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Wellington: Waterloo and the Fortunes of Peace 1814–1852

Wellington: Waterloo and the Fortunes of Peace 1814–1852

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Wellington: Waterloo and the Fortunes of Peace 1814–1852

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Jun 9, 2015


The preeminent Wellington biographer presents a fascinating reassessment of the Duke’s most famous victory and his political career after Waterloo.

The Duke of Wellington’s momentous victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo was the culminating point of a brilliant military career. Yet Wellington’s achievements were far from over. He commanded the allied army of occupation in France to the end of 1818, returned home to a seat in Lord Liverpool’s cabinet, and became prime minister in 1828. He later served as a senior minister in Robert Peel’s government and remained Commander-in-Chief of the Army for a decade until his death in 1852.
In this richly detailed work, the second and concluding volume of Rory Muir’s definitive biography, the author offers a substantial reassessment of Wellington’s significance as a politician and a nuanced view of the private man behind the legendary hero. Muir presents new insights into Wellington’s determination to keep peace at home and abroad, achieved by maintaining good relations with the Continental powers, resisting radical agitation, and granting political equality to the Catholics in Ireland. Countering one-dimensional image of Wellington as a national hero, Muir paints a nuanced portrait of a man whose austere public demeanor belied his entertaining, gossipy, generous, and unpretentious private self.
Jun 9, 2015

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Wellington - Rory Muir



AT TEN O’CLOCK on the morning of 6 July 1814, just two months after Napoleon’s abdication and the end of the long war, the Duke of Wellington arrived at the studio of Thomas Lawrence to sit for his portrait. ‘He came on horseback attended by an old Groom, and in the plainest manner; wearing a Blue Coat & a round hat. – Nobody was apprised of his coming, and the few people who were passing had no knowledge of His being the Duke of Wellington.’ ¹ The portrait was commissioned by Sir Charles Stewart and shows Wellington in plain civilian dress; and Lawrence was soon at work on another, for the Prince Regent, showing Wellington in the uniform of a field marshal and holding aloft the Sword of State with St Paul’s in the background – a reference to the Service of Thanksgiving for the victory which was held there that same July. But it was a third, much smaller half-length portrait of Wellington, which in the twentieth century became the best-known image of the Duke, and which has helped to shape our impressions of Regency society. In this portrait Wellington wears his scarlet coat with lavish amounts of braid and decorations, but there is no doubt that the man dominates the costume, the picture and the viewer. Arms folded, body at a slight angle but face almost full, the Duke stares forth. Lawrence has made him look more severe, but nobler than in previous portraits – not softening the features but refining them a little, the chin less heavy, the nose a little less dominant, the gaze direct and the small mouth without a hint of a smile. Yet the overall effect is not off-putting – Lawrence’s colours are too warm and conception too beguiling, so that the viewer delights in the picture and is led to admire Wellington without resentment. ²

Lawrence’s portraits represent one contemporary view of Wellington: as the embodiment of nobility, grandeur and the triumph of Britain in the war against Napoleonic aggression. But there was another perspective held by many radicals and other critics of the government which was expressed by George Cruikshank with a satirical brilliance not far short of Gillray in a number of elaborate caricatures published in 1815 and 1816. In November 1815 Cruikshank produced a print significantly titled The Afterpiece to the Tragedy of Waterloo in which Wellington and other allied leaders tie a feminine embodiment of France to the ground in order to torture and rape her, while literally forcing miniature versions of the Bourbons down her throat. In the background their soldiers carry off loot while a broken shield inscribed ‘Napoleon le Grand’ is in the foreground.³ And the following August Cruikshank produced The Royal Shambles or the Progress of Legitimacy & Re-establishment of Religion & Social Order–!!!–!!!–!!! – the largest and most complicated caricature of his career. While it was directed primarily against the Bourbon restoration, which Cruikshank depicts as a triumph of religious bigotry and political oppression, Wellington is also attacked as the ally of the ultra-conservatives in France, and the instrument, with his army, of despotism. He is dressed in an elaborate uniform and pulls along a cannon on which is mounted the corpulent figure of Louis XVIII, while trampling a prostrate man under the spiked sole of his boot.⁴

The conflict between these two views of Wellington, the hero and the instrument of tyranny and oppression, lasted for a generation or more after his return from the Peninsula in 1814. The radical view was probably always a minority opinion in the country as a whole, but on a number of occasions when the political atmosphere became heated it dominated the press, the prints and the popular mood in London. Until the closing years of his life Wellington remained a controversial, divisive and vital figure in Britain, only slowly retiring from centre stage in the 1840s. His death, in 1852, produced an extraordinary outpouring of national mourning that united the country and elevated his memory into a Victorian pantheon where there was little room for politics, controversy or error. But the real Wellington was never a dull paragon of worthiness, driven only by a sense of selfless duty; and the deference paid to his memory obscured the nature of both the man and the role he played in shaping the course of British history in the years between 1814 and 1852.





(April 1814–March 1815)

THE LONG WAR was finally over. The battle of Toulouse had been fought on 10 April 1814, and two days later Wellington had learnt of Napoleon’s abdication. It took another week before Soult submitted to the new French government, but there was no further fighting, except for a pointless and costly sortie by the garrison of Bayonne on 14 April. On 21 April, before Wellington had even begun to think about his future, Sir Charles Stewart arrived from Paris carrying a letter from Castlereagh offering him the Paris embassy, ‘if you have no other object immediately in view, repose after such exertions being in itself a very natural one’. Castlereagh argued that Wellington’s authority and prestige would give Britain added influence in France and in the affairs of the Continent as a whole. There would be no need to take up the position for some time but it would be helpful if he could come up to Paris for talks fairly soon. ¹

Wellington was genuinely surprised by the offer, replying that he was ‘very much obliged and flattered by your thinking of me for a situation for which I should never have thought myself qualified’. This was unduly modest; he had been at the centre of diplomatic negotiations with Spain and Portugal for the last five years, and before that in India, while it was common at the time for important diplomatic positions to be filled by soldiers. Despite his protest he had no hesitation in accepting, explaining to Henry that ‘I must serve the public in some manner or other’.²

