Emma Butcher, ‘When My Journal Appears, Many Statues Must Come Down’: The Sensational Duke of Wellington.

Emma Butcher is an AHRC-funded PhD student at the University of Hull, researching military men and landscapes in the Brontës’ juvenilia. Her thesis covers various themes such as masculine physicality and violence, military-induced trauma and representations of hero worship, whilst simultaneously analysing the impact of the recent Napoleonic Wars on the late-Georgian imagination. Although first and foremost a Brontë scholar, she has also published on sensation fiction, fascinated by the presence of dysfunctional fathers in lesser-known novels of the 1870s.

Emma is currently obsessed with all things social media. You can find her tweeting from @EmmaButcher_ and @BAVS_PGs, and can read her blog here. She also acts as a blog manager for the Victorianist and Romantic Textualities, giving researchers a chance to share their projects and interests through a relaxed, informal platform.

Duke of Wellington (1814), Thomas Lawrence, Apsley House

With the bicentenary of Waterloo around the corner, the name on everybody’s lips will be the Duke of Wellington. Typically, we think of him as the figure on the left, the upstanding military hero and staunch Conservative – an eminent personality of the nineteenth century. What we forget, however, is that this seemingly tight-laced leader led a sensational life, rivalling the Byronism usually associated with his arch nemesis, Napoleon.

Throughout the Napoleonic Wars Wellington and Napoleon’s rivalry was often dramatised by the press. Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine declared that they ‘struggled like two giants for ascendency’ [1] and caricatures of the two rivals pervaded the British and French print culture – my favourite is a post-Waterloo cartoon of Wellington and Blucher putting Napoleon in the bin. When Napoleon abdicated for the first time in 1814 and was banished to the Mediterranean island, Elba, Wellington is reported to have indulged in a little flamenco dance, snapping his fingers and tapping his heels. After Napoleon’s return and subsequent defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Wellington stepped his celebratory antics up a gear. Once Napoleon was permanently exiled on St Helena, Wellington slept with Napoleon’s mistresses. The first was Josephina Grassini, the celebrated Italian classical vocalist, and the second was Josephine Weimer, an actress who would later in life openly compare Wellington and Napoleon’s sexual performances. As well as using Napoleon’s mistresses as trophies, Andrew Roberts notes in his book Napoleon and Wellington: The Battle of Waterloo (2001) that Wellington also ‘bought Napoleon’s sister’s home, engaged Napoleon’s cook, called upon his sister-in-law, received presents of his [Napoleon’s] image, and placed a picture of Napoleon’s sister in his bedroom.’ [2]

‘Blucher, Wellington and Napoleon’s Defeat’ (1815), Lecroix

Not only that, but Wellington put an eleven-foot statue Napoleon had commissioned of himself as Mars, God of War, at the bottom of his stairs in Apsley House. It is clear that Wellington liked to rub it in – I was going to use the word ‘vitriolic’, but I think that would be a bit of an understatement.

Back in England, Wellington was married to a woman he did not love, commonly known as Kitty Pakenham. He confided to Harriet Arbuthnot, diarist and political socialite, that ‘he had repeatedly tried to live in a friendly manner with her […] it was impossible […] she did not understand him’. [3] Although Kitty bore him two sons, Arthur and Charles, the married couple lived most of their lives apart. After the Napoleonic Wars, rather than focus on his estranged family, Wellington instead devoted the rest of his life to politics; he was twice prime minster of Great Britain and served numerous posts within the cabinet. Although Conservative in his values, his political career was far from boring. He was not afraid to voice his own opinion, his controversial views regularly landing him in hot water. His support of the Catholic Emancipation, which allowed practising Catholics to take a seat in parliament, led to a duel with the Protestant Earl of Winchelsea, an event that was caricatured by engravers such as William Heath and Thomas Jones. Additionally, his direct opposition to any manner of political reform made him extremely unpopular with the working class. Although there are many examples of him and his home being targeted by rioters, a famous example occurred when a mob threatened him on his ride home, Wellington having to take shelter in Lincoln’s Inn. As expected, the press sensationalised this sort of event, papers such as The Morning Chronicle fronting a headline ‘Attack on the Duke of Wellington’ [4].

