18th Century

Tiddy Doll

At the British Museum today I went to see ‘Bonaparte and the British’, I urge you all to go (also it is free so there really is no excuse). I came across this rather marvelous print from the British Museum’s own collection, by James Gillray:

Tiddy Doll: The new French ginger bread-baker, drawing out a new batch of Kings

‘Tiddy Doll: The new French ginger bread-baker, drawing out a new batch of Kings’ Image: British Museum

In this caricature Napoleon is depicted in the guise of an extravagantly dressed ginger bread seller, as it turns out this was actually based on a real person. Tiddy Doll (I’m guessing this was not his real name) famously marched the streets of eighteenth century London selling his delicious gingerbread. But his preferred attire was much more akin to the despotic Emperor depicted in the above image. He famously wore a hat with an enormous ostrich feather (making him instantly recognisable and easy to spot through a crowd), a laced ruffled shirt, a white gold suit and white stockings, with a white apron to top it off. He must have showed up even the flashiest dandy walking the streets of the London in that get up. Tiddy was such a well known character to real Londoners that he was included in the print ‘Southwark Fair’ by none other than William Hogarth.

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Hogarth’s ‘Southwark Fair’. Tiddy Doll is seen in the middle with his huge ostrich feather hat. Looks like he is getting into a spot of bother with the man to his right!

Tiddy Doll so got his name for the various ballads and popular songs which he would sing as he sold his gingerbread; to which he often included his own lyrics. For example:

‘Mary, Mary, where do you live now Mary?
I live, when at home, in the second house in Little Ball Street,
Two steps underground, a wiscum, a riscom, and a why-not.
Walk in ladies and gentlemen, my shop is on the second floor backwards
With a knocker on the door
Here is your nice gingerbread, your spice gingerbread
It will melt in your mouth like a red-hot brick-bat
And rumble in your insides like Punch and his wheelbarrow’

These verses invariably ended with the refrain ‘Tiddy Diddy Doll, lol, lol, lol’, hence the name (still think ‘lol’ is a modern saying?!) Such was his fame that his name was coined in the saying ‘You look quite the Tiddy Doll’, meaning to dress tawdrily or above your station.

In Gillray’s print Napoleon as Tiddy Doll is drawing out of the oven several fat Kings of Europe that he has just produced. More puppet Kings and Queen’s wearing crowns peer out of a basket in the bottom left. A cornucopia beside it is inscribed ‘Hot Spiced Gingerbread! all hot- come who dips in my lukey [sic] bag!’. From the cornucopia pours crowns, coronets, orders and a cardinal’s hat. Such a cutting depiction of Napoleon as the mad and bad King-Maker, controlling Europe through his puppets, who he then discards when he has no further use for them, would have had enormous appeal to London’s working men and women. This was the kind of image which they could read, and relish. I am sure that Tiddy would have enjoyed the recognition and further fame that being named in a Gillray print would have bought to his gingerbread business!

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Jack Sheppard- celebrity escape artist (1702-1724)

 

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Jack Sheppard, after a portrait (lost) by Sir James Thornhill

Jack Sheppard was renowned in 18th Century London for escaping the justice system not once or twice, but four times! He was born to a poor London family but showed great promise as a carpenter. However, the lure of London’s nightlife led him astray and he fell into some salubrious company. Falling in love with a prostitute called Elizabeth Lyon, he began to steal in order to supplement his income as a carpenter and to accommodate his new habits. He left his apprenticeship with only a little under two years left until its completion, and turned to a life of full time crime. In 1723 alone, he was arrested and managed to escape prison four times before being incarcerated for the fifth and final time. His very public defiance of the 18th Century justice system made him an overnight celebrity and wildly popular with the poorer classes. He became their mascot against the power and authority of the state.

Soon the miraculous nature of his escapes were made plain by many illustrations and pamphlets, poems and published stories. Jack Sheppard became a household name.

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Sheppard helping his lover Elizabeth Lyon to escape

Sheppard’s first escape involved him breaking through the timber roof in his cell and after fashioning himself a rope out of his bedding, lowering himself to the ground. Still manacled, he joined the crowd under the window, and shouting that he could see the shadow of the escaping convict on the roof, he made his escape. Once he was re-arrested after being caught pickpocketing, he was visited in prison by his lover Elizabeth Lyon, who was recognised and subsequently also arrested and placed in a cell with Sheppard. They both escaped their manacles and lowered themselves to the ground. They then both had to scale a 22 foot wall in order to escape the compound. For his third imprisonment Sheppard was incarcerated in Newgate Prison. On the very date that his execution was to be fixed, Sheppard managed to remove an iron bar in a small window in his cell where you could talk to visitors. Being of a slight build, Sheppard was able to squeeze through and he escaped in women’s clothing which had been bought to him by Elizabeth.

