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  Richard Wellesley (1760–1842), by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1812 Richard Wellesley (1760–1842), by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1812
Wellesley [formerly Wesley], Richard, Marquess Wellesley (1760–1842), governor-general of Bengal, was born on 20 June 1760, probably at Dangan Castle, co. Meath, though he later referred to himself as a ‘native’ of Dublin (Wellesley Papers, 1.4), and spent much of his early life at the family town house in Grafton Street, Dublin, opposite the Irish government buildings. The eldest of the six sons (one of whom died in infancy) and one daughter of , who was created earl of Mornington in October 1760, Richard became Viscount Wellesley, though he did not adopt Wellesley (in place of Wesley) as his surname until 1789. His mother was Anne (1742–1831), eldest daughter of Arthur Hill of Belvoir, co. Down, first Viscount Dungannon. His younger brothers were , , the Revd Gerald Wellesley (1770–1848), and . The Wesleys had originated in Somerset, but members of the family held minor office in Ireland from the thirteenth century onward. The Colley family, into which they married, was descended from Richard Colley, who had been sent to Ireland in the reign of King Henry VII to watch the conduct of the earl of Kildare, lord-deputy of the country. The Wellesleys settled to a career as typical country gentlemen of the protestant ascendancy, mostly shunning active politics, though , grandfather of the subject of this article, sat in the Irish parliament as member for Trim until 1746, when he was raised to the peerage of Ireland as the first Baron Mornington. Garret Wesley, his son, was an amateur musician and poet whose artistic interests did little to repair the crumbling family fortunes. Richard Wellesley's relations with his demanding and embittered mother were poor. He was later to remark of his parents, with typical condescension, that they were ‘frivolous and careless personages, like most of the Irish nobility of that time’ (Butler, 27).

Education and early political career

Viscount Wellesley was educated at Miss Towers's private school in Portarlington, a Huguenot settlement, where he learned fluent French. He was sent to Harrow when he was ten years old. As the result of taking too active a part in a schoolboy revolt against a newly appointed headmaster, Wellesley was removed from Harrow after eighteen months and sent to Eton, where he excelled in the classics, an interest which he retained in his later years. He matriculated as a nobleman at Christ Church, Oxford, in December 1778, and achieved early distinction by winning the chancellor's prize for Latin verse on the subject of the death of Captain Cook. But his career in the university was cut short when he returned to Ireland following the death of his father in May 1781 and succeeded as second earl of Mornington. Young Mornington took on the responsibility of paying his father's debts, running the estate, and educating his brothers. His brief period in the Irish House of Lords did, however, consolidate one important political connection, his friendship with William Grenville, later Baron Grenville, a friend from Eton. Grenville was chief secretary for Ireland at the time. More importantly, Grenville was William Pitt's first cousin: perpetually short of money, Mornington could at least count on productive ‘connections’. Grenville eased Mornington's route into English politics, and in April 1784 he was returned to the House of Commons as member for Bere Alston in Devon. He was later returned as member for Windsor (19 July 1787 and 16 June 1790), and Old Sarum (13 May 1796). He was one of the original knights of St Patrick when the order was founded in 1783 and was made junior lord of the Treasury in 1786. In this year Mornington also made one of the most momentous decisions of his life: he entered his younger brother Arthur, who had not excelled academically at Eton, as a cadet in the Royal Academy of Equitation at Angers in Anjou. He later bought a colonelcy for Arthur, who was immediately posted to India, so becoming precursor to his brother.

Already a liberal whig in politics, Mornington had admired the Irish patriot Henry Grattan during his period in the politics of Dublin. Despite private cynicism about ‘popery’, he argued vigorously in the Irish House of Lords for Catholic emancipation. He also demanded an end to corruption in the disbursement of Irish government funds. On the other hand, his reverence for property and the constitution made him increasingly suspicious of the Irish armed volunteering movement of 1779–83. He had once ‘revered’ (Wellesley Papers, 1.12) its leaders but came to fear that it would tend in a democratic direction and infringe on the powers of the monarchy and the Irish parliament. In English politics, similarly, he now aligned himself with William Pitt in support of the radical agenda of free trade; he asserted the need to place England on ‘the throne of commerce of the world’ (ibid., 1.15) some ten years before he embarked for India. He also supported and began a lifelong friendship with William Wilberforce in opposition to the slave trade, which he regarded as a ‘disgrace to Great Britain’ (ibid., 1.18). Yet, suspicious of constitutional innovation, he was lukewarm to parliamentary reform, and his views against it hardened as the effects of the French Revolution gathered pace. Once the republican danger had passed by 1820, however, in contrast to his brother, by then the duke of Wellington, he was to become a firm advocate of reform.