‘The Duke of Wellington’s funeral procession passing through Trafalgar Square in London’ (1852), Emily S. Drummond

My thesis being on the Brontës and war, I mainly analyse Wellington through the lens of information the Brontës gathered about him. In her unfinished Anecdotes of the Duke of Wellington (1829), Charlotte very sweetly discusses her hero amidst these riotous times. Living in a pro-Tory household, her ‘factual’ anecdotes seem a little fantastical, the childhood imagination still clinging to Wellington’s heroic persona. Charlotte imagines a scene that, when attacked by the ‘lowest description of Cockneys’ in St James’ Park, Wellington works his magic eyes, causing his assailants to erupt into ‘cheers, huzza’s and cries of long live Wellington’ [5]. Like the young Charlotte Brontë, who supported and idolised the Duke of Wellington throughout her life, it appears that the rest of Victorian Britain clung to the heroic image of the ‘Iron Duke’. After his death in 1852, Tennyson’s poem ‘Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington’ captured the Victorian spirit of mourning:


Lead out the pageant: sad and slow,

As fits an universal woe,

Let the long long procession go,

And let the sorrowing crowd about it grow,

And let the mournful martial music blow;

The last great Englishman is low. [6]


Wellington’s funeral car measured over 20 feet in length, weighed 18 tons and was mainly cast from guns taken from Waterloo. One of the greatest spectacles of the Victorian period, the Illustrated London News lamented that the elaborate display ‘may be said to have surpassed in significant grandeur any similar tribute to greatness ever offered in the world’ [7]. Despite his equal Romantic impact, the legacy of Wellington on the Victorian period was profound. The rise of celebrity culture allowed the public to crystallize Wellington’s image as a military idol, forgetting all the woes of his political career and focussing on the ideal: ‘The grave has closed over the mortal remains of the greatest man of our age, and one of the purest-minded men recorded in history’ [8]. Whether positive or negative, the Duke of Wellington truly was a sensation until the end.


[1] The Military Sketch Book’. Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine, 21, June 1827, p. 840.

[2] Roberts, Andrew. Napoleon and Wellington (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001), p. 129.

[3] Bamford, Francis and Gerald Wellesley (Ed.) The Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot, 1820-1832, Volume I. (London: Macmillan, 1950), p. 168.

[4] ‘Attack on the Duke of Wellington’. The Morning Chronicle, 19 June 1832, p. 3.

[5] Alexander, Christine. ‘Anecdotes of the Duke of Wellington’, Brontë Studies, 35 (2010), 208-14, p. 213.

[6] Roberts, Adam (Ed.) Alfred Tennyson: The Major Works (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 294.

[7] ‘The Great Funeral Procession of the Duke of Wellington. Illustrated London News, 591-2, 20 November 1852, p. 1.

[8] Ibid.


  1. Very interesting. I have never considered Wellington in this light. I’ve always considered him as a binary opposite of George IV: a public figure whose conservative virtues made him a more popular alternative to the excess and voguish nature that alienated the public from the Prince Regent.

    Your post has me wondering how much of my original impression is a product of this doctored legacy. Thanks! Incidentally, have you read Jason Goldsmith’s chapter in Romanticism and Celebrity Culture? He discusses Wellington’s visit to Madame Trussaud’s wax museum and its relevance to his status as a symbol of British identity.

    Also, you got me searching for images of Wellington’s funeral carriage.

    1. Hi Keith,

      Thank you very much for your comment – I am really glad that you enjoyed my post. I do believe that there is a lot of mythology surrounding Wellington and Napoleon so it is often difficult to separate fact from fiction, but sometimes you find the most interesting information if you delve deeper! I briefly had Goldsmith’s book out of the library, but it very quickly got recalled – I will definitely investigate further though as I hadn’t read your suggested section.

      Again, thank you for responding and reading!

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