Arthur Wellesley repackaged: the birth of ‘Wellington’

wellesley pole
Wellesley-Pole: the man who named ‘Wellington’

In previous blog posts I have described how Wellesley-Pole’s orchestrated The Great Recoinage (1817), the Waterloo Medal (1816), and modernised Royal Ascot (1822-1830). But he was also responsible for the ‘birth’ of Wellington: for it was our man Wellesley-Pole who created the iconic title under which Arthur Wellesley’s glories came to pass.

wellington young

R.I.P. Arthur, long live Wellington!!

The circumstances of Wellington’s creation are revealed in the Raglan MS at Gwent Archives, containing correspondence between Wellesley-Pole and Arthur from 1807-1818. This very important primary source is often used to illustrate Arthur’s unvarnished opinions about the performance of government, progress of the war, and the conduct of his family during these momentous years. Yet the many letters FROM Wellesley-Pole TO Arthur are barely ever cited – despite the fact they contain an equally rich vein of personal insight into the political intrigues of the time. It is quite amazing – and sad to see Wellesley-Pole so overlooked – in his own archives to boot.

Historians love to lay into William Wellesley-Pole. They portray him as ‘opportunistic’, ‘not a little devious’; ‘the worst type of hanger-on’; and harshest of all: ‘a nonentity’. Even his obituary is nowadays considered to be one of the most savage ever printed

From an early period of his career it was evident to all … that he was by no means destined to fulfil so prominent a position in public life as his brothers…Journalists and demagogues denounced him as a Minister who not only deserved to be degraded and punished, but as a criminal for whose enormities no amount of penal infliction could be excessive…His spirit quailed before a crisis…at no time in his life did he display Parliamentary talents of a high order…Mr Wellesley-Pole was simply angry- angry at all times with every person and about everything.; his sharp, shrill, loud voice grating on the ear…an undignified ineffective speaker, an indiscreet politician…advancing in years without improving in reputation.

The Times, February 24th 1845

Over the years I have presented various papers (including the Wellington Congress), and written a number of blogs aimed at setting the record straight about Wellesley-Pole. My contention is that in any other family he would have been feted – however, Wellesley-Pole will always be overshadowed by his other brothers; Richard, Governor General of India (1797-1805); and Arthur, probably Britain’s greatest military leader. I believe that – far from being a ‘nonentity’ – Wellesley-Pole was actually a very loyal and trustworthy brother, content to stay out of the limelight, & blessed with the one gift that eluded all the Wellesley clan: a long and happy marriage.

So, if you read both sides of the Raglan MS it becomes clear that, from his position at the heart of government, Wellesley-Pole DID play a vital role on Arthur’s behalf; acting as a kind of ‘remote-secretary’. His services ranged from provision of tea and other home comforts, through to supplying a new sword or replacement horses. Crucially he relayed the latest news, gathered opinions, and soothed often fractious relations between the Cabinet and the Peninsular Army.

(c) National Trust, Mount Stewart; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Victory at Talavera raised Arthur to the peerage

It is not really surprising therefore that, following Arthur’s victory at Talavera in 1809, Wellesley-Pole was asked to find a suitable title for his feted brother. He was reluctant to be saddled with such an important responsibility, but King would not wait, and an immediate decision was required. So Wellesley-Pole took up his pen and wrote to Arthur:

After ransacking the peerage… I at last determined upon Viscount Wellington of Talavera and of Wellington, and Baron Douro of Welleslie in the County of Somerset. Wellington is a town not far from Welleslie, and no person has chosen the title. I trust that you will not think there is anything unpleasant or trifling in the name of Wellington, but [in the] circumstances… I could not easily have done better. I own I feel in rather an embarrassing situation for it is impossible for me to know whether I have acted as you would have had me…but you should have explained to me your wishes before ever you left England, in case of such an event.

In the anxious days awaiting a reply from the Peninsula, Wellesley-Pole’s nerves would hardly have been soothed when Arthur’s wife Kitty declared

kitty pakenham

Wellington I do not like for it recalls nothing. However, it is done & I suppose it could not be avoided.

The fact Wellesley-Pole did not consult Kitty says a lot about the role of women in society at that time, for it seems odd that she was only told after the deed was done, and literally had to live with Wellesley-Pole’s decision for the rest of her life.