He left Toulouse at the end of April and arrived in Paris on 4 May. Castlereagh, seeing him for the first time in five years, commented: ‘He looks perfectly well, and does not show the effects of his campaigns as much as I expected in his countenance.’ He was immediately the centre of attention. Byron’s friend, John Cam Hobhouse, a radical with no sympathy for Wellington’s politics, was in Paris at the time and admits: ‘I felt, for my own part, an insatiable desire to see him, and ran many chances of being kicked and trampled down to get near our great man. Two Englishmen near me showed as much eagerness as myself to approach him, and one of them as he passed by me said, Oh, for God’s sake, let me see him! – I know you will excuse me, sir, for this; but I must see him!’ Nor was the excitement limited to British visitors; when Wellington went to the opera with Castlereagh and his party, he ‘was in plain clothes, without any decoration to attract notice, and sat in the back of the box; but he was almost immediately recognised by someone in the pit, and a voice cried out, "Vellington. The cry was taken up by others, and at last the whole pit rose, and turning to the box, called out Vive Vellington!" nor would they be satisfied till he stood up and bowed to them, when he was cheered and applauded’.³

Wellington spent barely a week in Paris, discussing the peace settlement and the affairs of Spain and Portugal with Castlereagh, and making arrangements with the French authorities for the British cavalry to march from Toulouse to the Channel Ports – the infantry would ship home from Bordeaux. He also met the Emperor Alexander of Russia and Metternich who, possibly prejudiced by Castlereagh, enthused to his wife that Wellington was ‘Austrian in his soul’.

And it was in Paris too that he learnt that the British government had marked his most recent victories and the coming of peace with another, final, step in the peerage of the United Kingdom; on 3 May 1814 he had been made Duke of Wellington. He at once wrote thanking the Prime Minister in suitable terms and stressing his pleasure that his principal lieutenants Hope, Graham, Cotton, Hill and Beresford had been raised to the peerage at the same time. While military honours always meant more to Wellington than civil distinctions, he was not indifferent to this latest reward for service, and mixing in Paris with the princes, rulers and statesmen of Europe, he would have been conscious of the importance of rank in an aristocratic age and society. The famously nonchalant announcement of the news to Henry in a postscript – ‘I believe I forgot to tell you I was made a Duke’ – came almost a fortnight later when, on signing a letter on other questions, Wellington realised that it had hitherto been overlooked. Still, not many men would overlook such an honour, certainly not Lord Wellesley for whom the comparison with his own despised Irish marquessate must have been both inescapable and unbearable.

The subject that dominated Wellington’s discussions with Castlereagh in Paris was the state of Spain, where unfolding events would have a significant effect on Wellington’s reputation at home, and sow the seeds for much subsequent radical criticism. When Ferdinand had been released by the French on 24 March 1814 he had proceeded to Valencia amidst acclamations of joy. He did not fail to notice that the liberales and their constitution of 1812 were unpopular in the country. At Valencia on 16 April General Elio had publicly declared his determination, and that of the army, to uphold the King in the unrestricted exercise of his powers. And at the same time, Ferdinand received a ‘Manifesto of the Persians’ signed by ninety-six ‘servile’ members of the Cortes condemning the constitution.⁶ This was enough to overcome Ferdinand’s habitual caution. On 4 May he issued a proclamation abolishing the constitution including freedom of the press, and declaring acts of the Cortes void; and a week later on the night of 10 May, Elio’s troops occupied Madrid and arrested many leading liberales.

Henry Wellesley was careful to avoid any involvement in Ferdinand’s coup. He had no love for the liberales, but believed that they had strong support in parts of the country and in some sections of the army, and feared that direct action might precipitate a revolution. Ferdinand ignored his warning and did not inform him of his intentions. Wellington had no prior knowledge of the coup at all, and once it had happened, his main concern, shared by Castlereagh, was the danger of civil war. There were rumours that the Third and Fourth Spanish armies, which were in France under Wellington’s command, favoured the liberales and were preparing to act in their support. With Castlereagh’s approval, Wellington proposed to attempt to nip this problem in the bud, and then go on to Madrid ‘in order to try whether I cannot prevail upon all parties to be more moderate, and to adopt a constitution more likely to be practicable and to contribute to the peace and happiness of the nation’.

Travelling south, Wellington was reassured to find no signs of impending civil war: the Spanish generals had been anxious not to commit themselves prematurely rather than actively opposing the King. He went on and reached Madrid on 24 May. His first impression was: ‘Nothing can be more popular than the King and his measures, as far as they have gone to overthrow the Constitution. The imprisonment of the Liberales is thought by some, I believe with justice, unnecessary, and it is certainly highly impolitic; but it is liked by the people at large.’ However, the King had failed to follow up his ‘great act of vigor’ by establishing any new system of government.⁸ Wellington urged the King to honour his promise to prepare and issue a new constitution, and warned him that the arrests would provoke widespread criticism, especially in England. He even presented the King with a lengthy memorandum – characteristically forthright and lucid – arguing that Britain not France was the ally vital for Spain’s future, and warning that British help, including loans and the arrears of the subsidy, would depend on a relaxation of his measures against his domestic opponents.⁹

Privately Wellington told Castlereagh that while the King and his ministers had been ‘very civil’ to him, he thought that they looked to France and did not depend much on a close alliance with Britain.¹⁰ This proved a little too pessimistic. Within a few months Henry Wellesley had negotiated an important treaty with Spain, but the two countries were on diverging paths with little legacy of goodwill on either side from the struggle against Napoleon. While Spain attempted to return to eighteenth-century absolutist government, in Britain an increasingly vocal, liberal and confident public emerged, which not only condemned Ferdinand’s political oppression at home, but was morally outraged that Spain had not abandoned the slave trade. When Wellington was the guest of honour at a Guildhall dinner in London in July, only three months after the war had ended, the Lord Mayor warned him that any attempt to toast the King of Spain would either be positively refused or ‘at least received with so much disgust as to render it very disagreeable to me and to every well wisher to the Spanish government’.¹¹

