“This is not an epitaph”
‘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.