Commentary Explorer Results
Commentary for Volume 1, Chapter 2: Coming of Age in Ireland (1788–93)
Buckingham and the Regency Crisis:
Buckingham had been in office for barely a year when George III apparently went mad (although it is now believed that he was afflicted with porphyria, a physical ailment, not insanity). The King’s incapacity precipitated a serious political crisis in both Britain and Ireland. There was no doubt that a regency was needed or that the regent should be the Prince of Wales; however Pitt’s government, faced with the Prince’s strong ties to the Opposition, proposed that some of his powers (for example, the ability to create new peers) be restricted for several years. This would not prevent him dismissing his father’s ministers and giving office to the Whigs, but it would limit the lasting benefits they would gain if the King made an early recovery and restored Pitt to power. Buckingham naturally followed Pitt’s line closely, but he faced strong opposition in the Irish Parliament, where many government supporters changed their allegiance in a scramble to retain their places and influence in the new administration which appeared inevitable. (Not all acted from selfish motives, for there was a respectable argument that the Irish Parliament should assert its recently gained independence, rather than slavishly follow the lead set by Westminster. (See O’Brien Anglo-Irish Politics in the Age of Grattan and Pitt p 135-145, McDowell Ireland in the Age of Imperialism and Revolution, 1760-1801 p 338-43, and Derry The Regency Crisis and the Whigs p 198-201). Mornington never wavered in his support for Pitt and the ministers, but he made his main effort in England, despite Buckingham’s pleas for him to throw his weight into the fray in Dublin. (Brashares ‘The Political Career of the Marquess Wellesley in England and Ireland’ p 43).
Arthur Wesley was too young and inexperienced to be anything other than an observer of the drama, although the sight of so many of the government’s closest political supporters deserting the sinking ship may have instilled a cynical appreciation of the nature of political loyalty. The Irish government was beaten soundly in the debates in February 1789 and Parliament prepared an address to the Prince formally petitioning him to take up his unrestricted powers as Regent of Ireland. Buckingham refused to forward the address, so the Parliament appointed six commissioners to take it to England; but when they arrived they found the King recovered and all thoughts of a Regency were abandoned. The long struggle had been ‘hell’ for Buckingham, (quoted in McDowell Ireland in the Age of Imperialism and Revolution, 1760-1801 p 341) and he exacted his revenge from some of the rats who had abandoned the government; but they were too numerous and powerful for a wholesale proscription, and some had to be forgiven. This was a hard pill for Buckingham to swallow, but worse was to come. The King rewarded those who had remained faithful, but pointedly omitted any mark of favour to Buckingham. The reason was probably personal. There is a widely circulated story which, though surely apocryphal, contains an underlying truth, that in his delirium the King remarked, “I hate nobody, why should anybody hate me?” then after a moment’s reflection corrected himself, “I beg pardon, I do had the Marquess of Buckingham” (quoted in Sack The Grenvillites p 5-6). Given Buckingham’s importance in securing the removal of the Fox-North coalition this might appear ungrateful, but George III, priding himself on his plainness and simplicity, was always inclined to resent aristocratic subjects who displayed too much magnificence or adopted regal airs – as Mornington, too, was to discover. Buckingham did not receive the dukedom he craved, nor even the place at court which he regarded as barely acceptable consolation prize. Mortified and disgusted he retired to England and resigned his office in the late summer of 1789. (Other factors contributed to the King’s dislike of Buckingham: Buckingham had resigned from Pitt’s government after only four days in 1783, which the King regarded as desertion and greatly resented; while Buckingham pressed his requests for patronage in a manner which was hardly deferential and which tried the King’s patience. Nonetheless a close examination of the patronage disputes of 1788-9 concludes that the King behaved badly. Pimlott ‘Administration of the British Army’ p 64-70, 75; Ehrman Younger Pitt vol 1 p 130-1.
According to Lecky History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century (vol 2 p 486) Westmorland did not arrive in Ireland until 5 January 1790.
