Wellingtons Decanters.

Now that I have this site I have the perfect excuse to bug all you nice people about the things that bug me. The Daily Mail recently ran a short article on a historical discovery made on the Antiques Roadshow. See link for article. I’m sorry I couldn’t think of a more ingenious name but let’s face it, there’s not much to work with.

The Facts.

A campaign decanter box was identified on the Antiques Roadshow as belonging to the Duke of Wellington when a cheque for £195 (£100,000 in today’s money) was found locked inside it.


It has been theorised as a payoff for an awkward mistress or a payment for his son’s commission in the army. The cash cheque is written, it seems, by the Duke who it is assumed used it to draw out the money, but a second pen was used to scribble over it suggesting it’s use or cancellation.

The Rant

It is very significant that the first quoted comment out of the “experts” mouth is essentially gossip about the Duke of Wellington. I am increasingly tired and exasperated by such “Experts” beginning apparently factual dialogues about famous people such as the Duke with things like “Well Wellington had allot of Mistresses, chortle, giggle, cough” and then halfway down the page we get the perspective “Yes you see he defeated Napoleon in 1815” usually speedily followed up by a proviso mentioning the Prussians or the Belgians just so it can be seen that they are PC. I once talked to someone about Winston Churchill and all they could muster as a response was “Hmm, wasn’t he an alcoholic?” as if that ringing judgement made them informed about his whole life. Nelson does not escape either, more often than not you hear Lady Hamilton rather than Trafalgar after his name, true there might be more truth in such tattle with Nelson than others but I for one still do him some honour before getting down to the “Wink, wink, nudge, nudge” of it all. Is it so hard to give praise were it is due? Have we humanised our heroes so much that we cannot even look up to them anymore?

The Contentions

Until it is ascertained who sent the box to auction this item cannot be identified as belonging to the Duke of Wellington. The badly worded phraseology of having been used at the battle is also erroneous because if it was taken on campaign it would have been left at HQ in the town of Waterloo and not carried onto the battlefield at Mont St Jean.

The Duke of Wellington was a very organised man. In 1823, the date of the cheque, he was not yet so old that he began to forget things due to old age. Meticulous in terms of organisation and finance the Duke would not have put a returned or used cheque in such a place as a decanter box, therefore it cannot have been returned and it is preposterous that Wellington would have kept a useless record of a transaction, and makes one wonder was it an unsent cheque, but if so then why not destroy it, if it was a way of paying off a blackmailer then he would have burnt it as he always told his friends to do with his own letters and he was known to destroy personal correspondence whenever possible. But another personal characteristic also excludes this as a place the Duke would have put such a thing, this being, his dislike of drinking to excess. He limited his alcoholic intake to mealtimes and was noted for his restraint, such a man does not put Cheques in decanter box. Let alone a decanter box used for campaigning. On the payoff score the Duke had no patience for blackmail and told Harriet Wilson’s publishers were to go for a buyer, she is the only woman known to have corresponded with him on such a subject and all creditable Wellington biographers do not give her gossipy memoirs, published in 1826 (For which she and her publisher J.J Stockdale wrote to Wellington and Lord Brougham to give £200 to be edited out of) any credence.

It is also rather a stretch to believe that he cheque was used to draw out cash for buying his son’s commission, because in 1830 the price of an ensign’s rank in the line (Arthur Richard Wellesley Lord Douro was commissioned into the 81st Foot in 1823) was somewhere in the region of £450 and although this differed form regiment to regiment it is unlikely to have been less.

The above reasons lead me to believe that the box is unlikely to have belonged to the Duke of Wellington.

The Possibilities.

1: The cheque was given to Mr. X who cashed it and asked for it back as a memento, hence the scribble cancelling it.

2: Mr. X never cashed the cheque fearing that he would have to part with a signature of the Duke’s, does not explain the scribble.

3: A person at the bank having received the cheque kept it, hence the scribble.

4: Wellington never sent it (and scribbled with a different pen) and a secretary (other than Sir Fitzroy Somerset,) kept it.

5: It went down as the man in the article says and it was returned to the Duke after its cashing purpose unknown. (It does not explain why the Duke would keep it)

My own Conclusions? The box did not belong to Wellington. The cheque was not to pay off a mistress otherwise it would have been destroyed. A thorough investigation of household accounts and the Dukes spending for 1823 would doubtless reveal the purpose behind it as household expenses were large.

So having annoyed or informed you all immensely and also having used the word scribble more times than ever before I bid you adieu (or as auto correct says, I bid you Audi).


Leave a Comment

Discover more from Adventures In Historyland

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading