WELLESLEY, Sir Arthur (1769-1852), of 11 Harley Street, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 1 May 1769,1 5th but 3rd surv. s. of Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington [I], by Hon. Anne Hill, da. of Arthur, 1st Visct. Dungannon [I]; bro. of Hon. Henry Wellesley*, Hon. Richard Colley Wellesley, 2nd Earl of Mornington [I] and William Wellesley Pole*. Took name of Wellesley in lieu of Wesley, May 1798. educ. Trim diocesan sch.; Brown’s prep. sch. Chelsea; Eton 1781-4; privately at Brussels 1784-5; Angers mil. acad. 1785-6. m. 10 Apr. 1806, Hon. Catherine Sarah Dorothea Pakenham, da. of Edward Michael, 2nd Baron Longford [I], 2s. KB 28 Aug. 1804; cr. Visct. Wellington 4 Sept. 1809; Earl of Wellington 28 Feb. 1812; Mq. of Wellington 3 Oct. 1812; Duke of Wellington 11 May 1814; KG 4 Mar. 1813; GCB 2 Jan. 1815; GCH 22 Mar. 1816.
Ensign, 73 Ft. 1787; lt. 76 Ft. 1787, 41 Ft. 1788, 12 Drag. 1789; capt. 58 Ft. 1791, 18 Drag. 1792; a.d.c. to ld.-lt. [I] Nov. 1787-Mar. 1793; maj. 33 Ft. 1793, lt-col. 1793-1806; brevet col. 1796, maj.-gen. 1802; col. 33 Ft. 1806-12; lt.-gen. 1808; c.-in-c. Peninsula June-Aug. 1808, c.-in-c. Portugal Apr. 1809; gen. 1811; f. m. 1813; col. R. Horse Gds. 1813-27, Gren. Gds. 1827-d.; c.-in-c. Continent Mar. 1815, Oct. 1815-Nov. 1818; col. rifle brigade 1820-d.; c.-in-c. army Jan.-May 1827, Aug. 1827-Jan. 1828, Aug. 1842-d.
MP [I] 1790-7; gov. Seringapatam May 1799, c.-in-c. Mysore July 1799-Feb. 1803, chief agent, S. Mahrattas and Deccan June 1803-Feb. 1805; chief. sec. to ld. lt. [I] Apr 1807-Apr. 1809; PC 8 Apr. 1807; PC [I] 28 Apr. 1807; ld. of treasury [I] May 1807-Apr. 1809; ambassador extraordinary to France Aug. 1814-Jan. 1815; first plenip. Vienna Congress Jan.-Mar. 1815; jt. plenip. to treat for peace with France June-Nov. 1815, Aix la Chapelle conference Aug.-Nov. 1818; master-gen. Ordnance Dec. 1817-Apr. 1827; plenip. Verona Congress Sept.-Nov. 1822; special ambassador to Russia, Feb.-Apr. 1826, first ld. of Treasury Jan. 1828-Nov. 1830, Nov.-Dec. 1834; sec. of state for Home affairs Nov.-Dec. 1834, for Foreign affairs Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835; cabinet minister without portfolio 1841-6.
Gov. Plymouth 1819-26; ld. lt. Hants 1820-d; constable of the Tower and ld. lt. Tower Hamlets 1826-d.; ld. high constable at coronation, 1821, 1831, 1838; ld. warden, Cinque Ports Jan. 1829-d.; master, Trinity House 1837-d.; ranger, Hyde Park and St. James’s Park Aug. 1850-d.
