Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)


[Arthur Wellesley]; b. Dangan Castle [usually given as Mornington House, Merrion St. Dublin], son of Lord Mornington; ed. Eton, Brighton, and Angers France (where he attended a military academy); commissioned to 73rd Foot, 1783; major 33rd Foot, 1793; elected MP for Trim in Irish Parliament, 1790-95 - where there is a monument; supported Catholic Relief but opposed admission to Parliament; active service in Netherlands with Duke of York, 1794; commanded 33rd in India, 1797-1085; Governor of Mysore, 1799; major-general, 1802; campaigned in the second Mahratta War, 1803-05; Richard Wellesley Governor General in India; Indian Campaigns, Mysore &c.; married Lady Catherine Pakenham, 1806; succeeded Lord Cornwallis as Colonel of the 33rd, Jan. 1806;
elected MP for Rye, 1806; Secretary for Ireland, 1807; landed Corunna, 1808; new Peninsular expedition, 1809; constructed lines of Torres Vedras; beat French army of Soult back to Toulouse; created first Duke of Wellington (3 May 1814), and granted £400,000 by a grateful Parliament, 1814; Waterloo, 18 June 1815; attacked by Byron in Wellington: The Best of the Cut-Throats (1819); appt. Prime Minister, Jan. 1828, with Robert Peel as Home Secretary;
blown off his horse when wind caught his bearskin surmounted with swan-feather crest, May 1829; his cabinet firmly opposed to Emancipation of Catholics and Jews, but won royal assent to Emancipation legislation on threat of resignation following after O’Connell’s victory at Clare; his house windows at Apsley broken by a liberal mob and defeated in elections, 1830; again became PM briefly in 1834; a state procession was accorded at his funeral, in which twelve horses drew an 18-ton funeral car; the standard life is by Elizabeth Pakenham Longford [Countess of Wellington] (2 vols., 1969); his military and political papers have been edited by Anthony Brett-James, and John Brooke with Julia Gandy respectively; reputedly told Lady Caroline Lamb, ‘publish, and be damned’. ODNB DIB DIH OCIL

Arthur Wellesley,
1st Duke of Wellington
Sir Thomas Lawrence (1814 )

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Civil Correspondence and Memoranda 1807-09, ed. by his son (1859); Speeches in Parliament, 2 vols. 1854).

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Elizabeth Pakenham Longford [Countess of Wellington], Wellington, 2 vols. (1969); Christopher Hibbert, Wellington: A Personal History (London: HarperCollins 1998); Richard Holmes, Wellington: The Iron Duke (London: HarperCollins 2002), 324pp.; Rory Muir, Wellington [2 vols, as] Wellington: The Path to Victory, 1769-1814 (Harvard UP 2013), and Waterloo and the Fortunes of Peace, 1814-1852 (Harvard UP 2015). See also lives by Gordon Corrigan and Andrew Roberts.

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Robert Lee Wolff, ed., [John Banim,] The Denounced by the O’Hara Family, 3 vols. [facsimile edn.] (NY: Garland 1978), ded. Wellington; consists of two novels, The Last Baron of Crana, and The Conformists [pl. sic], the latter set near Coleraine and featuring a fanatically anti-Catholic bishop in the historical person of Anthony Dopping, Bishop of Meath (1643-1697) as an example of savage prejudice of Protestant Ulstermen [Wolff]. The novel bears an epigraph from Moore, ‘- bright o’er the flood/Of her tears and her blood,/Let the rainbow of hope be Wellington’s name’. The dedication reads, ‘Addressed to His Grace Arthur, duke of Wellington, these tales most gratefully, and most respectfully, are enscribed.’ The Preface of three pages speaks briefly of the commencement of writing and the ‘old laws ... at that time debated’ which had since ‘became unexpectedly decided’ (p.[v]), and defends the author against “continuing prejudices” and “opening wounds afresh”, possibly language used by Wellington. In his introduction, Wolff refers to the dedication in the light of the fact that Wellington was castigated in The Anglo-Irish of the XIXth Century. The implication is that the dedication must be ironically intended, even that The Denounced is none other than Wellington himself. Vide the lines ‘He Said that he was not Our Brother’, occasioned by a ‘ferocious attack provoked by some utterance of Wellington about Ireland’, according to McCarthy (ed., Irish Literature, 1904; cited supra). And note also the occasion when Wellington attacked the Catholic mayor of Kilkenny, as reported in Cabinet [?], who may have been Michael Banim.

