THE DUCHESS OF WELLINGTON

 

Catherine (Kitty) Pakenham married Arthur Wellesley on 10 April, 1806. To say that their marriage was not a happy one would be an understatement. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the story, you can read Kitty’s biography and gain some insight into the relationship between the Duke and Duchess on Wikipedia. Wellington moved in circles that were not unfamiliar to Kitty, yet she never fit in and, more importantly, never made the slightest effort to do so. None of Wellington’s friends became her friends, which is stranger still, as the Duke had several ladies in his circle who could have been an asset to Kitty, both personally and politically. In this post, we’ll be gaining insight into what Kitty’s contemporaries thought about her via their letters and diary journals.

From Princess Lieven (below) to Metternich, March 1, 1820 – I have been obliged to promise the Duke of Wellington to visit him in the country (Stratfield Saye, above) tomorrow. You have no idea how much it bores me and puts me out. He has unfortunately taken it into his head that his house is the most comfortable in the world. Well, there are two very definite drawbacks to that comfort. It is always cold there, and his wife is stupid. What’s to be done?

 

Mrs. Arbuthnot, October 27, 1825 – . . . I think the Duke’s unfortunate marriage has pursued him even in his relations with his children. He dreads their inheriting her narrow mind and he says, instead of directing them to useful pursuits or uging them to read or to occupy their time, she is continually seeking out for them the most trivial and childish amusements. She certainly is the silliest woman I have ever met with, and I must own I think she now does not appear to have the slightest desire to please him. She does not comply with any of his fancies in the arrangement of his house, and in truth it is so bad a menage it is quite disagreeable to be in the house. It is hopeless, too; if she had good sense all would  now be right, for what he now wants is a comfortable home, but she is totally unfit for her situation. She is like the housekeeper and dresses herself exactly like a shepherdess, with an old hat made by herself stuck at the back of her head, and a dirty basket under her arm. The Duke says he is sure she is mad.

Lady Shelley – The Duchess of Wellington “sat apart from her guests, dressed, even in winter, in white muslin, without any ornaments, when everyone else was in full dress . . . She seldom spoke, but looked through her eyeglass lovingly upon the Duke, who sat opposite to her.”

Mrs. Arbuthnot – February 16, 1830  . . . . . He (the Duke) is entirely occupied and engrossed with public matters, cannot look after his private affairs and there is no one who can do it for him, for his wife has not sense enough and rather encourages his servants and people to cheat him. Not that she is extravagant in herself for she is generally dressed like a beggar, but from mere folly.

Kitty’s health began to fail and she became seriously ill in 1831, when she was confined to her bed at Apsley House (above), where the Duke of Wellington kept vigil at her bedside. At one point, Kitty ran a finger up his sleeve to find if he was still wearing an amulet she had once given him, “She found it, as she would have at any time these past twenty years, had she cared to look for it” remarked Wellington.

Kitty was visited by friends such as Maria Edgeworth and lingered for some time before passing away on 24 April. In a bittersweet twist, it appears that the Duke and Duchess of Wellington finally had a meeting of minds at the end, for Wellington afterwards remarked, “How strange it was that people could live together for half a lifetime and only understand each other at the end.”

Sadder still, within the Duke’s circle, Kitty’s death was merely mentioned as an afterthought:

Mrs. Arbuthnot – June 18, 1831 – . . . . I have omitted to mention the death of the Dss of Wellington, which happened on the 24th of April. She had been ill very long and without any hope of recovery, so that it was a relief at last. She died in London and was buried at Stratfield Saye.

Join us as we visit Apsley House on Number One London’s upcoming tours.

New British Galleries at the Met

by Victoria Hinshaw

Just before closing for the covid 19 pandemic, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art reopened the British Galleries after a total reinstallation. When  was last in NYC, I was disappointed not to visit favorite spots such as the Lansdowne House Dining Room, removed from the London structure and brought to the Met many years ago. But now that room and many other treasures have been restored, reinstalled, and reinterpreted.