An impecunious younger son, Wellesley, described while at Eton as ‘not at all a book boy, and rather dull’, was destined for a military career, in which he progressed under the aegis of his eldest brother Lord Mornington. On coming of age, and while aide-de-camp to the lord lieutenant, he was returned to the Irish parliament for the family borough of Trim. Although in 1793 he seconded the address (and in doing so acquiesced in the enfranchisement of the Irish Catholics, but not in their eligibility for Parliament), Wellesley made no mark: Barrington thought him ‘popular enough among the young men of his age and station’, but unpolished and unpromising. After serving in Flanders in 1794, Wellesley returned to Ireland and begged Lord Camden, 25 June 1795, to appoint him to the revenue or treasury board; he would have preferred to be under-secretary in the military department, but knew there was no opening. His brother Mornington, in backing him up, commended him for his refusal to press for the surveyor-generalship of the Ordnance, then held by his future wife’s uncle, ‘at the present moment’, 22 July 1795. But Lord Camden could hold out no hope. In 1796, when Wellesley was about to embark for India to join his regiment, he resigned his post as aide-de-camp and he and Mornington again applied, unsuccessfully, to Camden for ‘some office in Ireland’ tenable during his absence in India and worth £800 p.a., to relieve his finances.2
It was in India that Wellesley won his military laurels and, under the aegis of Mornington, who followed him out there as governor-general of Bengal, he acquired a taste for military administration and a say in policy, in charge of the conquered Mysore and the Mahrattas. In June 1804 he resolved to leave India, with ‘a prospect of service in which I should be more likely to get forward’; he advised his brother to do the same. His return was delayed by an emergency, and in consequence the command of the Bombay army might have been his, but nothing would induce him to stay. He resigned his appointments in February 1805 and, knighted and thanked by Parliament for his services, arrived in England in September, in time to join the abortive Hanoverian expedition. Wellesley advised his brother in December to remain neutral in politics on his return, after interviews with Pitt, Castlereagh and the Grenvilles. Pitt thus described him to his brother on his arrival home in January 1806: ‘I never met any military officer with whom it was so easy to converse: he states every difficulty before he undertakes a service, but none after he has undertaken it’.3
Wellesley’s entry into Parliament was determined by his wish to defend his eldest brother’s Indian administration against the aspersions of James Paull*. He accordingly came in, 1 Apr. 1806, for Rye, at Lord Grenville’s instigation and on the strength of the Treasury agreement with the patron, who was rewarded with a place. He felt uncomfortable about his situation: ‘a most difficult and unpleasant game I have had to play in the present extraordinary state of parties’, he wrote in the summer of 1806. In his maiden speech, 22 Apr., and in many others that session, he defended his brother against Paull’s charges and, while anxious for an inquiry which would clear his brother, tried to expedite the business, as a prerequisite for his brother’s return to power. He also intervened at length on East India Company finances, 10 July, being confident that their debts could be wiped out by retrenchment. On 14 July he advocated pay increases for subalterns in the army. He was anxious for active service, however, and ministers contemplated his commanding an expedition to Mexico or returning to India.4
Wellesley was on the look-out for another seat, for Lord Grenville had proposed Ipswich to him in July 1806, not realizing that the opening there was no longer available. On 22 Oct. 1806 he informed his brother:
I am ready to come into Parliament in any way you will think proper; but if it could be done I should think it most creditable to be returned independently of the Treasury. But that is only a matter of preference; and it is probably more important to be in the House of Commons at an early period, than to be returned for a place in which the Treasury has no concern.
He added that he was anxious to keep his promise of contributing £1,500, preferably in annual instalments of £500, towards securing Members on the Wellesley interest in Parliament, and concluded, ‘Probably the Treasury might get me returned for Helston’. In the event, by Treasury negotiation with (Sir) Christopher Hawkins*, Wellesley came in for Mitchell in January 1807, at the price of £4,000. Nothing had come of negotiations for an Irish seat for him. On 26 Feb. 1807 he opposed Turton’s motion on the Carnatic question, in defence of his brother.5
On the fall of the Grenville administration, Wellesley, who was not a party man, did not hesitate to accept office, along with his two brothers Henry and William. Through Lord Hawkesbury he was offered the Irish secretaryship. To his eldest brother he wrote that as the latter clearly could not go into opposition, his only scruple had been a professional one, but the Duke of York had reassured him and ministers ‘have told me that they consider me at liberty to give up the office in Ireland whenever an opportunity of employing me professionally will offer, and that my acceptance of this office instead of being a prejudice to me in my profession will be considered as giving me an additional claim to such employment’.6
Wellesley was found a seat by his brother Henry, for Newport on the Holmes interest: ‘the terms are that you shall sit till October twelvemonth for which you are to pay from £700 to £900’. In this, so his patron complained, he was remiss. He was also returned for Tralee on the Treasury interest by purchase from Justice Day, but this was merely a by-product of the management of Irish elections which preoccupied him in the spring of 1807. In this, as well as in his patronage duties, Wellesley, acquitted himself well; Barrington recalled ‘during his residence in Ireland, in that capacity, I did not hear one complaint against any part of his conduct as a public or private man’. His chief, the Duke of Richmond, thought him ‘particularly well suited to Ireland. He is very steady and quiet with them but does not suffer himself to be bullied, a thing Paddy always tries to do at first.’ Wellesley’s view of himself as the retained servant of the state had already emerged:
I am Nimmukwallah, as we say in the East; that is, I have eaten of the King’s salt, and, therefore, I conceive it to be my duty to serve with unhesitating zeal and cheerfulness, when and wherever the King or his government may think proper to employ me.7
In July 1807 Wellesley, who had no illusions about the prevalence of disaffection in Ireland, introduced the Irish insurrection bill, regretting only that he had not been able to prevail upon ministers ‘to adopt the plan of a reciprocal exchange of the militia of the two countries, although I went far towards it’. He continued to defend his brother’s policy in India. At the end of July 1807 he was placed in command of the army reserve sent to Zealand to secure the Danish fleet, and was a commissioner for the capitulation of Copenhagen. For this he received the thanks of the House and acknowledged them in his place, 1 Feb. 1808. Between then and June, while continuing to press for a speedy decision on the Oudh charge made against his brother, he spoke regularly on Irish business, defending a disunited government’s measures, as he complained to the viceroy, particularly the grant to Maynooth College and the appointment of Dr Patrick Duigenan* to the Privy Council. In June, to his relief, he was given command of an expeditionary force to assist the Peninsular insurrection against the French.8
After his victories at Roliça and Vimeiro, Wellesley was superseded by his superiors and signed an armistice, in which he concurred in principle, though not in detail, which led to the convention of Cintra, enabling the French to evacuate Portugal. He declined further service, washed his hands of the affair and returned to England disheartened on 6 Oct. Lord Moira commented: ‘The truth is he is a very gallant and gentlemanlike fellow, but very limited in talents’. He vindicated himself before the court of inquiry into the convention of Cintra and on 27 Jan. 1809 acknowledged the thanks of Parliament for his victories. His brother had in September 1808 pressed Portland to secure a peerage for him, but Portland thought the moment inauspicious. He had in some quarters made a good impression. John William Ward wrote: ‘he is a person of such pleasing manners and gentlemanlike conduct that it is impossible to know him, however slightly, or even to have sat in the same assembly with him, without feeling interested in his favour’. On the other hand, the Grenvilles and Whigs thought he came out of it badly. Thomas Creevey termed him ‘a low intriguing shuffling lying fellow’, who tried to transfer all the blame to his superiors.9
A combination of circumstances now induced Wellesley to give up Parliament and office. His parliamentary patron wanted him in January 1809 to vacate his seat, but ministers were prepared to come to his rescue, as it would be ‘extremely inconvenient to the public service’. On 2 Feb. Whitbread, having raised the question on 20 Jan., obliged Wellesley to admit in the House that he had continued as chief secretary for Ireland while on active service and on 6 Feb. censured him for it. Wellesley, in his own defence, pointed out that he had been previously prepared to resign, but had been urged to retain his place. In fact, government had been unable to think of a replacement ‘not only from his abilities and the decision and energy of his character but from his being better qualified to keep in some order [John] Fosters*, and the department of commander in chief than any other person’. Whitbread’s motion failed, but Wellesley conceded that he would not accept another military command and retain civil office. On 21 Feb. 1809 he justified in debate his part in the convention of Cintra; Lord Grenville was informed that ‘the whole of Wellesley’s argument and language, which was infinitely the best, was a condemnation of the ministers’. Next day Wellesley, who maintained in public the essential innocence of the Duke of York of the charges of corruption brought against him, paid tribute to him as commander-in-chief of the army, but in private saw the duke’s resignation as the inevitable consequence of imprudent conduct. The day after, he defended, against Creevey, his own re-nomination to the committee on East India Company affairs. On 2 Apr. he was awarded the command of the British troops near Lisbon and on 4 Apr. resigned his office and seat.10
Wellesley’s victories at Oporto and Talavera secured him a peerage in September 1809 and a pension; opposition continued to view him with a jaundiced eye and Perceval’s government were unenthusiastic, but his prestige contributed to placing his brother Lord Wellesley at the Foreign Office in December 1809. Lord Wellesley failed in his bid to head an administration in 1812, but Wellington henceforward received the steady support of the Liverpool administration, and after the victory of Waterloo became ‘the Duke’, a national hero. It is remarkable how his eldest brother, groomed for greatness, was eclipsed by Wellington, the fool of the family, even in his chosen sphere of politics, in later life. Lord Wellesley’s dynastic ambitions were intensified by his Indian experience, which marred him as surely as it was the making of Wellington, of whom Countess Granville wrote in 1819: ‘He is neither an agreeable man nor in my eyes an héros de roman, but he is the most unpretending, perfectly natural and amiable person I ever met with’. When he became premier in 1828, Lord Dudley remarked:
His share of trouble and of glory in this life had already been pretty large, but he goes to work just as if he had his fortune and his reputation still to make, just as if there had been no India, no Spain, no Waterloo.11
He died 14 Sept. 1852.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
The latest biography is by Elizabeth Longford (2 vv. 1969, 1973); for its many predecessors see BL cat. Wellesley, Arthur.