The rise of the Duke of Wellington is a fascinating story. Despite his dogged reputation as a disciplinarian and a defensive fighter, his early campaigns can stand easily beside those of his great adversary Napoleon. Many admire the rise of the future Emperor for its daring and audacious accomplishments such as the crossing the Alps, Marengo and Egypt. There in Napoleon’s customary melodramatic flair appears to be the all the dash and action of a heroic novel, but then that is how he wanted it to look, and the French People soaked it in. Not as many people realise just how different Wellington was as a general and a man when he was in India. It is a glimpse into the general he might have been if he had not been so tightly curtailed by the government, what he might have been like if he had Napoleon’s freedom. So here it is, the first part of my series of Wellington in India, no doubt it will grip you, no doubt it will shock you, no doubt it will change your whole outlook on history, no doubt it will cure your insomnia and leave you sleeping like a kitten. Hope you enjoy it, please forgive spelling errors and grammer, and I’ll see you at the end.
Part 1: Landings.
Governor General of Calcutta Sir John Shore had visitors that morning at Fort William. It was February 1797 and It was hardly the most pressing of business, a mere extension of his daily routine of meetings in fact. He was to meet the officer who commanded the 33rd Regiment which had just arrived in Bengal from Europe, it would probably be a bore but at least he would be given some news from home.
His secretary appeared and announced Colonel Arthur Wesley of His Majesty’s 33rd Foot, fresh off the Indiaman Princess Charleotte, he had instructions to show him straight in and he was on time. Dressed in the scarlet of a Kings officer, with the bewildering red cuffs and facings that made any man of the 33rd hard to identify, Arthur Wesley was of average height, with short light brown hair, grey blue eyes a high forehead and cheekbones and a thin puckering mouth. His nose was long and hooked which when in profile made his head look like it came to a point, but altogether his face was well formed, perhaps handsome to some eyes and his jaw was firm and defined. Physically he looked very fit in that there was no excess fat anywhere to be seen, the phrase nothing more, nothing less would suit this man admirably.
After initial introductions and questions about his passage, a typically long voyage were he had stopped off on the little Island of St Helena, which he had enjoyed immensely, the Governor would have learned that Wellesley had served as aid de camp at Dublin Castle to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, had sat for the borough of Trim as MP and had had military experience in Holland under the Duke of York. He would also have confirmed that he was the brother of Richard Wesely Earl of Mornington, the confimation of which marked him out to an intelligent officer as a fairly well connected person.
Whatever the upshot of the meeting, Sir John was not bored by it. Indeed he found it most diverting for by the time Wesley had left him, he had turned to his secretary and said that Wesley was “A union of strong sense and boyish playfulness” and predicted that if he was given the chance then he would do great things.
Wesley was about 27 and had been born in Dublin, to the Earl and Countess of Mornington. The Morningtons where a part of that small minority of families who belonged to the Anglo Irish Aristocracy. English people, who lived their daily lives just as their social betters did across the Irish Sea, the only difference being that an Irish title was worth less than an English one.
He had spent most of his early life as a dreamy boy whose only interest appeared to be playing his violins and listlessly floating through life. When he went to Eton, he began getting into fights, such as the one at Crackpenny Corner (where the Wall Game is Played) with Percy Bobus Smith, and was a classic underachiever, though perhaps not by modern standards. He continued to show disinterest to any sort of practical employment and indeed he never showed any aptitude for anything anyway. When his father died his elder brother Richard, a far more promising candidate for greatness, became the Earl and he was as determined as his mother, Countess Anne, to knock some sense into him. Anne took Arthur with her when she moved to Brussels and from there she decided to at least make him a gentleman, famously remarking in exasperation “I do not know what I shall do with my awkward (or ugly) boy Arthur… He is food for powder nothing more.”
Useless younger sons of the aristocracy, like Arthur Wesley, were prime candidates for being killed in King George’s wars. The officer corps was full of them because they where titled enough to get a commission and serve some sort of deep seated feudal duty, while not so titled as to cause permanent damage to the family line if they were die a hero’s death at the head of there men (contraryto the derisive sniffs many give to the officers of the army, they were all expected to lead from the front), while at the same time getting them into some sort of purposeful existence with the hope that it would turn them into something useful.
Countess Anne sent Arthur (with an english tutor in tow) to the Royal Military Academy of Equitation at Angers to see if he took to a military life. The place was a type of finishing school for boys with a martial spin. There Wesley learned the basics of war and improved his French. The curriculum included riding, fencing, deportment and dancing as well as science and maths. He seemed to enjoy the idea of being an officer and a gentleman, attending the dinner party’s of the Academy director Marcel de Pignerol (who was shot for opposing the Revolution) and his wife, who were very impressed by him and while dining with him and some of his fellows introduced him to some of the cream of French aristocracy such as the Ducs de Brissac (who was later guillotined) and de Praslin and the Duchesse de Sabran. He fell in with the English set at the school, a group of well born sons of peers whom he instantly identified with, and he spent any other spare time he had by making a mischief of himself by dropping coins on the heads of the passers by, playing with his terrier Vic and lounging in the Cafe’s in the town.