Lord Glenbervie served as Westmorland’s Chief Secretary for a few months in early 1795 after Hobart’s resignation. Early in his term, on 25 January 1795, he wrote in his diary, ‘The Lord Lieutenant is disagreeable, but less so than I expected, and he has been hitherto sufficiently polite and attentive to me.’ (vol 1 p 40). Before he reached Ireland, Glenbervie recorded some gossip that Westmorland had had a public affair with Mrs Stratford, the wife of a brother of Lord Aldborough (the brother inherited the title, so the wife became Lady Aldborough, by which title she is referred to – see vol 2 p 264), and that his wife had reproached him on her deathbed. (ibid p 38-9).
Byron described Westmorland as ‘certainly silly’, while Sir Thomas Lawrence told Farington that ‘one of his eyes is certainly twice the size of the other, which caused the Irish people, while he was Lord Lieutenant, to call him Eighteen pence – a shilling & sixpence .’ (quoted in Complete Peerage vol 12 p 578n).
AW’s appointment to Westmorland’s staff:
Aides-de-camp were a purely personal appointment, and it was usual for most, though not all, the private staff to be replaced when one Lord Lieutenant made way for another. Mornington asked Buckingham to recommend Arthur Wesley to Westmorland, but Buckingham, still in an ill-humour and surrounded by half-finished business, declined: other dependents had greater claims on his influence (HMC Dropmore vol 1 p 529-30). Deprived of this lever Mornington looked elsewhere, either approaching Westmorland directly, or through Grenville or Pitt. Whatever the means the approach succeeded and Arthur Wesley retained his place.
Robert Hobart succeeded his father as 4th Earl of Buckinghamshire in 1804. He was born in 1760: he was a contemporary and friend of Mornington’s, although the friendship would be shipwrecked in India. At the age of seventeen Hobart fathered an illegitimate son, Henry Ellis, who was acknowledged and brought up by the family, although, of course, he could not inherit his father’s titles or estates. (W. D. Jones Prosperity Robinson p 49-51. Henry Ellis (1777-1855) went on to have quite a successful career as an MP, diplomat, traveller and author. He was knighted – see the entry on him in the ODNB). Hobart himself served for a few years in the army before becoming a member of both the Irish and British Houses of Commons. Buckingham welcomed him as chief secretary, praising his ‘quickness, parts, and the most intimate knowledge of every man in Ireland’ (quoted in Thorne The History of Parliament vol 4 p 208). He was cool and courageous in debate although his manner of speaking was criticized,
Mr Hobart’s voice is naturally good, clear, full, well-toned and with sufficient compass, but he much injures it by a species of affectation that reduces it to a feminine lisp, adopted from his familiar intercourse with pretty ladies and pretty gentlemen. (Review of the Irish House of Commons (1789) vol 2 p 403n quoted in both The Complete Peerage and The History of Parliament entries on Hobart).
In March 1790 he was deliberately provoked into fighting a duel with Curran, one of the leaders of the Irish opposition. His coolness in refusing to return his opponent’s fire brought him much credit, even with those, like the King, who detested duelling (HMC Dropmore vol 1 p 569-70). Towards the end of 1793 he resigned as Chief Secretary for Ireland and was appointed Governor of Madras, with a promise that he would succeed Sir John Shore as Governor-General of India. But he and Shore were both recalled in 1798 and Mornington became the new Governor-General. Hobart’s career survived this set-back, and he became a close supporter of Henry Addington, later Lord Sidmouth, and held several important cabinet posts, including Secretary for War and the Colonies (1801-4), and President of the Board of Control (responsible for Indian affairs, 1812-16).
Hobart’s father inherited the title of Earl of Buckinghamshire from his half-brother in 1793 (see Complete Peerage). Prior to that Robert Hobart was plain Mr (or Major) Hobart; his father’s accession gave him the courtesy title of Lord Hobart. In 1798 he was created Baron Hobart and took his seat in the House of Lords in his father’s lifetime.
Cradock’s Peerage, 1819
There is no mention of Cradock in Wellington’s correspondence for 1819, and there seems nothing to support the claim made by the ODNB that Wellington was responsible for his peerage. In 1828 Wellington, as Prime Minister, declined to promote Cradock to a British peerage (Lord Howden to Wellington, 31 July 1828, and reply noted on it WP 1/943/28), and in August 1830 the Duke could not even find time to see him (Wellington to Howden, 6 August 1830, WP 1/1137/16). Cradock was elevated to a UK peerage in 1831 by Lord Grey’s Whig government.
