Why Wellesley-Pole should be commemorated by Ascot

Creating Tradition – Wellesley-Pole and Ascot (Part 5)

The Importance of Wellesley-Pole’s Legacy

Intro | Master of the Buckhounds | The Age of Reform | Anger Management | Legacy

maryborough

William Wellesley-Pole (Lord Maryborough) 1763-1845

It is tempting to turn the concluding part of my study of Wellesley-Pole’s impact upon Ascot into an open letter to the powers that be, in the hope that our man will finally gain the credit he deserves. Instead, however, I want to explain why the invention of tradition was not just about Ascot, but more to do with the relationship between the monarchy and the people.

Monarchy

A Perfect Marriage : the Monarchy &  the People

We have seen how Wellesley-Pole’s structural and organisational changes transformed Ascot into the best race track in Britain, and how his rules of racing added a much-needed backbone of professionalism upon which horse racing (as a sport) has thrived. We must must acknowledge that great innovators can make mistakes, & there certainly were one or two wrong decisions made along the way.

Wellesley-Pole’s true legacy, however, must lie in the adoption of ceremonial rituals via the ‘Royal Procession’ – an entirely new creation that gave the instant impression of being a long-held tradition- bringing the people and their King together as one joyous ensemble. It was a simple but brilliant idea that has served us right up to the present time.

Royal Procession

To illustrate this better I will firstly examine why ‘Royal Ascot’ meant so much to George IV, and secondly show how it played a significant role in popularising his successor, William IV.

It must be clarified that Ascot was inaugurated under the reign of Queen Anne in 1711. This was more of a permit to hold meetings, and it was not until after 1750 that an annual 4-day meeting was held. The first royal to show a great interest in Ascot Heath was the Duke of Cumberland – who, as Lord Warden of Windsor Forest, was a enthusiastic and regular attendee. King George III also went frequently until his descent in madness in 1810. But it was his two eldest sons George (Prince of Wales) and Frederick (Duke of York) who really took Ascot to their hearts. The Duke of York was perhaps the most pivotal supporter of Ascot in this period as he regularly entered his own horses, sponsored races, and was always on the course. George, on the other hand, was more of a gambler than a participant – so much so that his debts led to exile from Ascot after 1807. Even after he became Prince Regent, George was remained wary of Ascot – principally because he was deeply unpopular and genuinely feared for his safety. The Duke of York by contrast was a soldier, widely respected, and loved by the people – amongst whom he could freely mingle.

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Frederick, Duke of York – a massive fan of Ascot Heath Races

So, by 1820 when the Regency ended and George IV became King – Ascot Heath was certainly considered a race meeting frequented by Royalty – but there was no real glue to bind each together into one synonymous concept

George IV

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George IV’s early reign was marred by mud slinging

It is actually quite incredible to think that speculation about the King’s health was gauged throughout 1830 on the basis of whether he was likely to attend Ascot Races. On April 24th reports that the King spent three hours instructing the Royal Stud groom regarding horses to enter, was taken to mean his illness wasn’t serious. Yet as the weeks passed by and it became clear that George IV would miss Ascot the nation braced itself for bad news. This sense of foreboding reveals the bond that had formed between King and Royal Ascot and can be explained thus:

George Satire

The press loved to hate the King, and he became withdrawn

The first years of the King’s reign were dogged by social and political unrest, and problems with his estranged wife Queen Caroline of Brunswick. Her trail for adultery, exclusion from the Coronation and sudden death in 1822 combined to make George IV deeply unpopular at all levels of society. Not suprisingly by 1823, the King was largely reclusive – spending months on end at his Royal Cottage in Windsor Park. After his death it was revealed that aside from an occasional visit to the theatre, Ascot Races was the only public engagement at which the King appeared.

the Royal cottage at Windsor

Home from home – The Royal Cottage, Windsor Park

Ascot Races was to become a unique and pivotal occasion for the King. His decision to embrace and improve Ascot, by employing  Nash then Wellesley-Pole, was a bold move hoping to carve out one small corner of Britain where he could feel at home amongst his subjects. As an excercise in public relations, Wellesley-Pole’s newly devised ‘Royal Procession’ was a masterstroke. By 1826 it was reported

A little before one the heath was well filled, and the eyes of the spectators were then anxiously turned towards the straight mile, and the Royal Cavalcade approached amidst the cheerings of the people. The carriages stopped at the Royal Stand, and his Majesty alighted, and during the whole of the races was at the window, conversing with the noblemen of his suite… & was highly delighted at the affectionate demonstration of loyalty with which his progress was attended. He bowed repeatedly, and smiled upon the multitude in the most affable manner

If the King liked it, the public was just as enamoured, as this slightly offensive 1828 report shows

It cannot be denied that the popularity of these races arises more from the sanction afforded them by his Majesty, than from the mere running. Horses may be seen every day, but Kings are scarce; and the sight of one is something to talk of, and is recompense for an immensity of fatigue and expense. Of the thousands congregated at least three out of every five came to see the King; and it is a fortunate circumstance for his admiring subjects, that the Royal Person is sufficiently bulky not to be mistaken for that of any less personage

When Wellesley-Pole created the Royal Procession, therefore, he did an enormous service to the King, paving the way for his popular acceptance. In one fell swoop, Ascot Heath was permanently transformed into ‘Royal Ascot’ – for the benefit of both instititutions.

