Maybe Wellington's nickname should've been The Wanderer instead of The Iron Duke:
(Need to catch up? Read Wellington's Part 1!)
Okay—this is where Arthur’s character departs from the Regency hero’s. A Regency hero might dally with married women while he’s single, but once he weds his true love, he’s faithful for life. But Arthur didn't wed his true love, and he wasn’t faithful for life, and his reputation as a swordsman stayed with him. Take a look at this cartoon by Isaac Cruikshank. It was drawn in 1819, when the duke had become Master General of the Ordnance:
He’s straddling a cannon, which is pointed at three ladies. One of them is saying “Bless us! What a spanker!—I hope he won’t fire it at me—I could never support such a thing!” (In case you didn’t already know it, Regency society was a hell of a lot looser than the later Victorian era.)
Arthur also had the Regency rake's disregard for tender romantic feelings. He usually gave his officers just two days' leave to visit sweethearts out of the firm belief that no man would want to spend more than two days in bed with the same women.
In sum, Arthur Wellesley was as charismatic, intelligent, honorable (let's ignore the adultery thing, okay? thanks), witty, randy, and manly as any Regency hero.
And when he left India in 1805, he went back to Ireland to marry Kitty Pakenham, the girl he’d loved and lost 13 years earlier.
Now, if this were a Regency romance, that would make the perfect ending. It might go something like:
Arthur sails into Dublin, jumping from the ship onto the quay before the sailors have had a chance to tie up. He races to Kitty’s mother’s house, barges past the butler before the poor man has had a chance to announce him, and runs from room to room calling for Kitty, sending all the women of the household into a tizzy, until a shocked and furious Lady Longford emerges from the library.
“General Wellesley! Pray recollect yourself, sir. I’ll not have you disrupting my home in such a manner! And without so much as a calling card first!”
But Arthur will not be deterred. He pays no attention to the outraged mama. Instead, he shouts, “Kitty! Kitty, I’ve come for you, just as I said I would! I never gave up, Kitty, and now I am a general, with 40,000 pounds, and I am asked to give advice to Whitehall and Horse Guards! Ha! Let Tom Pakenham question my prospects now, by God!”
And Kitty, shouting and crying with joy, flies down the staircase into his arms. . . .
But this wasn’t a Regency. This was real life, and in real life Arthur just wrote to a mutual acquaintance and mentioned that, although 13 years had passed, he hadn't changed his mind about marrying Kitty. The message was relayed to Kitty. After some agonizing (I did mention that 13 years had passed, right?), she broke off her engagement to Galbraith Lowry Cole, the Earl of Enniskillen’s younger brother, who apparently loved her very much.
Okay, that could still work. If this were a Regency, then, Arthur would have called on her properly, and after she’d indicated her approval of his suit, they would have enjoyed a romantic, chaperoned (though not necessarily, since she was 32 at this point) reunion. Later, Arthur would’ve sat down with Tom Pakenham to work out details of the marriage contract.
But in real life, he didn’t lay eyes on Kitty again until the very day of their wedding. And by then, it was too late.
See, in the 13 years since he’d last seen Kitty, Arthur hadn’t written to her—not even once. And there’s no indication, in his letters or in the letters and reminiscences of people who knew him, that he’d missed her, pined for her, or even thought about her much. Hibbert says Arthur “seemed almost to have forgotten her; certainly he never once wrote to her from India; none of the shoes he bought were destined for her feet, nor jewels for her throat, nor shawls for her shoulders.” (Hibbert, 54)
(Historians who write well—and by well I mean readably, lyrically—are few and far between. I like reading Hibbert even when I’m not that into his subject.)
Kitty had apparently thought of Arthur, though.
‘I am happy to see you at my court, so bright an example of constancy,' [Queen Charlotte] said to her . . . ‘If anybody in this world deserves to be happy, you do. But did you really never write one letter to Sir Arthur Wellesley during his long absence?’
‘No, never, madam.’
‘And did you never think of him?’
‘Yes, madam, very often.’
Was it love, for some mysterious reason unexpressed for 13 years, or mere sense of duty that made Arthur marry Kitty? You have to assume it was the latter, otherwise he would have, I don’t know, dropped her a line now and again, maybe arranged to see her when he first returned from India—or at least before the day of the wedding. Instead, he seems to have kept his promise only because he felt he had to, not because he wanted to.
But it was a mistake.
Next Up: Wellington's Big Mistake
Reprinted courtesy of Kinsey Holley