Wellington’s mission to Madrid is significant for the insight it provided into his political outlook: his dislike of the unbridled absolution espoused by many of Ferdinand’s supporters was as strong as his irritation with the ideologically driven folly of the liberales when they had been in power in 1813. The lack of moderation and tolerance appalled him, especially as he believed it was bound to lead to a reaction. Many values that were taken for granted in a British context were in question in Spain, so that Wellington was reduced to instructing the Minister of War on the importance of the rule of law and the separation of the judicial and executive branches of government, so that consequently captain generals should not interfere in the proceedings of the law courts. Above all Wellington upheld the importance of the army standing aloof from politics and accepting its subordination to the government of the day, which in turn refrained from using the army, or its patronage, to pursue the interest of a political faction or party. The rejection of these values contributed greatly to Spain’s misfortunes over the next century and a half.¹²

However, Wellington received little credit for these views at home and he was often accused of having tolerated, if not actively supported, Ferdinand’s coup, while the faults of the Spanish liberales were ignored by a public which knew little of their actual conduct but found their rhetoric appealing. There was a particularly unpleasant element to an article in The Times in November which, in the course of defending Henry Wellesley, condemned Wellington for accepting honours from Ferdinand at a time when the leaders of the Cortes who originally proposed the honours ‘had been carried from their homes to dungeons’. The chronology on which the charge depended was hopelessly inaccurate, but that hardly mattered for any refutation would simply give the accusations added life. Wellington could point out that he had offended the editor of The Times by refusing to accept a friend of Mr Walter’s as a chaplain. But that was not the whole story: Mr Walter’s nomination had come via Benjamin Sydenham, and Lord Wellesley had a long-standing and close connection with The Times. ‘I cannot drive from my mind that this paragraph comes from Apsley House [Lord Wellesley’s residence],’ Wellington told Pole. ‘There is in it such a knowledge of facts connected with Henry’s transactions in Spain, & with the cause of his stay at Madrid after he had obtained leave of absence, which can be got only from his family … God forgive me if I am wrong; and indeed the idea of such a thing is painful enough to carry with it its own punishment.’ Lord Wellesley’s bile could be contained no longer, and he had revenged himself for Wellington’s success. It would take some years for the brothers to be reconciled.¹³

After a fortnight in Madrid Wellington turned his face towards England, pausing for a few days at Bordeaux to farewell the proud army that he had led for the past five years, and which was already being broken up and sent in all directions. He left Bordeaux on 15 June and landed at Dover early on the morning of 23 June. It was less than six years since his last homecoming in the autumn of 1808. Then he had been at the centre of the storm over the Convention of Cintra, lampooned in the prints, and execrated by the press, the lightning rod for the nation’s disappointment. Now the mood of the country was completely different, drunk with excitement and pleasure at the rapid end of a war that had lasted for so long and which, only two years before, had seemed interminable. At that moment even the Whigs and radicals were delighted with the peace, and for a brief period Wellington was celebrated as a national hero on all sides, without any dissenting voice making itself heard.

After a clamorous early-morning reception at Dover, Wellington reached London that afternoon, and found Kitty and the boys (Arthur, Lord Douro was now seven; Charles, six) at 4 Hamilton Place, just off Park Lane and around the corner from Apsley House. A crowd gathered by the street, cheering in the hope that Wellington would come to the window, but he had already slipped out the back and gone to visit his mother in Upper Brook Street.¹⁴ The Prince Regent and the allied sovereigns and dignitaries, who were nearing the end of their visit to England, had gone down to Portsmouth for a naval review, and on the following day, 24 June, Wellington followed them. Here he was greeted by rapturous crowds who took the horses from his carriage and drew it to the Regent’s abode. ‘When he went in,’ a newspaper reported, ‘the voices of a gladdened public resounded from the streets and ramparts; and, after the lapse of a few minutes, his Grace, the Duke of Wellington appeared publicly on the balcony and bowed repeatedly. He looked well, and showed strongly his feelings at what he heard and saw. He wore his British uniform, with several orders.’¹⁵ After weeks of cheering foreign leaders, the public was eager to celebrate Britain’s own hero.

On Tuesday 28 June, Wellington took his seat in the House of Lords with the Lord Chancellor, Lord Eldon, commenting that never before had a man risen through every step in the peerage, with each step commemorating a separate and worthy triumph. It was an occasion of dignity and state. A large crowd including many members of the Commons had assembled to watch, while the peers’ benches were unusually crowded. Both the Duchess of Wellington and the Countess of Mornington (Wellington’s mother) were present, and saw Wellington enter the House soon after three o’clock preceded by the Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal of England, Sir Isaac Heard, Garter King-at-Arms and Sir Thomas Tyrrwhit, Usher of the Black Rod, and with the Dukes of Richmond and Somerset accompanying him as his supporters. His patents of creation were then severally read – which took ‘a considerable time’ – before the usual oaths were administered, he signed his name and took his seat. The Lord Chancellor then addressed him to convey the Thanks of the House which had been voted the previous evening and Wellington replied with a suitable, and therefore not strictly accurate, speech in which he paid tribute to the unwavering support he had received from the government, the ample resources entrusted to him, and the ‘cordial assistance’ he had received from ‘the gallant officers who shared my campaigns’. After a few minutes in which he was congratulated by many of the peers he retired to unrobe and returned dressed in his field marshal’s uniform with all his decorations, and the House proceeded to consider a petition from the Roman Catholics of England, and the Treaty of Peace with France.¹⁶

In May the Prince Regent had informed Parliament of Wellington’s elevation to a dukedom and asked it for a grant to enable him to support the honour. The ministers, working from precedents, proposed £300,000 in addition to the £100,000 already granted. This ran into opposition of an unexpected kind. Samuel Whitbread, the most radical of the leading Whigs, who had often been scathing in his criticism of Wellington and the Peninsular commitment, now declared that ‘there was no man so wicked, so stupid, or so envious, as to venture to detract from the glory of the Duke of Wellington’. And George Ponsonby, the leader of the Whigs in the Commons, went further and proposed that the new grant be raised to £400,000. A somewhat bemused Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed and the vote was passed without dissent.¹⁷

On 1 July Wellington personally thanked the Commons, being received with immense enthusiasm and continued acclamation. That night there was a grand masked ball held in his honour at Burlington House attended by all the haut ton and some of the more fashionable and daring of the demi-monde safe behind dominoes (masks). Byron was there, looking ‘very well’ in the becoming, if incongruous, costume of a monk, while Hobhouse wore his Albanian costume. Supper was held in a temporary room which sat 1,700 persons with ease, and looking back over a long life Hobhouse declared that it was ‘the most magnificent thing of the kind ever seen’. Wellington was reported to be ‘in great good humour … and not squeezed to death’.¹⁸

A week later came a national service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral. This was a state occasion on the grandest scale, with a cavalcade of the members of the Commons, the Lords, foreign ambassadors and other dignitaries, mostly in full dress, proceeding through the streets. Soon after eleven o’clock a salute of twenty-one guns announced the departure of the Prince Regent from Carlton House. Wellington accompanied the Prince in his carriage, but not even the presence of the hero of the hour could prevent the crowds from hissing the Regent, for his continuing unpopularity had sharpened in recent months because of an escalation of the long-standing feud with his wife, and the headstrong behaviour of his daughter.¹⁹

The Regent arrived at the cathedral at about noon, and Wellington walked on his right hand carrying the Sword of State. The service lasted several hours and the artist Joseph Farington recorded that the sermon lasted for thirty-five minutes, but not anything that it contained. He was more interested in observing the dignitaries who were present, and his long list includes Lord Wellesley, Wilberforce, Whitbread, Canning and Picton as well as most of the Cabinet. He also had time to observe that ‘the Gold or Gilt service of Plate on the Communion Table was very splendid, and the whole scene [was] magnificent’.²⁰ When the service was over and the Almighty had been thanked for his discernment in favouring the British cause, the cathedral slowly emptied and the Regent and many of those present returned to Carlton House.

Two days later Wellington’s old enemies in the Corporation of the City of London gave him a splendid dinner at the Guildhall and presented him ‘with a sword of exquisite workmanship’. Many dignitaries were present and the galleries were crowded with ladies so it is perhaps not surprising that Charles Abbot found it ‘very noisy’. Amid the multitude of guests Wellington spotted a face he had not seen in fifteen years: the Captain Eastwick who had carried him from Madras to Fort William so expeditiously in May 1798. Wellington drank a glass of wine with him, and reminded him of a favourite saying to slow sailors: ‘What is the delay, you lubber? Are you cutting sticks with a wooden hatchet?’²¹

The celebrations continued all through July and into August with many smaller events filling the intervals between the grand occasions. For example, a dinner was given for Wellington on 11 July by ‘the gentlemen of India’ with Warren Hastings, then seventy-two and in frail health, in the chair. Naturally Wellington was praised as ‘our own Indian-taught general’, and it is clear that he retained a warm sense of friendship for many of his old comrades in India, not least for John Malcolm who was in London at the time, and was deputy chairman of the dinner.²² The culmination of the festivities came on 21 July when the Prince Regent gave a superb fête in the gardens of Carlton House in Wellington’s honour. Mrs Calvert, who was present, noted with pleasure: ‘The Duke of Wellington was there – just the same good-humoured, unaffected creature he ever was. He met me very kindly, enquiring after Felix [her son, an officer who had been ADC to Sir Thomas Graham].’²³

The pace slackened after the fête and Wellington was able to get out of London. Yet even here he was the centre of attention and on display, with crowds following him, cheering and calling out blessings. At Salisbury the enthusiasm was overwhelming, and the crowd pressed close so that Wellington’s arms were ‘almost pulled off in the eagerness of the people to shake hands with him!’ Yet Wellington was not annoyed by the incident; indeed he treated it ‘with the most perfect good humour’. And this seems to have been typical of his attitude towards all the celebrations and pomp of these weeks; there is no evidence that he viewed them with disdain or cynicism, while his one recorded comment suggests that he felt a good deal of relish in the pleasure of the moment, without taking it too seriously. As he was escorting Lady Shelley from their box at the Opera one night the crowd parted before them with the greatest respect, and Wellington remarked ‘in the gayest tone: It’s a fine thing to be a great man, is it not?²⁴

Lady Shelley was one of the new friends Wellington made in these weeks who would have an important place in his life over the next few years. She was twenty-seven, married, and with a family. Her husband Sir John Shelley was three years younger than Wellington and had served in the army in his youth and in Parliament in 1806, but was best known for his connections with Carlton House and the Turf. Lady Bessborough thought that he seemed a good-natured fool rather than a rogue, although not everyone agreed. Gossip accused them both of blatantly pursuing Wellington in London and later, in Paris, in 1815. If so, they were certainly not alone, and Wellington enjoyed Lady Shelley’s company more than most, for she was lively and vivacious, and her flattery was sufficiently subtle to appeal.²⁵

If only Kitty, the Duchess of Wellington, had possessed the nerve and zest for society of Lady Shelley! But at forty-two Kitty had long since lost her youthful vivacity without gaining any compensating self-assurance. Five years of independently managing her own household and affairs had done nothing to strengthen her confidence or resilience; she still shrank from high society and was liable to be thrown into a panic by trivialities. Her health and spirits were not robust. It is possible that she was battling clinical depression; certainly she spent far too much time dwelling on her own failings. She was happiest in the country, staying in or near Tunbridge Wells, and devoting herself to her two boys and to Gerald, Henry Wellesley’s son.²⁶

The long separation had seen no diminution of Kitty’s affection for Wellington; he may even have been easier to love in absentia. But nor did it diminish the fatal ineptitude and over-eagerness with which she expressed her feeling. For example in the autumn of 1813 she learnt that Wellington was suffering from rheumatism and lumbago while campaigning in the Pyrenees, and asked John Malcolm to get her some Cazaputta oil for her to send him. There was nothing wrong with this, but her comments in a subsequent letter on the subject are all too revealing: ‘Thank you, my dear Sir, for your efforts to get me the Cazaputta oil. I hope you may succeed, for though Lord W. is considerably better and will probably receive my offering with scorn, yet it may be of use to him, as those who have once severely suffered from rheumatism are liable to a return.’ But if she expected Wellington to receive the oil with scorn, why put everyone to considerable trouble and expense by sending it? And above all, why thus confide in his old friend?²⁷