At this time Mornington was also ambivalent about the consequences of British imperial expansion. He admired Burke, and his maiden speech in the Commons was, ironically, an attack on the ministry for supporting the wars of Warren Hastings in India. He was not, however, opposed to territorial annexations as such, and early on he had read and absorbed Robert Orme's Military Transactions of the British Nation in Indostan (2 vols., 1763, 1778), which provided a justification for Robert Clive's conquest of Bengal. Growing expertise in Indian affairs resulted in his transfer in June 1793 from the Treasury to the Board of Control for India, where he worked with Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville, in a close but contentious partnership which was to continue during his governor-generalship of India. Mornington also became a confidant of Lord Cornwallis, who was expected to be reappointed to the post of governor-general, with Mornington as governor of Madras. In 1797 Cornwallis was indeed appointed governor-general, but the gathering Irish rising forced the administration to keep him in Ireland as lord lieutenant, while Mornington himself was unexpectedly appointed governor-general. He sailed for India in November 1797, leaving in England a wife, Hyacinthe Gabrielle (1760?–1816), purported daughter of Pierre Roland of Paris, whom he had married on 29 November 1794. To the distaste of some members of his family, he had already been living with Hyacinthe for nine years and had had five children with her.

Governor-general of Bengal

Mornington's period of governor-generalship was to be the decisive phase in the establishment of British dominion over the Indian subcontinent and witnessed the beginnings of the projection of British military and maritime power into the Middle East and south-east Asia. As late as 1798 the East India Company was faced with a series of powerful enemies in the subcontinent who had been driven by the imminent threat to their own independence to revitalize their administrations and create more effective military forces on partly European lines. In the south the Muslim ruler Tipu Sultan of Mysore had been defeated by Cornwallis in 1792, but had quickly set about rebuilding his power. Having earlier founded his own armaments industry and centrally organized army, he now strengthened his hold on the rich, revenue-bearing districts which he had retained after the settlement of 1792, and embarked upon a more active foreign policy, seeking allies throughout India, in the Ottoman empire, and in France, to which he had recently sent an embassy. The French republic, while in no position to help Britain's Indian enemies directly, provided moral support and expertise and, in a piece of piquant symbolism, Tipu had planted a ‘liberty tree’ at his capital, Seringapatam.

In western India the Hindu states were also attempting to narrow the gap in military technology between themselves and the East India Company, developing powerful artillery and infantry forces to complement their already formidable capacity in mobile light-cavalry warfare. In retrospect the dangers to the British position were much less than contemporaries feared. And these were anyway exaggerated by officials such as William Kirkpatrick, later Mornington's military secretary, who favoured an aggressive policy, in part because they hoped it would increase their own wealth and glory. But there is no doubt that the situation was highly fluid when Mornington reached Madras in January 1798. In the north-west the Afghan ruler Zaman Shah was threatening to repeat the destructive foray into the Indian plains made by his predecessor, Ahmad Shah Durrani, in 1759–61. Meanwhile, in those successor states to the Mughal empire—Oudh, Hyderabad, and Arcot—where the British had established overwhelming political influence, dissident factions still flourished, making overtures to the distant French or seeking the nearer support of Tipu Sultan. Worse was the social and economic decline of the company's allies. Caused in the main by excessive British demands for military subsidies, it threatened the company with the prospect of going to war against Maratha and Mysore troops, whose officers were French advisers, while the forces of their own clients melted away in disarray.

Lord Cornwallis and Sir John Shore, the previous governors-general, had been cautious about direct annexation. The one was forced by logistical weakness to allow Tipu Sultan to retain much of his power-base; the other placed a British supporter on the throne of Oudh in 1797, rather than directly annexing the territory. But Mornington's arrival heralded a new attitude to the balance of power in India. In London, Henry Dundas, Lord Melville, president of the Board of Control of the East India Company, was keen to use India as a source of tribute for the British government; the classic strategy of the Hanoverian minister had always been to seize as many foreign territories as possible during time of war in order to display a good hand of cards during peace negotiations. But there had been a deeper change; Dundas averred that ‘We are in truth become an armed nation’ (Two Views, 50), and resolute defence of the United Kingdom had to be complemented by the entrenchment of the British position in India, the loss of which would be a ‘death-wound’ (ibid.). The dangerous Irish rising of 1797–8 was accompanied by Bonaparte's thrust to the East. In England the landed classes were disturbed by the spread of radical societies, while Mornington's Irish correspondents, notably his brother William Wellesley-Pole, wrote to him of the ‘spirit of insurrection and treason’ (Wellesley Papers, 1.71) which manifested itself throughout Ireland. The sense of national emergency which pervaded Mornington's governor-generalship undoubtedly predisposed him to a more aggressive policy against the Indian powers, and one which was thoroughly welcomed by the group of able and intransigent young civil and military officers he gathered around him. These included William Kirkpatrick, Neil Edmonstone, John Malcolm, and William Palmer. Contemptuous of the ‘weakness and langour of the late governor-general’ (Two Views, 79), Sir John Shore, Mornington soon announced his intention of establishing complete British suzerainty in southern Asia.

