‘Wicked’ William & Catherine: Society Wedding of the Regency Era

Wicked William takes the hand (and purse) of his bride

On 14th March 1812, ‘Wicked’ William Wellesley-Pole married his fabulously rich bride Catherine Tylney-Long at St James’ Church, Piccadilly. The tragic outcome of their marriage has been thoroughly described in Geraldine Roberts‘ best-selling book The Angel and The Cad (Macmillan, 2015) – including the fascinating account of how such a penniless wastrel could have succeed in winning the heart of Britain’s richest woman.

This blog takes us back to March 1812,  shedding a bit more light on the wedding itself, and how it was reported in the press.

William’s courtship of Catherine Tylney-Long began in the summer of 1810, and it took almost 18 months for him to fend off a plethora of rivals including the Duke of Clarence (future King William IV), before the chase was won. The above satire from January 1812 likens William and Catherine’s courtship to that of Romeo and Juliet – a kind of ‘against the odds’ love affair – which it certainly was. Though at this stage they were already betrothed, the battle was still raging – Not only was Catherine under attack from stalkers, such as John Scott (pictured being chased away above) but there were also hundreds of legal documents to wade through as Catherine’s alarmed and concerned family sought to devise a marriage agreement that would keep as much control as possible away from the Wellesley bridegroom.

William could now be called ‘Long Pole’ and not without reason

Over the next two months a sometimes tense and occasionally hostile negotiation continued – meaning that the wedding arrangements were continually postponed. William did not waste time, however, to cement his destiny. On January 14th 1812 – even before he was married – William changed his name by Royal Licence and added his wife’s ancestral surnames – to become fabulously quadruple-barreled William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley. If you were looking for an omen here – then William certainly gave one by placing ‘Wellesley’ at the end of his newly acquired monicker. It was always traditional for men marrying into money to adopt their wife’s title or surname upon marriage. William instead chose to foreground his politically well-connected Wellesley family name – one which had up to this point been merely a middle name for him – but now, thanks to the endeavours of his famous uncles (including the Duke of Wellington) – William was suddenly making a claim to be Pretender to their legacy. A marvellous piece of self-marketing that really ought to have been pulled up by Catherine and her family. As for the combination of Long and Pole – this gave endless opportunities for punsters to allude to his renowned masculinity – which certainly would have flattered William still further.

St James, Piccadilly – The ultimate fashionable wedding venue

Another knock-on effect of the delay with legalities meant that Catherine’s original intention to ‘get married without ostentation’ was completely over-ridden as William chose THE most fashionable church in London, St James, Piccadilly – in the heart of his stomping grounds amidst the dandies and beau monde of Piccadilly. This beautiful Wren church is still the same, lying just north of St James Square, and its interiors are exactly as they would have been on the day when William and Catherine walked the aisle

Eventually, in early March, Catherine’s legal advisor sent over his final draft of the marriage agreement, but cautioned her as to the amount of property being placed under William’s control

I can only say that if I saw anything improper or that was inconsistent with your honourable character, I should lake the liberty of pressing it to your notice. Nothing of that kind will, I dare say, occur; and as to the general case of the arrangements, they must be entirely governed by your own feelings & judgement as they concern the dispensation of the property which must be entirely subject to your ideas of what is best to be done relatively to all other claims upon it

Once the news was out that the wedding date was finally fixed for Saturday 14th, the Morning Chronicle recorded

The rolls of parchment employed in preparing the marriage articles, conveyances, and other deeds, in preparation for the expected union of Miss Tilney Long and Mr. Wellesley Pole, are sufficiently numerous and bulky to load a cart. The settlement for the separate use of the lady is said to be £11,000, for pin money, with additions of £6000 in case of a separation

Anticipation for the big event was a fever-point by this stage. It was widely reported that huge numbers of ladies queued for hours on end for the change to view Miss Tylney-Longs nuptial garments, which were on display at her robe-makers – ‘it excites much female curiosity to learn why each snow-white chemise should be decorated with the finest Brussels lace all down the back’. Indeed Catherine’s choice of white for her wedding gown is nowadays attributed with establishing that tradition – one that was copied by Queen Victoria at her own wedding, to great acclaim.

The Newspapers describes events of the wedding day – including William’s appalling failure to provide a wedding ring – another omen perhaps, and that led to a lengthy delay whilst a local jeweller was sent for.

