The Ill Fated Marriage of The Duke of Wellington

On 10 April 1806 took place the marriage of Arthur Wellesley to Catherine Sarah Dorothea Pakenham, third daughter of the Earl of Longford. This is, perhaps, the strangest marriage I've come across in the annals of Georgian, Regency and Victorian alliances . No two people were ever more ill suited to spend their lives together (unless it be the Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline) and no other couple had less in common, either in the way of interests or personality. So marked was the disparity between them that many of their contemporaries wondered at the alliance. That Wellington, a man so careful in his actions and attitudes, should have willingly made such a bad match for himself beggars belief. In fact, as we shall see, Wellington himself could hardly credit it.

On 7 March 1787, Wellesley was gazetted ensign in the 73rd Regiment of Foot. In October, with the assistance of his brother, he was assigned as aide-de-camp, on ten shillings a day (twice his pay as an ensign), to the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Lord Buckingham. He was also transferred to the new 76th Regiment forming in Ireland and on Christmas Day, 1787, was promoted to Lieutenant. During his time in Dublin his duties were mainly social; attending balls, entertaining guests and providing advice to Buckingham. While in Ireland, he over extended himself in borrowing due to his occasional gambling, but in his defence stated that "I have often known what it was to be in want of money, but I have never got helplessly into debt."

Two years later, in June 1789, he transferred to the 12th Light Dragoons, still as a lieutenant and according to his biographer, Richard Holmes, he also dipped a reluctant toe into politics becoming an MP for Trim in the Irish House of Commons and in 1791 he became a Captain and was transferred to the 18th Light Dragoons. During this time, he met and wooed Catherine (Kitty) Pakenham, the daughter of Edward Pakenham, 2nd Baron Longford, who was described as being full of 'gaiety and charm.' Wellington offered for her hand in marriage in 1793 and was summarily refused by Kitty's brother Thomas, Earl of Longford, who saw nothing very much in the young Wellesley to recommend him to the family, as he had a number of debts, poor professional prospects and no sign hung round his neck that read, "Future Duke of Wellington, Incredibly Wealthy, In Charge of Everything."

Thomas, Earl Longford

Arthur Wellesley, or Wesley, as he then styled himself, then left Dublin for active service in the Netherlands and apparently did not look back on his lost love.  Nowhere in his correspondence for the interceding 12 year interval does he make any reference to Catherine Pakenham, or does a letter to or from her exist.

Then, we are to believe that Wellesley went to spend his leave at Cheltenham and met a mutual friend, the  busybody and yenta Lady Olivia Sparrow, who twitted him with heartlessness to her bosom friend "Kitty Pakenham," and assured him that his ladylove had never changed.

"What!" Wellesley was purported to exclaim, "does she still remember me ? Do you think I ought to renew my offer? I'm ready to do it."

Supposedly, he then wrote at once to Miss Pakenham, renewing his proposal of marriage. She replied that, as it was so long since they had met, he had better come over and see her before committing himself, lest he should find her aged and altered. Sir Arthur replied that minds, at all events, did not change with years and  hastened over to Ireland. Though, upon again laying eyes on Kitty, he was said to have exclaimed,  "She has grown ugly, by Jove!" they were married by Wellesley's clergyman brother Gerald  in Lady Longford's drawing room in Dublin.

Part Two Coming Soon!

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