The Lansdowne House Dining Room

I have not visited the new Galleries (the Met is scheduled to reopen in late August), but they have received widespread comments from art and cultural sources, enough to give us a pretty good idea of the new approaches.

19th Century Gallery

From the Met’s press release last March, 2020: ‘The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s $22m reinstallation of its British galleries opens to the public on Monday with a stirring narrative on the anxious commercial striving that shaped the British decorative arts from 1500 to 1900. Featuring nearly 700 works in 10 rooms spanning 11,000 sq. ft, the galleries tell a warts-and-all story of empire in which dark elements like the slave trade emerge and cataclysmic events like the Great Fire of London in 1666 serve as dramatic punctuation points. Nearly a third of the works on view have been newly acquired, with a preponderance of those recent purchases in the 19th-century section.’

19th Century Gallery

In the above picture, a bust by Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841)  of Arthur Wellesley, lst Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), is at the left and below.  At right and below is a portrait of George (1762-1830), Prince of Wales, later George IV, by Sir William Beechey (1753-1839). Beneath the portrait is a red bench by Thomas Hope (1769-1831), before 1807.

Duke of Wellington, marble, 1823
George IV

Other than these familiar objects, the installation is very different than past representations of British Art. Again, quoting the Met’s press release:  ‘The Met’s British collection is the largest of its kind in the US. The opening, part of the Met’s 150th anniversary celebrations, crowns a seven-year effort that began with the notion that “these galleries needed some attention and refreshment,” says Wolf Burchard, the Met’s associate curator of British furniture and decorative arts. “The previous galleries were all about the individual objects in historic interiors, and there was no thread that went through it,” he explains. “The new galleries are all about the cross section between creativity and entrepreneurialism.”’

Pietro Torrigiano’s bust of Bishop John Fisher (1510-1515) Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art
The newly conserved pine and elm staircase from Cassiobury Park, Herfordshire (around 1677-80) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art ‘s new British galleries Photo by Joseph Coscia, February 2020/Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met continues: ‘The first gallery, clad in paneling made for the merchant trader William Crowe, opens from the museum’s medieval sculpture hall, vaulting the viewer into the 16th-century Renaissance era. A wall text emphasizes how the House of Tudor competed to match the artistic splendors of papal Rome, the French courts and the Germanic centers of Hapsburg power, and how a new class of professionals with luxury appetites arose under the stable reign of Elizabeth I amid an expansion of global trade. Surveying the gallery from its perch is a polychrome terra cotta bust that is thought to depict Bishop John Fisher, who was executed for opposing Henry VIII’s decision to lead the Church of England away from Roman Catholicism and papal authority. Leading to a mezzanine is another highlight, the magnificently ornamented and newly conserved pine and elm staircase from Cassiobury Park, Herfordshire (around 1677-80), with its naturalistic acanthus leaves, acorns, birds and snakes.’

The Met continues: ‘A gallery titled “Tea, Trade and Empire” drives home how four commodities—tea, sugar, coffee, and cocoa—fuelled artistic innovation in Britain from the late 17th through the late 18th century. The museum has installed two towering semi-circular glass cases filled with a whimsical assortment of 100 teapots, underlining how that staple became a pivot point for social interaction in even modest British households and nurtured an enormous national ceramic industry. (The galleries are mindful not just of an aristocratic elite but of multiple layers of society.) At the same time, the 1789 title page of a slave’s memoir on the perimeter of the gallery alerts viewers to the exploitative nature of empire, with the trans-Atlantic slave trade rising in tandem with the spread of sugar plantations. “Much of the wealth of this period is built on the labor of enslaved Africans,” a wall text says simply.’