The ceremonial of the Wellesley marriage was as private as possible. Marquis Wellesley acted as Master of the Ceremonies, and conducted the bride through Dr. Andrews house to the altar. Miss Diana and Miss Emma Long followed as bridesmaids. During the service, tears were plentifully shed by Lady Catherine, who was present, and all the daughters; it is to be hoped that they may prove the last on this trying occasion! The ceremony over, a new equipage was at the church door in Jermyn Street to receive the happy pair; it was a singularly elegant chariot, painted a bright yellow, and highly emblazoned drawn by four beautiful Arabian grey horses, attended by two postillons in brown jackets, with superbly embroidered jackets in gold, emblematic of the united arms of the Wellesley and Tylney families. The new married pair drove off at great speed for Blackheath, intending to pass the night at the tasteful chateau, belonging to the bridegroom’s father, and thence proceed to Wanstead, in Essex, on the following day to pass the honeymoon.

The dress of the present bride consisted of a robe of real Brussels point lace; the device a sigle sprig; it was placed over white satin. The head was ornamented with a cottage bonnet, of the same material; viz. Brussels lace, with two ostrich feathers. She likewise wore a deep lace veil, and a white satin pelisse, trimmed with Swansdown. The dress cost 700 guineas, the bonnet 150, and the veil 200. Mr Pole wore a plain blue coat, with yellow buttons, a white waistcoat, and buff breeches, and white silk stockings. The Lady looked very pretty and interesting.

It was to elude the eager curiosity of the crowd that they returned from the church at the door opposite to the one at which they entered.

On Sunday the wedding favours were distributed among their numerous friends; the number exceeded eight hundred, composed wholly of silver, and unique in form – those for Ladies having an acorn in the centre, and the Gentleman’s a star; each cost a guinea and a half. The inferior ones, for their domestics and others, were made of white satin ribbon, with silver stars and silver balls and fringe. The Lady’s jewels consisted principally of a brilliant necklace and ear-rings; the former cost twenty five thousand guineas. Every domestic in the family of Lady Catherine Long  has been liberally provided for; they all have had annuities settled upon them for life; and Mrs Pole Tylney Long Wellesley’s own waiting woman, who was nurse to her in her infancy, has been liberally considered. The fortune remaining to Mrs Pole Tylney Long Wellesley (after allowing for considerable sums given as an additional portion to each of the Misses Long, and an annuity to Lady Catherine Long), may be raised to eighty thousand pounds per annum.

A singular circumstance is said to have attended the wedding on the arrival of the happy pair at the Hymeneal altar, the bridegroom was applied to by Dr. Glasse for the ring; but he had forgotten to procure the necessary testimonial. A messenger was in consequence dispatched to Mr. Brown, a jeweller, in Piccadilly, opposite the Church, who immediately attended with an assortment, and then the ceremony proceeded without further interruption.

Not all of the press were enamoured with this incredibly splendid occasion. Several papers intimated that William’s decision to leave the church via the back route owed as much to the need to avoid writs from creditors as the desire to avoid the crowds outside. The Liverpool Mercury acknowledged the ‘admiration and envy excited by the costly bridal dress and jewels’ but questioned the extravagance of spending ‘a sum of money equal to a year’s maintenance of at least 500 poor families’.

So the deed was done and the Long-Wellesleys were off to spend their married life at Wanstead House. Perthaps for this day then, I will wish them well – and hope that, despite the signs, William Long-Wellesley will prove to be a dutiful husband, who will take his Wanstead estate to new heights of brilliance. Fat chance though….

Wanstead House and Gardens, the 'English Versailles,' - England's finest Palladian mansion

Catherine’s marriage was to prove beginning of the end for Wanstead House

The story of William and Catherine’s marriage, and their ups and (mainly) downs at Wanstead House can be fully appreciated by reading The Angel and The Cad – but there is so much more besides to ‘Wicked William’ Long-Wellesley – which has been researched but was not needed for that project. I will return to other episodes from William’s life in future posts

If you want to learn about William’s shambolic military career why not follow him to war, or you might like to see an example of his expensive lifestyle by attending Wicked William’s Hunt. A black sheep indeed, but to appreciate the achievements of his father and brothers, you might like to celebrate 200 years of the splendid shilling, or to see why the Duke of Wellington ought to be celebrated more by the French nation.

My blogs tend to be Londoncentric, and if you are of a similar persuasion why not read the sad tale of a Walthamstow Murderess, the death of a prizefighter, or learn about the days when vagrancy meant prison

Finally, I would like to reiterate that my blog is entirely my own work, but that I do rely heavily upon the fantastic image resources of the British Museum  without which I couldn’t hope to properly illuminate my subjects. I am always happy to answer questions and receive feedback on any of these postings, and would like to thank the 25000+ unique visitors that I have welcomed to my blog site since I first started to post.