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Sheppard squeezing through the bars of his cell, right under the noses of his gaolers

But no escape was as sensational as Sheppard’s fourth and last adventure. After unlocking his chains he clambered up the chimney with his leg irons still in place. He then managed to break through no less than six barred doors until his reached the prison chapel. Once he got onto the roof he realised he would need something to help he gain access to the adjoining building, and so he went all the way back again (still in his leg irons), fetched his blanket, and then made the return journey! Once he had escaped he managed to convince somebody to remove the leg irons. Sheppard celebrated by stealing all the necessary accoutrements of a society dandy and cavorting around London with his two mistresses getting blind drunk. It’s a surprise he escaped the law for a further two weeks really.

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His fourth and most sensational escape

His gaolers took Sheppard’s final incarceration very seriously. He was held in the most secure central section of Newgate Prison where he was constantly under observation as well as being weighed down with 300 pounds of iron weights. High society visitors were charged a shilling to come and see the infamous escape artist for themselves. On the 16th November 1724 he was taken to Tyburn to be hanged. Although he was given the opportunity to inform on his accomplices for a lesser sentence, that was not Sheppard’s style. About 200,000 people thronged the streets in celebration of Sheppard’s career in escapology (about a third of the city’s population at the time). Sheppard was hanged, and for once his slight frame did him no favours, as he was slowly strangled to death. His friends had hoped to take the body and see if it could be revived, but the crowds stormed in after the body was cut down, and by the time they had cleared it had been badly mauled.

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The hanging of Jack Sheppard

At his execution an autobiographical ‘Narrative’ was sold, possibly ghost-written by Daniel Defoe; with illustrations by George Cruikshank. Straight away Sheppard entered the public imagination in a series of plays, one of the most popular being the 1728 play ‘The Beggars Opera’; on the stage for the next 100 years. Again in 1840 a novel by William Harrison Ainsworth was written entitled ‘Jack Sheppard’, which became so popular that any book with the same title was banned for the next forty years. Even to this day Jack Sheppard is still the most famous escapologist in our history, and quite deservedly earns his own entry on this blog. 

Images- spitafieldslife.com 

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Who was Kitty Jay?

By Joe Gardner

On a narrow crossroads in East Dartmoor lies a sombre, stark little tourist attraction known locally as ‘Jay’s Grave.’  It’s a sad but curious sight to behold; a tiny, unmarked piece of granite serving as the headstone atop a grassy, oblong mound.

 

For several decades, virtually nothing was known about the person interred beneath, although it had long been the custom to bury victims of suicide at a crossroads rather than in traditional cemeteries.  This was upheld for two reasons; foremost, the sin of self-murder forbade the guilty departed to be interred in churchyards.  Secondly, and somewhat more superstitiously, it was hoped that burying suicides at a crossroads would confuse their spirits, preventing them from returning to terrorise the living.

While her life was largely unremarkable, it is in death that Kitty Jay has found a degree of fame, or notoriety.

The story of Kitty Jay has undergone several changes since its casual entry into Devonshire folklore in the early Nineteenth Century, but the bare bones have remained largely the same. Supposedly, an orphaned baby girl was given shelter in the poor house situated close by in Newton Abbot.  As was the norm at the time, the baby -bereft of a known Christian name- was referred to by a single letter, J being the letter that the poor house had reached in its records.  It is also supposed that the baby was given the first name Mary, as ‘Jay’ alone had been a colloquial synonym for a prostitute.  How she eventually received the name Kitty is not known, although it is understood to have been when she eventually left the Newton Abbot poor house.

Upon reaching her teens, Kitty Jay remained at the poor house for a brief period wherein she helped look after the younger children and work on the grounds.  However, she was eventually sent away to work on Canna farm in Manaton, Dartmoor, where life in the late Eighteenth Century would have been grim and relentless.  While working on the farm, Kitty Jay started to receive attention from the farmer’s son and before long had fallen pregnant with his child.  Unfortunately, being of a lower class than the farming family and rather new to the place, her word was nothing against his and she was instantly accused of taking advantage of the young man (with her prostitute name helping to add to their convictions).  Predictably enough, Kitty Jay was thrown off the farm and branded a whore.

