WELLESLEY, Richard Colley, 2nd Earl of Mornington [I] (1760-1842), of Dangan Castle, co. Meath.
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Family and Education
b. 20 June 1760, 1st s. of Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington [I], and bro. of Sir Arthur Wellesley*, Hon. Henry Wellesley* and Hon. William Wellesley Pole*. educ. Portarlington 1765;1 Harrow 1770-1; Eton 1771-8; Christ Church, Oxf. 1778-81. m. (1) 29 Nov. 1794, Hyacinthe Gabrielle (d. 7 Nov. 1816), illegit. da. of Christopher Fagan, chevalier in the French service,2 3s. 2da. bef. marriage, (2) 29 Oct. 1825, Marianne, da. of Richard Caton, merchant, of Baltimore, USA, wid. of Robert Patterson, s.p. suc. fa. as 2nd Earl of Mornington [I] 22 May 1781; KP 5 Feb. 1783; took name of Wellesley 1789; cr. Baron Wellesley [GB] 20 Oct. 1797; Mq. Wellesley [I] 2 Dec. 1799; KG 3 Mar. 1810.
MP [I] 1780-1.
PC [I] 24 Feb. 1784; ld. of Treasury Sept. 1786-Aug. 1797; PC [GB] 21 June 1793; commr. Board of Control June 1793-Nov. 1797; gov. Madras May 1797 (did not take office); gov.-gen. Bengal Oct. 1797-Jan. 1805, c.-in-c. 1800-5; chief remembrancer of exchequer [I] 1798-1824; ambassador to Spain June-Dec. 1809; sec. of state for Foreign affairs Dec. 1809-Feb. 1812; ld. lt. [I] Dec. 1821-Feb. 1828, Sept. 1833-Dec. 1834; ld. steward of Household Nov. 1830-Sept. 1833, ld. chamberlain Apr.-May 1835.
Custos. rot. co. Meath 1781-d.
For a man of consuming ambition, Mornington had little to show by 1790 for almost a decade in politics, despite the friendship and patronage of Lord Grenville and the good regard of Pitt. Inhibited by nervousness he had made no mark in the House, and his unreliable health was further impaired by anxiety over financial problems and responsibility for the brood of siblings which he had inherited on his father’s death. A month after his unopposed re-election for Windsor on the Court interest he went abroad, initially for a short period of recuperation, but eventually deciding, with misgivings over the possible ‘loss both of friends and situation’, on ‘a long banishment from England’. He travelled to Naples, returned via Rome (where he was detained by an attack of malaria), Germany and the Low Countries and arrived in England in October 1791.3 In his absence he was listed among opponents of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland the previous session.
Mornington, who secured the reversion, resigned by Grenville, to an Irish sinecure shortly after his return, replied to opposition criticism of the Indian war, 15 Mar. 1792, and opposed Grey’s parliamentary reform motion, 7 May 1793, with an elaborate set-piece argument against any constitutional innovation. He was a dedicated opponent of the slave trade and divided the House in unsuccessful attempts to advance the proposed date of abolition, 25 and 27 Apr. 1792. In 1793 he was admitted to the Privy Council and appointed to the Board of Control and thereafter took a close interest in Indian affairs, although he showed a characteristic distaste for routine committee work.
To his friend Henry Addington he expressed the hope, 8 Nov. 1793, that the obvious ‘impossibility of our making a safe or honourable peace with the present Dogs of Hell’ who controlled France would quell popular discontent with the war; and in the debate on the address, 21 Jan. 1794, he put the case, at inordinate length, for its continued vigorous prosecution. The speech, which drew heavily on Brissot’s Address to illustrate its basic contention that the French revolutionary system of government was inherently incompatible with civil order and international harmony, was Mornington’s supreme effort as an orator in the Commons. Lady Stafford reported that he ‘did himself great credit’, but Richard Fitzpatrick, who sat through the speech, thought that he had severely tried the patience of the House.4
Mornington continued to chafe at the apparent stagnation of his career, as he confided to Addington, 3 May 1794:
I am very much afraid ... that Pitt has no idea of altering my situation this year ... I am mortified at that and other symptoms not of unkindness, but of (what perhaps I deserve) contempt of my powers of serving our cause, and of decided preference to others. I have serious thoughts of relinquishing the whole pursuit ... I cannot bear to creep on with George Rose, Hopkins, and Tommy Townshend, and I really cannot crouch to young Jenky whom I have laughed at ever since I have known him.
