord Foreign Interest in the Independence of New Spain p 259-64; and on the wider question of Napoleon’s interest in and plans for Spain’s American colonies, W. S. Robertson France and Latin-American Independence p 16-17, 24-25, 40-57). Ideally he would have liked to begin in Buenos Ayres, but the too recent history of Popham’s and Whitelocke’s failures was an insurmountable objection. He rejected Miranda’s assertion that the rains in Venezuela were no bar to operations and strongly recommended that nothing be attempted until December. He made few significant changes to his 1806 proposals, although the idea of supplementing the army with troops from India was dropped, ostensibly because a large garrison would not be needed as independence, not conquest, was the objective, but also, presumably, because Grenville was no longer in office.
For the next two months Wellesley’s plan lay on the shelf – if the expedition was not to begin its operations until December there was no need for the ministers to come to a decision until the summer at the earliest. Miranda, whose health was poor at this time, chafed at the delay, but Wellesley was probably content to let the matter rest. Robertson Life of Miranda vol 2 p 12-14; Castlereagh’s Memorandum of 10 April 1808 (Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 60-62) shows that the question was under active consideration by the cabinet in early April, before news of the events at Aranjuez reached London, but that no decision had been reached, and that some ministers were concerned that the army might not be strong enough to undertake this and other tasks at the same time). It was events in Spain, not lobbying in London which gave the American plan a new sense of urgency.
AW’s constitutional ideas:
Miranda had already outlined a constitution for his new country which provoked Wellesley’s scepticism being, ‘of a Republican form, and too regularly constructed ever to answer any practical good effect’. Wellesley instead favoured a regime ‘which suits the nature and prejudices of the people,’ namely, ‘a monarchy with such a representative body as will not be difficult to manage, at the same time that will give the people of the country such a share in the government as will afford them a reasonable security.’ He clearly had in mind a system not very different from that existing in Britain, although his upper chamber would be made up of nobles and landowners appointed by the King for life, rather than hereditary peers. And he concluded, ‘All the old institutions in the country ought in the first instance to be maintained, and to be changed and amended only as time and experience would point out what would suit both people and country better.’ This was as good an expression of Wellesley’s own pragmatic conservative political philosophy as one would wish to find, however incongruous the context. (AW Memorandum [on Spanish America], London, 8 Feb 1808, WSD vol 6 p 61-66).
British reaction to events at Aranjuez:
The British government had watched the growing French presence in Spain with disquiet and naturally – although wrongly – believed that Napoleon’s hand was at work in the coup at Aranjuez. Castlereagh had already brought his South American plans to cabinet, but the other ministers, and perhaps also the King, were doubtful if sufficient troops were available, and were reluctant to make the commitment. (This seems the implication of Castlereagh to the King, [10? April 1808] and enclosed Memorandum in Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 60-61. For other British reaction to the events at Aranjuez, see Harrowby to Countess Harrowby, 28 April 1808, Harrowby Papers, vol LVII f 251-2; Col J. W. Gordon to Sir J. Craig, ‘Private and Confidential’ 7 May 1808, BL Add Ms 49,512A f 16). News of Aranjuez swept these doubts aside. On 21 April the Duke of Portland wrote the the King arguing that as the French were now occupying most of Spain including Madrid and the Spanish King was in their power, there was an immediate and serious danger that they would also gain control of Spain’s colonial empire. If Britain did not act quickly it would be too late. Portland did not propose any particular scheme, wishing first to get royal approval for the principle of an expedition to establish the independence of the Spanish American colonies, and this was readily granted. Castlereagh was delighted: ‘If I had written his Majesty’s Answer, I could not have pen’d One more in the Spirit of my own feelings’; and he promised Portland that there would be no shortage of means for the expedition. (Portland to the King and reply, 21 & 22 April 1808 Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 67-69; Castlereagh to Portland, ‘Secret’, Stanmore [22 April 1808] Portland Papers, Uni of Nottingham, PwF 8583).
