By Guest Blogger Greg Roberts

William Wellesley-Pole (1763-1845)
Historians have always been particularly nasty about Arthur Wellesley’s older brother William Wellesley-Pole. He has been variously described as ‘opportunistic and not a little devious’; ‘the worst type of hanger-on’; and harshest of all: ‘a nonentity’. To cap it all his obituary in The Times is still considered one of the most savage ever printed:
 [He] was simply angry- angry at all times with every person and about everything.; his sharp, shrill, loud voice grating on the ear…an undignified ineffective speaker, an indiscreet politician…advancing in years without improving in reputation.
Over the years I have presented papers at various venues including the Wellington Congress intended to overturn this somewhat biased and inaccurate assessment of Wellesley-Pole. In any other family he would have been feted, but Wellesley-Pole was dwarfed by the achievements of his other brothers; Richard, Governor General of India (1797-1805); and Arthur, perhaps Britain’s greatest military general. But we should remember that Wellesley-Pole was responsible for the silver coinage introduced in 1817 which remained in circulation until 1971 – and this was just one of several enduring achievements in his own right.  Far from being a ‘nonentity’ Wellesley-Pole was actually a very loyal and trustworthy brother, content to stay out of the limelight, and blessed with the one gift that eluded all the Wellesley clan: a long and happy marriage.
The one thing that historians cannot ignore is the role that Wellesley-Pole played in the creation of ‘Wellington’. This is revealed in the Raglan MS at Gwent Archives, containing correspondence between Wellesley-Pole and Arthur covering a decade from 1807. This very important primary source is often used to illustrate Arthur’s unvarnished opinions about the performance of government, progress of the war, and the conduct of his family during these momentous years. Yet the many letters FROM Wellesley-Pole TO Arthur are scarcely ever acknowledged even though these contain an equally rich vein of personal insight. It is almost as if Wellesley-Pole is considered persona non-gratis – even in his own archives.
But by reading both sides of the Raglan MS it becomes clear that, from his position at the heart of government, Wellesley-Pole acted as Arthur’s ‘remote-secretary’. His services ranged from provision of tea and other home comforts, through to supplying a new sword or replacement horses. He relayed the latest news, gathered opinions, and soothed often fractious relations between the Cabinet and the Peninsular Army. Hence, following Arthur’s victory at Talavera in 1809 Wellesley-Pole was asked to find a suitable title for his feted brother. He was reluctant to be saddled with such an important responsibility, but King would not wait, and an immediate decision was required. So Wellesley-Pole took up his pen and wrote to Arthur:
After ransacking the peerage… I at last determined upon Viscount Wellington of Talavera and of Wellington, and Baron Douro of Welleslie in the County of Somerset. Wellington is a town not far from Welleslie, and no person has chosen the title. I trust that you will not think there is anything unpleasant or trifling in the name of Wellington, but [in the] circumstances… I could not easily have done better. I own I feel in rather an embarrassing situation for it is impossible for me to know whether I have acted as you would have had me…but you should have explained to me your wishes before ever you left England, in case of such an event.
In the anxious days awaiting a reply from the Peninsular, Wellesley-Pole’s nerves would hardly have been soothed when Arthur’s wife Kitty declared ‘Wellington I do not like for it recalls nothing. However, it is done & I suppose it could not be avoided.’ The fact Wellesley-Pole did not consult Kitty says a lot about the role of women in society at that time, for it seems odd that she was presented with a fait accompli, and literally had to live with Wellesley-Pole’s decision for the rest of her life.
Eventually and to Wellesley-Pole’s immense relief
his choice of title met with unqualified approval from Arthur:
My opinion is that you have done exactly what you ought to have done… You have chosen most fortunately, and I am very much obliged to you. I could not have been better off for a name if we had discussed the subject twenty times
It’s a shame to see how lazily generations of historians have negatively pigeon-holed Wellesley-Pole, when denying his close relationship with Wellington must surely prevent a fuller understanding of this great military genius.  Even the creation of ‘Wellington’ is too often considered an egotistical act on Wellesley-Pole’s when a quick perusal of the relevant letters can easily demonstrate that Wellesley-Pole had no choice but to stand proxy, and that his motives were honourable as he tried to balance the needs of government with the wishes of his beloved brother.
If you would like to know more about the Wellesley-Pole family, please check out my blog www.wickedwilliam.com at which I will be doing a series of posts devoted to Wellington’s relationship with Wellesley-Pole’s children:  Mary Bagot, ‘Wicked William’ Long-Wellesley, Priscilla Burghersh & Emily Raglan. This quartet each played very significant but wildly differing roles in the life and times of the Duke of Wellington.

You can follow Greg Roberts on Twitter: @geggly @Mary_Bagot


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