Nevertheless the effect that Angers had in him was good, and when he returned to his mother she exclaimed to a friend “I never saw so great a change for the better in anyone”.
Since her plan had gone so well his mother suggested to his brother Lord Mornington that he try to get him into the army, Richard was only too pleased to procure him a commission as an ensign in the 73rd (Highland) regiment of foot, after which, Artur’s curiosity led him to weigh one of his men in full marching order, despite this Countess Anne was less impressed than she might have been, declaring that “Anyone can see he has not the cut of a soldier”
Riding heavily on his brother Richard’s tails, he rose through the ranks by purchase and even dabbled in politics, taking a seat in the Irish House of Lords, roundly denouncing the revolutionary’s who had executed Louis XVI (and some of his friends from Angers). But while he was putting to use his newly acquired social skills, speaking talents and dancing talents at the balls in Dublin, he met Kitty Pakenham, a dark haired beauty who was the toast of society in the city at that time. He fell in love with her and partly as a consequence resolved to further his career in the army. With the help of Richard’s money and connections he rose through ranks and regiments to gain the rank of Major.
When Richard purchased his Majority in the 33rd he felt he was on strong ground and he asked Kitty’s brother, Lord Longford for permission to marry her. Longford did not see any stability in Wesley’s situation however and turned him down quite flatly in the library of Pakenham Hall. Probably ruining whatever happiness they could have had together in the process.
Devastated he languished in self pity and resolved to prove himself as a soldier, that night he burned his violins because as he later said: “They took up too much of my time” but he was clearly reeling.
It is interesting to think, that although Kitty would never become to Wellington what Sarah Jennings was to Marlborough, she and her brother, however accidentally, did finish the work that his family had started. She gave give him purpose his pursuit of her caused him to further his rank and station, and her Brother’s rejection of his suit threw him into an army career that hitherto had merely been a way to make himself look like a more attractive husband, once he lost Kitty as a goal, the army was the only thing left for him to channel his energy’s towards.
Again Richard came through for his younger brother and in September 1793 he became Lt Colonel of the 33rd and saw action in Flanders under the Duke of York, where his comedable behaviour was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal campaign.
When the Grand old Duke finally came rolling on down the hill, Wesely hung about in Ireland, desperate for another military post, so he could occupy himself instead of just pining away to nothing. Indeed but for extremely bad weather he would have probably died of yellow fever West Indies when he accepted a posting there. When that expedition went down the tubes he went to stay in Dublin to fight off an attack of Angue (A present from the Flanders Campaign) brought back on by the rough weeks at sea, and while there the newly made full Colonel of the 33rd found out that his regiment was to sail to India and indeed had set off without him. Therefore, resigning his seat in Parliament and leaving detailed instructions to his successor and to Richard telling him what to do about his debts (just under £1,000) should anything untoward happen to him he set sail in May of 1796 to catch them and his Indian adventure had begun.
Standing beneath the walls of Fort William in the balmy heat of India, with the intense sights and smells, both repulsive and aromatic, washing over him like the ocean that was crashing in white crested rollers onto the beach. It all must have seemed so distant. The cold winter wind of Flanders were he fancied he had learned “What not to do” was no longer cutting through his clothes, the hurt of his rejection had diminished to a dull ache that was ever more being covered over by a relentless attention to detail and duty and his listless nature had been replaced by an infectious energy and cheerful spirit that radiated coolness in a trouble and made him shine in society.
Eton had tought him pride and self assurance, Angers the superiority of the ruling classes, the Revolution had tought him hatred of the mob and anarchy, Flanders had tought him what not to do and through heartache and folly he had learend that he had pourpouse.
Above all he felt he had nowhere to go but forwards and was prepared to put his all into expanding British holdings in India, a feat that could only be achieved by audacious strategy and courageous endeavour. Little did he know that day in February that events were to unfold that would unleash his talents to a degree that would see his talents unleahsed to anextent he would never enjoy again.
Arthur Wesley had learnt what not to do to in a war and now he would learn what to do.
End of Part 1
So I hope you liked my first post, I’d like to say it was really hard but it really wasn’t, I’ve been reading about Wellington to long to say that the writing didn’t take longer than three days. Well if your all still awake and reading this I look forward to seeing you at my next post, whether you are eager to read more or whether you are looking for more things to send you sailing off to sleep in a beautiful pea green boat (or whichever colour you prefer), I’ll see you next time for more adventures in historyland.