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Queen Victoria on the death of Wellington: ‘We were startled this morning at seven o’clock by a letter from Colonel Phipps enclosing a telegraphic dispatch with the report, from the sixth edition of the Sun, of the Duke of Wellington’s death the day before yesterday, which report however, we did not at all believe. Would to God that we had been right, and that this day had not been cruelly saddened in the afternoon. Then Mackenzie returned bringing letters… [one] … contained the confirmation that England’s, or rather Britain’s pride, her glory, her hero, the greatest man she ever had produced, was no more! Sad day! Great and irreparable loss!’ (Queen Victoria's diary, Thursday, September 16, 1852; rep. in British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries, ed. Melissa Hardy, et al., Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press & Stevenage (UK) 2012 - online; accessed 25.09.2012.)

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Times Literary Supplement (17 July 1992), review of The Iron Duke: A Military Biography of Wellington, a work concentrating on his achievements in logistics, manpower and money, in the Napoleonic War, which absorbed 60 to 90 percent of government revenue, and involved the loss of 3,217 ships, 223 wrecked or foundered; also mentions Elizabeth Longford’s biography, Norman Gash, ed., Studies in the Military and Political Career of the First Duke of Wellington, and a more recondite article on Wellington as a horseman for the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, by G. Tylden.

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Vincent Cheng, ‘White horse, dark horse: Joyce’s allhorse of another color’, [Chap. 9] in Joyce, Race and Empire (Cambridge UP 1995), espec. p.263ff., which incls. paintings of Wellington and his horse Copenhagen by B. R. Hayden. Cheng argues somewhat tendentiously that ‘surely Joyce [...] knew that Copenhagen was not white’, and treats suggests that Joyce was engaging in a ‘Freudian slip or rather Wakean pun’ that turns on the whiteness of King Billy’s mount. (Op. cit., p.268.)

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Scott Hughes Myerly, British Military Spectacle from the Napoleonic Wars Through the Crimea (Harvard UP 1996): ‘Command and Design’ [Chap. 2]: ‘Even the Duke of Wellington suffered indignity and potentially serious injury as a result of George IV’s and Victoria’s passion for the martial image. As the realm’s first soldier, the duke often had to wear the uniform of the units he was connected with and the military offices he held. When wearing the nearly two-foot-high regulation First Life Guards’ bearskin cap with its enormous swan feather while attending a review in 1829, he was literally blown off his horse by a gust of wind in front of tens of thousands of spectators and soldiers. The incident aroused considerable ridicule in print and caricatures, and had the undesirable political effect of giving a good fillip to the strong feelings of hostility towards the duke at a time of political crisis. While attending the queen on the royal navy ship St. Vincent in 1842, when he was seventy-three, he wrote: “The queen had repeatedly insisted upon my wearing my hat, a large cocked hat with [a] feather, and I had besides my sword.” But the weapon got tangled in the rungs of the steep ship’s ladder while he was climbing down, and “I was obliged to be nearly doubl in order to avoid touching the top deck with my hat.” Though he was unhurt, the duke wrote that the queen “forced me to wear my hat on Tuesday, [the next day] she repeatedly warned me not to fall again.” (p.39.) Note also that George IV’s brother and successor William IV told Wellington that he [William] had saved the day at Salamanca by bringing up some cavalry “when things were looking very bad indeed.”’ (Idem., p.31.)

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Allhorse: Wellington is accredited with the possibly apocryphal remark that a man may be born in a stable without being a horse - a remark variously quoted as: ‘a horse is not an ass because he is born in an ass’s stable’. (For the latter, see Charles Lysaght, ed., Great Irish Lives [Times Books], HarperCollins 2008, Introduction, p.xvi.) See also under James Joyce in Notes, infra [viz., "stableborn" in Finnegans Wake.]