Within a few days Castlereagh had prepared a detailed plan for the cabinet based on Wellesley’s memoranda. The objective was to encourage and protect the Spanish American colonists in their attempts to secure independence and in particular to have an army of not less than 10,000 men ready to act in Mexico on 1 December. Castlereagh also considered that a small force based at Trinidad might be able to give valuable support to Miranda’s friends in Caraccas; and he indicated that the unnamed commander of the expedition should precede it to make arrangements on the spot. (Memorandum by Castlereagh, nd, [c24 April 1808] Portland Papers Uni of Nottingham PwF 8582). There is little doubt that Wellesley was destined to fill this role, although it would surely have necessitated the resignation of his Irish office – for he would be away months, not weeks – but no formal decision was taken. Indeed, despite the initial urgency of the reaction to Aranjuez a lull now followed, for there was no point sending any troops until the late summer, if their operations could not begin until December.
Wellesley continued to have talks with Miranda, and these, together with the fear that the French would use any delay to their advantage, led to a modification of his original plan. He now favoured an attack on Caraccas before that on Mexico, arguing that it would be best to start with an easy success, that Miranda and his contacts would convince the locals that the British had no eye to conquest and, crucially, that an operation against Caraccas could be mounted as early as the middle of October. To make this possible, the expedition should sail from Britain by 1 August. (Memorandum by AW, nd, WSD vol 6 p 74-77).
The evolution of British plans:
News of the Dos de Mayo and the abdication of the Spanish Royal family at Bayonne reached London towards the end of May (see The Times of 23 May 1808). Wellesley reacted strongly, urging that affairs had reached a crisis ‘in which a great effort might be made with advantage; and it is certain that any measures which can distress the French in Spain must oblige them to delay for a season the execution of their plans upon Turkey, or to withdraw their armies from the north.’ He recommended that all the available troops in Britain be sent to Gibraltar where they could combine with a small force (some 5,000 men) under Major-General Brent Spencer which had been hovering off the Spanish coast since the beginning of the year. The expedition should be equipped with large quantities of arms and ammunition and ordered to encourage and assist any Spanish uprising. If the insurrection failed, its leaders should be urged to take refuge in the American colonies, where their presence would greatly facilitate British operations – although the colonies might be sufficiently moved by events in Spain to declare their independence without the need for active British intervention. Wellesley also revived the idea of acting first in the River de la Plata where the climate was favourable, before proceeding to liberate Venezuela and Mexico – an over-ambitious programme which was rather out of character. (Memorandum by AW n.d. [late May, 1808] WSD vol 6 p 80-82).
Castlereagh had similar ideas, although he hoped that the Spanish patriots might find a refuge in Cadiz as well as the Americas, and while he was willing to reinforce Spencer, he would not act quite as precipitately as Wellesley recommended. (Castlereagh to Dalrymple, 25 May 1808 and ‘Private’ of the same day, PRO WO 6/185 p 22-27, 27-32). The new policy was settled on 1 June when Castlereagh submitted it to the King for his approval. (Castlereagh to the King, 1 June 1808, Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 82). Wellesley summarized it in a memorandum:
According to the plan of operations at present in contemplation, a corps, consisting of about 8,000 men, are to proceed from Cork to join General Spencer’s corps of about 5,000 off the coast of Spain; and in case affairs in that quarter should not hold out the prospect of a successful result, it is proposed either to send all the troops to the West Indies, with a view to operations to be carried on in the Spanish colonies in the Gulf of Mexico, or to divide the corps, and to send 8,000, reinforced by a regiment of cavalry, to the River de la Plata, and 5,000, reinforced by two regiments of cavalry, to the West Indies, who will there receive reinforcements which will enable them to carry on the proposed operations against Caraccas at the appointed season. (Memorandum by AW, 1 June 1808, WSD vol 6 p 68-70).
So while there were hopes of an extensive insurrection in Spain which would create opportunities for British intervention, the emphasis remained on subsequent operations in South America – reflecting an assumption that an uprising against the French was unlikely to prosper.