Such a reputation, erroneous as it may have been, would be impossible to shake off in a small community like Manaton and the likelihood of ever finding employment again would have been quickly disregarded by Kitty.  Her brief story ends in the most tragic of ways as she was finally found hanging by the neck in one of the barns at Canna farm.

'The Discovery of Kitty Jay' by Chris Rawlins Image: www.chrisawlins.deviantart.com

‘The Discovery of Kitty Jay’ by Chris Rawlins Image: http://www.chrisawlins.deviantart.com

Subsequently, Kitty was largely forgotten to history after her burial, until in 1851 a group of men digging up a lane near Manaton happened upon the grave.  Uncertain whether what they had found was indeed an interment, they dug further and found the bones of Kitty Jay.  The skeleton was then placed in a coffin under the instructions of James Bryant, the then owner of the land in which they were found, and reinterred into the grave.

The gravesite has since found further fame with the help of several early Twentieth Century authors; principally Dartmoor’s Beatrice Chase, who wrote of stumbling upon it in her 1914 novel The Heart of the Moor.  Later, the grave served as inspiration for John Galsworthy’s short story The Apple Tree.  The story has even cropped up in songs by Wishbone Ash and Seth Lakeman, among others.

However, the most alluring and ethereal aspect of the Kitty Jay gravesite is the intriguing fact that fresh flowers are placed upon the grave every morning, by an anonymous visitor.  Superstition surmises that they may be placed there by Dartmoor pixies, or the guilty spirit of the farmer’s son, atoning for his cruelty from the afterlife.  Nightly passers-by have reported sightings of a hooded figure crouched beside the grave.  It should be said that, having become a well-known Dartmoor landmark, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the flowers (and occasional other trinkets such as coins and cuddly toys) are the doings of the myriad tourists that visit the area year in, year out.  Either way, it is quite humbling that someone of such low status and consequence in life, who departed in so tragic a fashion and was thus denied a proper burial, has since become the focus of such devotion centuries beyond her death.

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‘The Black Count’- by Tom Reiss. The tale of the black half-slave hero of the French Revolution

Tom Reiss, an American writer best known for his international bestseller ‘The Orientalist: In Search of a Man Caught Between East and West’, has succeeded yet again in producing this squash-buckling tale of a man so brave, so strong, and filled with such Revolutionary heroics, that he was immortalised in some of the best loved French novels of all time. I am talking of course of General Alexandre Dumas, the real life inspiration behind his son’s novels ‘The Three Musketeer’s and ‘The Conte of Monte Christo’. Dumas’ story is so incredible and so unbelievable that it is hard, at times, to believe it is non-fiction, and that the events that shaped his life really took place.

Alex Dumas’s real name was Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie; he was born in a slave colony in Saint Domingue, to a slave mother and a French aristocratic father. Alex’s father, who was for all intents and purposes a total scoundrel, sold Alex’s mother and their three other children in order to pay for his own passage back to France. Incidentally, he also sold Alex in this way but arranged for his travel to join him once he had raised the funds, and successfully bought his son back out of slavery. This was in 1776. Slavery was illegal in the forward thinking France of this time, so Alex’s colour was no issue in his being educated, or in his decision to join the army.

What was surprising was that Alex chose to shrug off his noble background, which could have secured him a commission and a place in the army as an officer. Instead he enlisted as a common soldier in the Queen’s Dragoons. As well as his social position he also shunned his father’s name, adopting ‘Dumas’, which was the surname of his mother, whom he would never see or hear from again.

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This is actually Alex Dumas the writer dressed up as his beloved father, but you get the idea of the strength and power of the heroic Revolutionary. Oil portrait by Olivier Pichat.

No one could have been prepared for Alex’s meteoric rise through the ranks of the French army, something that could only be facilitated by the social and political upheaval thundering through France at the time. Having joined the army at 23, Alex would become General in Chief of the Army of the Alps by his 31st birthday; in command of some 53,000 troops. From the Alps Alex went to Italy, and then joined Napoleon’s ill-fated expedition to conquer Egypt in 1798.

 In Egypt, Alex would soon realise he had a much more dangerous enemy than the Bedouin rebels in the unforgiving landscape of the desert. Napoleon himself quickly took a dislike to the handsome and tall, powerfully built and strong leader. It was easy to see why Napoleon felt threatened, when he stood at just over five foot, and Alex was well over six. The Egyptian campaign was an unmitigated disaster, with huge losses for the French and little ground won. Napoleon soon fled the hell-hole of his failures in Egypt and headed back to France in 1801 to take control of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Paris. Alex managed to arrange passage on a boat which proved to be unsound, and was forced to dock at Naples, which was at this time unforgivably anti-French. Alex was captured, thrown in a dungeon, and left there to rot for the best part of three years before his release could be arranged.

Finally returning to France in 1803, after many suffering and trials in lands far away from home, Alex was able to settle down with his adored wife Marie-Louise. They had a son, also called Alexandre, who would become one of France’s most beloved novelists. Alexandre hero worshiped his father, who would become the main inspiration for the characters and events in his stories.
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Reiss tells a marvellous tale, with never seen before research that he uncovered by blowing up a safe in Villers-Cotterêts, France. Having heard an interview with him on Radio 4, and learning the tale of such a fantastically rich life, I knew I had to know Alex’s exceptional story. My only, very minor, complaint about this book is the lack of images included. I suppose this is a typical grievance for any Art Historian. Granted, images of Alex are few and far between. Reiss does however mention in a special chapter at the end of the book an old statue of the General in Paris. Sculpted by Alfred de Moncel, it showed Alex standing proud, like a ‘resolute patriot, grasping his long rifle like a walking stick’. Before the statue was destroyed by the Nazis in the winter of 1941-2 (I suppose it is easy to see why the Nazi’s would not want a statue of a strong and heroic black man standing proud) a few photographs were taken, and I would simply have loved to have seen one. Hell, I would have even liked to have seen the blown up safe!

 Please do read this book if you love history and adventure. Many thanks to my sister for buying me the book for Christmas.

 ‘The Black Count- Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Count of Monte Cristo’ by Tom Reiss was published by Harvill Secker, London, in 2012.

Categories: 18th Century, Biography Review, Heroes | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh 1769-1822

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(Image: NPG)

Castlereah was an important politician and public figure in the mid 19th Century, with a particular interest in governmental reform and emancipation. We have him to thank for the Act of Union which links Northern Ireland with the rest of the United Kingdom.

His mother, who died when Castlereagh was just one year old, was Lady Sarah Frances Seymour, daughter of the 1st Marquess of Hertford; a former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Castlereagh’s father re-married Frances Pratt, daughter of the 1st Earl of Camden. From this marriage Castlereagh’s half-brother Charles Stewart was born. The Camden connection would greatly aid both the brothers in their successful political careers. Castlereagh inherited the courtesy title of Viscount Castlereagh in 1766 when his father was created Earl of Londonderry. He also inherited his fathers title a year before his unfortunate death, but is usually known by the courtesy title, which he used for the majority of his life.

His half brother Charles Stewart became a famous diplomat, soldier and politican who succeeded Castlereagh on his death to become the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry. He was known as the ‘golden peacock’ for his over the top lifestyle and lavish fashion sense.
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(Portrait of the ‘Golden Peacock’ Charles Stewart, by Lawrence)

Despite being a sickly child, he was able to attend St. John’s College, Cambridge from 1786-7; where he proved himself to be an excellent student. A mere three years later he was elected as member of Parliament for County Down, in what was to be one of the most expensive elections in Irish history.

In 1794 Castlereagh celebrated his marriage to the beautiful Amelia (Emily) Hobart, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire, who had also been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Emily proved to be a great society hostess and played her role in supporting and encouraging her husband’s career. She even became Patroness of the prestigious and elite Almack’s. The marriage was successful, although the couple were never blessed with children.

In his political life, Castlereagh aligned himself to the Whigs, although he personally supported the Tory politician William Pitt. He was pro-government and electoral reform, and he also advocated Catholic emancipation. Yet as revolution started to rumble through France, Castlereagh began to check his political liberalism. He realised that to work against the current government would decrease its productivity and effectiveness. Especially in relation to Ireland, what Castlereagh desired most was progress, but he baulked at the idea of the French Revolutionaries landing on the shores of Ireland to stir up rebellion so close to the English shore.

From 1799 Castlereagh worked hard in government to promote the idea of a permanent union between the Irish and English parliament. The idea of this was strongly opposed by most of his peers. Yet the following year the Act of Union was passed, with an uncommon amount of bribery used to secure the result. Castlereagh and Cornwallis, who had worked together on this Act, had believed that in forming the Union, Catholic’s would not be free to sit in the English Parliament. This however, was not to be, as the King George III was so systematically opposed to Catholic Emancipation. He believed it to be an act against the constitutional oath he took as divinely appointed head of the English church. Both Castlereagh and Pitt would end up resigning over the matter, and Castlereagh would forever be blamed by the Irish people for the failure of the Act; however forward thinking he had been.

In 1802 he became President of the Board of Control, where he mediated several disputes between Richard Wellesley (later Marquess Wellesley), who was then Governor-General of India, and the Directors of the East India Company. When Pitt finally returned to government in 1804, Castlereagh became Secretary for War and the Colonies. After fighting a duel with Canning, both parties had to resign, and Castlereagh did not return to government until 1812, when he was made Foreign Secretary. In this role he was competent and effective, yet his public image would never be good and he faced constant and unrelenting criticism from the press.

This pressure did not help his mental health, which now began to decline rapidly. His behaviour became erratic and uncontrollable. Despite his wife, now Lady Londonderry, removing all sharp objects from his possession, he found a pen-knife in his coat pocket and cut his throat on 12th August 1822. The hearing following his tragic demise ruled that his actions had been taken whilst he was clinically insane, and so he was able to be buried with the pomp and ceremony of his station in Westminster Abbey. He was laid to rest near his friend and mentor William Pitt; who had died in 1806. His funerary monument was not erected until 1850, by his half-brother Charles Vane Stewart, the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry.
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William Pitt, Image: Tumblr

Categories: 18th Century, 19th Century, British Political Figures | Leave a comment

Arthur Wellesley, The 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)

The Duke by Goya. Image: NGL

The Duke by Goya. Image: NGL

The Hon. Arthur Wesley was born the second son of an Irish peer in the County of Meath, Southern Ireland. As a child he did not impress either his peers or his parents, and the only great skill he showed was with a violin, which he played with exceptional skill. He studied for a short while at Eton, but it was at Angers in the military academy there that he found his calling. He returned to England in 1787 and immediately impressed everyone with his dramatic change of countenance and confidence. That year he was gazetted as an Ensign to the 73rd (Highland Regiment). By 1791 he was a Captain, but this was less to do with his military prowess and more to do with the buying of commissions; mostly with money lent to him by his older brother, Richard.

In the year 1793 Arthur turned his back on the artistic lifestyle in which his father (who was Professor of Music at Trinity College Dublin) and his mother had brought him up in. In order to show he was serious about his new career, he burnt his violin, and never played again. In the same year he was commissioned as a Major into the now famous 33rd Regiment of Foot. In September of the same year he became a Lieutenant-Colonel. Although it was with his regiment that he would win some of his most famous and glorious battles, he saw very little impressive action until 1796, when he set sail to India. In these years he represented the Constituency of Trim in Ireland, as many of his family had before him. Very few paintings of him exist before his victorious return from India, but a half-length by John Hoppner, still in the family collection, is perhaps the most precious record of what the young Arthur looked like. He is fresh-faced and confident, with the powdered hair that he would so soon cast off in the murderous heat of India.

Image: Government Art Collection

Image: Government Art Collection

In India, Arthur acted as his elder brother’s unofficial adviser, Richard having been made Governor-General of India. In 1799 Arthur would make his name in the famous battle of Seringapatam, in which he defeated the Mysorean ruler Tipu Sultan, who had made the mistake of aligning himself with the French. After the battle, Arthur was made Governor of Seringapatam, and under his guidance helped restore the town to order again. He continued to secure the area, namely with the defeat of Dhoondiah in the following year. In 1803 he was promoted to Major-General, and the following exceptional battles took place in 1803: Assaye, Arguam and Gawilghur. In 1804 he was awarded the Order of the Bath, a great honour. The news took months to reach India, a record of it first being published in Madras in March 1805. When the medal finally reached Arthur in the hands of his friend Sir John Craddock, the hero was sound asleep, so Craddock pinned it to his chest; and let him sleep on. Although offered the command of the Bombay Army, Arthur was ready to come home. He believed ‘I have served as long in India as any man ought who can serve anywhere else’. Perhaps he knew that his skills as a leader could be put to better use on the European stage. He requested his return to England as a reward for having been awarded the Order of the Bath, and he arrived home on 10th September 1805.

