The Wellington Connection – Attempted Assassination

Fitzroy Somerset, later Lord Raglan

 From The Letters of George Canning:

A letter written by Lt.-Col. Lord FitzRoy Somerset to Wellesley Pole dated Thursday, February 12, 1818.

My Dear Mr. Pole,

You have so often expressed apprehensions for the Duke’s safety, that you will be more shocked, than surprised to learn, that he was shot at, the night before last, just as his carriage was entering the Porte Cochere of his house (The Duke’s house was in the Rue Champs Elyses. It was from this house that the first shot was fired by Le Grange in the Revolution of 1848. It was subsequently pulled down by order of Napoleon III).  Fortunately the shot missed entirely; but however one may exult at his escape on this occasion, the fact that it is intended to take away his life is so clear, that one cannot but dread that another attempt may be more effectual.

Ivory coach pass belonging to
William Wellesley Pole, Master of the
Royal Mint 1814-1823

It appears by the evidence of the coachman and footman, that as the carriage passed by the Hotel  d’Abrantes, which you may recollect is at the entrance of the Rue des Champs Elysees, they observed a man standing opposite to it, who, on the approach of the carriage moved on and kept pace with it till he reached the nearest sentry box at the Duke’s door, when he stopped and as the carriage was in the act of turning into the gateway the villain fired his pistol. Upon hearing the shot, the horses rather quickened their pace, which the coachman had checked to go more easily over the gutter, and the Duke arrived without accident at the house, totally unaware that he had been fired at, till the footman opened the door and said ‘J’espere, Monseigneur, que votre Excellence n’est pas blesse’.’ He had conceived that one of the sentries’ muskets had gone off by accident. Upon ascertaining how the fact stood, the Duke ordered the assassin to be pursued, but as no step had been taken till he gave the directions to that effect, the scoundrel of course made his retreat good. If however, the sentries had been as indeed they ought to have been outside the Porte Cochere, instead of being in it, or if the footman (a Frenchman) had had his wits about him, and upon seeing the man fire, had immediately jumped down and run after him, or had even cried out he must have been taken; for two of the Duke’s English servants were at the moment coming down the street, and heard the report of the pistol, and whilst they were debating upon what was the cause of the shot at such an hour (it was after midnight) they met the man running: and as one of them had said that the shot might have been fired at the Duke’s carriage they had a great mind to stop him, but hearing no alarm they thought it most prudent to let him go by without molestation.

Shortly after, some of the guard detached from the Duke’s came up to them and asked them if they had seen anybody, to which they replied in the affirmative, and immediately joined with the soldiers in the pursuit. One of the servants ran so fast, that he thinks he saw the same man go into a house in the Rue de la Madeleine, and stay at the door till he came up, when it was slammed in his face. This house was afterwards examined some hours after, I believe, and it appears that the only lodger is a laquais-de-place now in the service of an Englishman. The soldiers and servants continued their researches but ineffectually. The whole of yesterday was occupied by the police in the examination of everybody who could throw any light upon the affair, and in the evening a man came forth who had formerly lived as servant to Burgh, who acknowledged himself the author of an anonymous letter he had addressed Sir Ulysses about a month ago, who had communicated it to the Duke stating that he had been offered a sum of money to assassinate him. He now said that he had no personal acquaintance with the man who had made the proposition to him, but that he should know him if he were to see him, and that he was apprehensive that his own life was in danger in consequence of his refusal to undertake the murder. This laquais had been in the army and had afterwards lived with General Exelmans where he was probably remarked by the villain who wanted to induce him to perpetrate the crime. Nothing else has transpired which may tend to the discovery of the assassin, with the exception of a letter from Lord Kinnaird to Sir George Murray which you will receive through Sir Charles Stuart.

Charles, 8th Lord Kinnaird of Inchture (1780-1826)

In this it is stated that a man had asked Lord Kinnaird if he thought the Duke of Wellington could be prevailed upon to exert his influence with M. De Cazes to grant permission for the return to Paris of three French exiles. Lord Kinnaird replied in the negative, upon which the Frenchman enquired if the Duke would be induced to facilitate their return, on condition of his disclosing a plot, which had been some time in agitation against his life. The rest of the letter contains Kinnaird’s answer to this proposition and the steps which the other considers necessary, if it should be admitted. Murray by the Duke’s desire has written to K. to say that before any other step is taken, he must disclose the name of his informer, and as the attempt to assassinate has since been made, Kinnaird’s letter will be sent to Lord Clancarty (Ambassador to the Netherlands) who will act upon it as he thinks proper. It is impossible so immediately after the event to judge of the effect whi
ch the commission of such an outrage will make in Paris. The only people whom I have yet seen are connected with the Court and they as may naturally be supposed, express in strong terms their abhorrence of it, but the French in general are, as Lord Stanhope truly says, so unprincipled, and they carry their detestation of the Duke and of the English to such an extreme, that I do not believe many of them will really feel shocked that such an attempt should have been made, more particularly as they consider the Duke to be the author of their present degradation.

Duke of Wellington

Much as I have been accustomed to the unostentatious courage and strength of mind so peculiar to the Duke, I acknowledge that he has on this occasion displayed a firmness and a tranquillity which has astonished me, while at the same time he has evinced a disposition to take every precaution in his power to preserve his valuable life. He is aware that if a man is determined to destroy him at the certain sacrifice of his own existence, he cannot prevent him; but he thinks, and I am inclined to entertain the same opinion, that as nobody can have any private pique against him, the person who would undertake to assassinate him, would not venture to do so except on an occasion when he might have a good chance of effecting his escape. Self predominates in the minds of every individual in this nation, and I hope that feeling may be the cause of the preservation of the Duke.

Measures are taken to guard the Duke’s house and to watch the streets immediately leading to it, and he will have an Aide-de-camp always in the house, and he will have a person armed though not in uniform with his carriage. He has promised also never to go about alone and will not make use of his own carriage which is so well known.

Should I hear anything further before the messenger is dispatched I will communicate to you.

Yours most affectionately,

FitzRoy Somerset.

P.S.—Since writing the above, the Duke has shown me his letter to Lord Bathurst which is a very good one; you will observe that at the end of it he expresses a hope, that if it should be thought advisable to publish any part of his letter, care will be taken not to make known that part of it which relates to the channels which may lead to the discovery of the assassin, or to the precautions which he may think it proper to adopt. I have heard nothing further, except that an Officer of the Landers de la Garde was close to the carriage at the time, whose first impulse was to rush upon the villain, but upon second thoughts he judged it best not to attempt to seize him lest he should fail and being seen to run should be suspected of being the assassin. He therefore contented himself with enquiring if the Duke was hurt.

4 thoughts on “The Wellington Connection – Attempted Assassination”

  1. After the assassination attempt was actually made, Lord Kinnaird travelled to Paris to see the Duke with the source of his information, Louis-Joseph Marinet, but was arrested by the French authorities on suspicion of complicity. Although soon released, Lord K vented his anger in an open letter criticising the Duke, and changed his son's middle name from Wellesley to Fitzgerald. The poet Lord Byron immortalised the argument in his epic ‘Don Juan’, having a dig at Wellington with these lines:

    I don’t think that you used Kinnaird quite well
    In Marinet’s affair – in fact ‘twas shabby –
    And, like some other things, won’t do to tell
    Upon your tomb in Westminster’s old Abbey.

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