War with Tipu Sultan

Tipu Sultan's Mysore was no doubt a formidable potential enemy of the company's power, but it is clear that Mornington was determined to force him into war as quickly as possible. Malartic, the French governor of Mauritius, had unwisely issued a proclamation inviting volunteers ‘to serve under the banners of Tippoo’ (Moon, 278), who, he asserted, was aiming to drive the British out of India. During the summer of 1798 Mornington regretfully heeded the advice of his senior officials and his brother Arthur Wellesley that the company was unprepared for war. His vigorous diplomatic and military preparations for a campaign over the next few months indicate, however, that the protestations that he wished to compromise with the sultan were false. As he wrote to Grenville at the onset of the war, ‘I have had the satisfaction to succeed completely in drawing the beast of the jungle [Tipu] into the toils’ (ibid., 285). They also give credence to the view of Joshua Uhthoff, resident at Mysore, that the tardy military preparations which Tipu himself made were no more than an expression of ‘common prudence and self-defence’ (W. Kirkpatrick to J. Uhthoff, 8 March 1799, BL, Add. MS 13587), a phrase which the governor-general and his military secretary, William Kirkpatrick, edited out of the envoy's dispatches.

As he made preparations for the final conflict with Tipu, Mornington reached an accommodation with the Marathas in the north and galvanized into action the sluggish authorities in Madras, whom he had despised since he first made landfall there during his voyage out from England. Wellesley also engineered a coup against the anti-British party in the Mughal successor state of Hyderabad to the north of Mysore. Here the ageing nizam, its ruler, fearing attack from Tipu and the Marathas and feeling that his French officers were getting above themselves, agreed that his French-led corps of 14,000 men should be disbanded and replaced with a British subsidiary force. This was effected without bloodshed, and the military and logistical support of Hyderabad proved critical in the forthcoming war.

Taxing Tipu with his relations with France, Mornington managed finally to harry the sultan into war in February 1799. General Harris, who had served under Cornwallis in the Second Anglo-Mysore War, marched into the kingdom. In contrast to the earlier occasion, the invading army was properly provisioned by the Madras authorities. Slightly outnumbered by the combined company and Hyderabad force and betrayed by two of his ministers, Tipu was unable to halt the resolute British advance on his capital, Seringapatam. On 4 May 1799 the final assault was launched and Tipu Sultan, vowing to ‘die like a soldier’, was killed defending the breach.

Extension of British authority in India

Mornington's rapid victory over his most formidable Indian opponent shifted the balance of power in the subcontinent. His armies were strengthened by the access of a huge number of pack bullocks seized from the Mysorean troops, Madras was relieved from the danger of imminent revolt, and the Maratha states were now surrounded by British-controlled territory on three sides. Most importantly, the governor-general's success emboldened him to overawe the subordinate presidencies and appoint his own supporters to critical military and political positions. Henceforward, his relations with the cost-conscious directors of the East India Company were to deteriorate rapidly. Mornington himself was rewarded by being created Marquess Wellesley in December 1799.

In south India, it is true, Wellesley secured a settlement which seemed financially and politically favourable. He restored what Mark Wilks, the new Mysore resident, regarded as the ancient Hindu constitution of the state by returning to power a young prince of the Wodeyar dynasty, which had formally retained sovereignty during the reigns of the Muslim sovereigns. The effective ruler was the Maratha Brahman Purniya, who had served and later betrayed Tipu, but who quickly put the state on a strong financial footing, allowing it to pay a large subsidy to the British. The subsidy continued to be paid throughout the period of British rule in India, even in times of famine. Further to the south Wellesley was also able to terminate the irritating system of dual government which had since the 1760s split authority in Madras between the company and another sub-Mughal regime, the government of the nawab of Arcot. In the archives of Seringapatam the British had discovered letters from the nawab of Arcot to Tipu dating from Cornwallis's war of 1792. The Arcot authorities held, perfectly correctly, that these letters were merely aspects of the normal diplomatic relations among Indian states and did not constitute any betrayal of Arcot's treaty obligations. But the British deemed them treasonable and the Arcot dynasty was abruptly deprived of its remaining political power and pensioned off.

Hereafter Wellesley's policies towards the Indian rulers formed a common pattern; he wished to limit what he conceived of, following Cornwallis, as the corruption of oriental government and at the same time improve the company's financial position by annexing territories or negotiating generous subsidies in return for ‘protection’ by the company's forces. In October 1799 the small but rich state of Tanjore was effectively annexed to the Madras presidency, though its raja was afforded a substantial pension, which allowed him to sustain a large court and many religious and charitable institutions. More importantly, the large northern state of Oudh, which had been in alliance with the British since 1765, was partitioned. The governor-general sought ‘not merely to secure the subsidiary funds, but to extinguish the Vizier's [ruler's] military power, substituting in its place a considerable British force’ (Edmonstone to Scott, 27 May 1801, BL, Add. MS 13527). Oudh's central tracts around Lucknow were to remain semi-independent until 1856, but the commercial districts along the Ganges passed under a new British administration, the head of which for a time was another of the governor-general's brothers, Henry Wellesley. Cornwallis, hostile to further territorial expansion by the company, had sought to exclude British private interests from the state under a treaty of 1788. But it proved impossible to stabilize the frontier of British India; as many contemporaries observed, the very terms of the subsidiary alliances created by the company undermined Indian states. The huge payments required to support company contingents on their own territory drained away the resources of the rajas and nawabs. In turn their desperate attempts to raise money and pay off their powerful creditor caused revolts which reinforced the appearance of ‘native misgovernment’.