AW, James Robertson and the rescue of Romana’s corps:
Wellesley was also closely involved in a quite separate attempt to exploit French difficulties in Spain. Early in 1807 Napoleon had ‘borrowed’ 15,000 Spanish troops and placed them in garrison in northern Germany: they were useful as second line troops, and their removal lessened the danger of Spanish resistance to his intervention in the Peninsula. The British government had made several unsuccessful attempts to open communication with the commander of the corps, the Marquis de la Romana. Wellesley now proposed a fresh effort, employing Brother James Robertson, a Benedictine monk from an abbey near Ratisbon, and an old acquaintance of the Duke of Richmond, who had volunteered his services in any way compatible with his religious vows. Wellesley had met Robertson, and evidently been impressed, but only summoned him again on 31 May 1808. According to Robertson’s later account, ‘Sir Arthur broached the business with his usual affability, which immediately sets at ease those who have the honour of treating with him.’ The mission was explained and Robertson agreed without hesitation to carry a message to Romana. Wellesley subsequently met Robertson at the Foreign Office and escorted him in to meet Canning. ‘Being little accustomed to diplomatic or courtly forms, I, no doubt, made an uncouth appearance when ushered into the presence of the Minister. Sir Arthur could not refrain from smiling at my visible embarrassment, and Mr Canning, by his manner, seemed to think me ill-fitted for such a mission. I, however, showed the grounds of my hopes, and manifested so eager a desire to undertake the task, that it was finally entrusted to me.’ Robertson left London on 4 June and was taken to Heligoland, from whence a smuggler took him to Bremen. Here he found that Romana’s corps had been moved to Denmark. He followed them and with some difficulty gained an audience with Romana and persuaded him of his bona fides. Plans were made, and on 7 August the Royal Navy took most of Romana’s men on board its ships. They were brought back to Britain and from thence to Spain. Robertson survived his adventure and after the war returned to his monastery and devoted himself to the education of the deaf and dumb. (Robertson Narrative passim quotes on p 8-10; see also entry on him in the ODNB).
AW and secret agents sent to Spain:
The rescue of Romana was the most successful, but not the only secret service that Wellesley encouraged, for his Irish office had introduced him to the world of agents and espionage. A fortnight after Robertson set sail, Wellesley proposed to Portland that the government employ an agent to gather intelligence, and perhaps even to stir up trouble, in France. He had already sent another man, one John Duggan, to Spain on a similar role. (AW to Portland, 19 June 1808, WSD vol 5 p 454-5; AW to John Beckett [under-secretary at the Home Office], ‘Secret’, 26 June 1808 WP 1/206 printed in WSD vol 5 p 462-3 with Beckett’s name suppressed. Sparrow Secret Service p 361-2 conflates these two operations, while adding some interesting details). Little or nothing seems to have come of either of these projects – there were formidable practical difficulties in sending information rapidly back to Britain even if the spies were honest and successful. The British government received most of its information of events in the Peninsula from more conventional sources, notably foreign newspapers and the reports of British admirals commanding squadrons off the Spanish and Portuguese coast. Lieutenant-General Sir Hew Dalrymple, commander of the British garrison at Gibraltar, was a particularly good source of news, for he was in correspondence with his Spanish counterpart, General Castaños. There were even a few British diplomats openly in Spain as agents for British prisoners of war, although their reports seem to have been delayed and disrupted, and at least one of them was imprisoned by the French. (For more on this see Muir Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon p 34-6).
Richmond wants AW to remain Chief Secretary:
On 4 June Arthur Wellesley wrote to Richmond warning him that ‘government have lately been talking to me about taking the command of the corps destined for Spain.’ Richmond replied with his blessing, while not concealing that he thought that Ireland was more important than the expedition. He hoped that Wellesley would not be gone long enough to make it necessary for him to resign, for there was no obvious alternative – a point reinforced by a quick run down of the possible contenders. It was natural for Richmond’s priority to be Ireland, and as the appointment of the chief secretary was made in London, he was wise to make his views well known in advance of the necessity. But the ministers in London were equally reluctant to remove Wellesley from a position where he had given general satisfaction, and on 14 June he was able to reassure Richmond that the Copenhagen precedent would be followed and that he would not be resigning. (AW to Richmond and reply, 4 and 8 June 1808, and AW to Richmond 14 June, WSD vol 5 p 443-444, 444-5, 453).