Whosehorse? Legend ascribes to Wellington the famous remark about not being a horse because one is born in a stable - by analogy with his English nationality and his Irish birth - but it was Daniel O'Connell who memorialised it in his statement during the Irish State Trials of 1844 in saying, ‘The poor of Duke, what shall I say of him, to be sure he was born in Ireland, but being born in a stable does not make him a horse’. ( Shaw’s Authenticated Report of the Irish State Trials (1844) [Information supplied by Carmel McCaffrey on Irish Diaspora E-List, 01.10.2014.]

Ronan McGreevy, ‘Wellington won Battle of Waterloo 200 years ago – but Irish rejected his legacy’, in The Irish Times (18 June 2015).

The Duke of Wellington never did say about his Irish birth “just because you are born in a stable does not make you a horse”. It was said by Daniel O’Connell about him and has hung about the reputation of the Iron Duke ever since like a bad smell because it is true.

Wellington was Irish in so far as he was born in Ireland and spent his youth in Ireland, but he was really a British aristocrat and imperialist. His allegiances were to his own class and to the British monarchy. He never self-identified as Irish though his family had been in Ireland for centuries. It would not have occurred to him. He saw Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom and a querulous one at that. He dismissed Ireland as a “nation of scoundrels”. His biographer Lawrence James wrote of him: “Neither he nor his kin ever considered themselves as Irish. ... The Anglo-Irish aristocracy had nothing in common with the indigenous, Gaelic-speaking and Catholic Irish whom they despised and distrusted.”

In 1807 Wellington betrayed his true feelings towards the country of his birth in a letter to the then Home Secretary Lord Hawkesbury: “I am positively convinced that no political measure which you could adopt would alter the temper of the people of this country. They are disaffected to the British Government; they don’t feel the benefits of their situation; attempts to render it better either do not reach their minds, or they are represented to them as additional injuries; and in fact we have no strength here but our army. Surely it is incumbent upon us to adopt every means which can secure the position and add to the strength of our army.”

Wellington did not see himself as Irish because being Irish meant by definition being disloyal to the Crown. “Show me an Irishman and I’ll show you a man whose anxious wish it is to see his country independent of Great Britain”. Wellington was from Ireland, but he was not of Ireland. He was part of an Anglo-Irish caste that lived parallel lives to the Catholic majority. He described Protestants such as himself as the “English garrison” and Ireland “in a view to military operations must be considered enemy country”.

The Irish were good for one thing though. They were suitable cannon fodder for his continental campaigns. Catholics were allowed to join the British army only in the late 1700s. No high-minded principal was involved in granting this right. At that time Ireland constituted a third of the population of the United Kingdom. It made no sense to neglect such a reservoir of manpower. The Irish made up 40 per cent of Wellington’s army during the Peninsular war and 30 per cent of his troops at Waterloo. They were the ones who won the critical battle of the 19th century two centuries ago.

In his defence Wellington was the British prime minister who introduced Catholic emancipation in 1829. It is true that he did so against fierce opposition within his own Tory party and the anti-Catholic King George IV. It is also to his credit that in 1828 he told the House of Lords that it was to Irish Catholic soldiers that “we all owe our proud pre-eminence in our military careers”.

But one must his examine his real motivations for granting Catholic emancipation. He had opposed the idea of Catholics being allowed to sit in parliament in the 1790s. They were good enough to die for him, but not good enough to sit in parliament with him. The British establishment had been spooked by Daniel O’Connell’s victory in the Clare byelection of 1828 and the success of the Catholic Association. Wellington feared civil war more than anything else. Even in granting Catholic emancipation, Wellington was ungracious. The property threshold for voting in Ireland was raised to £10. In England it remained at 40 shillings. Wellington did his best to ensure the native Irish stayed disenfranchised.