War against the Marathas and other conquests

Indian rulers were only too well aware of this. Tipu and the major Maratha rulers, Daulat Rao Sindhia, the raja of Berar, and Jaswant Rao Holkar, had all resolutely refused to negotiate subsidiary treaties with the company, fearing an inevitable loss of their independence. To Wellesley, the alliance system was, by contrast, a financial and strategic panacea. When conflicts in Poona, capital of the peshwa, nominal head of the Maratha confederacy, drove Peshwa Baji Rao into British territory in 1802, Wellesley saw a chance to settle finally the affairs of Britain's only remaining formidable potential enemy in peninsular India, the Marathas. Deeming the peshwa to be ruler of an actual Maratha ‘empire’, and the great chieftains such as Sindhia and Holkar a mere territorial nobility, he thought that binding the former with a rigid treaty would tame the latter. The opposite turned out to be the case. In mid-1803, in a violent reaction to the treaty Wellesley had made with the peshwa at Bassein, the raja of Berar and Sindhia took to the field against the company. Opinion in Britain was generally hostile to Wellesley's diplomatic harassment of the Marathas. British power was already firmly entrenched in India, and, barring a small number of French soldiers employed by Sindhia, no significant European enemy remained in the subcontinent. Most important, both the now enraged directors of the company and the government feared that a further round of wars would be extremely costly. This was to prove perfectly correct. Over his governor-generalship, far from stabilizing the Indian finances, Wellesley managed virtually to treble the company's debt.

In the short term, however, Wellesley's war against the Marathas went brilliantly. Secure in the alliance and resources of the nizam of Hyderabad, the puppet state of Mysore, and the newly partitioned Oudh, the British were able to launch a two-pronged attack on the Marathas' redoubts in the western Indian uplands. The company, in addition, was lucky in that its forces were led by two soldiers of unusual ability for the Indian theatre. The southern army was commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley, a ruthless officer in dealing with his Indian subordinates, but one who had early learned the importance of proper commissary and logistical arrangements. The army of the north, which moved from the Ganges valley against the Maratha armies poised south and west of Delhi, was led by the stolid and methodical General Gerard Lake (1744–1808), who had proved himself one of the best British commanders during the Irish rising of 1797–8.

Arthur Wellesley won a famous victory against the most powerful of the Maratha chieftains, Daulat Rao Sindhia, at Assaye in September 1803. Next he turned and defeated the army of the raja of Berar, which had a less powerful cavalry wing to deploy against the British. In the north, Lake and the Bengal army defeated Sindhia's French-led army, taking Delhi and Agra, ancient centres of the Mughal empire. Wellesley was able to claim that he had eradicated residual French interest in north India, in the guise of Sindhia's French military advisers. This was a view which accorded well with opinion at home now that European hostilities had recommenced.

The year 1803 was to prove the high point of his Indian career, when Wellesley believed he had achieved his main aims in India. The company's government had, moreover, begun to flex its muscles on the broader Asian scene, foreshadowing the thrust of nineteenth-century imperial policies. Indian military and marine contingents had taken part in a British expeditionary force to Egypt in order to force a French withdrawal; John Malcolm's mission to Persia had marked out British antipathy to both French and Russian advances in the region; diplomatic relations with Burma seemed on the point of being established; and the company had exploited a further commercial bridgehead in south-east Asia which had appeared following the cession of the hinterland of Penang in 1798. Hereafter, the pace of military and diplomatic success slowed, and political difficulties between the governor-general and the directors became insurmountable.

The British had managed to force the major Maratha rulers into a dependent status because the armies of Lake and Arthur Wellesley had combined strict infantry discipline with a superiority in heavy cavalry. After the defeat of the main forces of the raja of Berar and Sindhia, however, they were faced with a more elusive and subtle enemy in the form of the ‘predatory’ light cavalry of Jaswant Rao Holkar, a Maratha chief who had abandoned the attempt to defeat the European armies in direct confrontations. Holkar's nuisance value was increased by the dispersal throughout central and western India of cavalry war bands, released from the defeated Indian armies, who plundered settled agriculture and frustrated the British attempt to revive agriculture and trade following the man-made food shortages of the previous two years. Colonel William Monson's attempt to trap Holkar in Rajputana failed miserably, and the British were drawn deeper into a war of light cavalry movement against him. They were simultaneously alarmed by the movements of the Muslim chieftain Amir Khan and pinned down by an ineffectual siege of the Jat stronghold of Bharatpur, south-west of Delhi. Worse, future military strategy was imperilled by the soaring debt of the company and the increasing unwillingness of native Indian capitalists to finance it.

Until 1804 the British government, and Castlereagh in particular, had generally favoured Wellesley, drawing credit from his suppression of the supposed French threat to India. The directors, however, had become bitterly hostile, resenting alike the cost of the governor-general's victories, his scarcely concealed contempt for their residual monopolies of trade and public office, and the pro-consular style of his government. The set-backs against Holkar and Bharatpur turned the ministry against Wellesley too, and in 1805 he was, to all intents and purposes, recalled. Hereafter the legacy of his Indian administration was to come under increasing attack in the British press, in parliament, and from the court of directors. Old radicals such as Philip Francis joined forces with anti-annexationist evangelicals like Charles Grant and ‘new’ radicals, who disliked the influence of the ‘Irish cabal’ in both domestic and imperial politics.