On being informed by Pitt that his claim to the first office of Privy Council status to fall vacant had been one of the agreed terms of settlement with the Portland Whigs, he told the Speaker, 27 July 1794:
This is ... more than I expected, seeing myself wholly passed over in the late changes, and having received no explanation on the subject: but this circumstance cannot alter my opinion either of the general policy of the late junction, or of the particular injustice of postponing my claims to a period, which must be very remote, and which, upon the same grounds admitted already, may be again removed to a still greater distance. However I am now satisfied that I was not entirely out of Pitt’s mind, which was my principal apprehension.
Although ‘full of despondency’ over the progress of the war, he remained of opinion that ‘peace would be certain ruin’.5
He is not known to have spoken in the House between 14 Apr. 1794, when he supported the East India Company debts bill, and 17 Nov. 1795 when, in his last reported speech, he defended the seditious meetings bill. He was appointed to the secret committee of inquiry into seditious activities, 14 May 1794. Having secured his release from Windsor, where he anticipated an expensive contest, he was returned unopposed for Old Sarum by Lady Camelford at the general election of 1796, on Grenville’s recommendation. Lady Camelford stipulated that he was to consider his return a favour to Grenville and not to Pitt, with whom she had quarrelled, but she was prevailed on not to refuse the seat to Mornington, who came in acknowledging his debt to Grenville, yet ‘with a reserve of my political opinions and private friendships’.6
On the death of Lord Mansfield, the lord president, in September 1796 Mornington reminded Pitt of his claims to promotion, without making specific demands. As he told Addington, 4 Sept. 1796, he wished to go in some capacity to the Lords. He was able to look beyond his own concerns to expatiate on the vital importance of securing the neglected defences of Ireland. Lord Glenbervie, eager for Mornington’s place at the Treasury, feared that his poor health and socially unacceptable marriage might prove ‘lasting drawbacks to him’, but it was only Lord Liverpool’s refusal to co-operate in the proposed ministerial reshuffle of October 1796 that prevented Mornington’s appointment as joint paymaster.7
By his own account, Mornington, who invested £3,000 in the 1797 loyalty loan, was offered the supreme government of India in succession to Sir John Shore in January, but declined it for reasons of health.8 In March he accepted the governorship of Madras, in place of the recalled Lord Hobart, with the reversion to Bengal after Lord Cornwallis, who had been designated Shore’s successor. In the event Cornwallis went instead to Ireland and Mornington accepted the governor-generalship, vacated his seat, was created a British peer in October 1797 and sailed for India the following month. He returned home in 1806 and played a conspicuous, often quixotic role in domestic politics for almost 30 years, coming close to attaining the supreme prize in 1812, but always overshadowed by his younger brother Arthur.
Mornington, ‘a sublime dandy’ in Macaulay’s words, was a man of staggering vanity, who craved to the end of his days the dukedom which he considered his due. He was idle, domineering, often preposterous, but had outstanding intellectual ability and genuine force of character. As Lord Holland put it:
He had more genius than prudence, more spirit than principle ... Unlike most English politicians, he was rather a statesman than a man of business, and more capable of doing extraordinary things well than conducting ordinary transactions with safety or propriety ... there was a smack, a fancy of greatness in all he did: and though in his speeches, his manners, and his actions he was very open to ridicule, those who smiled and even laughed could not despise him.9
He died 26 Sept. 1842.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: M. H. Port / David R. Fisher
See Iris Butler, The Eldest Brother (1973).
- 1. Ibid. 29.
- 2. According to ibid. 50, correcting previous accounts, whereby she was assumed to have been da. of Pierre Roland, banker, of Paris.
- 3. HMC Fortescue, i. 593-5, 607-10; ii. 3, 117, 21, 209; PRO 30/8/188, f. 52.
- 4. Sidmouth mss; Leveson Gower, i. 76; Add. 51799, Fitzpatrick to Holland, 22 Jan. 1794.
- 5. Sidmouth mss.
- 6. Camelford mss, Mornington to Lady Camelford, 18 May 1796.
- 7. Sidmouth mss; Glenbervie Jnls. i. 72-73, 79, 95.
- 8. Bucks. RO, Hobart mss H75.
- 9. Macaulay Letters ed. Pinney, ii. 53; Holland, Further Mems. Whig Party, 113-16.