Eventually and to Wellesley-Pole’s immense relief his choice of title met with unqualified approval from Arthur:

My opinion is that you have done exactly what you ought to have done… You have chosen most fortunately, and I am very much obliged to you. I could not have been better off for a name if we had discussed the subject twenty times

It seems obvious to me that a greater study of Wellesley-Pole’s close relationship with Wellington not only offers a fuller understanding of this great military genius, but could provide Wellesley-Pole much needed relief from his critics: The creation of ‘Wellington’ was not an egotistical act on Wellesley-Pole’s part, for a quick perusal of the relevant letters shows that Wellesley-Pole had no choice but to stand proxy, and that his motives were honourable as he tried to balance the needs of government with the wishes of his beloved brother.

This article is a modified version of a guest blog I wrote for the award winning numberonelondon website

In this momentous year celebrating the bicentennial of Waterloo, you may be interested in the forthcoming Wellington Congress which has a great programme of speakers lined up, at the University of Southampton April 10-12th 2015. I will be doing a talk on Sunday 12th focussing (of course) on Wellington’s relationship with the Wellesley-Poles.

For more news, views and information on this year’s Waterloo celebrations visit Waterloo 200 or Waterloo2015 – not forgetting the simply splendid Unseen Waterloo

If you live in London, why not visit Apsley House and see the Duke of Wellington’s home

Any comments or feedback is always welcome – and a big thanks to all those kind souls on Twitter who do so much to promote my blog – it really is appreciated.

6 Reasons why France should salute the Iron Duke

wellington

With the celebrations of the bicenntenial of Waterloo almost upon us, it obvious that France should commemorate the end of Napoleon’s fascinating rule rather than focussing on what was a decisive military defeat. However it should not follow that the Duke of Wellington should be portayed as the ‘baddie’ responsible for drawing the curtain down upon one of the most exciting periods in French history. To do so would be an injustice to the Iron Duke given that he was a confirmed Francophile – whose dispute was directly with Napoleon, and concern for the French citizens was always paramount.

wellington at waterloo

The recent creeping campaign to undermine Wellington’s role at Waterloo is, to me, bad enough. But the attendent lack of recognition for his important role in PROTECTING France both during and after the conflict is a step too far.

Thus I have drawn up six brief reasons why Wellington ought to receive some grudging Gallic recognition

1. Military Training

angers

Arthur learned his trade in France

Anyone familiar with the life and career of the Duke of Wellington will know that at the age of 16  (when simply known as Arthur Wellesley) he enrolled at the French Royal Academy of Equitation in Angers. It was in France that Arthur first showed any signs of talent. At Angers Arthur learned equestrian skills and became very fluent in French, which was to serve him well in future. Crucially Arthur met fellow students, some of whom were victims of the French Reign of Terror – others who rose through the ranks to fight against him under Napoleon – he never forgot the friendships made or the bonds he felt towards France

2. Wellington the Francophile

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Wellington adored French art and furnishings

Wellington’s love for the French people extended way beyond the ties of personal friendships. For he was also a great admirer of French culture, and particularly its art and furnishings. Whilst Napoleon was exiled to Elba in 1814 Wellington was in Paris – not lording it over the people, but negotiating fair prices to buy works of art including French Buhl furnishings. He set an example by not acting as the commander of an army in occupation, but immersing himself into the cut and thrust of Parisian life and becoming a consumer – paying the going rate without quibble.

3. Military Campaign in France 1813-14

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Wellington’s civilised entry into Toulouse, 1814

Towards the end of the Peninsular War in 1813 Wellington went to great lengths to ensure his armies pouring into France acted with absolute decorum towards the peasantry. Anything taken was always paid for, crops were not trampled down, and the British-led army refrained from hostilities expected from any invading army.

4. After the Battle of Waterloo

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Horrific aftermath of Waterloo

Anyone who thinks that Wellington lacked emotion towards his troops would be well advised to read the correspondence of Thomas Creevey (1768-1838), better known as the Creevey Papers. Though Creevey was not a fan of Wellington, he describes the Iron Duke returning to the fields of Waterloo and Quatre Bas in the days following the battle to aid and assist French and Allied troops alike. Wellington is horrified to find one French soldier unattended and went to his aid – apologising for his situation and calling for medical assistance. The pain Wellington felt for Waterloo encompassed all participants; he never demonised the French.

5. Respect for the enemy

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Wellington could not stop Bourbon vengeance : Marshall Ney

Throughout the Peninsular War Wellington held a more than healthy respect for French generals opposing him in the field. To those who claim that Wellington was over-cautious it might be argued that he was wise to avoid meeting renowned military leaders –  unless it was on his own terms. One such general, Marshall Ney, survived to rejoin Napoleon at Waterloo – having been retained by the restored Bourbon monarchy. After Waterloo the Bourbons decided to make an example of Ney. When Wellington heard he went to great lengths to appeal for clemency, but the King refused to speak with Wellington – & Ney was executed by firing squad. His death divided opinion in France, but showed Wellington to be a man of honour. The Duke’s respect for the enemy went right to the top – and certainly cut both ways. For, when his number was up, Napoleon offered to surrender to Wellington only. I have always thought it a shame that Wellington passed up the opportunity to meet Napoleon at this time as I am sure their conversation would have been legendary.