Civil government in India

Wellesley's style of Indian government had been a particular source of suspicion across the political spectrum. Early in his governor-generalship he had announced his desire to revamp the stately dimension of Indian government and model his court on that of the lord lieutenant of Ireland. He rebuilt government house, Calcutta, in Palladian style and introduced a round of rituals, ceremonies, and levees. He hoped this would impress Indian rulers and subjects, but also instil discipline into the British master race in Calcutta, which had hitherto shown a marked preference for gambling, peculation, and extramarital affairs, including liaisons with Indian or Indo-Portuguese women. He clamped down on the scurrilous and outspoken English-language press in Calcutta, and sent two of its editors back home, charging them with ‘Jacobin’ sympathies. Wellesley was far from being an evangelical Christian; indeed, one of his sternest enemies, Charles Grant, a director of the company, charged his administration with being idolatrous. But Wellesley felt that, in India as in Ireland, the Anglican church itself should be on parade, as it were, an embodiment of the morality and pageantry of British rule. He insisted on regular Sunday observance and attendance at chapel or church for company servants and military officers. While he discountenanced active proselytization against Hinduism and Islam on the part of the Baptist missionaries established at the Danish station of Serampore, near Calcutta, he established better relations with its scholarly evangelists, who had once been classed with political radicals, and associated them with the government's plan to translate Sanskrit and Persian classics. These policies created many enemies. The increased ceremoniousness of government irritated the crown at home, while the new puritanism annoyed the lethargic Calcutta and Madras ‘society’.

More damaging to Wellesley's political future, however, was the struggle between the governor-general and the directors over the education and control of junior civil servants. Wellesley's liking for efficiency and his distaste for the lax lifestyles of many ‘griffins’ (newly arrived servants of the company) quickly convinced him of the need to establish a training academy in Calcutta. Fort William College, which he opened in July 1799, married features of Oxford and Cambridge, such as the study of theology, and classical and oriental languages, with the discipline and sense of cadre common in the military academies of France, to one of which he had sent his brother and on which he specifically modelled the institution (‘College of Fort William’, BL, Add. MS 13862, fol. 29). A regular routine of teaching in secluded circumstances would also, he hoped, keep the company's youthful servants off the hunting field and out of the clutches of ‘native women’ (ibid., fol. 17b), corrupt Indian secretaries, or munshis, and other representatives of what Wellesley regarded as native corruption. The college did, indeed, train, if sometimes only briefly, a spectacular group of young men, including Mountstuart Elphinstone, Charles Metcalfe, Richard Jenkins, and E. C. Bayley, who went on to high office in the administrative and political services of the company. It also embarked upon a programme of teaching and translation of classical and modern south Asian languages which gave a considerable impetus to oriental studies worldwide. John Gilchrist, who standardized and explained Urdu, the Indian lingua franca, to the West, was professor there. Many learned Indians who played a prominent role in the recovery of Indian religious texts and history and their dissemination to the indigenous population were also associated with the college.

The directors, however, felt that Wellesley had exceeded his authority in establishing Fort William College. Alongside his creation of a private secretariat, his denomination of certain topics too secret to be readily discussed in home correspondence, and patronage of young military and civil officers directly dependent on him, Wellesley's actions smacked of an attempt to elevate the governor-general's authority over that of the company. The directors were particularly incensed by his promotion of his youngest brother, Henry, to the office of resident at Lucknow and the generous staff salary which he sanctioned for his brother Arthur. Wellesley's economic policies did not recommend themselves to the directors either. The huge expansion of the company's debt as a result of costly wars and shortfalls in the collection of land revenue provided a dismal background to his drive to create a more efficient government. The governor-general broadly approved Cornwallis's policy of creating an Indian landed class by fostering large landowners or zamindars, who, like the Anglo-Irish gentry, he believed could be cajoled into acting benignly towards their tenants. He would probably have tipped the balance against the favoured small farmer (ryotwari) strategy of south Indian officials which was beginning to gather support among the directors if he had finished his second term. In trade policy, however, Wellesley's attempt to have as much bullion pumped into India as possible in order to finance his military activities and his resolute championing of free trade on both intercontinental and Asian routes offended the mercantilist majority and the monopolist ‘shipping interest’ of the company which still prevailed among directors, if not among ministers.

The returned proconsul

Wellesley returned to England in early 1806. Here he had to contend with a dramatic loss of status in comparison with his Indian days. This affected him so badly that he petulantly withdrew from his first dinner on English soil with his family and friends at an inn in Dover. His relationship with his wife did not survive his return for very long. In 1808 he separated from her and began a series of affairs with young ladies about town, which many, including Arthur Wellesley, thought damaged his ministerial ambitions: the Iron Duke once wrote furiously of his brother's manifold liaisons: ‘I wish that Wellesley was castrated’ (Severn, 133). But, despite the scandals, the support of the friends of the recently dead William Pitt would probably have ensured Wellesley office but for the eruption of a noisy political controversy about his Indian government. Radicals and personal enemies of the Wellesley family combined to denounce his governor-generalship in parliament. They based their charges on the evidence of one James Paull, an old-style ‘nabob’, now MP, who charged him with ruining his trade in Oudh and undermining the nawab's authority in 1801–2. The change in attitudes to Asian territorial empire since the impeachment of Warren Hastings ensured, however, that the motion was finally defeated (182 to 31) in 1808.

