Friday, July 9, 2010

Heroes Never Grow Old

Heroes don't generally live to a ripe old age, but the lst Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, did. He lived in fact until 1852; riding daily until a week before his death at the age of 83. The 195th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo brought him to mind. We've all heard, of course, of the great Wellington, the Iron Duke, soldier, statesman and British historical icon; his name is synonymous with the Regency period. He even makes cameo appearances in Regency romances, and Regency-set films.

He is best known for his army career. I came across the following interesting declaration re-published in the Edinburgh Annual Register of 1813. To me it says something about the man, about the kind of soldier he was and the sort of campaigns he conducted. That he did not always succeed in reaching his ideals as set out in this declaration is a fact, and an unfortunate one, but at least he had the desire to do the right thing.

Proclmation from Field Marshal the Marquis of Wellington to the French people.
December 1st, 1813

Upon entering your country, learn that I have given the most positive orders (a translation of which is subjoined to this) to prevent those evils which are the ordinary consequences of invasion, which you know is the result of that which your government made into Spain, and of the triumphs of the allied army under my command.

You may be certain that I will carry these orders into execution, and I request of you to cause to be arrested, and conveyed to my head-quarters, all those who, contrary to these dispositions, do you any injury.

But it is requisite you should remain in your houses, and take no part whatever in the operations of the war of which your country is going to become the theatre.

(Signed) Wellington
This declaration emphasizes his heroic nature in my mind; strong-minded, incisive and with a fierce sense of justice.  His mind never faltered during his long life. At his death he was Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Constable of the Tower, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and the Chancellor of the University of Oxford. He had been Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party, Governor of Plymouth (UK), and British Ambassador to France among other things. He held titles in Portugese, Spanish and Dutch nobility as well as the honours Britain heaped upon him.

At left is a daguerrotype of the Duke in 1844. Few of the figures of the Regency lived into the age of photography which only began in the late 1830's. Photography removes the mystique of the period, in my mind, but it is interesting to have such a photograph. 

I find the Duke's choice of apparel charming: "His ordinary dress in summer was a blue frock-coat, white waistcoat and white trousers, and white cravat fastened by a silver buckle behind. In winter the waistcoat was blue, sometimes red, and blue trousers. He never wore a great-coat, but in severe weather a short cape made of blue cloth lined with white."

I have a little book that gives a very personal picture of the Iron Duke. It is titled My Dear Mrs. Jones; The Letters of the Duke of Wellington to Margaret Charlotte Jones 1851-1852. Wellington had met Mr. and Mrs. Jones and their three children sometime in the five years or so before the letters were written. He became fond of the family, and Mrs. Jones' letters helped him stay in touch with society at a time when deafness was plaguing him.

The letters reveal an active old man with a steel-trap mind and, surprisingly, a great love of children. Though his own two sons were never shown that love, his four grandchildren were, and his concern for Mrs. Jones' three children is apparent in his letters.
"I cannot tell you how much I enjoy and prize the affection which children have for me. When they become familiar with me I believe that they consider me one of themselves, and make of me a sort of plaything! They climb upon me and make toys of my Hair and my fingers! They grow up into friends."
(right) Arms of the Dukes of Wellington

Two weeks before his death he wrote:

"I have been so much occupied by the Reception here of the Grand Duchess Catherine of Mecklenburg Strelitz...I had all the Notables here whom you know to meet her at dinner."

A busy man to the last, a hero indeed, and a good friend.

Until next time,


"My Dear Mrs. Jones: The Letter of the Duke of Wellington to Margaret Charlotte Jones 1851-1852"
Miniature Books, The Rodale Press, 1954


Janet said...

I had no idea, Lesley-Anne - thanks for sharing this personal tidbit about the great Duke!

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

You are welcome! I really liked the proclamation. I had no idea that a military leader 200 years ago would issue such a thing. Heroic indeed!