6. Protection of Paris

occupation

The British – a very civilised army of occupation

Perhaps the most important, yet easly forgotten, role Wellington played in the war against Napoleon was by his presence at Paris. Arriving from the east: Russian, Prussian and Austrian armies were intent upon revenge for the many atrocities their armies and people endured at Napoleon’s hands -and it was almost second-nature for ordinary soldiers to rape and plunder the vanquished population. But while Wellington was around, there were be no horrific reprisals. Draconian punishments befell any British soldier seen to undermine relations with their hosts – and this policy was greatly influential in restraining other occupying troops. This ultimately helped to restore good relations on all sides. The Congress of Vienna stands up very well because of this international civility, especially compared with the bitterness and revenge that bedevilled the Treaty of Verseilles a century later.

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The Louvre, Paris c.1815

In some respects it may be argued that Wellington’s admiration for France went too far – for he played a major role in preventing art treasures amassed at the Louvre being reclaimed by those from whom Napoleon had seized them.

Conclusion

It was a good thing for France that the Duke of Wellington saw his task as the defeat of Napoleon and not a vendetta against its people.  Whatever the ifs and buts about his credit for the Battle of Waterloo, the Iron Duke WAS crucial in protecting France and enabling her to restore relations with the rest of Europe. Though the people of France could never love Wellington, I hope at least they can acknowledge that he was not the worst of enemies to have at a time of military defeat.

loius return

Bringing back the Bourbons? – Not so popular there Arthur!

If you have enjoyed this post you may be interested in Wellington and Fitzroy Somerset at Waterloo or to know how Wicked William rated his illustrious uncle.

Find out more about the production of the Waterloo Medal, via Wellington’s brother Wellesley-Pole

For news, views and information on this year’s Waterloo celebrations visit Waterloo 200 or Waterloo2015 – not forgetting the simply splended Unseen Waterloo

If you live in London, why not visit Apsley House and see the Duke of Wellington’s home

Last but not least, I must mention Geraldine Roberts’ book Angel and the Cad, which is launched by MacMillan on June 18th – Yes, the bicenntenial of Waterloo!!  – in which the Duke of Wellington & Waterloo feature heavily.

Any comments or feedback, as ever, would be greatly appreciated. Otherwise tune in for more Wellesley-related articles!

No Longer Minted : Wellesley-Pole’s Exit (1823)

Wellesley Pole’s departure and legacy

Intro | Waterloo Medal | Pole & Pistrucci | The Great Re-coinage | Exit & Legacy

wwp by pistrucci

Wellesley-Pole leaving medal – by Pistrucci

The bold manner in which you devised, and… executed one of the most difficult works…during the present Reign, or possibly any former one, does honour to the name of Wellesley

Sir Joseph Banks – Letter to Wellesley-Pole 21st June 1817

In the summer of 2009 it came to light that the Royal Mint had made a terrible blunder with the redesign of the 20p piece, meaning that for the first time in over 300 years an undated British coin entered circulation. Any one lucky enough to find one of these ‘mistakes’ could reasonably be expected a windfall, since coin experts placed their value at £50

feck up 20p

A error such as this is indeed a rarity for the Royal Mint, especially given the advances in technology since the days of Wellesley-Pole and Pistrucci. Moreover it brings sharply into focus the amazing logistical achievements of the Waterloo Medal and The Great Recoinage. In less than three years at the Mint Wellesley-Pole revolutionised the issue of war service medals, and then exchanged the entire silver currency of Great Britain without losing a single bag of coin from the 57 million issued and distributed the length and breath of these islands. By any standard this is a mind-boggling achievement, which occurred during years of civil strife – when there was no proper transport and communication system in place.

big red book

This 1818 satire has Wellesley-Pole is saying ‘I swallow £10,000 per annum and do very little for it.’