Wellesley, once despot of 150 million people, like Warren Hastings before him and George Curzon after, proved a difficult, indeed embarrassing, figure to fit back into the intricate pattern of British politics and high office. His haughty refusal of office in 1807 when under attack in parliament worried his financially embarrassed family. Ultimately a position was found for him, and in 1809 he was dispatched as ambassador-extraordinary to the embattled Spanish junta in Seville. Here, he found himself once again in the same theatre of military and diplomatic activity as his brother Sir Arthur Wellesley. His main aim being to support his brother's army in the Peninsula, Wellesley objected strongly to Castlereagh's attempt to open a second front against Napoleon through his Walcheren expedition to Belgium. To Wellesley, ever alert in protection of Britain's international trading position, a Napoleonic conquest of Spain was a direct threat to Britain's growing trade with Spanish America. Equally, he believed that British support for a weakened Spain would help further prise open the Spanish monopoly of its colonial trade. Furious at the vacillation of the ministry in regard to the Spanish war, he tendered his resignation from his post at Seville and only withdrew it when ministers agreed to reinforce Arthur's military position against the French. Wellesley's main diplomatic effort was a prolonged battle to squeeze supplies and support out of an impoverished Spanish regime by threatening the withdrawal of British forces into Portugal. He also reinforced Canning's attempt to broaden the basis of the Spanish junta's support by having called a general representative assembly, or cortes.

Foreign secretary, 1810–1812

In 1810 Wellesley joined Spencer Perceval's ministry as foreign secretary, following Canning's open breach and duel with Castlereagh and their joint resignation. The moment was not propitious: the Peninsular campaign was bogged down, Napoleon pushed victorious into Poland and Russia, and war loomed with the United States over the operation of the British embargo on European trade. The British situation in the Iberian peninsula was also complicated by the rise of the Venezuelan independence movement. Wellesley, always distrustful of radical nationalism, hoped that the freeing of Spanish colonial trade would dissipate the grievances of the Latin American patriots and still their clamour for independence while also benefiting Britain. At the same time he kept his lines open to Bolívar and the Creole nationalists. By comparison with his negative attitudes to Indian self-government, Wellesley always displayed a shrewd understanding of the power of European and American nationalisms. In Europe he supported with finance and munitions the national movements against Napoleon in Russia and Sweden.

While the outlines of Wellesley's policies were clear enough, his execution of them left something to be desired. Perceval, the prime minister, was regarded as a weak leader attempting to hold together a fractious administration. In this he was not helped by Wellesley, who ran foreign policy without reference to his colleagues, rarely attended cabinet meetings, and also failed to support his friends vigorously in the Lords on the grounds of his ‘nervousness’. Despite the pleas of the prince regent and the offer of the lord lieutenancy of Ireland, Wellesley finally broke with Perceval and resigned from the ministry in January 1812. But he was drawn back into the heart of politics in May of that year when Perceval was assassinated. Instructed by the prince regent to try to form a ministry, his attempt foundered on personal animosities and the two great divisive issues of the day: Catholic emancipation and the extent to which military and financial resources ought to be poured into the Peninsula. Liverpool refused to serve under Wellesley; Grey and Grenville disagreed with him on military policy. In the event Liverpool and his supporters formed a government, which, despite initial failures, was preserved by Wellington's victory at Salamanca and went on to last for more than a decade.

From 1812 to 1821 Wellesley was out of office. His vigorous support for Catholic emancipation alienated many important political figures, including Wellington, who opposed it. At the same time Wellesley's stance on the European war changed. He opposed the treaty of Fontainebleau and later the campaign which ended at Waterloo, arguing that Napoleon ought to be recognized as a constitutional monarch following his return from Elba. Wellesley also pressed for free trade and opposed the policy of protecting British wheat producers, another difference with Wellington and the ministry. After the end of the war he argued for an immediate reduction in military charges and taxation to palliate popular discontent, though he ultimately rallied behind the ministry when it came under fierce attack as a consequence of the Peterloo massacre.

Lord lieutenant of Ireland, and second marriage

On the death of George III in 1820 and Grenville's move to support the ministry, Wellesley was again offered and this time accepted the post of lord lieutenant of Ireland. This was an astute move on the part of Liverpool, who consolidated the rapprochement with Grenville, while at the same time maintaining that this appointment was good for Ireland. Wellesley's support for Catholic emancipation suggested that, in the short run, he was in a position to allay the religious and social discontent which spread rapidly in the aftermath of the war. At the same time he was popular with Irish protestants, who saw him and Wellington as two of their own, and had conspicuously benefited from the military and political offices created by the brothers all over the British empire and in the Iberian peninsula. This fund of goodwill was, however, rapidly exhausted in a country lurching again towards political violence, where the clandestine resistance of Ribbonmen and Whiteboys was matched by the public display of power of the Orange lodges. A few months after his arrival in January 1822 Wellesley was already in bad odour in Dublin when he attempted, through the lord mayor of the city, to prohibit the annual garlanding of the statue of William III, which constituted the classic demonstration of Orange triumphalism. A riot followed and troops were called out. Later, Wellesley was insulted in public and narrowly missed injury from a flying bottle thrown at him in the theatre. He responded by prosecuting those he regarded as responsible for these incidents. But the Dublin grand jury threw out the charges and the Irish administration very nearly stood condemned for its policy in the Commons.

