Creating Tradition – Wellesley-Pole and Ascot (Part 2)
How Wellesley-Pole came to be Master of the Buckhounds, 1823
Where’s Wellesley-Pole? Why, He’s Gone to the Dogs!
All things considered 1823 was not a great year for William Wellesley-Pole. After 9 successful years as Master of The Mint culminating in his deserved elevation to the peerage (under the title of Lord Maryborough) Wellesley-Pole fully expected to earn a senior Cabinet position upon Lord Liverpool’s ministerial reshuffle. But when the Prime Minister summoned Wellesley-Pole in January 1823 he dropped the bombshell that our man was surplus to requirements. To put it bluntly, Wellesley-Pole had reached the end of his useful life and the time had come for Liverpool to bring in new blood, such as Robert Peel and the racey and exciting William Huskisson, who would help to bolster his unpopular administration
But Wellesley-Pole’s reaction placed Lord Liverpool in a quandary, for he flew into a rage and point blank refused to leave the Cabinet. Charles Arbuthnot recorded that Wellesley-Pole considered ‘the usage he has met with is quite atrocious & that he would not accept of any office but the one he has. He talked a great deal of stuff about the respect due to him as the Duke of Wellington’s brother, & in short, was like a madman.’ Such defiance of Prime Ministerial order threatened to undermine the very foundations of Liverpool’s Government. He had to get rid of Wellesley-Pole, but needed to devise a stratagem to achieve his aims without further rancour.
Lord Liverpool didn’t like Wellesley-Pole when he was angry
In the Autumn of 1823 Liverpool at last found the perfect opportunity to offload his angry Minister. He did this by exploiting Wellesley-Pole’s close relationship with King George IV. The death of Charles Cornwallis on 9th August created a vacancy in the Royal Household, in the office of Master of the Buckhounds. Wasting no time at all Liverpool wrote to the King suggesting that Wellesley-Pole wanted to apply for the job because he was practically George IV’s number one fan.The King was led to believe that Wellesley-Pole he always dreamt of having a country home near Windsor, but that he was far too modest to apply. Needless to say the King was receptive to such gushing adulation, took up his pen and wrote a plea for Wellesley-Pole to take the job. Perhaps with Liverpool’s connivance the salary offered was generous- plus he was promised the gatehouse to Windsor Park upon which to make his establishment.
When Wellesley-Pole received the King’s letter has was surprised and flattered, but unsure as to whether a man of his age (60 years old) could be capable of taking on such a youthful and athletic role. However it was a place in the Royal Household dating back to the 1300s which appealed directly to Wellesley-Pole’s strong respect for of tradition. For Mrs Wellesley-Pole it was a no-brainer because she really did want a country retreat and this golden opportunity was quite simply too good to pass up. The King’s offer was therefore speedily and gratefully accepted.
It was only after the deal was done that Liverpool played his trump card. He wrote to Wellesley-Pole congratulating him on his appointment to the Royal Household but reminding him that an employee of the King could not be a Cabinet Minister – since the King would be embarrassedby the accusation of putting his own men into Government. This was a masterstroke leaving Wellesley-Pole no option but to fall on his sword – for he could not go back on his word to the King, still less dash his wife’s hopes of rural paradise. In private Wellesley-Pole roundly abused all in Government, not least the Duke of Wellington in whom he felt a keen sense of betrayal, but the fear of upsetting the King meant that ultimately Wellesley-Pole went quietly into political retirement.
The Buckhounds at Salt Hill, near Windsor c.1850
So just what was Wellesley-Pole letting himself in for? Well its fair to say his task largely involved acting as the Royal entertainments officer. This principally involved gathering the horse and hounds together for organised hunts, usually in Windsor Forest; but from the mid-1750s it began to embrace other sporting activities – particularly equine sports. Because the Royal Family controlled the wardenship of Windsor Forest, their patronage over horse-racing at Ascot Heath was long-established – dating back to Queen Anne (1711). Responsibility for ‘Royal Ascot’ really was the jewel in the crown of duties expected from the office of Master of the Buckhounds.
Ascot Heath Races – The ‘Royal’ tag was to come much, much later
It is no secret that Wellesley-Pole had a hot temper, or that he could be a very fearsome adversary when roused. But his temper tantrums were never of long duration and, like his brother Wellington, he refused to let emotion become an obstacle to giving his all in service of his country.
Just a month after taking up his duties, Charles Bagot saw Wellesley-Pole ‘in light buckskins with a jockey cap and gold couples to his belt’ acting as Master of the Buckhounds. Wellesley-Pole insisted he was ‘exceedingly pleased with the appointment…he was getting tired of politics and the hounds were just the hobby he would most like.’ Whether this was bravado or the plain truth, it was obvious that Wellesley-Pole was going into this job enthusiastically. He quickly realised its possibilities went far beyond dog-minding, offering him the chance to take control of Royal Ascot, a once great event whose reputation was tarnished by years of disorganisation and neglect. Nearby racetracks (such as Epsom and Newmarket) threatened to leave Ascot in their wake. So, for Wellesley-Pole the task was on!!
So, on 13th October 1823 the King’s staghounds made their first appearance of the hunting season, near Winkfield Plain at Windsor. Several ladies in carriages and a great crowd of ordinary folk turned up to witness Lord Maryborough’s debut as Master of the Buckhounds- and to witness how a Cabinet Minister really had gone to the dogs.
To find out more about how brilliantly devious Lord Liverpool could be you should look no further than Norman Gash, whose The Life and Political Career of Robert Banks Jenkinson, Second Earl of Liverpool 1770–1828 was first published in 1984. Sadly Norman died in 2009 but a new paperback version of his book is due for publication in 2015.
For more on Wellesley-Pole’s hot-headedness, and how he turned anger into a positive energy, you may like to read his battle to save a tramp.
To find out how Wellesley-Pole ‘created’ Lord Wellington please read my guest blog on Number One London
I’d love to hear any comments or questions you may have about the Wellesley-Pole family, not least Wicked William, the blackest of all black sheep. So please contact me and I’ll be delighted to respond.