Monday, August 8, 2016

When the Duke wasn’t the Duke

By Lindsay Downs

Several years ago I was writing a tome and wished to reference Arthur, 1st Duke of Wellington, in a selected passage. The story was set in 1812. Needing to know what his peerage title was at the time, I started searching out information of him. What I learned could take up several posts. However, I will be limiting this one to his early life and military career until 1812. What I learned in the course of my research came as quite a surprise.

The Honorable Arthur Wesley was born on 1 May 1769 in Dublin to the 1st Earl of Mornington and Anne, eldest daughter of the 1st Viscount Dungannon. The exact location is uncertain but the most likely place was his parents’ house, 24 Upper Merrion Street. On the death of his father in 1781, Arthur's elder brother, Richard, assumed the title and was beneficial in Arthur’s early advancement within the military.

The ancestral home, Dangan Castle, engraving 1842
Arthur’s early schooling was at Trim, when living at the family’s castle in Dangan, and Mr. Whyte’s Academy when in Dublin. When he was of age Arthur was sent to Eton. The loneliness of being there caused him to dislike the school very much, and, since at the time Eton didn’t have playing fields, it’s doubtful whether he ever said, “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton”.

In 1784, with funds growing tight, his mother, Anne, withdrew him from school. Together they traveled to Brussels where they stayed until his early twenties. Then in either 1785 or 1786 (Different sources differ) he enrolled in the French Royal Academy of Equitation. While there he improved his French and was very popular with the neighbors.

1787 saw Arthur entering the military. With assistances from Richard, Lord Mornington, Arthur was gazetted as an ensign to the 73rd Regiment of Foot on 7 March. Then in November of the same year he was assigned as aide-de-camp to Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Marquis of Buckingham. He held this position until March 1793, having also served under the Earl of Westmorland. At some point during this year he transferred to the 76th Regiment and was promoted to lieutenant on Christmas Day.

23 January 1788 saw Arthur transferring again, this time to the 41st Regiment of Foot. He didn’t stay but a year and a half; on 25 June 1789, still a lieutenant, he went to the 12th (Prince of Wales's) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons.

He stayed with the 12th until 1791 where on 30 June he was given a company of soldiers in the 58th Regiment of Foot.

Kitty Pakenham by J. R. Swinton c.1850
from early sketch c.1810
Then on 31 October 1792 he moved once again, this time to the 18th Light Dragoons. Shortly afterwards, in 1793, he became enamored with Catherine (Kitty as she preferred) Pakenham. Arthur approached her brother Thomas, Earl of Langford. The earl turned him down, citing him to be 'a young man, in debt, with very poor prospects’. Arthur was so upset by the rejection that he, an aspiring amateur musician, burned his violins and vowed to pursue a military career. On a happier note he did marry Kitty on 10 April 1806. However, they lived apart even in the same house, only to become close on her deathbed on 24 April 1831. Kitty gave Arthur two children, Arthur and Charles.

Depending on the source, it was either 1793 or 1794 when on 30 April Arthur purchased a majority with the 33rd Foot and was soon sent to Antwerp. He joined up with the army on 10 July. 14-15 September saw him in his first engagement at the Battle of Boxtel. Soldiers in front of the 33rd were retreating towards his line. He ordered it opened to allow the English to escape through them to the rear. Arthur then ordered volleys of rifle fire which drove the enemy back. They were later to be forced back to the Waal River. On December 20 he wrote, “We turn out once, sometimes twice, every night; the officers and men are harassed to death. I have not had my clothes off my back for a long time, and generally spend the greatest part of the night upon the bank of the river”.
(This would have such an impact on him that, even when returning home, he would sleep on a camp cot.)

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Wellesley,
aged c. 26, in the 33rd Regiment.

Finally driven out of the United Provinces into Germany after a disastrous expedition, Wellesley later said of his time in the Netherlands, “At least I learned what not to do, and that is always a valuable lesson”.

In March of 1795 he returned, with the 33rd , to England, then a year later rejoined the regiment in Southampton. The intention was to make for the West Indies. Weather was not in their favor. After seven weeks the ships were forced to return, landing at Poole, England. Arthur and the men recuperated for several months then on 3 May he was promoted to full Colonel. A few weeks later the 33rd set sail for Calcutta.