Colonel St George and Mrs Trench:
In politics Colonel St George had been an adherent of Lord Shannon, one of the leading government supporters who joined the opposition during the Regency crisis. Buckingham believed that it was essential to retain St George on the government side, and detached him from Shannon by promising to appoint him Quartermaster-General in Ireland. Delays and obstacles prevented this promise being fulfilled, so Hobart offered to give up his own post of Inspector of Recruits instead. But the King vetoed this idea, and only relented, with obvious resentment, when Buckingham threatened to compensate St George out of his own pocket. (Buckingham to Grenville, 17 October 1789, Grenville to the King and reply, both 17 October 1789, and Grenville to Buckingham, 18 October 1789 all in HMC Dropmore vol 1 p 531-4). St George did not enjoy the office for long, for he was already ill and died soon afterward, apparently of consumption, in Oporto with his wife at his side. (See also Johnston-Liik The History of the Irish Parliament vol 6 p 219-220 for a good entry on St George).
According to the ODNB Lieutenant-Colonel St George died in 1788: this is wrong and Aspinall says it was 1790 – History of the Irish Parliament confirms this and gives the date of 10 March 1790, as well as saying that it was at Oporto, not Lisbon. Even so, the question arises how to reconcile this with his wife’s account of Hobart’s cricket parties when Lord Westmorland was Lord Lieutenant. Either this is a slip and she means 1788 or 1789 when Buckingham was still in office, or she returned to vice-regal circles after her husband’s death (which might explain her ennui and lack of relish in the pleasures). Richmond’s regiment (the 35th) did not reach Ireland until 1791, nor Dublin until 1792, supporting the idea that she is referring to the time after her husband’s death. (Richard Trimen An Historical Memoir of the 35th Royal Sussex Regiment of Foot (Southampton, Southampton Times Newspaper, 1873) p 62-3).
In later life Mrs St George travelled extensively on the Continent, marrying a lawyer, Richard Trench, in Paris in 1803, and went on to publish several volumes of poetry. She is recognized by an entry in the ODNB primarily as a diarist and letter-writer, most of which date from later in her life (from the late 1790s).
Lt-Col William Loftus, another ADC:
Lieutenant-Colonel William Loftus was much older than most of the other aides, and had served in the American war. His father was an important Irish politician, one of those whom Buckingham was forced to forgive for abandoning the government in the Regency crisis. William Loftus was to be a stalwart supporter of the Act of Union, and in 1807 made clear his lack of sympathy for the Grenville government’s proposed concessions to the Catholics. In February 1810 he spoke in favour of the pension granted to Wellington, and two years later opposed the abolition of flogging in the army. From August 1810 until his death in 1831 he held the sinecure post of lieutenant-governor of the Tower of London. (Thorne The History of Parliament vol 4 p 447-8; Johnston-Liik The History of the Irish Parliament vol 5 p 113-4.)
In 1803 AW wrote to Fremantle from India ending his letter: ‘Remember me kindly to Williams when you will see him. I hope that Lord & Lady Buckingham have forgot his former misdeeds…’ Which suggests a residue of good will. (AW to W. H. Fremantle, Camp, 29 Sept 1803, Fremantle Papers, Buckinghamshire Record Office D/FR/47/5/59).
The Vice-regal Court:
McDowell The Irish Administration p 53:
The viceroys were surrounded with considerable state. There was a viceregal court with its officers and ceremonial. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the household included a state steward, a chamberlain, a comptroller, a gentleman usher, aides-de-camp, a master of the revels, gentlemen in waiting, Ulster king of arms with his heralds and pursuivants, the “master and composer of the musick”, “the state music” (a Restoration foundation composed of a kettle-drummer, trumpeters, violins, hautboys, french horns and a dulcimer), and a company of footguards armed with battle-axes who attended the viceroy on ceremonial occasions.
This panoply of state was not much reduced until about 1817.
‘Lady Aldborough came to Cambray …. I am as much convinced as ever that she is the readiest, quickest person in conversation I have ever seen, but she is a little too much upon the full stretch. Was she quieter, she would be more agreeable. The truth is, however, she knows too well the imprudences of her past life, and she is fighting for her place in society by the perpetual exercise of her talents.’ (Creevey journal at Cambrai, n.d. but c. July 1818 Creevey Papers p 281).