Her reaction to his wound at Orthez was relatively restrained: ‘His contusion was, thank God, nothing of consequence, though more than enough to electrify me. I have always seen him in my mind protected by a transparent, impenetrable, adamantine Shield, and settled that he could not be even touched; so precious a life, so invaluable – surely the almighty hand of God will protect him.’ And in her quiet way she exulted in his victories and in the honours they brought. In August 1813 she was disappointed that victory in the battle of the Pyrenees had not been followed by some ‘distinguished mark of approbation’, even though it was less than a year since Wellington had been made a marquess, and a few weeks since he had been promoted to field marshal. It is hard to imagine that Kitty had any real desire to be a duchess, for nothing about such eminence suited her, but the thought had stirred and as the months that followed brought tidings of fresh victories, it did not disappear. In March 1814 she confided to Malcolm that she was impatient: ‘This Dukedom is such a time a-coming.’²⁸

After the war was over Wellington wrote to Kitty from Madrid announcing that he had accepted Castlereagh’s offer of the Paris embassy and asking if she would like to accompany him or stay at home. By the standards of the day he was being more than commonly fair in giving her a perfectly free choice, but that very fairness must have wounded her; how she would have welcomed a warm expression of his desire that she should come, or even a confident anticipation that she would! However, she was not well suited to the role of an ambassador’s wife who, especially in Paris in 1814, needed to be a hostess on a grand scale and to cut a figure in society, and both he and she knew it. Nonetheless she accepted without hesitation, and she was right to do so. Staying at home would have marked a public separation and would have been tantamount to an open admission that the marriage was all but over. Kitty was not ready for that, and whatever Wellington’s feelings may have been, he would not force the issue.²⁹

With the end of the season, and fashionable society heading out of London for the country, it was time for Wellington to leave for Paris to take up his new position. He travelled through Belgium which, under the peace settlement, had been united with the Netherlands. Britain viewed the new country as an essential bulwark against renewed French expansion, and had championed its interests in the peace negotiations. She had returned to it the fabulously wealthy Dutch East Indies, and while she retained the poor but strategically important Cape of Good Hope, she paid £2 million in compensation, on condition that this money be spent building fortresses in southern Belgium. The threat of invasion from the Low Countries had haunted British strategic policy for centuries, and experience of Napoleon’s naval building programme at Antwerp only sharpened the concern. The small British army taken to Holland by Sir Thomas Graham at the beginning of 1813 had not been withdrawn, although its command was about to be given to the young Hereditary Prince of Orange (son of the ruling Prince of Orange), Wellington’s former ADC. The extent of British interest in the Netherlands aroused some jealousy in both Russia and Prussia, but the greatest resentment was naturally felt in France where the loss of Belgium was felt keenly as a blow to national pride and a breach of the doctrine of ‘natural frontiers’. The situation was not helped by the fact that many Belgians, especially in the southern, French-speaking part of the country, regarded themselves as French and disliked their incorporation in the United Netherlands.

Wellington’s visit was intended to be an affirmation of British support for the Netherlands in the wake of the breakdown of the proposed marriage between Princess Charlotte and the Hereditary Prince of Orange; and it gave him the opportunity to tour the Belgian frontier and advise both governments on the construction of the ‘barrier fortresses’. He did not have time to inspect the whole frontier but noted that the west, and in particular the centre between Mons and Namur, were the most vulnerable points. Considering possible lines an invading French army might take, he identified a number of positions in which it might be checked, including ‘the entrance of the forêt de Soignes by the high road which leads to Brussels’ – a position which he himself would successfully defend less than twelve months later.³⁰ This possibility was in no one’s mind in 1814, but even without it Wellington was convinced that his visit had been worthwhile. ‘Whatever may be the military consequences of our tour,’ he told Bathurst, ‘we have made noise enough in the country, and the people are convinced of our intention to defend it.’³¹

Wellington reached Paris on 22 August and on the very next day, even before he had formally presented his credentials, he raised the issue of the slave trade with Talleyrand. In the peace settlement the French, under pressure from Castlereagh, had agreed to abolish the trade within five years, but this had not satisfied Wilberforce and other campaigners, and their protests gained wide support from the press and public. The British government was shaken by the strength of this reaction, and instructed Wellington to endeavour to persuade the French to accept immediate abolition.³² Both Louis XVIII and Talleyrand were personally sympathetic, but could do little in the face of a powerful West Indian lobby that was supported by public opinion which was almost universally cynical and hostile on the question. British pressure, especially the very public pressure exerted by the newspapers in London, only hardened this resistance, and Wellington asked Wilberforce to quieten their attacks while he endeavoured to change perceptions in France. Convinced of his sincerity and impressed by his commitment to the issue, Wilberforce agreed, and over the next few months Wellington spent much time studying papers and pamphlets on the subject, selecting those most suitable for translating into French and organising their widespread distribution. Wilberforce, Clarkson and Zachary Macaulay were all involved in the resulting campaign, but progress was slow and results meagre – which was not surprising, for it had taken more than twenty years to change opinion in England, and Wellington had barely twenty weeks in France. The British government did all it could to support him, offering £2 million, or even £3 million in compensation, if this would secure immediate abolition or, if money was unacceptable, the valuable colony of Trinidad instead. In the end Wellington secured a ban on the trade north of Cape Formosa, and reiteration of the intention to abolish it at the end of five years, but nothing more. In this respect, if in no other, Napoleon’s return from Elba proved fortunate, for he summarily abolished the trade on 29 March 1815.³³

While the question of the slave trade dominated official business in Wellington’s first months in Paris there were many lesser, often mundane, topics which received his careful attention. He was also responsible for acquiring a new British embassy: the splendid Borghese Palace, purchased from Napoleon’s sister Pauline. This became a centre of social life, especially for the huge influx of British visitors who were flocking to Paris after the long war. The French shopkeepers naturally benefitted from this flood of tourists, and the initial impact was pleasantly startling – the current English fashion for ladies to wear small bonnets caused a great stir – but it did not take many months before the visitors had become very unpopular, especially among those who regretted Napoleon’s fall. There were too many English, with too much money and far too much self-confidence. This resentment was much increased by the marked favour shown to the British by Louis XVIII. Stories circulated that he wore the Garter more often than the French decoration, and that English visitors, however badly dressed, were granted access to court and admitted to the Chapel Royal, while his own subjects were excluded. Lord Hardwicke noted with simple complacency that although the gallery at the Louvre was shut to the public ‘yet the English who are desirous of seeing it, have no difficulty in procuring admission’. No wonder that a police report of 2 November stated: ‘Hatred for the English is growing daily. They are regarded as the destroyers of French industry … it is said that the King and the princes do not like the French.’³⁴

