We return to our story, where Wellington is being a stubborn ass:
Someone had tried to tell him Kitty had changed. She wasn’t the same woman—girl, really—he’d known in 1792. No matter, Arthur replied—it was her mind he cared for, and that hadn't changed.
That’s rather romantic, isn’t it? He’d loved her for her mind, apparently—her character, her personality—and he wasn’t worried about what she might look like. But Kitty had changed utterly, inside as well as out—and so had Arthur, of course. If they’d only spent a few days in each other’s company before getting married, one or both of them might have realized it wouldn’t work.
Once plump and pretty (and remember, plump wasn’t a bad thing in the 19th century), vivacious and outgoing, she was now, at 32, thin and sickly looking. She’d lost her old élan and self-confidence. After she’d broken off her engagement in order to accept Arthur’s proposal—such as it was—she started to worry. To read of her doubts and fears, expressed in a letter to her friend Maria Edgeworth, is heartbreaking.
She feared Arthur had renewed his proposal strictly from a sense of duty and that he wouldn’t be happy with her when they finally met again. (So why didn’t she insist they meet before she accepted his proposal?)
She would be “ ‘most truly wretched,’ . . . if she had cause to believe that Sir Arthur was repeating his offer in fulfillment of an undertaking he had made so long ago. The letter from him which she had been shown did not contain ‘one word expressive of a wish that the proposition should be accepted’. There was no indication that ‘Yes would gratify or that No would disappoint’. Besides, she added, ‘I am very much changed and you know it within these last three years, so much that I doubt whether it would now be my power to contribute (to) the comfort or happiness of any body who has not been in the habit of loving me for years like my Brother or you or my Mother.’ (Hibbert, 56)
I think that’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. What makes it worse is that all her fears were realized.
When Arthur saw her again for the first time—on their wedding day—he’s reported to have whispered to his brother, ‘She has grown ugly by Jove.’
It didn’t get any better after that. When they returned from their honeymoon, he rode on top of the carriage with the driver, instead of inside with his new bride.
Kitty was awkward, self-conscious, and insecure. She was also terribly near sighted, and had to hold things very close to her face to see them, which only made her more self-conscious.
She didn’t share Arthur’s interest in politics or the wider world. (And no wonder: well-born women were raised to be pretty, compliant, and ignorant. If they showed any interest in intellectual pursuits, they were derided as bluestockings.) She worshipped him. He found her dull. He made her nervous, which only annoyed him more.
“Fifteen years later . . . he confessed that he had been a ‘damned fool’ to have married ‘such a person’ . . . he found he might as well talk to a child . . . she made his house so dull that nobody [would] go to it . . . & that it drove him to seek abroad that comfort & happiness that was denied to him at home . . . At his home he had no creature to speak to, for that discussing political or important subjects with the Duchess was like talking Hebrew to her.” (Hibbert, 63)
What’s worse, she knew it. She loved him, and she knew he didn’t love her.
“. . . It has pleased God to deny me one blessing: on that one I had fixed all my hopes of happiness . . . Perhaps in time God will pity the agony I suffer . . . Oh Merciful Father, forgive and pity a very weak and suffering Being . . . My fault is great, but my punishment is most severe . . . From the time the Children go to bed, I find my mind torn with the most painful recollections.’ (Hibbert, p. 155)
He was never home. He spent six years in the Peninsula, and in all that time he never took leave. Six solid years, not one visit home. He didn’t write her very often, either, and when he did the letters were perfunctory. She was embarrassed that she knew no more about her husband’s activities than did anyone who read the papers.
It’s pretty well accepted that he wasn’t faithful to her. In the months leading up to Waterloo, Wellington was in Brussels with the large British expatriate community, and he was rumored to be spending a lot of private time with several young women—some married, some not.
Let’s face it—as a husband, Wellington was an asshole.
That’s the thing about an alpha male, though—he usually has a streak of asshole. Dominant men, men of heroic leadership abilities, frequently lack a sensitivity gene. And in early 19th century Britain, marital fidelity simply wasn’t expected of aristocratic men, especially not ones as powerful and popular as the Duke of Wellington.
I’d like to report that Kitty took lovers herself, but there’s nothing to suggest she did. She stayed at home, taking care of children, venturing into society whenever she absolutely had to.
As a romance writer, there are so many ways I’d like to rewrite that story. Like—they met a few times before the wedding, and decided it wouldn’t work. But they were already engaged, and breaking an engagement was a scandal. So he agreed to do the honorable thing, and let her break it off, and let everyone assume he’d done something shameful. He was willing to sacrifice his reputation for a bit, so that hers would not be ruined.
Or—if this were really a Regency romance—Kitty woke up one day furious and determined to win her husband’s love. She’d show him she wasn’t the shy, scared, awkward thing he thought he knew—she’d rediscover the girl she had been so long ago. She’d learn about politics, and she’d redo her wardrobe, and she’d rent a town home in London for the Season and start attending parties, flirting shamelessly with any gentlemen who looked her way, and when he heard of her antics he’d rush to London . . . can you imagine what Loretta Chase could do with that story?
It didn’t happen, of course. Kitty stayed at home with the children, venturing into Society only when she had to.
She died 21 years before him; at the end, he’d come to recognize, and appreciate, what a wonderful mother she was. Kitty had been wrong, two decades earlier, when she’d doubted she could contribute to the happiness of anyone who hadn't already loved her for years. She was an excellent mother—careful and attentive and far more involved than most women of her class at that time. In addition to their two sons, she raised Arthur’s godson and looked after several of his nephew’s children.
At the end, Arthur
. . . sat beside her with unaccustomed patience. It was as though he was trying to make amends for the irritation that he had so often displayed in her presence, for the impression he had given to the world—as Greville said in the single reference he made to her in his voluminous memoirs—that he found her 'intolerable.'
He knew she had always loved him with a kind of fearful awe, and his conscience was struck by her dreadful pallor now, the pathetic thinness of her hands as she stretched out towards his sleeve. Once she tentatively felt inside his sleeve to discover whether or not he was wearing an armlet she had given him in the early years of their marriage. ‘She found it, as she would have found it any time these twenty years, had she cared to look for it,’ the Duke said later. It was strange, he thought, that two people could live together for so long and ‘only understand one another at the end.’
Well. Not exactly the romantic HEA, was it? I hope I haven't depressed you, and I hope you don’t hate him now. He was a great man, and great men often have great flaws. (Just ask Jackie Kennedy, or Sally Hemmings, or Mileva Einstein, or Elsa Einstein, or any woman Ben Franklin ever slept with . . .)
Reprinted courtesy of Kinsey Holley