On his return he (rather surprisingly) renewed his pursuit of Kitty Packenham, the pretty daughter of another minor Irish peer. Having had his suit turned down before his departure for India, on the account of his poor credit and what was still considered then to be poor career prospects, this time round he was warmly welcomed into the Packenham family. This was due of course to the fantastic sum of money he had made during his adventures in India, his fame in the English papers, and the fact that he was now a Colonel. Arthur and Kitty were married, despite the fact that neither had seen the other since before Arthur’s departure, and no correspondence had passed between the would-be lovers during their separation. Sadly, Kitty had lost the lustre of her English-rose beauty which had so attracted Arthur to her so many years before. Neither party was compatible, Kitty was a delicate, simple woman with simple needs. Wellington was neglectful, if not rather cruel to his new wife. They lived mostly separate lives during their long marriage, Kitty spending much of her time at Stratfield Saye, and Wellington in Apsley House. The marriage would never be considered a a success, although it did bear two sons. They would become the 2nd and 3rd Dukes of Wellington respectively.

In the wider political sphere, Napoleon’s had returned from Egypt and was turning his attention on the European stage. Arthur now had the chance to prove himself on a playing field nearer home. As the Peninsular War commenced in 1808, Arthur was made a Lieutenant-General and in July he sailed to Portugal to command some 10,000 men against the French. As a contemporary wrote around this time: ‘I was much struck by his countenance and his quick glancing eye, prominent nose and pressed lip, and saw, very distinctly marked, the steady presence of mind and imperturbable decision of character, so essential in a leader’ (Lieutenant Moyle Sherer).

Several famous battles followed, including the Battle of Rolica and Vimeiro, after which he was forced to return to England for a short time during the scandal caused by the signing of the Convention of Cintra. This gave the surrendering French rights beyond which the English people felt they deserved. After the death of Sir John Moore in 1809 Arthur returned to Portugal, where he forced the passage of the River Douro. He then crossed the border into France and beat the enemy at Talavera on the 27-28th June. For this success he was risen to the peerage and took the title of Baron Douro of Wellesley. He was later made a Viscount, taking the name Wellington, a name chosen for him by his brother William. Wellington liked the name immensely.

After French reinforcements arrived, Wellington retreated back and took the brave measure of waiting for the enemy to advance on him. It appeared to all that he was trapped, and that he was making a grave error. Wellington, however, had great confidence. He created the defense system known as the Lines of Torres Vedras. His plan worked, and Wellington was able to force back the French troops, led by Massena, all the way back to Salamanca. At the siege of Badajoz he was not successful, losing thousands of men. However, he finally managed to capture the city fortress, with great cost of lives, on 6th April 1812. For this achievement, Wellington was made an Earl, and later Duke of Cuidad Rodrigo. After the Battle of Salamanca on 22nd July Wellington marched into Madrid victorious. This took place on 12th August. In the same month he was elevated to a Marquess, the Marquess of Douro, and granted £100,000 from Parliament. He was also appointed Generalissimo of the Spanish Armies.

This short victory was tempered by the failure to capture Burgos, even after a months siege. Wellington fell back to the Portuguese frontier where all the allied forces gathered together. The year was now 1813, and Wellington’s name was famous all across Europe. All the hopes of the English peoples, who feared a French invasion, where lain on his shoulders. Advancing into Spain, Wellington fought at the Battle of Vittoria, in which the French lost around 5000 men, as well as most of their guns and stores. After the battle, the carriage of Joseph Bonaparte, who was attempting the flee the battle, was captured. Inside was discovered hundreds of priceless Old Master paintings. As a gift of thanks from the restored Spanish Monarch after the Peninsular War, Wellington was allowed to keep them, and they formed the basis of the collection at Apsley House (today part of English Heritage). After this successful battle Wellington was promoted to Field-Marshal, and was gifted an estate in Spain. After Wellington had successfully forced the French army back into the own country, it was announced that Napoleon had abdicated. Wellington had been victorious.