Wesley’s criminal conviction:
If Wesley’s brawl was indeed in a Dublin brothel, it is interesting to find him writing, in 1809, to General Slade, objecting to the verdict of a court martial of which Slade was President which ‘honourably acquitted’ the accused, who appears to have done his best to quell a brawl in a Lisbon brothel. ‘I believe that there is no officer upon the General Court Martial who wishes to connect the term honor with the act of going to a brothel; the common practice forbids it, and there is no man who unfortunately commits this act who does not endeavour to conceal it from the world and his friends…’ He therefore desired the Court to revise the sentence to remove the term ‘honourably’ from its acquittal. (WD III p 547-48).
No one has explored this fully, and the sources may not exist to do so, even at Stratfield Saye. Guedalla has several references to money borrowed (for example, The Duke p 29-30, 41, 48-9, 54) including the figure of £955 4s 8d (p 54). This is repeated in Longford who gives the figure as £955 14s 81/2d (p 42). Other sources have more passing references: e.g. Brialmont & Gleig Life of Wellington vol 1 p 9-10. Gleig (Life of Wellington p 8) attempts to deny the fact of Wesley’s debts, and even claims that Wellington himself in later life denounced debt as discreditable in the extreme, and has him say ‘It makes a slave of a man: I have often known what it was to be in want of money, but I never got into debt.’ (p 8) But the evidence is incontrovertible, and the question simply shows that reports of Wellington’s later conversation are not a reliable source for matters of fact.
Wesley’s illegitimate son:
He was almost certainly the Robert William Dixon listed in Alumni Dublinenses. A Register of the Students, Graduates, Professors, and Provosts of Trinity College, in the University of Dublin by George Dames Burtchaell and Thomas Ulick Sadlier (London, Williams and Norgate, 1924) p 232. Dixon’s father is there given as Joshua, and we know that a Joshua Dixon (thus spelt) lent AW £78 19s 8d in July 1795 (Wesley’s note acknowledging the debt is printed in the 1871 “popular” edition of Gleig’s Life p xiii). In 1815 a Joshua Dixon ‘Sheriff’s-peer and shoemaker’ resided at 6 Lower Ormond Quay, while Samuel Dixon, master shoemaker resided at no 7 (The Treble Almanack for the Year 1815… which includes Milton’s Dublin Directory listing both Dixons on page 40). According to the entry in Alumni Dublinenses Robert William Dixon matriculated on 21 Oct 1809 aged 16 and took his B.A. in 1816, but it is unclear what happened to him subsequently.
Wesley’s Regimental Service:
AW’s early commissions were:
7 March 1787 Ensign 73rd Foot
25 December 1787 Lieutenant 76th Foot
23 January 1788 Lieutenant 41st Foot
25 June 1789 Lieutenant 12th Light Dragoons
30 June 1791 Captain 58th Foot
31 October 1792 Captain 18th Light Dragoons
30 April 1793 Major 33rd Foot
30 September 1793 Lieutenant-Colonel 33rd Foot..
The evidence on the amount of time he actually spent with these regiments is both scanty and contradictory. Nearly fifty years later, giving evidence to the Royal Commission into Military Punishments, Wellington was asked: ‘Did you continue to do regimental duty for several years [after entering the army] ?’. He replied
I did: I was abroad at first for some time after I entered the army, and then I joined the 12th light dragoons, and I was an aide de camp to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. I was absent occasionally, but I was generally with my regiment for the greatest part of every year; then I was a Captain of the 58th regt. of foot, with which I did duty; I was then Major in the 33d regt.; and I may say that from the time I became Major in the 33d regt.; until I quitted India, I commanded the regiment, for I commanded it even when I was otherwise employed, and even on the staff. In short, I believe I have done as much regimental duty, I was as much and as constantly with the regiment, particularly from the time I became Major in the 33d regt., as any officer that ever was in His Majesty’s service. (WD VIII p 348).
It is worth noting that he had either forgotten, or chose not the mention, his service in the 73rd, 76th or 41st regiments: that is anything before 1789.