It is fashionable nowadays to claim Wellington as one of our own and dismiss Napoleon as a war-mongering megalomaniac, but as the historian Andrew Roberts recently pointed out, Napoleon’s wars were essentially defensive. In his time seven successive coalitions were ranged against him, all out to destroy France and the values of the French revolution. Napoleon was no proto-Hitler. He was committed to republican values of equality and freedom under the law. Wellington dismissed the lower orders as “scum of the Earth”; Napoleon’s Grande Armée was a meritocracy.

The values of the French revolution were the ones that inspired the 1798 Rebellion and the Proclamation of 1916. Wellington won the Battle of Waterloo, but, in the long term, the Irish came to reject the world that he represented. Ireland is a republic, inspired by the ideas of the French revolution and by Napoleon who sought to defend it against the anciens régimes of Europe. It is a greater legacy than that of the monstrous Wellington Monument in the Phoenix Park which, like the man himself, is overbearing and out-of-place.

Available at The Irish Times - online; accessed 08.12.2017.

Horse-frighteners?: When notified of homosexual high-jinks in the stables, Wellington reputedly replied, ‘I don't care what they do as long as it doesn't frighten the horses.’

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Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica, Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, p.422, Garnet Mornington, Earl of Wellington.

Anne Crookshank, Irish Portraits Exhibition (Ulster Mus. 1965), lists port. by John Lucas in the National Portrait Collection (London).

Hyland Books (Cat. 224) lists Letters of the Duke of Wellington to Miss J., 1834-1851 (1st edn. 1889); F. A. Wellesley, ed., The Diary and Correspondence of Henry Wellesley, First Lord Cowley 1790-1846.

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Wilson’s Dublin Directory [contemp. notice]: ‘His Excellency Marquis Wellesley [i.e., Richard Wellesley] visited the Theatre Royal when a most disgraceful party riot took place, and some missiles were thrown at his Excellency’s box. This occurrence occasioned a serious and protracted enquiry in the ensuing session of the Imperial Parliament.’

Marquess [sic] of Wellesley, older br. of Duke of Wellington, served as diplomat and later Lord Lieutenant in Ireland, where he advocated Catholic Emancipation, and angered George IV, but also attracted the antagonism of the Orange Order whose members threw bottles at him in 1822; resigned from Viceregal office when his br. Arthur became Prime Minister in 1828. (See Vincent Cheng, Joyce, Race and Empire, Cambridge UP 1995, p.272.

G. B. Shaw remarked on the ‘untheatrical’ Wellington in his Preface to John Bull’s Other Island.

Trim, Co. Meath: The Wellington Monument [var. Column] was erected Trim, Co. Meath, in 1819; a Wellington Court Hotel stands on the Dublin road. William Bulfin makes mention of the monument to Duke of Wellington at Trim, Co. Meath, erected by ‘gentry of Co. Meath’. (Rambles in Eirinn, 1907).

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James Joyce (1): See the reference in “Gas from a Burner” (1912): ‘Shite and onions! Do you think I’ll print/The name of the Wellington Monument. [...].’

James Joyce (2): In Finnegans Wake, he is the ‘bornstable gentleman’ on his big white horse in the “Museyroom” episode of Book I, while the ‘memorial’ to Wellington in the Phoenix Park becomes the ‘overgrown milestone’ with numerous more phallic associations passim.

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Mornington House, the former home of the Mornington/Wellesley family on Merrion St., Dublin -facing the Toaseach’s Office (formerly IOAS Building assoc. with Sir Horace Plunkett) - is now the premisses of the Merrion Hotel, a premier hotel and restaurant (Gibaud) in Dublin which is home to a fine collection of older and modern Irish painting.

Portraits (inter alia) those by John Lucas in the National Portrait Collection (London); Wellesley by the Comte d’Orsay; profile in The New Irish Magazine and National Advocate (Jan. 1823), pp.244-47; port. of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence at Wellington College, Berkshire; an equestrian statue by Wyatt.

Catholic relations: Wellington’s elder brother Lord [Richard] Wellesley married to Marianne Caton, the wealthy daughter of Catholic planters in America whose sister married Lord Carmarthen, heir to the Duchy of Leed - both arriving in London in the year of the Battle of Waterloo.

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