This hostility to the English was part of a much broader wave of discontent that gripped Paris in the autumn of 1814. The bitterest feelings belonged to thousands of unemployed officers, many of them former prisoners of war released from Britain and Russia, who returned home but who could find no niche in civilian society. They were often still young, healthy and ambitious, but their dreams of wealth and glory had fallen with the Empire, and they could see no way to make a living, let alone to recover their hopes. They congregated in the cafés of Paris, eking out tiny pensions and indulging in loose talk against the Bourbons and of – often imaginary – conspiracies. Such men did not represent the majority of the population in Paris, let alone the provinces. They may not even have represented the majority of the army, but their desperation and volatility made them a more dangerous and unstable element than mere numbers would suggest.

Beyond this core of discontent there was a much wider and more pervasive uneasiness. The restoration had yet to put down roots and had dangerously few active partisans. The great majority of the population, and of the political class, gave it tepid acquiescence but no real loyalty. Many royalists were disappointed to see so many of Napoleon’s officials still in place, which limited their own hopes of office and promotion. For their part the marshals and other dignitaries of the Empire smarted at social snubs delivered with venom by well-bred ladies and gentlemen with ancient pedigrees, and faced the loss of a large part of their income, for Napoleon had deliberately given them estates outside the ancient limits of France – estates which were now forfeit. Liberals feared that the King and his ministers would seek to emulate Ferdinand VII and govern without parliament, while ministers acted without cohesion or sense of common purpose. None of this was particularly surprising; it was only a matter of months since Napoleon had abdicated and the Bourbons had come to power, more by default and outside pressure than by the choice of the French public. No one, including Louis XVIII and Talleyrand, had a master plan for what to do next, and on the whole the regime was commendably cautious, realising that it was easier to make enemies than friends. Time would help to consolidate its hold on power, but its first year would not be easy.

Wellington’s mere presence in Paris was regarded by some Frenchmen as a gross insult – a constant reminder of their defeat and the triumph of their most hated and implacable enemy. Improbable stories circulated, and were eagerly repeated by visiting British Whigs and radicals, of his insufferable behaviour and of his privileged access to the King. He was said to have come to a formal dinner at Marshal Berthier’s fresh from hunting and with his ‘great coat and boots bespattered with mud’. Hobhouse heard that ‘his nod is unsupportable’, while James Mackintosh recorded that ‘the negligence of the Duke of Wellington’s manner and the familiarity of his nods are quoted in every company as proofs of his insolence … he has neither courtesy nor display enough to be popular at Paris’.³⁵ Lack of manners and good breeding was not an accusation made against Wellington at any other point in his life, but if people are determined to feel themselves insulted they will always find a pretext. Whether Castlereagh had made a mistake in sending Wellington to Paris is more debatable. It had been intended as a signal of British support for the restoration, and to help maintain British prestige and influence in Paris, and it had succeeded in these objects. Such prominence was bound to be provocative to those who were not reconciled to the regime. But the Bourbons suffered far more from the appearance of weakness than of strength, and while Wellington’s presence may have alienated some waverers and embittered some enemies, it also gave much-needed assurance and confidence to the friends of the new government.

Wellington went out of his way to lessen the personal animus against him by the lavish hospitality he extended to former enemies, some of whose loyalty to Louis XVIII remained rather doubtful. Lady Dalrymple Hamilton dined with Wellington on 3 November and met Marshals Soult, Victor, Macdonald and St Cyr, the first two with their wives. Lady Bessborough commented, with a touch of weariness, that dining at the Duke’s on 6 November she met ‘more Marshals and Ministers’, although she was grateful for an introduction to Masséna who proved entertaining company when she visited in Marseilles later in the year. But it was left to a much younger English visitor to hint at the underlying tensions: ‘[Soult] and several other marshals who were there cannot but owe Lord Wellington many a grudge, and their countenances are not of the most placid cast.’ He had a much greater success in an equally unpromising quarter, winning lavish praise from Madame de Staël, the great liberal intellectual. She had been flattered when he dined with her when he stopped briefly in Paris in June, and this favourable impression was strengthened by further meetings in the autumn. At the end of September she wrote that ‘he is very much the fashion here and his manner is simple and noble’, while a few weeks later she was even more decided: ‘Lord Wellington treats me with great distinction and I am proud of it.’ Like most British men he found her political talk a little too earnest and overpowering, but otherwise she was not only ‘excessively brilliant’ but even ‘the most agreeable woman he had ever known’.³⁶

Kitty joined Wellington in October and took an active part in the social round. She described the embassy as ‘splendid and comfortless’, and wrote an amusing account of her presentation at court which poked fun at her own, very real, discomfort, but felt that in a fortnight she had made more progress than she had in three years in England. Others were more critical, and Elizabeth Yorke praised her with all the condescension of youth:

The Duchess of Wellington has arrived to take her station here. Her appearance, unfortunately, does not correspond to one’s notion of an ambassadress or the wife of a hero, but she succeeds uncommonly well in her part, and takes all proper pains to make herself and her parties agreeable. Last night we had a pleasant ball there, given on the model of all I have seen here – fiddles and lemonade, but no regular supper, which is better than our London custom, where the expense prevents people enlivening their assemblies with dancing, because of the requisite food and wine it entails upon them.³⁷

It was not a life Kitty enjoyed, and Wellington’s behaviour made it much worse as Lady Bessborough – herself no stranger to extra-marital affairs – sadly noted:

The D. of W. is so civil to me, and I admire him so much as a hero, that it inclines me to be partial to him, but I am afraid he is behaving very ill to that poor little woman; he is found great fault with for it, not on account of making her miserable or of the immorality of the fact, but the want of procédé and publicity of his attentions to Grassini.³⁸

Wellington’s attentions to Grassini, the famous contralto, were far from discreet, especially as she had been a former mistress of Napoleon. One later observer has commented that there was something in the Hôtel Borghese that encouraged romantic indiscretions – Pauline Bonaparte’s love life had been flamboyant – and it is rather strange that Wellington, who had been so disciplined and careful in the Peninsula, should have been so incautious in Paris.³⁹ Still, his behaviour was no different, or just a degree more open, than that of Metternich and the Emperor Alexander at Vienna in these same months. The first whiff of Victorian prudery was in the air, but it was still an age of licence.