A letter from AW to Fremantle in September 1789 suggests that Buckingham was unhappy that AW had not joined either his regiment or detachments of it in Dublin, now that Buckingham was away in England. AW defended himself:
My Dear Fremantle,
Your letter of the 25th of August I did not receive till yesterday & it surprised me so much that I am rather inclined to think it a joke. If it should be true, I beg you will be so kind as to inform his Excellency that I will most readily obey his orders however harsh they may seem from the unknown cause of them, but that I hope he will be so good as to inform me what part of my conduct has displeased him, that I may remedy it, & who are my accusers that I may prove them to be false. As to disobeying his two former orders, I beg leave again to state, that when Lord Buckingham left Ireland he gave me the choice of going to my regiment or to stay in town. I chose the former not only on account of my own wish but on account of his. Afterwards my commission in the 12th dragoons was sent over to England & was expected to return every day & Colonel Gordon the person whom his Excellency particularly wished me to be under left the regiment. I could not go down in the expectation of staying only one week at most more especially as his object in wishing me to go was defeated. As for joining the detachments he must know that as a light dragoon officer that is impossible at present, so that I could not disobey that order if I wished it. Lord Buckingham’s mind must have been terribly poisoned against me lately, as in your two former letters you stated that he approved of my reasons for not joining my regiment. All I request is, that before he totally withdraws his regard from me, he will be so kind as to ask the people I have mostly lived with, how I have behaved myself since his departure. The Chancellor & Mr Hobart are not people who would countenance a man behaving dishonourably or wrong in any particular. The home of the former has been my home lately & in the first part of Lord Buckingham’s absence from this country I lived mostly at the park. His Excellency has confidence in them both & it will be but fair to make enquiries from them. I thank you for the kind expressions in your letter & I am My Dear Fremantle…’ (AW to William Fremantle [in Bath] Ballyfirn [?] 1 Sept 1789 (Fremantle Papers, Buckinghamshire Record Office D/FR/54/1/4).
However we do not know enough about the incident to draw any real conclusions from it.
41st Regiment: January 1788 to June 1789:
AW was a lieutenant. ‘A muster-roll for the 41st Regiment for the six months ending June 1788, at Hilsea, shows Lieutenant Wesley “present”. A second muster-roll for the same year, also taken at Hilsea, shows him absent as A.D.C. to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, then the Marquis of Buckingham. A third muster-roll, taken at Kinsale in 1789, shows him transferred to the 12th Light Dragoons.’ (‘The Duke of Wellington’s Services’ in The Journal of the Household Brigade 1872 edited by I. E. A. Dolby p 212).
However the first record (that he was “present” at Hilsea) is hard to explain, as he only transferred to the 41st in January 1788 and in the same month was appointed ADC to Buckingham and set out for Ireland, reaching Llangollen en route for Dublin before the end of the month (see chapter one above). Either the entry is a mistake or he paid a brief visit to Hilsea; but it is most unlikely that he actually served with the regiment in England; although he may have done so when it was in Ireland.
Inspection report (WO 27/63) Major-General Robert Prescott inspected the regiment at Kinsale on 13 June 1789. AW was the second most junior lieutenant in the regiment with just one year’s service, but was listed as absent as ADC to the Lord Lieutenant. The regiment, as was common, was under-strength with only 232 rank and file.
12th Light Dragoons, June 1789 to June 1791:
AW still a lieutenant. Cavalry regiments were generally more prestigious, and more expensive, than most infantry regiments: transferring from the 41st to the 12th Light Dragoons may have required purchase as well as official approval, and would make him appear a little more fashionable in viceregal circles).
He is said to have served in the troop commanded by Major William Villettis (afterwards Governor of Malta and Jamaica, sometimes spelt Villettes). The regiment was stationed at Kilkenny, and a muster-roll for the period ending 30 September 1789 (but taken on 9 January 1790) shows that this troop was on detachment at Ross, and that AW was on regimental leave ‘certified to be lame in Dublin’, and that Cornet G. L. Cole was in the same troop. Subsequent muster-rolls list him as ADC to the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Westmorland. (‘The Duke of Wellington’s Services’ in The Journal of the Household Brigade 1872 edited by I. E. A. Dolby p 212-13).