Canning’s dinner for the Asturian deputies and AW’s role
The evidence for this comes from Sheridan’s speech: ‘But as my right hon. friend has detached a very able general (Sir Arthur Wellesley) to represent him at his house, I feel less reluctant at thus intruding on his patience…’ (Parliamentary Debates vol 11 col 886-7).
AW and Croker:
Wellesley also had dinner with Croker in these last few days in London, for Croker had agreed to manage the business of the Irish office in Wellesley’s absence. After the meal, Wellesley lapsed into a reverie until Croker asked what he was thinking of:
He replied, “Why, to say the truth, I am thinking of the French that I am going to fight. I have not seen them since the campaign in Flanders, when they were capital soldiers, and a dozen years of victory under Buonaparte must have made them better still. They have besides, it seems, a new system of strategy, which has out-manoeuvred and overwhelmed all the armies of Europe. ‘Tis enough to make one thoughtful; but no matter; my die is cast, they may overwhelm me, but I don’t think they will outmanoeuvre me. First, because I am not afraid of them, as everybody else seems to be; and secondly, because if what I hear of their system of manoeuvres be true, I think it is a false one as against steady troops. I suspect all the continental armies were more than half beaten before the battle was begun. I, at least, will not be frightened beforehand. (Croker’s Memorandum, 14 June 1808 Croker Papers vol 1 p 12-13).
It would probably be unwise to make too much of this, for it is not even certain that Croker’s Memorandum recording the conversation was made at the time. But it is quite plausible, and can be taken as a fair example of Wellesley’s remarkable self-confidence and belief in his troops, which were to prove vital ingredients in his success.
Although the words Croker attributes to AW show that this occasion was 1808 (not seen the French since Flanders etc), a letter from AW to Croker, 5 April 1809 (WSD vol 5 p 639) raises the possibility that the meeting actually occurred in 1809 or that Croker has conflated two separate meetings. AW discusses the Canal Company, the road taxes, and explains why it would not be possible for Croker to act for AW when he went. Add this to the fact that there is no evidence in Parliamentary Debates that Croker did fill AW’s shoes in 1808 – Parliament had almost risen, and in the few Irish debates which were held after AW’s departure Croker was not recorded as having spoken at all. The Times 15 June 1808 reported that ‘Mr Sturges Bourne is to be appointed Secretary of Ireland in the room for Sir A. Wellesley’. This was incorrect, but it doesn’t suggest that Croker was then known to be acting in Wellesley’s place.
So it seems rather unlikely that Croker played any special part in 1808, unlike in 1809. Whether this seriously undermines the credibility of Croker’s account of AW’s talk before he left is open to debate. Nothing AW says is inherently implausible, though the tone doesn’t ring quite true. There may not be sufficient grounds for dismissing the story, but it is at least worth raising a question mark over it.
Croker did play a role in 1809: see AW to Richmond, 6 April 1809 (WSD vol 5 p 641-2): ‘Croker, to whom I have given charge of the detail of my business in Parliament till a successor will be appointed…’ Thorne The History of Parliament vol 3 p 534 says Croker acted in AW’s absence in 1808, but this is probably no more than a repetition of what everyone assumed to be true.
On the other hand, Croker’s memorandum recounting the conversation is dated, and does read plausibly as a contemporary record rather than a much later recollection (i.e. not too many intimations of future greatness).
Gleig’s comments are interesting, even if they embark on a quite separate subject of debate: ‘I have no doubt whatever that this reported conversation is substantially correct. I suspect, however, that Mr Croker’s memory was a little at fault in regard to details, for the phraseology is not the duke’s, and the inferences to which it leads would be unsound. The duke knew better than most men that the only difference then between French and English tactics was this, that whereas the French attacked in column, the English always attacked in line; and that the real resistance to an attack by troops waiting for their adversaries in line comes from the volume of fire with which the column is received. All armies, French as well as English, Russian, German, and Italian, defend a position in line, provided the assailants give them time to deploy. But the English alone have hitherto attacked in line, though I believe that the armies of other nations are beginning in this respect to follow their example. The flourish about receiving the French with the bayonet, and the steadiness required to do so, was not, I will venture to say, Sir Arthur Wellesley’s, but Mr Croker’s flourish.’ (Gleig Life of Wellington p 58-59). A great deal could be said about this, for the relative importance of firepower and infantry charging has been the subject of a prolonged historical debate, but it is sufficient here to note that the issue is not as simple as Gleig suggests, and that many contemporaries disagreed with the implications of what he says here.
