By Guest Blogger Greg Roberts
William Wellesley-Pole (1763-1845)
have always been particularly nasty about Arthur Wellesley’s older brother William
Wellesley-Pole. He has been variously described as ‘opportunistic and not a little
devious’; ‘the worst type of hanger-on’; and harshest of all: ‘a nonentity’.
To cap it all his obituary in The
Times is still considered one of the most savage ever printed:
[He] was simply angry- angry at all
times with every person and about everything.; his sharp, shrill, loud voice
grating on the ear…an undignified ineffective speaker, an indiscreet
politician…advancing in years without improving in reputation.
the years I have presented papers at various venues including the Wellington
Congress intended to overturn this somewhat biased and inaccurate assessment of
Wellesley-Pole. In any other family he would have been feted, but
Wellesley-Pole was dwarfed by the achievements of his other brothers; Richard,
Governor General of India (1797-1805); and Arthur, perhaps Britain’s greatest
military general. But we should remember that Wellesley-Pole was responsible
for the silver coinage introduced in 1817 which remained in circulation until
1971 - and this was just one of several enduring achievements in his own right.
Far from being a ‘nonentity’
Wellesley-Pole was actually a very loyal and trustworthy brother, content to
stay out of the limelight, and blessed with the one gift that eluded all the
Wellesley clan: a long and happy marriage.
one thing that historians cannot ignore is the role that Wellesley-Pole played
in the creation of ‘Wellington’. This is revealed in the
Raglan MS at Gwent Archives, containing correspondence between Wellesley-Pole
and Arthur covering a decade from 1807. This very important primary source is
often used to illustrate Arthur’s unvarnished opinions about the performance of
government, progress of the war, and the conduct of his family during these
momentous years. Yet the many letters FROM Wellesley-Pole TO Arthur are
scarcely ever acknowledged even though these contain an equally rich vein of
personal insight. It is almost as if Wellesley-Pole is considered persona
non-gratis - even in his own archives.
by reading both sides of the Raglan MS it becomes clear that, from his position
at the heart of government, Wellesley-Pole acted as Arthur’s ‘remote-secretary’.
His services ranged from provision of tea and other home comforts, through to
supplying a new sword or replacement horses. He relayed the latest news,
gathered opinions, and soothed often fractious relations between the Cabinet
and the Peninsular Army. Hence, following Arthur’s victory at Talavera in 1809
Wellesley-Pole was asked to find a suitable title for his feted brother. He was
reluctant to be saddled with such an important responsibility, but King would not
wait, and an immediate decision was required. So Wellesley-Pole took up his pen
and wrote to Arthur:
ransacking the peerage… I at last determined upon Viscount Wellington of
Talavera and of Wellington, and Baron Douro of Welleslie in the County of
Somerset. Wellington is a town not far from Welleslie, and no person has chosen
the title. I trust that you will not think there is anything unpleasant or
trifling in the name of Wellington, but [in the] circumstances… I could not
easily have done better. I own I feel in rather an embarrassing situation for
it is impossible for me to know whether I have acted as you would have had me…but
you should have explained to me your wishes before ever you left England, in
case of such an event.
the anxious days awaiting a reply from the Peninsular, Wellesley-Pole’s nerves would
hardly have been soothed when Arthur’s wife Kitty declared ‘Wellington
I do not like for it recalls nothing. However, it is done & I suppose it
could not be avoided.’ The fact Wellesley-Pole did not consult Kitty says a lot
about the role of women in society at that time, for it seems odd that she was
presented with a fait accompli, and literally had to live with Wellesley-Pole’s
decision for the rest of her life.
and to Wellesley-Pole’s immense relief his choice of title met with unqualified
approval from Arthur:
is that you have done exactly what you ought to have done… You have chosen most
fortunately, and I am very much obliged to you. I could not have been better
off for a name if we had discussed the subject twenty times
a shame to see how lazily generations of historians have negatively pigeon-holed
Wellesley-Pole, when denying his close relationship with Wellington must surely
prevent a fuller understanding of this great military genius. Even the creation of ‘Wellington’ is too often
considered an egotistical act on Wellesley-Pole’s when a quick perusal of the
relevant letters can easily demonstrate that Wellesley-Pole had no choice but
to stand proxy, and that his motives were honourable as he tried to balance the
needs of government with the wishes of his beloved brother.
you would like to know more about the Wellesley-Pole family, please check out
my blog www.wickedwilliam.com at which I will be doing a series
of posts devoted to Wellington’s relationship with Wellesley-Pole’s
children: Mary Bagot, ‘Wicked William’
Long-Wellesley, Priscilla Burghersh & Emily Raglan. This quartet each
played very significant but wildly differing roles in the life and times of the
Duke of Wellington.
You can follow Greg
Roberts on Twitter: @geggly @Mary_Bagot
Labels: Duke of Wellington