Wellington’s months in Paris coincided with the first and most important part of the Congress of Vienna, and he kept Castlereagh informed of the views of the French government, which was eager to co-operate with Britain and gain re-admission to the inner councils of the great powers. This was achieved when Castlereagh signed a formal alliance on 3 January 1815 uniting Britain, France and Austria in opposition to Prussia’s claims to Saxony; and after a heated confrontation, in which war was freely threatened, the Prussians were forced to give way, although Castlereagh then ensured that they received generous compensation in the Rhineland. Britain’s underlying objective was to create powerful barriers to any future French expansion: to the north with the United Netherlands, and to the east with Prussia’s new possessions on the Rhine. Wellington advised Castlereagh on some of the strategic issues at stake, such as the importance of the fortress of Luxembourg, and he worked hard to smooth the path for close co-operation between the British and French representatives in Vienna, but even so his role was limited to that of a supporting player, well off centre stage.⁴⁰

While the main focus of the negotiations at Vienna was on central and eastern Europe, the French government was eager to see Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, removed from the throne of Naples, and the Neapolitan Bourbons restored. Its hostility to Murat was due less to legitimist ideology or Bourbon family solidarity than the fear that Naples, would become a haven for Bonapartist exiles from France and a centre of disaffection and instability affecting both Italy and France. Spain would give enthusiastic support for the proposal, which also had considerable appeal for Britain, for Sicily had been a British ally throughout the war. On the other hand some Whigs and radicals were attracted to Murat, and managed to regard him as both an Italian patriot and a liberal, despite ample evidence that he was a ringletted beau sabreur from Gascony and nothing more. Wellington agreed with Talleyrand that ‘Murat’s continuance at Naples increases the chance of disturbance in France, which would again disturb all Europe’. But the British government was unwilling to countenance any action and the question was left open for the moment.⁴¹

At the beginning of November the British government received several reports from France of plots to kill or kidnap Wellington, possibly as part of a wider plan to murder the royal family. The Cabinet decided that Wellington should leave Paris as quickly as possible, with Liverpool, the prime minister, giving him the choice of going to Vienna to advise Castlereagh in the negotiations over the frontier of the Netherlands, or taking command of the British forces in North America with full powers to bring the war to a close either by negotiation or active operations. However Wellington proved reluctant to agree, arguing that his departure would be seen as a defeat for the royalists and for British influence. Liverpool was not persuaded, and while not giving Wellington a direct order, he made it clear that the government was determined to have its way. Wellington at once withdrew any opposition, writing that he would ‘make immediate arrangements for quitting Paris’, although he could not resist adding: ‘No man is a judge in his own case; but I confess that I don’t see the necessity for being in a hurry to remove me from hence.’ And yet he remained in Paris. Newspaper reports of his impending departure caused a sensation, and he wrote home that leaving would have the worst effects, and that he felt that it would impugn his character by making it look as if he was running away. This was decisive, and Liverpool immediately backed down. By procrastination, persistence and in the end invoking the prerogatives of honour, Wellington had got his own way in the face of the explicit and repeated wishes of the government and without completely sacrificing the appearance of subordination. However, the incident shows that there were clear limits to Wellington’s oft-repeated willingness to serve in whatever capacity was required.⁴²

Over the next few weeks the ferment in Paris gradually calmed, partly due to the strong measures enforced by Marshal Soult, the newly appointed minister for war. This improvement eased the way for Wellington’s departure from Paris in the New Year. There was no need to invent a pretext, for Castlereagh had to go home to lead the government in the Commons when Parliament resumed in February, and Wellington was the obvious replacement.

Wellington’s arrival in Vienna at the beginning of February caused considerable excitement. After four months the brilliant round of balls, dinners, receptions and outings had grown rather stale; the vast majority of the distinguished visitors to Vienna had little or no say in the main negotiations, and were growing bored and impatient, while the handful of central players were exhausted. Even Metternich, the chief conductor of the whole Congress, was reported to be ‘no longer gay, his colour is grayish, that readiness of speech is gone, his habits have changed’.⁴³ Wellington was a novelty, a completely new figure of genuine distinction who was nonetheless almost unknown to most observers; and his arrival and the impending departure of Castlereagh gave hope that the Congress was finally drawing towards its conclusion.

The day after Wellington arrived in Vienna the Emperor of Russia called on him and began by saying: ‘Things are going on very badly in France, are they not?’ ‘By no means,’ replied the Duke. ‘The King is much loved and respected, and behaves with admirable circumspection.’ ‘You could have told me nothing,’ rejoined the Emperor, ‘which could have given me so much pleasure. And the army?’ ‘For foreign wars, against any Power in the world,’ said Wellington, ‘the army is as good as it ever was; but in questions of internal policy it would probably be worthless.’ This at least is how a delighted Talleyrand reported the exchange to Louis XVIII a few days later, and he had his information, in whole or in part, from Russian sources. He added that Alexander was more impressed by the information than he allowed himself to show, and that Russia had soon made further concessions on the details of the settlement of Saxony. Clearly Alexander had hoped to be able to discount French strength because of the discontent in Paris, but had been forced to revise his opinion in the face of Wellington’s assurance. Wellington had passed his first test with flying colours.⁴⁴