Lady Wellesley in London:
In Soldier’s Wife (p 109) Joan Wilson states that Lady Wellesley made a flying visit to London in June 1808. The only evidence for this appears to be that Croker, in his account of his dinner with AW, mentions her as being present. This seems a flimsy foundation for assuming that Kitty came over from Ireland – no other source mentions it, and it seems inherently unlikely. It was not a simple journey, she had two babies in Dublin, and AW would hardly have encouraged it.
Date AW left London:
AW’s last letter from London was dated 14 June (AW to Richmond, WSD vol 5 p 453); the next is from Holyhead on 19 June (to Portland, ibid p 454-5). If he dined with the Spanish deputies at Canning’s house on the 15th, he cannot have left until the 16th at the earliest. He may have been delayed at Holyhead by contrary winds. The Times 17 June states, ‘We understand that Sir Arthur Wellesley has left town for Cork.’ This may have been premature, but it is the only direct evidence we have, and there seems no reason to doubt that he did indeed leave London on 16 June.
Uncertainty caused by discouraging news from southern Spain:
When AW left London, the most recent reports from southern Spain were discouraging, with no sign of any inclination to rise against the French in Andalusia. The only consolation was that these reports were dated before news of the risings in Asturias and northern Spain had reached the south. Wellesley feared that if the Junta of Andalusia submitted to the French the ‘game’ would be over. Faced with this news the cabinet postponed making a decision on Wellesley’s instructions, ‘being unwilling that you should get too far to the southward, whilst the spirit of exertion appears to reside more to the northward.’ (Castlereagh to AW, 21 June 1808, WD III p 17n; AW to Hawkesbury, Holyhead, 19 June 1808, WSD vol 5 p 456-7).
AW in Dublin:
On 27 June Wellesley’s sons were baptised at home. He worked hard to clear his desk of the arrears of Irish business that had accumulated while he was in London and to brief James Trail and the Duke of Richmond on any problems which were likely to arise in his absence. (Wilson Soldier’s Wife p 109-10). He greeted Rowland Hill, who was commanding the troops at Cork, with notable warmth, expressing his hope that ‘we shall have more to do’ than the last time they served together in the 1805-6 expedition to the Weser. He recognized that the number of transports was inadequate to the size of the force, and wrote immediately to Charles Stewart, Castlereagh’s under-secretary, who hastened to send a further 3,000 tons of shipping to Cork. And he gave sensible orders on ways to preserved the health and fitness of the troops already aboard, some of which Hill had already anticipated. No wonder Barrington thought he was happy. (AW to Maj-Gen Rowland Hill, 23 and 25 June 1808, WD III p 18-19, 19-20; AW to Brig-Gen C. Stewart, 25 June 1808, ibid p 21 and reply 29 June 1808 WP 1/205; Hill to AW 27 June 1808 WP 1/205; Barrington Personal Sketches p 172).
AW had good maps of the country around Lisbon
See the Narrative he presented to the Cintra Inquiry Proceedings p 28 (also in WD III p 142) where his desire to advance into this country is mentioned.
The Galician delegation resolves government’s uncertainty:
On 26 June Castlereagh was still hoping that ‘some more light may break in upon us’, before the cabinet settled on Wellesley’s destination and instructions; (Castlereagh to AW, ‘Private’, 26 June 1808, WP 1/205), and that same day his hopes were answered when two deputies arrived in London from Galicia. Their news was so good that even Canning hardly ventured to believe it: all of northern Spain was in arms against the French, and Galicia alone had put 50,000 men into the field, half of them regular troops of the Royal army which had large garrisons in the province. They reported that the 8,000 Spanish troops at Oporto had imprisoned the French commandant, and were marching to join the patriots, and that there had been widespread uprisings in Andalusia, Valencia and Catalonia, adding some circumstantial details which gave the story credibility and which later proved true. (Canning to the King, 26 June 1808, Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 90; Castlereagh to AW, 30 June 1808, WD III p 19n-20n).
