British Political Figures

Lady Georgiana Lennox, later 23rd Baroness de Ros of Helmsley (1785-1891)

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Image: NPG Collection: NPG Archive

Lady Georgiana Lennox was born on the 30th September 1795 at Molecombe, the Dower House on the Goodwood Estate. She was the third daughter of the 4th Duke of Richmond and the former Lady Charlotte Gordon. She was one of fourteen children, seven sons and seven daughters.  In 1806 Georgy’s father succeeded to the titles and estates of Goodwood, Lennox and Aubigny.

The financial strain on the Richmond family resulting from their ever growing number and the spendthrift habits of the Duchess meant that the Duke was forced to close up Goodwood, and keep the family in Europe where living costs were cheaper. In 1807 The Duke of Richmond was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and reluctantly he left England for Phoenix Park in Dublin. His posting was a success, and the family remained in Ireland until 1813.

His Chief Secretary during this period was Colonel Sir Arthur Wellesley K.B., who had just returned from a successful military campaign in Southern India. It was here that Georgy first met Arthur. They rode out together daily, accompanied by some of Georgy’s many sisters. They called him the ‘great Sir Arthur’. The Richmond’s house in Phoenix Park was the centre of many evening events which Sir Arthur attended, socialising closely with the Duchess and her daughters.

In 1815 the family relocated again as Richmond was placed in command of the reserve forces in Brussels preceding the Battle of Waterloo. The entire family, including the three eldest brothers, all followed their father to Brussels. They moved into a large house on the Rue de la Blanchisserie, on the site of a 17th Century laundry. Wellington nicknamed it ‘The Wash House’. During the day Georgy would attend Reviews, as well as ride out with her sisters to visit other families who had settled in Brussels. There was a plethora of concerts, picnics, dinners, assemblies, and dances which filled the Richmonds’ diary. Balls were held two or three times a week. As Lady Caroline Capel wrote ‘Balls go on here as though we had had none for a year.’ The Duchess of Richmond was often out and more often than not took her eldest daughters with her. Wellington left for a time to attend the Congress of Vienna, having taken the place of Lord Castlereagh. Everyone was anxious for the great commander to return, as rumours grew about Napoleon’s plans to escape from the Isle of Elba.

The epic conclusion to the battle against Napoleon’s forces was drawing near. Daily rumours of an imminent French invasion were flying from letter to letter and house to house, with no one knowing which report to believe. Wellington returned from Vienna and set about making ready the troops. Lord March, Richmond’s eldest son, was A.D.C. to the Prince of Orange, and the two younger brothers George and William were also to be involved in the fighting in a similar capacity.

The Duchess intended to give a ball, to which Wellington agreed whole-heartedly. The now famous event took place in a large room previously used to build coaches in by the previous owner of the house. Its usual function was as a playroom in which Georgy and her siblings spent hour playing games of battledore and shuttlecock when the weather kept them indoors.

It was to this ball that Wellington arrived late and announced to Georgy that the French had crossed the border into Brussels, and that war which Napoleon was imminent. Many of the men attending there, the majority of which were officers, left immediately to join their regiments. Others stayed, danced and drank, attempting to enjoy what could be their last night as free men. As Georgy later recalled

‘When the Duke [of Wellington] arrived, rather late, to the ball I was dancing, but I went to him to ask about the rumours. He said very gravely, “Yes, they are true; we are off to-morrow.” This terrible news was circulated directly, and while some of the officers hurried away, others remained at the ball, and actually had not time to change their clothes, but fought in evening costume’

Wellington remained calm and collected. At dinner he sat with Georgy and Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster, seemingly unperturbed by the reports being bought to him. Requesting a map from Richmond, he retired into the library with his other Generals. Pointing with his finger on the map, he said that the small village of Waterloo would be the spot where the battle could be fought, and with luck, won. He knew the ground well, having covered the area during reconnaissance trips the previous year. Wellington remained at the ball until around 2.30am. Georgy went with her brother George to his house in the grounds to pack his belongings and bid her farewells. She, her sisters and her mother parted with painful goodbyes, not knowing if they would ever see their beloved brothers or father again. It was the same for many women in Brussels that night.