A gallery titled “Tea, Trade and Empire’ features two towering glass cases featuring 100 British teapots Photo by Joseph Coscia, February 2020/Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
teapot in the form of a house, ca. 1775; Salt-glazed stoneware with enamel decoration
Staffordshire teapot, salt-glazed stoneware with enamel decoration, ca 1760
Staffordshire Teapot, ca. 1750-60
Hanging depicting a European conflict in South India, cotton, drawn & resist-dyed
Sugar Box, Silver, Ca. 1738, by Paul de Lamerie
Josiah Wedgwood, anti-slavery medallion, 1787

The Met continues: ‘Three galleries are devoted to the re-creation of striking 18th-century British interiors moved from Kirtlington Park (Oxfordshire), Croome Court (Worcestershire) and Lansdowne House (London). A wall text notes that the Lansdowne dining room, designed by Robert Adam and crowned by an intricately decorated ceiling, banished odor-absorbing textiles that would have retained “the smell of the victuals”.’

Kirtlington Park; photo by Richard Lee
Croome Park room, after Robert Adam, 1763-71, photo by Joseph Coscia

Last year I was at the Met in July but I won’t make it this year. What a strange year 2020 is!

July, 2019, photo by Victoria Hinshaw
View from the Met roof, July 2019, photo by VH

The Battle of Vimeiro, Revisited

I first wrote about Vimeiro when Zebra Regency Romances published my novel Least Likely Lovers in August 2005.  In the story, Major Jack Whitaker, formerly of the 22nd Foot, was severely injured in the Battle of Vimeiro, (21 August, 1808) and has come home to England to complete his recuperation, hoping to return to the front beside his comrades. However, in the meantime, Sir Arthur Wellesley (eventually to become the Duke of Wellington) has asked Jack to build support for the army among politicians and social leaders in London, an assignment that Jack finds impossibly frustrating. You won’t be surprised to find that Jack finds a lady with whom he falls in love.


The Battle of Vimeiro (also called Vimiero or Vimera) was the first major conflict of the Peninsular War, part of the greater continent-wide Napoleonic Wars. Up to Napoleon’s 1807 invasion of Portugal, Britain’s oldest ally, British participation in the European war had involved the navy, diplomacy, perhaps major scheming, but not many actual soldiers. When the Portuguese needed help, however, the government in London sent troops to oppose the French. They arrived in August 1808 under the leadership of Major General Sir Arthur Wellesley.

 

On a trip to Lisbon, my husband and I hired a car to take us to see the site of Battle of Vimeiro. We drove via multi-lane freeways north out of Lisbon, thinking about what a difference 200 years made in transportation. When we turned off the road, not far from Torres Vedras, we saw a primarily agricultural countryside filled with deep ravines, craggy rocks, rough pastures, and adorned with olive groves.

The village of Vimeiro is whitewashed, with its buildings right up against the road. We looked for the promised sign to the battle’s memorial but missed it. The driver had a solution to our dilemma: his friend who managed the Hotel Golf Mar on the coast, not far from the village. In fact, the hotel manager escorted us to the cliffs overlooking the Rio Maciera where the British troops landed on the sandy spits at either side of the river’s mouth. I could look out at the empty sea and imagine those tall ships anchoring and the troops in their red coats climbing down the rope ladders into small boats to be rowed to the beach.

Armed with better directions, we drove back into the village past the large barn-like structure which was used as a hospital during the battle and the church, near which some skirmishing took place.

 

With one or two deft turns, we found the park on the heights with its memorial and blue tile pictures of the battle, shown here. I walked around the park, looking out at the battle site, trying to visualize the British and French troops in their colorful uniforms, to hear the explosion of artillery and rattle of musket fire. A map of the battle overlooks the countryside from the heights. But aside from the memorial park, one would never guess this peaceful place had ever seen the deaths of hundreds of men or heard cries of the wounded.

Our driver said in his more than twenty years of experience taking tourists around Portugal, no one had ever asked to come here before. Why, he asked, was I eager to find the site of the Battle of Vimeiro? When I told him about my novels, I imagined he thought of war stories filled with blood and gore. It probably never occurred to him that I write gentle stories of love and lifelong commitment. I wished that I had a copy of one of my novels to give him.