The news from Galicia more than enough to resolve the cabinet’s doubts, although Castlereagh was careful to give Wellesley very broad discretion in his instructions, in recognition of the lack of information in the government’s hands about Portugal, and the rapidity with which events in Spain were moving. At the broadest level Wellesley was ordered to assist ‘in counter-acting the designs of the enemy, and in affording to the Spanish and Portuguese nations every possible aid in throwing off the yoke of France.’ More specifically he was directed to precede the fleet to Coruña where he would gather the latest news and judge whether his force, together with Spencer’s, would be strong enough to attempt to defeat the French in Portugal. If he felt that reinforcements were needed, he was to obtain permission from the Galician junta to wait with the expedition in the fine harbour at Vigo, so that Junot would not be put on his guard, and because it was difficult for transports to move northward at that season – Castlereagh was anxious that the troops not go too far south while any uncertainty remained where they would act. A further force of 10,000 men was being prepared for overseas service, and Castlereagh hoped that they would be ready to embark in about three weeks. He also expected that Moore’s expedition would soon return from Sweden and be available to serve in Spain or Portugal – although this was not mentioned in Wellesley’s public instructions. Castlereagh had little to say about how and where the campaign was to be conducted, although he did mention a report that Junot had detached a substantial force towards Almeida as if to open communications with the French army in Spain. However he made clear the government’s conviction that the only basis on which the Spaniards could agree to suspend the struggle was the ‘entire and absolute’ evacuation of the Peninsula by all French troops. (Castlereagh to AW, 30 June 1808, WD III p 19n-20n).
In a private letter accompanying these instructions Castlereagh explained, ‘I have thought it upon the whole better for the present to withhold any Instructions about S. America for obvious reasons, I shall keep however the arrangements as settled in view, and if our hopes should be blasted in Europe, which God forbid, I trust you will have the means of securing powerful support from Old Spain in that, the only remaining Effort for Spanish Independence.’ More optimistically, he looked to have a substantial British army ready to support the Spaniards, with the combination of Wellesley’s and Spencer’s forces, Moore’s corps from Sweden, and the 10,000 men being prepared in England. This last force, and presumably the army as a whole, was to be commanded by Lord Chatham, who, unlike Wellesley and Moore, had the seniority and royal favour needed for such a large command. (Castlereagh to AW, ‘Private’, 30 June 1808, WP 1/205).
Reading between the lines of these instructions one can see the government’s dilemma: the ministers were anxious to seize the opportunity presented by the Spanish revolt, but still had only a partial and complete picture of what was happening, especially in Portugal and southern Spain.
It is said that AW’s second-in-command was originally Major-General Alexander Mackenzie, who had been a fellow student with him at Angers thirty years before (Royal Military Calendar vol 2 p 145-6; Gentleman’s Magazine vol 41 March 1854 p 314-15). But when the destination was changed from the Americas to Spain, and Spencer’s force was added, Mackenzie was removed from the expedition as he was senior to Spencer, whom the Horse Guards wished to keep as second-in-command.
Delays in the sailing of the expedition to Portugal:
The delay in the departure of AW’s expedition led to some criticism. As early as 30 June 1808 The Times wrote, ‘that exactly on this day fortnight, Sir Arthur Wellesley left England to take the command of an expedition, said to be bound to Gibraltar; and by letters from Ireland, we find that he had not quitted Dublin on Sunday last. We verily believe that Lord Chatham would ‘ere now have had British troops upon Spanish territories.’
This, (and probably other, similar, comments) led AW to assure Castlereagh on 10 July: ‘I see that people in England complain of the delay which has taken place in the sailing of the expedition; but, in fact, none has taken place; and even if all had been on board we could not have sailed before this day….[elaborates]’ (AW to Castlereagh, 10 July 1808, WD III p 28).
© Rory Muir