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Some of the battle could be heard from the houses in which wives, mothers and sisters waited, but information was limited and often inaccurate. Over the next three days Georgy waited anxiously for news of their fate. Yet as a young woman from a sheltered background, it must also have been thrilling to be present at such an important and historic moment.

Writing to her aunt Lady Bathurst Georgy exclaims ‘We had a great ball last night, and fancy the horror of hearing this news in the middle of it, and seeing all one’s friends fly to the right and to the left’. Despite putting a brave face on her fear, Georgy knew she was lucky.  Most of her family, friends and admirers had survived the onslaught. Her brothers and father had seen a good deal of action. Acting as A.D.C’s to the Prince of Orange and then Wellington himself, the latter was able to keep the Richmonds’ out of trouble.

After Waterloo

After the battle the family went to live in Paris, where Georgy and her family continued to socialise with Wellington at numerous grand galas, balls and operas. After Georgy recovered from a serious illness, the family returned first to Brussels, and then to England. During these years many letters passed between Georgy and Wellington, often passing on local gossip about love sick officers in Wellington’s staff.

In 1818 Richmond was made Governor General of British North America, and travelled with his two eldest daughters to Canada. Georgy stayed behind and went to live with her beloved Aunt, Lady Georgiana Bathurst. Tragedy struck the family the following year when Richmond was bitten by a pet fox which he caught fighting his spaniel, Blücher. Richmond contracted rabies, and after several days of writhing in agony, died. The whole family, who had adored their brave and kind-natured father, were devastated. The title was succeeded by Georgy’s beloved brother George, who became the 5th Duke.

In 1824, at the age of twenty-nine, Georgy married William Lennox Lascelles Fitzgerald de Ros, who would later succeed his brother to become the 23rd Baron de Ros of Helmsley. But why did Georgy wait so long to marry? She was certainly not without suitors. Perhaps she was still holding a flame for Wellington, who she adored for his brilliance, his celebrity, and his attention to her over all her other sisters.

William de Ros was a military man, a diligent officer and a fine husband. After Georgy’s marriage the de Ros’ continued to socialise with the Wellesley’s, attending dinners and opera’s together, and visiting Wellington at his country estate of Stratfield Saye. Together William and Georgy had three children: Dudley, later 24th Baron de Ros (1827-1907), Frances Charlotte, (c.1840-1851) who died tragically young at the age of twenty-one, devastating both her parents; and Blanche Arthur Georgina (1832-1910). Wellington was named Blanche’s godfather, and they developed a touching friendship as Blanche grew up.

Georgy's son Dudley after he had inherited the title from his father. 'Spy' drawing from Vanity Fair

Georgy’s son Dudley after he had inherited the title from his father. ‘Spy’ drawing from Vanity Fair


The year after the premature death of Frances de Ros, Wellington himself died. Although ill and infirm, his passing caused a great shock to Georgy, herself now fifty-five years old. She wrote in her diary

‘From childhood I loved and venerated him and invariably received the most unremitting kindness from him and so many years of unclouded friendship cannot be given with without much suffering’.

Commiserations poured in from friends and relations. Georgy had known the Duke for forty-six years. William was charged with organising and executing the funeral with military precision. This he did with his usual flair and attention to detail.

After William’s died in 1874, Georgy left the family seat in Strangford, Ireland and lived permanently in London. Cherished as one of the last surviving personal friends of the Great Duke, every Waterloo Day she enjoyed receiving scores of guests, flowers and telegrams rejoicing in the victory. In her 93rd year she produced, at the behest of many friends, two articles in Murray Magazine entitled ‘My Recollections of the 1st Duke of Wellington’, which continues to be one of the most important first hand recollections of the Duke. Georgy’s description of the ball-room in Brussels and of Wellington’s actions in the days during and after the battle has become a vital source to historians.

Georgy continued to receive friends and relatives, as well as producing brilliant illuminations and keepsakes, until her health and sight began to fail her. Georgy died on 15th December 1891 in London and is buried in the family vault at the Old Court Chapel, in Strangford. Two years later her daughter Blanche published ‘A Sketch of the Life of Georgiana, Lady de Ros, With Some Reminiscences of Her Family’, which is the only source where a small portion of the de Ros family archive has been made public.

Categories: 19th Century, Amazing Women in History, British Political Figures, Heroes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 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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