Watercolour, 1814. By Juan Bauzil. Very little is known about this artist. Image: NPG

Watercolour, 1814. By Juan Bauzil. Very little is known about this artist. Image: NPG

Once peace was declared, Wellington became Ambassador in Paris, and enjoyed the hospitality of the city which was suddenly filled with people from all over Europe. Wellington entertained them all, in a lavish house (now the French Embassy), as the newly appointed 1st Duke of Wellington. He was bestowed with all the orders that Europe could fling at him, and many gifts made their way into his hands. However, peace was not to last and Wellington was called upon to once again show the military skill which had enabled him to manipulate the field of battle so expertly during the Peninsular War. Napoleon returned from his place of exile on the Isle of Elba, and the field of battle was chosen to be in Brussels, near a place no one had ever heard of, called Waterloo. The night before the battle a ball took place, through by the Duchess of Richmond. During the night news reached Wellington of Napoleon’s movements. Many of the officers present hurried away to join their regiments, others enjoyed a last hurrah with their companions, and ended up fighting in their evening clothes! Of course, many would never return.

This was surely to become the most famous battle in British History. Without Wellington’s victory, Napoleon’s troops could have successfully re-invaded Spain and Portugal, easily crossing the sea and invaded England too. The battle took place on 15th June, 1815. But it was not a sure victory, in fact Wellington was sure that it was the closest rung thing of his life. At first it seemed that Napoleon and his French guns would succeed, but they failed to overcome the British on their first attempt, and were forced back. Fierce battles took place all day, and it seemed that either side could win if they held out for the other to collapse. Luckily for Wellington General Blucher and the Prussian Army arrived at the ninth hour, and was able to provide the backup needed to crush the French armies and achieve a victory for Wellington and the allied forces.

Achilles statue in Hyde Park. Depicting the victorious Wellington. Made out of  melted down French cannons.

Achilles statue in Hyde Park. Depicting the victorious Wellington. Made out of melted down French cannons.


Napoleon abdicated on 22nd June 1815. Wellington returned victorious. His achievements had secured peace after Napoleon’s long and tyrannical rule across the plains of Europe. His position became almost idolatrous, but he himself never forgot the colossal human cost which had to paid in order to maintain peace. Viewing the fields of dead, he hoped a battle of this nature would never need to be fought again. Returning to England, Wellington was showered with honours from all of the European nations, of which he was naturally very proud. Gifted money from Parliament, he bought the estate of Stratfield Saye in Hampshire. The next year he would buy the grand Apsley House off his brother Richard, for much more than it was worth, in a vain attempt to help Richard out of his monumental debt. Not until 1818 would the Allied Forces finally be disbanded and Wellington would leave behind his military career forever, and embark on a new one in the political cattle market of Westminster.

Fulfilling various and numerous public offices, holding the reins of many institutions and organisations, as well as running his estates and entertaining his countless friends and admirers; Wellington seemed unstoppable. He certainly worked harder, slept less and wrote more than many of most of his contemporaries put together. In 1827 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief but resigned the position in 1828 when he became Prime Minister. The memorable achievement of his two years in office is of course the Catholic Emancipation Bill, but the cost of this Bill would split his party in two. Wellington was forced to resign. A year later, Kitty, his wife, died. Reunited at the last, hers had not been a happy or productive life.

Conservative in life as he was in politics, Wellington staunchly opposed the Great Reform Act of 1832. The people were rioting, causing trouble in the streets, and iron bars had to be fixed to the windows at Apsley House. Two years later, in 1834, Wellington was asked again to become Prime Minister, which he did from November to December; whilst Peel was travelling back from Italy. In 1834 he became Chancellor of the University of Oxford, a position he thoroughly enjoyed. Regaled wherever he went as a national hero and treasure, crowds would cheer him and follow him in his carriage. Artists clamoured more than ever to have a sitting with him, usually he would relent, with much grumbling; and often he sat to three at once!

by Alfred, Count D'Orsay, oil on canvas, 1845, Image: NPG

by Alfred, Count D’Orsay, oil on canvas, 1845, Image: NPG


In 1846, after living more than half a century in the public gaze, Wellington removed himself from public life, and endeavoured to live a slower-paced life. Occasionally he achieved this, relaxing in his favourite spot, Walmer Castle; which was his to use as Lord Warden of the Clinque Ports. Keeping up his terrific number of correspondents until the day he died on 14th September 1852, he was mourned by the nation as the loss of greatest hero England had ever seen. Hundreds of thousands thronged the streets to watch his funeral procession, ending at his final resting place, Westminster Abbey.

Categories: 18th Century, 19th Century, British Political Figures | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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