Castlereagh left Vienna in the middle of February having thoroughly briefed Wellington on all the subjects where negotiations remained unresolved. Little progress had been made since the Duke’s arrival largely because Wessenberg, Metternich’s deputy and indispensable assistant, had been ill. Once negotiations did revive, in the second half of February, they covered a whole range of subjects. Perhaps the most difficult was the final settlement of Germany, where Metternich was having trouble finding sufficient compensation for Bavaria to balance the return from Salzburg to Austria; and where many details of frontiers in Saxony and the Rhineland remained unresolved. Wellington played a useful secondary part in these negotiations, urging the virtues of moderation and sweet-reasonableness with the philosophy that comes from detachment; Britain had nothing at stake except the desire to achieve a settlement that would leave everyone reasonably satisfied.⁴⁵ She was a little more involved in the question of Norway, whose population was stoutly resisting its forcible transfer from Denmark to Sweden. Public opinion and the Opposition in Britain sympathised with the Norwegians, while even Castlereagh, and the government, disliked the deal which had been Bernadotte’s price for support against Napoleon in 1812. Wellington’s part consisted simply of warning the Swedes that they in turn must honour their pledge to give up Swedish Pomerania (which would be passed on to Prussia in exchange for territorial concessions to Denmark), and in soothing the Emperor of Russia’s hostility to the Danes.⁴⁶

Another unresolved question moved much closer to settlement in late February and early March when reports of French determination to act against Murat, and that Murat in turn was increasing his army, led to a dramatic reversal in Austrian policy: not only would Austria stop protecting Murat, she would remove him from the throne of Naples herself. What is more, she acted rapidly: on 4 March Wellington could report that the ‘army is in full march; and Metternich appears astonished at his own decision and firmness’.⁴⁷ Naturally a request for funding accompanied the news – it sometimes seemed that a corporal’s guard could not be changed anywhere in Europe without some statesman appealing for British guineas – although in this case the Austrians asked only for the payment of the subsidy already due to them. It was probable that their request would be viewed favourably, for Castlereagh thought that Austrian action, even if in conjunction with the French, would greatly reduce the risks of acting against Murat.⁴⁸

In the second week of March Wellington and Talleyrand accompanied Metternich to Pressburg to obtain the King of Saxony’s consent to the treaties that deprived him of one-third of his kingdom. It was an unpleasant task made worse by the vehement and repeated objections of the King, who showed no gratitude whatever to the three powers which had risked war to ensure that he was left with any kingdom at all.⁴⁹ That task done, and with other questions progressing steadily if slowly towards a solution, Wellington might have felt that he was helping the Congress move towards its conclusion, and even speculated on what he would do when it was over. But already, on 7 March, news had reached Vienna which upset all previous calculations, and promised at least a great deal of trouble and uncertainty: Napoleon had escaped from Elba.



(March–June 1815)

AT ABOUT THE same time Wellington arrived in Vienna, Napoleon made his decision to escape from Elba. He had quickly tired of his pocket-sized realm and had listened eagerly to reports of discontent in Paris, unrest in Italy, and the quarrels of the allies in Vienna. He missed his wife and child who had failed to join him; while the French government had not honoured its obligation to pay him a substantial pension, and was instead pressing for his removal to a more remote place of exile. He had recovered from the first shock of defeat and, at least superficially, from the exhaustion and strain of the campaigns of 1812–14. At forty-five he was unwilling to abandon all his hopes and ambitions, and instead resolved to attempt to regain all that he had lost. The odds against success were considerable, but not as steep as those against a penniless lieutenant of artillery becoming emperor of the French and arbiter of Europe. The faith in his star that had always sustained his boldness had not deserted him even now.

Napoleon left Elba on the evening of 26 February accompanied by some 1,100 men, most of them veteran troops whom he had been allowed to keep in his service. The flotilla of seven small ships escaped detection and headed for France, landing near Fréjus on 1 March; by midnight Napoleon was master of Cannes. He could have raised his banner in the south and waited for his supporters to rally to it, but instead he took the initiative and marched rapidly north over mountain roads towards Grenoble. Memories of the hostile crowds he had encountered the previous year in his journey through southern France to Elba were too fresh for him to delude himself with hopes of popular support in the region and, in any case, he knew that his best chance was to catch the government by surprise and build up an appearance of irresistible momentum that would impress waverers and discourage opponents. On 7 March at the pass of Laffrey outside Grenoble a battalion of 5e Ligne and some engineers blocked his path. In a scene that would be immortalised in a superb – and wildly unrealistic – piece of artistic propaganda by Carl Steuben, Napoleon advanced and invited the soldiers to shoot their emperor, and, after a momentum of hesitation their discipline dissolved and they flocked to join him. Other troops soon followed suit and Napoleon entered Grenoble without a shot having been fired.

The first reports of Napoleon’s escape reached Vienna that same morning, 7 March, in a despatch to Metternich from Lord Burghersh who was now British envoy to Tuscany. No one as yet knew where Napoleon had gone, although some form of combined action with Murat in Italy seemed a likely possibility. Metternich promptly informed the allied sovereigns and ministers who issued orders to mobilise their forces, while the Emperor Francis personally ordered Bellegarde to destroy Napoleon if he landed in Italy. No public statement was issued, but rumours soon began to circulate and Wellington thought it necessary to warn the King of Saxony against pinning his hopes on a chimera and losing the chance of salvaging the best part of his realm.¹

Metternich, Talleyrand and Wellington returned to Vienna from Prague late on 11 March and learnt that Napoleon had landed in France. Talks during the following day resulted in the Emperors of Austria and Russia and the King of Prussia writing to Louis XVIII offering him the assistance of their forces, if needed, to deal with the threat. The plenipotentiaries of the eight powers who had signed the Treaty of Paris (Britain, France, Austria, Russia, Prussia, Spain, Portugal and Sweden) resolved to publish a declaration of their determination to maintain the settlement. This was issued on 13 March and not only pledged a united effort to maintain the general peace, but proclaimed confidence ‘that all France, rallying round its legitimate Sovereign, will immediately annihilate this attempt of a criminal and impotent delirium’. It also declared that Napoleon had voided the terms of the treaty that granted him sovereignty of Elba, and that this ‘destroys the only legal title on which his existence depended: by appearing again in France with projects of confusion and disorder, he has deprived himself of the protection of the law, and has manifested to the universe, that there can be neither peace nor truce with him. The Powers consequently declare, that Napoleon Buonaparte has placed himself without the pale of civil and social relations, and that as an

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