Wellesley's Irish policies aimed at a compromise which would preserve social hierarchy and order: ‘Ireland tranquillised’ instead of the ‘polemical clamour of conflicting religious zealots’ (Wellesley Papers, 2.149), as he wrote to Liverpool. He attempted to alleviate the immediate economic crisis of 1821–2 with famine relief. He sought to limit the element of compulsion in the payment of tithes by the Catholic peasantry to the Church of Ireland and actually secured a bill for the composition of tithes in 1823. He modified the Insurrection Act, and sought to curb the arbitrary operation of the magistracy and petty sessions. Over his period in office he did his best to remove extremist protestants from major office; these included, ironically enough, Sir David Baird, commander of the final assault on Seringapatam a quarter of a century before, who was ousted as commander-in-chief of the Irish forces.

All these initiatives, however, were doomed to failure. In the first place the political nation in Britain, as well as the Irish administration, was fundamentally split on the issue of the future of the protestant ascendancy. Wellesley's Irish chief secretary, Henry Goulbourn, was ambivalent about further concessions to the Catholics, while in Britain powerful figures such as Peel and Wellington deplored every move of the Irish administration towards compromise. Wellesley's public relations were also poor. He failed to consult the Church of Ireland clergy about the planned reduction of tithes, which they saw as a raid on their property. He also allowed to spiral out of control a controversy about a measure allowing Catholics burial in protestant churchyards according to their own rites. Worse, Wellesley's grip over business was visibly weakening. His ‘pretentious yet penurious’ administration (Jenkins, 185) courted public ridicule. In a pathetic throwback to his Indian durbars, he dressed up his attendants in silver lace and required heralds to accompany him to the viceregal chapel in Dublin Castle. His natural son Edward Johnston (probably the product of a liaison which had predated even Hyacinthe) intervened openly in the distribution of jobs. As Brian Jenkins puts it:
Sound, sensible and liberal as his position was, Wellesley's ability to shape a programme of reform was seriously impaired by those foibles and administrative failings which quickly undermined his authority and realised all the misgivings harboured at the time of his appointment. (ibid.)
It is doubtful, of course, whether even a more dynamic and less self-indulgent politician could have proceeded much further. The artificial boom which had concealed Irish poverty during the French wars had ended abruptly in 1816. Irish manufacturing was withering away without tariff protection, its food supply dangerously dependent on a single crop, the potato. The shift of political power to London following the union had only exacerbated the kingdom's sense of marginality and malaise.

Indeed, the fusion of social and religious grievances had proceeded too far for social peace to be easily assured by any viceregal measure. The founding of O'Connell's Catholic Association in 1824 saw Wellesley striving uneasily to balance his instinctive concern for social order with his longer-term aim of Catholic advancement. In the event he passed vigorous legislation against both protestant and Catholic secret societies which pleased no one. Wellesley's own alienation from his brother Arthur and from the protestant establishment was further confirmed by his marriage on 29 October 1825 to Marianne Paterson (d. 1853), née Caton, widow of Robert Paterson, a Baltimore merchant. (His estranged first wife, Hyacinthe, had died in 1816.) Marianne Paterson was a Catholic, and the marriage was solemnized by the lord primate of Ireland and by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Ireland. They had no children.

Wellesley held the position of lord lieutenant until 1828, when, after Canning's death, his brother became prime minister with the main intention of upholding the protestant ascendancy, and he left the ministry. Ironically, the opposition of Wellington and Peel to Catholic emancipation was soon afterwards abandoned as the country slid towards civil war. Supporting the Reform Bill, his adherence to the moderate whig party brought Wellesley a number of offices in the last years of his life. He became lord steward of the household under Lord Grey. He then resumed the lord lieutenancy of Ireland for two years (early 1832 to April 1834), during which time he again tried to promote Catholics to civil and judicial office. He left office with the whigs in April 1834, but when they returned to power in the next year, he took the office of lord chamberlain only briefly before finally retiring from public affairs at the age of seventy-five. He spent the last seven years of his life at Kingston House, Brompton, immersed once again in the classics.