Inspection report (WO 27/68) Major-General C. W. Lyon inspected the regiment at Charleville on 16 June 1790. AW was present, although six officers including the C.O. and Cornet G. L. Cole were absent. AW was listed, correctly, as a lieutenant and 21 years old with 3 years of service. The lieutenant immediately senior to him was Thomas Martin, aged 40 and with 21 years service. Lyon reported that the regiment was much improved, and was now very good, even though not all the officers had chargers.
Cole was born in 1772, and according to the ODNB he was still furthering his military studies at the University of Stuttgart when a lieutenancy in the 5th Dragoon Guards was purchased for him in 1791: so he may not actually have served with AW at this time. The Memoirs of Sir Lowry Cole p 5 says that he studied at Stuttgart for two years, 1790-92, and that the lieutenancy was purchased in 1791.
58th Regiment, June 1791 to October 92:
AW a captain: a significant promotion, but by moving back into the infantry AW would have saved part of the cost of the step if it was gained by purchase.
In 8 June 1807 Wellington wrote to Lt-Col Anstruther from Dublin Castle that ‘Colonel Browne was my commanding officer when I was in the 58th, and I had a good opinion of him, and, indeed, I think him superior to those who in general are candidates for the situation of inspecting field officer of the yeomanry. But I imagine he must be seventy years old, which must, in some degree, disable him for the performance of any active duty.’ (WSD vol 5 p 74-75). However there is a problem with this, as Arthur Browne, to which it apparently refers, had left the 58th before AW joined it. Browne was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Kinsale in August 1789 and his successor in the regiment was appointed in September 1789 (according to the 1791 Army List: thanks to Ron McGuigan for this information). He was born in 1743, and so was 64 in 1807 (close enough to AW’s guess of seventy). It is not clear how he came to be AW’s commander, but the most likely explanation seems to be that AW’s company of the 58th was stationed at Kinsale and so came under Browne’s command.
The Duke of Clarence wrote to Wellington on 27 April 1814 at the end of the war and when Wellington had been made a duke, ‘Proud and nobly proud must your Lordship feel; and I knew Arthur Wellesley a Captain in the 58th regiment at Cork.’ (WSD vol 9 p 42).
According to Gurney’s history of the 58th, the regiment was stationed at Youghal (which is near Cork and Kinsale) at this time, and AW spent most of the 16 months in which he belonged to it on recruiting duty in Dublin. (Lt-Col Russell Gurney History of the Northamptonshire Regiment, 1742-1934 p 80.
‘The only muster-roll for this corps in which Captain Wesley’s name appears, shows him “on recruiting service”.’ (‘The Duke of Wellington’s Services’ in The Journal of the Household Brigade 1872 edited by I. E. A. Dolby p 213).
this all shows that Wellington did serve with some of his regiments (particularly the 12th Light Dragoons, the 58th Foot, and then, of course, the 33rd), but that he exaggerated his regimental experience considerably in his evidence to the Royal Commission. On the other hand, S. G. P. Ward was plainly mistaken when he wrote that Wellington spent little or no time with any of his regiments before the 33rd (Ward Wellington p 18, 19).
AW’s mastery of drill:
Lady Shelley has an interesting story here, but one which is incompatible with Brisbane’s recollection of AW’s mastery of drill c1790. In September 1815 she toured the battlefield of Waterloo with the Duke of Richmond:
The Duke of Richmond told me many interesting anecdotes of Wellington’s early years. He said that when Wellington was a major, serving in Ireland, he begged the Duke of Richmond’s permission to attend all his drills, saying that he felt unequal to a command while he was ignorant of the mechanical part. He persevered for a whole month, and attended every one of the Duke of Richmond’s drills. At the end of that time Lord Westmorland, who knew nothing of the matter, told Wellington that he could get him made a lieutenant-colonel. But Wellington declined the honour, saying that he did not feel equal to it, as he had been so short a time a major. (Diary of Frances, Lady Shelley vol 1 p 167, 18 September 1815)
Richmond’s regiment, the 35th, left Scotland for Ireland in the spring of 1791 and was quartered near Waterford until 1792 when it moved to Dublin; so it was in Dublin when AW was major of the 33rd, and it is probably from this period that the stories of Richmond’s prowess at cricket etc date. So Lady Shelley’s story is quite possible, but it remains heresay, while Brisbane’s reminiscences are first hand, and so should be preferred. (Trimen An Historical Memoir of the 35th p 62-3).
Sale of Mornington House:
Lord Mornington’s father’s agent had wanted to sell it in 1780 when he thought it would fetch £5,000 (‘Some Letters…’ p 35). Lord Cloncurry, whose father bought it from Mornington in 1791 for £8,000, sold in it 1802 for only £2,500, while Cloncurry claimed that by 1849 it would not get £500 despite still being in the fashionable quarter of Dublin. Maxwell Dublin under the Georges p 77.
Wellesley family finances:
A letter from the dowager Countess of Mornington to her eldest son, dated 13 July 1781, printed in Butler Eldest Brother p 36, suggests that she received £1,600 per annum and that the younger children were each allowed £115 pa – which she describes as ‘a stinted allowance for each’; this being the interest on £15,000. (This is plausible: if six children received £115 = £690 or 4.6 per cent; if five children received £115 = £575 or 3.8 per cent: the children would have included Mary, and possibly William). These figures would however be their allowance while they were still children – and Lady Mornington adds, ‘hereafter they have Providence & you to depend upon for protection’. It may be that Arthur Wesley received approximately £3,000 (one fifth of the capital) when he turned 21 in 1790, but this is just speculation.
It is curious that Lady Mornington should refer to the younger children receiving the interest on £15,000 capital; for her husband’s agent, writing to Richard Wesley before his father’s death, stated that they were entitled to the interest on £20,000, or approximately £1,000 pa between them (Some letters… p 36). But even this, divided only between four (Anne, Arthur, Gerald and Henry) would still amount to only £250 pa – a very meagre private income for a young officer who faced inescapable expenses in uniforms, horses etc.
Arthur Wesley as a free mason:
According to Edith Johnston-Liik, Wesley’s father was an enthusiastic mason, and that most members of the Irish Parliament were masons. History of the Irish Parliament vol 6 p 521 (Garret Wesley) and vol 1 p 178.
On 16 July 1816 Wellington replied to an invitation from the Lodges in Bath (when he was staying at Cheltenham) with a flat statement that he was not a freemason. (WSD vol 11 p 451).
Election of 1790:
Secondary accounts differ on the exact date of the election for Trim (which may have lasted more than one day), and it is not clear what was the relevant date on which a candidate had to be twenty-one: when the writ was issued, the poll opened, the poll closed, or the return made. In any case it seems clear that AW was just a day or two short of the required age.
The History of the Irish Parliament (vol 6 p 526) says that William Wellesley-Pole was elected MP for Trim in 1783 while still under age (he was born on 20 May 1763, so he can have been no more than 20 and was possibly only 19).
Longford (p 36) says that AW resigned as MP for Trim before going on active service, and (p 40) on his return was ‘MP for Trim again’; but this is clearly wrong, possibly arising from confusion over the fact that Henry Wesley served at MP for Trim for a few months in 1795 in the other seat. See Johnston-Liik History of the Irish Parliament. There was nothing unusual about MPs going on active service and retaining their seats.
Under age MPs:
Namier and Brooke The History of Parliament, 1760-90 vol 1 p 97:
At each general election (except those of 1754 and 1784) there was a handful of Members returned under the age of 21: one in 1761; four in 1768; six in 1774; and two in 1780. Legally, these Members were not allowed to speak or vote in the House and their elections were automatically null and void; but no action was ever taken against any of them during this period. There was an opposition to Robert Lowther’s election for Westmorland in 1759 and threats that a petition would be brought against him because he was under age but nothing was done…. [goes on to detail other examples].
Thorne The History of Parliament, 1790-1820 vol 1 p 278-9:
There were at least 29, possibly 30, new Members who had not attained their legal majority (21 years) when elected to the House in this period – omitting the 15 or 16 Members who were minors when first elected before 1790 and were still in the House. Only one of the new minors, Sir Thomas Mostyn elected for Flintshire in 1796, was unseated on account of his minority, though the same fate might have befallen the others according to 7 and 8 William III, c. 25. Viscount Jocelyn returned in 1806, was barely 18 years old; but most of the rest were within months or days of their majority. None apparently attempted to vote or speak in the House until they had attained it, except Viscount Milton, when he was still under age when he spoke against the slave trade, 23 Feb. 1807
Challenge to AW’s election to Parliament:
When the new Parliament met in July 1790 a petition was lodged almost immediately by two opponents: Skeffington Thompson and William Thomas Smyth. Parliament adjourned before this petition could be heard, and did not meet again until January 1791 when a second petition was lodged by Edward Mockler and others. This petition alleged that the Portrieve, the Rev. William Elliott, had been guilty of ‘gross and flagrant partiality’ in disallowing the votes of 119 burgesses of Trim; and also that Arthur Wesley had not turned twenty-one at the time of the election. (Ellison ‘Dangan, Mornington and the Wellesleys’ p 326). Secondary sources state that some evidence was taken on the first charge, but the petitions were withdrawn before the Committee came to consider Wesley’s date of birth, so Mrs Masters, the old nurse from Dangan Castle, was never called upon to testify and to support her evidence with the family Bible. (Gleig Life of Wellington p 2; French (ed) Wellington. His Irish Connections p 16). The official record Votes of the House of Commons, in the second session of the fifth Parliament of Ireland … 1791 (Dublin, James King and Abraham Bradley King, stationer to the King, 1791) p 204-5 records that the committee unanimously resolved that both Pomeroy and AW were duly elected.
AW as Member for Trim:
In 1796 when AW was about to sail for India, Mornington praised him for his ‘management of Trim, where by his excellent judgement, amiable manners, admirable temper & firmness he had entirely restored the interest of my family’. Arthur left ‘a paper of directions’ for the guidance of his successor – it is interesting to see that this habit of setting things down on paper was already established. (Mornington to Sir Chichester Fortescue, 20 June 1796, Some Letters of the Mornington Family p 41, partly printed in WSD vol 13 p 3)
Catholic Officers in the Army:
According to J. R. Western the Irish Catholic Relief Act of 1793 formally applied only to Ireland and entitled Catholics to hold military commissions – except on the staff – but only in Ireland. The Talents attempted to remove this anomaly and also to open senior military ranks to Catholics.
In fact, no attempt was made to police or enforce the ban, except that George III would not give a commission to a man he knew to be a Catholic. Comparable to the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on homosexuals in the US military in the 1990s. Clearly much ambiguity surrounded the provisions and there was no clear mechanism for their enforcement. The Duke of Norfolk successfully obtained the repeal of the ban in 1817 arguing that its provisions has long been in disuse (Western ‘Roman Catholics holding Military Commissions in 1798’ p 431).
AW as an MP:
As well as the speeches mentioned in the text, and AW’s defence of Westmorland’s government in 1795 mentioned in Ch 3 below, AW made several other interventions in Parliament. Wellington Speeches vol 1 p 2-3 records a speech of 28 Jan 1793 supporting the government’s prosecution of Mr McDonnell for publishing a libel on the House; vol 1 p 4 that of 24 Jan 1794 objects to a demand for a return of the number of men recruited into the army from Ireland since 1 January 1793 arguing that the government did not collect figures which would make such a return possible.
The History of the Irish Parliament vol 6 p 518-9 adds that in 1790 he voted for Foster as Speaker, and in 1793 was teller for the Convention Bill banning seditious assemblies. On 18 July 1793 he introduced a bill for the regulation of the Marshalsea of the Four Courts in Dublin (i.e. the prison).
W. H. Maxwell Life of Wellington (first edition vol 1 p 10-11, popular edition p 3-4) tells two anecdotes of AW in Parliament – one that he wore a scarlet coat with large epaulettes and was listened to very attentively, his remarks being described by an unnamed contemporary as ‘terse and pertinent, his delivery fluent, and his manner unembarrassed’ – which all sounds rather too good to be true; and a second in which he is soundly whacked between the shoulders by another MP who gesticulated rather too enthusiastically with a roll of parchment while speaking, resulting in a roar of laughter – which is less implausible, but entirely inconsequential.
© Rory Muir