But what of the next five years, 1818-1823, I hear you ask. What did Wellesley-Pole do next? Well the answer is – not a lot. The problem was that Wellesley-Pole was up to any task set him, but after the new silver currency in 1817, save for the introduction of the gold sovereign, and a few changes after George IV came to the throne – Wellesley-Pole was not called upon to any great extent. This is not to say that the Royal Mint failed to develop and thrive under his command, more that it was really rather routine for a man of his administrative capabilities.

caslereagh

Wellesley-Pole was not vocal enough in support of Government repression

After 1818 Wellesley-Pole was angling for a new role in Government – His long-term ambition was to become First Lord of the Admiralty, something dear to his heart as a former naval officer and services as Secretary to the Admiralty (1805-1808). But he needed advancement to the peerage to make this possible. The only problem was that Lord Liverpool’s government had barely any Ministers sitting in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister really wanted to see Wellesley-Pole at his fiercest in the Commons alongside Lord Castlereagh – defending the crackdown on civil liberties. Instead Wellesley-Pole made repeated requests for advancement, so Liverpool became instead convinced that the time had come to get rid of him. In 1814 Wellesley-Pole had been an important pawn in the political rapprochement with the Duke of Wellington – but when the Iron Duke himself joined the Cabinet in 1818, Liverpool realised that one Wellesley was quite enough – and so the dye was cast for Wellesley-Pole’s removal

Ultimately it was events elsewhere which kept Wellesley-Pole in office until 1823. After the death of George III in 1820, the new King George IV was only to happy to ennoble his friend and confidante – and Wellesley-Pole became Baron Maryborough. But the trial of Queen Caroline, delayed the King’s coronation by two years, putting both Royal and Government business onto the back burner. Hence it was not until 1823 that Wellesley-Pole was ‘no longer Minted.’

maryborough

Wellesley-Pole ennobled – and sacked at the same time

We have now seen Wellesley-Pole’s legacy – and also found out how and why he was removed from office. But what of the Mint? How did they feel about the loss of their Master after 9 tumultuous years? The answer to this can be found at the National Archives where a 300-page document details the full period of Wellesley-Pole’s tenure at the Mint. Most importantly of all it reveals how popular Wellesley-Pole was amongst his staff and colleagues. Sir Joseph Banks (quoted at the head of this post) was just one of many contemporaries who, at least privately, were fulsome in their admiration of his achievements. Luckily for us, and for the Royal Mint – it was Banks’ admiration for Wellesley-Pole that enabled the establishment of the Royal Mint Museum (1816). Both men had a sense of the importance of retaining examples of old currency for continuity of British culture.

Main Mint book - 300 pages

Mint Book at the National Archives

After Wellesley-Pole resigned – the Royal Mint scrambled to lavish him with lasting thanks for what he had done to enhance their reputation. A copy of his bust by Nollekins was commissioned and placed in the Mint boardroom alongside Sir Isaac – reckoned to be the greatest of all Mint employees. He also had the honour to be elected by the Goldsmiths to their Livery, a rare token of esteem. Finally Pistrucci designed a special medal which was awarded to Wellesley-Pole with a Latin inscription, the translation of which follows:

The Officers of the Royal Mint have caused this Medal to be struck in the year of our Lord 1823 in honour of the Right Honourable William Wellesley-Pole, Baron Maryborough (nine year Master of the Mint) as a mark of their respect and esteem for his Lordship: who when the coin of the realm, from long wear had become much deteriorated, not only restored it to its pristine beauty but replaced it by an entirely new coinage, far more perfect both in design and execution, and who also in transmitting the new coinage to all parts of the Kingdom conducted the undertaking with so much Wisdom, Consideration, and Equity that the old money ceased, and the new began to obtain currency in every place, at nearly the same moment

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For those Latin aficionados – here is the Latin version

Perhaps Wellesley-Pole’s greatest legacy of all was framed by his constant insistence that there should be  ‘no impairment in the coins beauty or quality’. Because of this the designs remained in circulation until decimalisation in 1971. For over 150 years British citizens carried his handiwork in their pockets, surely the greatest testimony to what he achieved.

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Bust of Wellesley-Pole by Nollekins – Placed in Mint Boardroom

I hope you have enjoyed ‘The Mint with a Pole’ and come back soon as there are more episodes from the Wellesley-Pole family with which I hope to entertain you.

Any comments or feedback would be gratefully received.

To find out where Wellesley-Pole went after the Mint, please follow him to Royal Ascot – or see why Wellesley-Pole fought to prevent prosecution of a vagrant. Alternatively you can help the Duke of Wellington choose which niece he liked the most.

Sources

  1. National Archives MINT 1/56
  2. Daily Mail June 29 2009
  3. Humphreys H., Gold, Silver and Copper Coins of England (6th Ed, London: Bohn, 1849)
  4. Craig J., The Royal Society and the Royal Mint in, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of  London,  (London: The Royal Society, V19, No 2– Dec 1964)
  5.  Mays J., The Splendid Shilling, (Hampshire: New Forest, 1982)