February 1797 saw Arthur and the 33rd arrive in India. After spending several months there he, along with the soldiers, were sent to the Philippines. As, unsurprisingly, neither he nor the men had ever lived in a tropical climate, Arthur quickly established rules for dealing with hygiene. November saw them back in India.

Here we have another discrepancy between my sources. According to ‘A Web of English History’ Wellesley strongly urged his brother, Richard, Earl of Mornington, to come and take up the position of governor-general, while Wikipedia says that Arthur learned his brother had taken up the position. I leave it to you good readers to decide.

It was also in 1798 that Arthur changed the spelling of his surname from Wesley to Wellesley. In December of this year he was given command of troops near Vellore.

February of 1799 saw the arrival of General Harris who commended Wellesley for his “judicious and masterly arrangement in respect of supplies.” (Once again, Arthur had proven himself not only a excellent senior officer but was also aware of how to care for those under him. This trait would continue for years to come and serve him well as he continued to learn the craft of being a leader of men.)

Having distinguished himself so well at several battles, on 17 July 1801 Arthur was promoted to Brigadier-general. Three years later, June 1804, he applied for and was granted permission to return to England. In the meanwhile he returned to Madras where he was invested with the Order of Bath (K.B.). This was conferred upon him on 1 September 1804. During his tenure in India he amassed a fortune of £42,000 mostly from prize money.*

Three years after returning to England, in May 1807 Arthur stepped down from a political appointment when word reached him about an expedition going to Denmark. In August of that year he participated in the Second Battle of Copenhagen. If the city rather than the battle sounds familiar, that’s because later in Wellesley’s military career he rode a horse of the same name not only in Spain but more famously at the Battle of Waterloo for over fifteen hours. It is said that when Wellington dismounted after Waterloo he gave Copenhagen a pat and was almost kicked in the head by the beast. Copenhagen retired to Stratfield Saye House, the duke’s estate, and died on 12 February 1836 at 28 years of age.


On 25 April 1808 Wellesley returned to England where he was promoted to Lieutenant-general. July 12 saws him departing from Cork for the Iberian Peninsula to fight the French. By now, having served in the Netherlands, India and Denmark Arthur was a battle-tested commander.

Historian Robin Neillands says it best.
“Wellesley had by now acquired the experience on which his later successes are founded. He knew about command from the ground up, about the importance of logistics, about campaigning in a hostile environment. He enjoyed political influence and realized the need to maintain support at home. Above all, he had gained a clear idea of how, by setting attainable objectives and relying on his own force and abilities, a campaign could be fought and won”.

With several successes in Spain and Portugal, Arthur was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Wellington on 29 August 1809. The name Wellington was selected by his brother Lord Mornington to minimize the change in name. On 26 January then again a few days later on 1 February 1810 he received the thanks of Parliament and an annuity of £2,000 per annum.

From then until 1812, Viscount Wellington had a few setbacks but more advances against the French in Portugal and Spain drawing rewards and accolades from the peers and citizens of England. On 28 February 1812 Arthur was elevated to the Earl of Wellington then with more successes on 18 August 1812 he was made Marquis of Wellington.”

Now, with this information at hand, I needed to decide at what point in my story, as yet untitled, I wanted to have my hero fighting in Spain. I chose spring of 1812, thus being able to refer to Arthur as the Earl of Wellington.
It is amazing sometimes what we will go through to obtain the most accurate information. Hours of research for a fine point of a proper title.

*See more about Prize money here
[all above images are in the Public Domain]

Lindsay Downs has been  an avid reader since he first held a red leather bound first edition copy of Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake.
Since 2012 when his debut regency romantic suspense was released, he has written several Regency mystery novels. The latest (and last book in the series) is The Hunt Ends, released today, and will be offered as a giveaway next week. Since 2012 He has lived in central Texas. He is also a member of Romance Writers of America and the Austin, TX chapter.
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  1. This was an interesting and insightful bit of research into the man and I learned a great deal about him, more than I thought I would when I started out.

  2. It is amazing sometimes what we will go through to obtain the most accurate information. Hours of research for a fine point of a proper title

    and of course it's worth every bit! Great post!


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