Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Uniform Press (16 Sept. 2016)
As some will know, the Duke of Wellington had many women in his life. Books have been written about them and last year amidst all the Waterloo200 fuss, the only documentary to focus on the Duke was actually about his married life.
Wellington’s dearest Georgy gives us an insight into a woman that Wellington treasured as a friend and confidant, yet who is overshadowed by his other female companions. Georgiana Lennox, later Lady De Ross, the girl Wellington used to call his dearest Georgy is best known for being present at her Mother’s famous ball on the 15th of June 1815. Alice Marie Crossland’s new book breaks her free of the confines of this very small, though pivotal moment in her life and tells the whole story.
First of all its a beautiful book, which I believe was crowd funded. Certainly I have not yet seen any major publisher produce such an imaginative product, that is so creatively sympathetic to is subject. It is lavishly illustrated with excellent images. Two of which are very special. Anyone who knows about the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball knows that Wellington gave a small miniature to Lady De Ross that night, (he kept a small supply to give to friends). Never did I think I would get to see it, or in some way therefore get such a wonderful visual of a moment in time so often read about. Just as good is the image of the Duke’s handwritten dedication in the front of a Spanish prayer book, that he had used to learn the language when he first set out of the Peninsula. Which adds weight to the newly arriving realisation that the Duke could speak, understand and write Spanish.
It gives good view of a 19th century aristocratic life. Progressing through childhood adolescence and adulthood. The remarkable Lady De Ross’s relationship with the Duke of Wellington is used here to shed light on a little known aspect of his personality. That part which admirers have known for a long time, but to which many are unaccustomed to seeing. That being the sensitive, good natured, often childlike and affectionate man that he only ever showed to his good friends and relations.
As I said before this book opens a window to his relationships with women. From it I was able to make new conclusions about Wellington’s personal life which I had not thought about before.
While undoubtedly pinned around Wellington’s life, at the same time it brings a much needed spotlight to its principal character. Lady Georgiana De Ross (Nee Lennox) was the daughter of the formidable, which is often code for battle-axe, (and in this case it’s fairly true,) Duchess of Richmond and the easier going Duke. Through him the family had been acquainted with Wellington from back in the day, when he was a young staff officer in Ireland.
Now, authors who allow me to read their books should really be warned in advance that if they have used Wellington’s “Scum of the Earth” quip without context I will end up calling it too simplistic. My apologies therefore are due for not giving this warning. There is also a weakness to be observed regarding most statements that deal with military operations. Wellington didn’t command the expeditionary force in Denmark in 1807, Lady De Lancey was sent away for Safety to Antwerp much later than at first described, The Duke of Brunswick did not command a regiment, rather he commanded a national contingent of Brigade strength and I suspect that this has been confused with his Life Guard Regiment. General’s and ADCs were in fact expected to expose themselves to extreme danger on the battlefield. The sources I have seen suggest the dance of the 92nd Highlander’s was performed successfully towards the start of the evening, rather than clumsily occurring at the end of the ball as everyone left. The great treasure of paintings taken at Vitoria that now hang in Apsley house were not all lifted from Joseph Bonaparte’s Carriage specifically. The most notable Legend concerning it is the story of the 14th light Dragoons discovering the King’s silver chamber pot and being subsequently called the “Emperor’s chambermaids”.
Bearing in mind that this is not a military or political history of the napoleonic wars, I am being extremely picky about these points.
Even so. Despite what I might call a bumps in the road, this beginning was nevertheless enlightening on several points, for while in some respects I saw it stumble, in others it delivered an interesting point of view. Clarifying where others do not, why the duke of Brunswick chose to bid farewell specifically to Georgiana at the ball, the adroit use of not only Georgianna’s writings, but other contemporaries who shared her perspective, such as the Capels and the Richmond’s tutor Spencer Madan. All of which create moments of great insight. And it does shed light on the confusion and fear felt in Brussels during the four penultimate days of the 1815 campaign.
It is for these reasons that I cannot stress too highly that these speed bumps gave me no cause to doubt the authority of the rest of the book.
Lady De Ross’s life goes far beyond Waterloo, and first and foremost the book is about her and the relationship she had with the Duke of Wellington. After waterloo, the story is told with a clear vision of place and with clarity regarding the principle actor. Georgy’s grace, charm and affecting manner comes across with great ease, also too does her slightly gossipy side which is not a little waspish in regards to other women who didn’t quite measure up. Perhaps this was the influence of her mother creeping through. The nature of this friendship with Wellington cannot be proved to be anything other than at the most, harmlessly flirtatious, and was based on a platonic affection rather than anything physical. Although the author hints at what might have been now and then, Georgiana fell into that category of women that Wellington most prized, those who let him have a good time, and who would tell him what they thought. Indeed his “dearest Georgy” was probably the precursor to Harriet Arbuthnot.
Ultimately, the long, interesting life of Lady De Ross is one that deserves to be told, and in this book she has found an able biographer.