Returning to events of 1808, Major General Wellesley had landed his troops in central Portugal, with the goal of moving south to take Lisbon from the French. They fought a battle at Rolija, August 17, 1808. After several hours of brutal combat, the French were forced back. Wellesley moved on to the Maceira River, just west of Vimeiro, where more British troops came ashore with their horses and equipment.

Four days later, about 16,000 British troops and 2,000 Portuguese defeated about 19,000 French under General Jean-Andoche Junot (1771-1813) at Vimeiro. Wellesley stationed his troops on ridges between the village and the beach on the night of August 20th. By dawn, they could see the French approaching. In the face of British fire, General Junot’s men repeatedly failed to take the heights, though in various skirmishes, there was hard combat, including hand-to-hand fighting in the village. To the north of town, the French fell prey to one of Wellesley’s favorite strategies: stationing his troops out of enemy sight behind the crest of a hill, then wiping out the enemy as they came over the top.

By midday, Junot was beaten and the newly arrived British generals called an end to the firing. Wellesley advocated continuing the rout, driving the enemy out of Portugal all the way to French soil. However, as the battle had progressed, Wellesley’s overly cautious superior officers came ashore; first, General Harry Burrard (1755-1813), then General Hew Dalrymple (1750-1830). They overruled Wellesley’s plans to chase after the French. Thus, by allowing the French time to regroup and bring in reinforcements, the British lost their advantage. Instead, over Wellesley’s objections, Burrard and Dalrymple organized a conference to negotiate with the French at Cintra (aka Sintra) several days later.

The Convention of Cintra was signed August 30, 1808, nine days after the Battle of Vimeiro. It obligated the Royal Navy to carry 26,000 French soldiers to France, with their weapons and whatever spoils they had acquired. There was no restriction against their return to fight again in Portugal. Sir Arthur Wellesley voiced his objections, but, in the end, signed the Convention. The reaction in Britain was dramatic, led by the opposition to the government and their allies in the press. Scathing articles, mocking cartoons and contemptuous speeches condemned the terms of the convention. Wellesley, along with Generals Burrard and Dalrymple, was ordered back to London. The three generals faced a hearing before a Board of Inquiry at Horseguards, beginning November 15, 1808.

 

After extensive deliberations, the board voted on December 22, 1808, to accept the convention. The generals were officially exonerated, but neither Burrard nor Dalrymple ever saw military action again. Unofficially, all of London knew of Wellesley’s reluctance, and most probably knew the story of how his plan to continue the battle and push the French back to Lisbon and out of Portugal forever was thwarted.

The command in Portugal was taken over by General Sir John Moore  (l). Moore died after the Battle of Corunna when French commanders chased the British troops through the mountains. Six thousand British troops, including Moore, were killed in January 1809. For more details, see this blog of May 10, 2011.

The British government in London sent Sir Arthur Wellesley back to Portugal in April 1809 with 20,000 troops to join the remaining 9,000 still there. The war continued in Portugal and Spain for another five years, ending in 1814 with Napoleon’s first abdication. British troops, by then, had fought their way through Spain and into southern France. Wellesley was honored with the title of Duke of Wellington, a tribute he enhanced with his victory at Waterloo in June, 1815.

In the Garden with Empress Josephine

In a prior post in our gardening series we met nurseryman Mr. John Lee, who took up operation of the Hammersmith nursery garden upon his fathr’s death. Mr. Lee followed in father’s foot steps as far as the accumulation of new and rare plants was concerned, as well. He and the Empress Josephine of France, pictured above, in partnership, sent Francis Masson to the Cape of Good Hope in order to gather botanical samples in the hopes of introducing the beautiful flowers of that region to European gardens. In this connection it may be of interest to note that a large portion of Masson’s Herbarium is preserved in the collections of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Additionally, the Empress became patroness to James Niven, who worked in the Botanic Garden at Penicuick in Scotland and travelled to the Cape of Good Hope in 1798 to collect seeds, where he stayed until 1803. During his second visit between 1805 – 1812, he collected seeds for Empress Josephine, and embarked on a journey through the districts of Malmesbury, Piquetberg and Kamiesberg where he collected rare species of Protea. He returned home with a considerable herbarium, including a set of Erica specimens which found its home in the Botancial Garden in Edinburgh.

Joséphine de Beauharnais (23 June 1763 – 29 May 1814) was the first wife of Napoléon Bonaparte, and thus the first Empress of the French. Her first husband Alexandre de Beauharnais had been guillotined during the Reign of Terror, and she had been imprisoned in the Carmes prison until her release five days after Alexandre’s execution.

Josephine was born at the family’s sugar plantation on the French Caribbean island of Martinique and it’s slow pace of life she dubbed “nonchalance.” It was there, in a lush tropical atmosphere, that Josephine developed her passion for flowers and gardening. Later she would introduce flower gardening to France, particularly at Malmaison. So avid a cultivator and gardener was the Empress that we still have plants that are named in her honor.

Chateau Malmaison

When Josephine first purchased the property in April of 1799, Malmaison was a run-down estate, eight miles west of central Paris that encompassed nearly 150 acres of woods and meadows. Napoleon was incredulous when Josephine first bought Malmaison at an inflated price and then proceeded to fund it’s renovations. After her divorce from Napoléon, Joséphine received Malmaison in her own right, along with a pension of 5 million francs a year, and remained there until  her death in 1814. The gardens housed West Indian plants and is known as the birthplace of the tea rose. In fact, they housed over 250 varieties of roses from across the world, 170 of which were famously painted by Pierre-Joseph Redoute – prints of which remain favorites today, such as the one at right.

The aim of the Empress Joséphine was to transform her large estate into “the most beautiful and curious garden in Europe, a model of good cultivation”. And a model of modern gardening Malmaison became. Amongst other innovations, Josephine had installed a heated orangery large enough for 300 pineapple plants,  a greenhouse, heated by a dozen coal-burning stoves. Architects Charles Percier and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine initially enclosed the park and built stables and hot houses. The garden was subsequently remodelled by landscape architect Louis Martin Berthault.

Most importantly in gardening history, the Empress introduced nearly 200 new species of plants to France, including dahlias from Mexico, and encouraged her gardeners to create new species of roses. Her principal source for roses was the Lee & Kennedy Vineyard Nursery in London, of which the Mr. Lee mentioned above was co-owner. Josephine wanted every rose known in the world, and in 1804, by way of Lewis Kennedy, she was in proud possession of the new Chinese roses: Slater’s Crimson China, Parson’s Pink and Hume’s Blush Tea Scented China. These everblooming roses were recent imports to England from China, and it was a coup for the Empress (and for France) to have them growing at Malmaison. They became known as stud roses, potent parents of the modern everblooming rose cultivars.

The most famous rose, and a perennial favorite, to be named for Josephine is the Souvenir de la Malmaison, a Bourbon, shown at rght. 

According to Clair G. Martin III, the Ruth B. and E. L. Shannon Curator of the Rose Garden at the Huntingdon Library, “At the height of the war in the early 1800s, Napoléon was sending money to England to pay his wife’s plant bills, and the British Admiralty was allowing ships to pass through its naval blockades to deliver new types of roses to Malmaison.” Joséphine’s influence was felt across the channel, as well, as many British aristocrats joined the frenzied competition for the newest blooms.”

Josephine commissioned a book about the garden and its plants that was completed t
hree years after her death and published under the title “Jardin de Malmaison-Description des Plantes Rares Cultivees a Malmaison et a Navarre” with text by renowned French botanist Etienne-Pierre Vententat. The book contained 175 watercolors by Redoute and originally appeared in installments.

When I was in Paris recently, I thought to visit Malmaison and the gardens there until I learned that, sadly, the garden today is limited to a very small area with nothing to speak of remaining of Empress Josephine’s efforts or botanical collections.

To learn more about the history of the gardens at Malmaison, read Jardin De La Malmaison: Empress Josephine’s Garden with an essay by Marina Heilmeyer by H. Walter Lack.