William IV

It is a curious thing that Ascot proved to be an important turning point for George IV’s successor, William IV  (even though Wellesley-Pole was no longer in charge). The new King was never much of a fan of horse-racing and seldom attended Ascot. However, one of his first engagements was at Wellesley-Pole’s second Ascot meeting in August 1830 where he received a rapturous reception.

WilliamIV

William IV – the ‘Sailor King’

The following summer was less enjoyable as the King found himself snubbed by the aristocracy, who boycotted Ascot in protest at William IV’s support for the Reform Bill, reportedly ‘evincing the coldness of their feelings towards the Crown’. But when the public heard of this snub they turned out in even greater numbers than before. The Morning Chronicle wrote

It is clear that the expectation of seeing the King is paramount over every other consideration with three-fourths of those who visit Ascot; without this attraction, certain we are that the brilliant company assembled on the Heath would have been fewer by some thousands… the great popularity of the Sovereign excited an interest ensuring a full attendance.

In 1832 the Royal Procession ceremony provided one last final, and unexpected endorsement proving beyond question that Wellesley-Pole’s marriage of Ascot to Monarchy was both secure and permanent. When making his initial public salute at the balcony of the Royal Stand…

A ruffian, in the garb of a sailor suddenly threw a large flint stone directly at the King…striking our venerable Sovereign on the forehead, just above the rim of his hat… the sound was loud and the King fell back one or two paces and exclaimed ‘My God, I am hit’. Happily his Majesty soon relieved all anxiety… and appeared smiling at the front window of the Stand to huge cheers from the populace

Concluding Words

So we can see the pivotal role Ascot played in re-connecting one monarch (George IV) with his subjects, and reviving another (William IV) at a time when the ruling elite tried to slap him down. In both instances the Royal Procession provided a perfect platform for the exchange of affection needed between citizens and Kings. Wellesley-Pole therefore created a pageant that elevated Royal Ascot above the status of a mere sporting occasion into a popular celebration of the monarchy.

That Ascot became the venue for a vitally important patriotic affirmation, whilst at the same time undergoing unprecedented improvements in all aspects of horse-racing – is the reason why I think Wellesley-Pole ought to be thanked by today’s owners.

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If you have read and enjoyed this, I hope you will try to remember Wellesley-Pole next time you happen to see Ascot’s ‘Royal Procession’. At least that way his hard work will never be forgotten.

Recommended Links

The main Ascot website has detailed information on days out at Royal Ascot 

I would heartily recommend a stay in Windsor, as besides Ascot there is so much to do in this beautiful town

Lord Liverpool’s Masterstoke

Creating Tradition – Wellesley-Pole and Ascot (Part 2)

How Wellesley-Pole came to be Master of the Buckhounds, 1823

Intro | Master of the Buckhounds | The Age of Reform | Anger Management | Legacy

buckhounds

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.

liverpool  wellesley-pole hulk

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.

buckounds at salt hill

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wicked William – The Last Word

“This is not an epitaph”

wickedwilliam

 

‘Wicked’ William Long-Wellesley (1788-1857) was one of the best-known characters of the Regency period. His rollercoaster life played out like a primordial soap opera through a multitude of satirical images, newspaper reports, books, pamphlets, and journals. His antics were commented upon throughout the world. When he was at his most arrogant, the mob cornered him in the street baying for blood. Yet when he was beaten down they rallied to his defence. Eventually debts and a failed political career forced him into exile. He remained in the news but the public tired of him. He had come to epitomise the worst excesses of a corrupt and unloved era, whose values were an anathema to early Victorian society. From the 1840s Long-Wellesley was consciously marginalised, his removal from contemporary memoirs the equivalent of a literary ‘social cut’.

My blog will show that Long-Wellesley directly contributed to his own notoriety in his pursuit of celebrity. For three decades he adeptly harnessed the power of the press to his own advantage, feeding newspapers tantalising details that kept the public enthralled.

But, as we all know, public opinion and press sympathy can easily change. Therefore with no little irony these last words about ‘Wicked William’ appeared in the Morning Chronicle the day after his death (4th July 1857):

The mockery of heraldry was never more displayed than in the case of this most unworthy representative of the honour of the elder house of Wellesley. A spendthrift, a profligate, and gambler in his youth, he became a debauchee in his manhood [and] his children, whose early tastes and morals he wickedly endeavoured to corrupt, from a malicious desire to add to the agonies of their desolate and broken-hearted mother. Redeemed by no single virtue – adorned by no single grace – his life has gone out, without even a flicker of repentance – his “retirement” was that of one who was deservedly avoided by all men. We have no wish, further, to illustrate such a theme by writing what should be his epitaph.

Luckily for me, so many outrageous events from the scandalous life and times of ‘Wicked William’ were recorded for posterity, that I will have ample opportunity of detailing them over time via this forum.