Reassessments of Wellesley

Wellesley's reputation, as has been seen, suffered a partial eclipse in the 1810s and 1820s, when a reaction set in against the cost of his Indian conquests, and he managed to alienate both factions in the Irish conflict. But as the generation of Indian officers whom he had promoted, such as Malcolm and Edmonstone, wrote memoirs and achieved power among the directors, Wellesley began to be seen as a guarantor of the British destiny in India as notable as Robert Clive and Warren Hastings. The first stage of his rehabilitation culminated with Montgomery Martin's edition of Wellesley's Despatches, Minutes and Correspondence (1836) and the erection of a marble statue in his honour in the company's premises at Leadenhall Street. Wellesley's extension of British dominion in the subcontinent now seemed a marvellous thing to tories who had once been suspicious of him. Equally, his commitment to free trade and education ensured that whig radicals of the reform era did not view him with total hostility. After Wellesley's death the machine of Victorian biographical deification took over, producing the works of W. McCullagh Torrens (1880), Colonel G. B. Malleson (1889), and the Revd W. H. Hutton (1893). Malleson's work, written in the light of his own collaboration on Kaye's history of the Indian mutiny, set the stage for a full-blown imperialist interpretation of Wellesley which emphasized the French ‘threat’ to British India and the depravity of Tipu Sultan. Malleson was one of the first historians to compare Wellesley favourably with the supposedly unimaginative and impolitic Iron Duke. Wellesley's strict dealings with the Indian states also appealed to the experts of the later Victorian age, who saw domesticated Indian princes as a guarantee of the British Indian empire. Hereafter, the ‘glorious little man’ was generally applauded for his public policies but berated for his arrogance and impetuousness; a veil was drawn over his affairs with Drury Lane actresses and other concubines between the breakdown of his marriage in 1807 and his remarriage in 1825. At the end of the nineteenth century Lord Curzon's viceroyalty seemed like an avatar of Wellesley's government. Curzon's British Government in India (1925), volume 2, spent a whole chapter on Wellesley's new government house in Calcutta. By a delicious chance of fate, Wellesley's plans of 1799 had been based on Kedleston Hall, the Curzon family seat. Yet by the 1920s imperialist jingo was matched by nationalist and liberal deprecation of Wellesley's ‘forward policy’ against Tipu and the Marathas. Edward Thompson's and G. T. Garrett's The Rise and Fulfilment of British Rule in India (1934) was decidedly hostile to him.

In recent years Wellesley and his family have sometimes been seen as embodiments of the spirit of the ‘second British empire’, arch-exponents of ‘military fiscalism’, and upholders of the balance of power in Asia. This characterization, however, raises some difficulties. Wellesley was certainly an expansionist and a domineering governor-general. Iris Butler, in her perceptive The Eldest Brother (1973), the most recent biography of Wellesley, makes a vain effort to protect him against charges of aggression in India. She claims that the state of the subcontinent demanded action and implies that Wellesley was forming the basis for Indian nationality by his forced unification of the country (Butler, 417). In other respects, however, she does succeed in showing that the marquess was a more interesting and complex figure than the duke, and a most ambivalent Conservative and imperialist. It is clear that any attempt to paint a picture of a monolithic ‘new imperialism’ of the period of the Napoleonic war looks problematic after an examination of this powerful family alone, whose opinions were at variance on almost every major issue. In Europe, at least, Wellesley, unlike Wellington and Wellesley-Pole, was a free-trading liberal whig. He argued for representative government in Spain, Catholic emancipation, and, ultimately, for the reform of the British parliament. Both a lover and a hater of France from his youth, he seems to have had some admiration for the rationality of Napoleon's administration, and in 1814 preferred a constitutional government under the emperor to the antiquated absolutism of the Bourbons. He was an exponent abroad of the imperialism of free trade, buttressed by Indian territorial empire, and of whig modernization at home. He anticipated Peel in trying to impart vigour and professionalism to his Indian administrations and was more radical than Peel in his support for the Catholic cause in Ireland. Despite his origins among the Anglo-Irish rentier cabals of the eighteenth century, Wellesley anticipated many leading ideas and policies of the early Victorian generation.

Character and death

Even in his own personality Wellesley displayed manifold contradictions. A small man of no more than 5 foot 7 inches in height, his charisma and classical features made him attractive to both sexes. A stern public moralist in India, who did not himself drink or gamble, he was soon to launch himself into a new series of sexual adventures which astounded even the relaxed Regency age. In India he was regarded as a hard-driving workaholic who personally penned hundreds of lengthy and percipient minutes. By contrast, at the Foreign Office and in Ireland he was noted for laziness and inattention to his duties. These contradictions seem to have come to a head in 1807 and 1808, when, as Iris Butler plausibly surmises, he may have suffered some kind of mental collapse.

Wellesley died at Kingston House, Brompton, on 26 September 1842, at the age of eighty-three, and was buried in the chapel of Eton College on 8 October. He composed his own Latin funerary ode, affirming the importance of the school in his early development. This epitaph was later placed over the inner archway of the north transept of the chapel by the duke of Wellington. Always impecunious, despite an ex gratia grant of £20,000 from the East India Company in 1837, he seems to have left little to his family. Wellesley's second wife, Marianne, lady of the bedchamber to the queen dowager Adelaide, died at Hampton Court Palace on 17 December 1853. He was survived at least by one illegitimate son, the Revd Henry Wellesley (1794–1866), and his illegitimate daughters Anne, Lady Charles Bentinck (1788–1875), and Hyacinthe Mary, Lady Hatherton (1789–1849). His eldest son, Richard (b. 1787), who had led a relatively unsuccessful parliamentary career, predeceased him in 1831. His second son, Gerald (1799–1833), was for a time the East India Company's resident at Indore. Wellesley's relations with his male offspring were not close, although he acknowledged his paternity. The marquessate became extinct on his death, and the earldom of Mornington descended to his brother William.

C. A. Bayly


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