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Commentary for Volume 2, Chapter 8: The Radical Challenge, 1819

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Date of Wellington’s Appointment as Master General of the Ordnance:

This appeared in the London Gazette (no 17, 434) of 26 December 1818 when the notification was headed ‘Whitehall December 26, 1819’.

Ordnance Estimates for 1819:

Work on the Ordnance estimates for 1819 had begun many months before, just after the election, and Mulgrave directed that a copy of the results to be sent to Wellington as soon as his impending appointment could be officially acknowledged. Fortunately the capable and experienced Robert Plumer Ward remained Clerk of the Ordnance, and it was he who would reply to any questions or criticisms of the estimates that were raised in the Commons. (Cookson Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 144-5; Robert Ward to Wellington, Office of the Ordnance, 11 December 1818 WSD vol 12 p 860-3).

Political Rumours, January 1819:

Mitchell Whigs in Opposition p 117 refers to rumours of ministerial disagreements in January 1819 however this seems to rest entirely on a report in The Times of 6 January, itself based on a story in the Sun, ‘some movements, if not changes’ in the government were about to occur. The report was contradicted on the following day and seems to have had no substance – possibly it was the result of the speculation of a more widespread re-shuffle when Wellington joined the government.

Parliamentary session of 1819:

Parliament met on 14 January 1819. The Whigs were in high spirits: they believed they had made substantial net gains in the election, and might muster as many as 200 reliable votes in the Commons, while there were no fewer than 150 new MPs, many of whom remained uncommitted to either side. Tierney, whose leadership gave the Opposition a much greater sense of purpose, was determined not to bring on a trial of strength too soon: he wanted an issue that would appeal to waverers and independents rather than a straight-forward attack on the government where they would either support the ministry or keep away. (Mitchell Whigs in Opposition p 116-19).

Most of the debates in the early part of the session were devoted to the resumption of cash payments – a return to the gold standard that was regarded as essential to sound finance, but which was likely to have a deflationary and depressive effect on the economy in the short term.   As the session went on Tierney’s tactics appeared to be paying off, with the ministers suffering a number of defeats, or near defeats, on minor questions, but when he finally plucked up his courage and put the government’s strength to the test in May the Opposition was soundly beaten, 178 votes to 357 in a full House. (Mitchell The Whigs in Opposition p 122-4; Cookson Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 172-3).

This defeat demoralized the Opposition and cleared the way for Liverpool’s own, self-imposed, test of authority: the government demanded that Parliament approve £3 million of new taxes, to ease the chronic shortage of revenue created by the abolition of the Property Tax, and to prepare the way for the resumption of cash payments. (Cookson Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 169-73; Hilton Corn, Cash and Commerce p 44-6). The mood of the House had changed dramatically since 1816, and independent opinion no longer believed that huge savings could be made if only the government looked for them. The Army, Navy and Ordnance estimates were passed with little trouble, and Liverpool’s new taxes sailed through with a majority of almost 200. The high hopes which the Opposition had cherished at the beginning of the session were shattered and when Parliament finally rose on 13 July the ministers had seldom looked stronger or more secure. And while it was a collective triumph, and the ministers in the Commons, especially Castlereagh and Canning, had been in the forefront of the struggle, it was Liverpool’s quiet boldness and shrewd political judgment were decisive in the end. (Cookson Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 171-3; Mitchell Whigs in Opposition p 125).

Rumours that Wellington and Peel might form a ministry:

Early in the session, when the Opposition was doing well there were rumours of discontent and divisions within the cabinet. As early as 24 February there were reports of ‘a want of concert and co-operation among the Ministers’, and ‘their habits and connections do not agree, and there is certainly a want of a superintending and controlling head. On dit that the Duke of Wellington is dissatisfied at this want of energy, and that Peel is awaiting the event of the Catholic question, and is then to come in under the Duke, who is to be the nucleus of a new Administration’ (Bootle Wilbraham to Lord Colchester 24 February 1819 Abbot Diary vol 3 p 70-71). This was not an isolated report: two unconnected sources mention the same idea, with Lady Shelley providing a gloss which helps to explain its appeal: ‘Reports are spreading that the Duke of Wellington and Peel will turn out the rest of the Cabinet. Their energy is certainly much wanted in this milk-and-water Administration, which is conducted upon the principle of submitting every measure to committees in order to shift the responsibility from their own shoulders. They know that they cannot stand against the strength of the Opposition, although the unpopularity of the latter will prevent their being called for by the country’ (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 34 March 1819; the third source is Charles Williams Wynn to the Marquess of Buckingham n.d. Buckingham Memoirs of the Regency vol 2 p 324-5). The idea of such an administration was thoroughly unrealistic, and it is unclear how anyone could have thought that driving Castlereagh, Canning and most of the government’s junior ministers onto the cross benches would strengthen its position in the Commons. The importance of the rumour lies rather in the fact that Wellington was already seen in many quarters – not just by his great admirers – as a possible Prince Minister without any caveat because of his military career. Whether he liked it or not, such observers regarded him as just another player in the game of politics, with his own special strengths and weaknesses just like his colleagues.

Liverpool’s New Taxes:

After three years scrimping the Prime Minister’s patience was finally exhausted and he determined to present Parliament with a demand for £3 million a year in new taxes and stake the government’s fate on the measure. Some of his colleagues, and the Regent, shrank from forcing the issue, but Liverpool was determined: good policy and good politics for once coincided, and he would not miss the opportunity to set the government’s finances on a sustainable basis. Not that he was so rash as to dream of reviving the Property Tax: that had been killed for a generation; instead the proposal was for a suite of new taxes and tax increases, of which the most important was a reinstitution, at a reduced rate, of the old Malt duty. Importantly these new taxes were also one of the steps needed to prepare the country for the resumption of cash payments on the plan laid out by Peel’s committee. (Cookson Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 169-73; Hilton Corn, Cash and Commerce p 44-6).

Boyd Hilton (Corn, Cash and Commerce p 46) writes: ‘Wellington felt that the “resolution to put our finances on a solid basis or to resign” (if beaten) had made an honest man of him again’. (Citing Littleton diary 22 May 1819 p 248).

Parliament and the Resumption of Cash Payments:

Probably the most promising issue for the Opposition in Parliament was the continued postponement of the resumption of cash payments, which roused deep resentment with the public who felt that their inability to exchange their paper currency into gold coin amounted to nothing less than a fraud in which the only beneficiaries were the government, and the Bank of England, its directors and shareholders. The ministers were well aware of this danger but returning the country to the gold standard was neither simple nor easy. The last years of the war had been financed by an expansion of the money supply leading to inflation so that at one point £1 in paper had been worth only 14s 2d in gold. (Cookson Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 150-152). Restoring parity would require a severe deflation: this had been undertaken in 1816 and 1817 resulting in great economic distress and the upsurge in popular radicalism. Faced with this, and a looming election, the Treasury had loosened the reins in 1817 leading to the relative prosperity and tranquility of 1818, but delaying the resumption of cash payments. No sooner had the election been secured than Liverpool again tightened the financial valves, reducing credit and inflicting a sharp trade recession which lead to much discontent in manufacturing counties in 1819. Of course, it was not quite as simple as this: foreign trade played an important part in the connection between government actions and economic consequences was often obscure and poorly understood. Radicals, protesting at economic hardship, demanded measures, notably reductions in government spending and a rapid return to the gold standard, that would actually make conditions worse; while within the government ministers who took a keen interest in economic questions differed sharply among themselves over both the causes and cure of the problems. (Cookson Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 150-3; Gash Peel p 239-40; Hilton Corn, Cash and Commerce p 37-39).

By early 1819 Liverpool was convinced that Parliament and the country would only accept a further delay in the resumption of cash payments if it was part of a clear plan with a firm termination point. With some hesitation the cabinet decided that the best way for such a plan to gain broad support was if it was the product of a parliamentary committee on which all shades of opinion could be represented. By taking the initiative in this way the ministers deprived Tierney of his best chance to appeal to independent opinion, but at the cost of surrendering control of the issue, and confirming the view of some of their supporters that the government did not give the country the strong leadership it required. Nonetheless a vote along party lines over the establishment of the committee showed the government with a very healthy majority 277 to 168, and Whig support lower than they would have hoped. Liverpool was careful to include a wide range of opinion and talent on the committee, while the choice of Peel as its head augured well for its integrity and intellectual quality. However the ministers drew the line at the inclusion of Brougham – and carried the point with a majority of 42 – which might have damaged the committee’s credibility if Brougham’s egoism and unpredictability had not provided a convincing explanation for passing him over despite his undoubted ability. (Charles Williams Wynn to Marquis of Buckingham 9 February 1819 Buckingham Memoirs of the Regency vol 2 p 302-3; Cookson Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 153-8; Hilton Corn, Cash and Commerce p 41-2).

Wellington and the Resumption of Cash Payments:

  1. H. Fremantle told Buckingham in February: ‘I dined with the Duke of Wellington a day or two ago, who I think seemed extremely pensive and low. He asked particularly after you when you came to town; told me he thought Lord Grenville was the only man who saw in its proper light the question of cash payments (this, I think, is curious from a member of the Cabinet)’. (Buckingham Memoirs of the Regency vol 2 p 304).

Another source (Mallet’s diary quoted in Boyd Hilton’s Corn Cash and Commerce p 45) supports this, although it is not clear what weight this deserves: ‘All the first men were agreed, including Lord Wellington. – Lord Castlereagh and Vansittart lagged behind: Ned Cooke, Lord Castlereagh’s right-hand man, was at the very time writing the most alarming pamphlets. Lord Harrowby and Lord Bathurst were dragged into the measure, but Lord Liverpool, Lords Grenville, Wellington and Lansdowne, Peel and Canning being agreed, no paper administration could be formed, and the reluctant multitude were obliged to yield’.

The Effects of the Resumption of Cash Payments:

This was also passed with a wave of support late in the session – indeed it was carried unanimously (Hilton Corn, Cash and Commerce p 46-8 for the debates etc).

Most later accounts describe the adoption of the plan as tantamount to the abandonment of the agricultural interest by the government and its shift to support of manufacturing and financial capital. However, Hilton contends that this is entirely the verdict of hindsight: at the time it was championed by agriculturalists and opposed by manufacturers, financiers, bankers &c. (Corn, Cash and Commerce p 56ff).


Wellington’s other speeches in this session of Parliament:

Wellington’s first speech was on 2 March when he intervened on the question of thanks to the Marquess of Hastings (formerly Lord Moira) and his army for their success in the Pindari War in India, in order to defend the role of Sir Thomas Hislop whose conduct was being criticized by the Opposition. (Parliamentary Debate vol 39 col 760-69; Wellington’s Speeches vol 1 p 101-3: ODNB on Hislop; Hislop to Wellington 4 October 1819 WP 1/632/7; Canning to Wellington and reply, both 3 May 1820 WP 1/645/2, 1/646/3). Hislop was very grateful for Wellington’s support at the time, but in 1825 he took an active and acrimonious part against Wellington in a dispute over the Deccan Prize Money in which Wellington was involved as one of the Trustees (Arbuthnot was the other). (See WND vol 2 p 489-99, 576-8 J. Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 404-5. Wellington ultimately insisted on dealing with Hislop only by writing: WP1/815/17).

Later in the session Wellington supported a government proposal to reverse the attainder which had deprived the children of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the Irish rebel of 1798, of their rights as British subjects. Wellington rose to give testimony to the ‘brave and honourable and excellent’ conduct of Captain Edward Fox Fitzgerald while serving in the army in the Peninsula. (Wellington’s Speeches vol 1 p 105; Parliamentary Debates vol 41 col 1423-4. Fitzgerald had served in the Peninsula in the 10th Hussars, and was a half-pay captain in 1819 when ordered back onto full pay in the 52nd Foot; he went back onto half-pay in 1821. He is not the Major Edward Fitzgerald whose career is detailed in Royal Military Calendar vol 5 p 333-4. Details of his career from Ron McGuigan).

Wellington and the appointment of Dr Patrick Curis as Archbishop of Armagh:

Oddly enough Wellington also played a role in the appointment of the new Archbishop of Armagh, head of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Ireland. This was none other than Dr Patrick Curtis who, as head of the Irish College in Salamanca, had proved an invaluable source of military intelligence for several years during the Peninsular War. He had subsequently returned to Ireland, apparently with the intention of living in quiet retirement, for he was not a young man; but when Archbishop O’Reilly died in 1818 his name was at once put forward as a possible successor: no fewer than six of the Irish bishops had been educated by Curtis and evidently retained a high opinion of him. Curtis initially declined the overture, and when pressed wrote privately to Wellington asking if the government would have any objection to his appointment. (Dr Patrick Curtis to Wellington, Dublin, 4 February 1819, WP 1/617/7; ODNB). This was a delicate point, for relations between the Church and the Whigs had come to grief over the idea that the crown should have a veto over the appointment of Irish bishops; and now the prospective Archbishop was telling ministers that they already had more power and influence than they realized, or than any formal veto would give them. This was not an argument which would satisfy worried protestants, for such informal influence might disappear when it was most needed, but it certainly showed that Curtis was eager to appear conciliatory – a point which was reinforced by the embarrassingly humble and ingratiating language of his letters. Wellington had no hesitation in recommending that the government approve his appointment telling Sidmouth that, ‘I found him a very honest, loyal man; and he behaved remarkably well throughout the war. He had none of the modern notion of religion or philosophy, and altho’ a zealous and probably a bigoted Roman Catholic, he is not inimical to the British government’. (Wellington to Sidmouth, London, 8 February 1819 WP 1/619/3). Enquiries by the government in Ireland confirmed this verdict and London not only made no objection, but even used its influence in Rome to support the appointment which was confirmed in the autumn. Nor did the ministers have reason to regret it: Curtis was not a particularly strong or effective Archbishop, but he used his influence, as he told Wellington he would, not only ‘to impress on the minds of the people of very class their duty towards God, but towards our august sovereign also, his government and the laws’. (Dr Patrick Curtis to Wellington, Dublin, 22 September 1819 WP 1/631/23).

Wellington’s opposition to the Orange Order, 1821:

Wellington’s opposition to Catholic Emancipation did not extend to support for the Orange Order and the vehement Protestantism it advocated, as he made clear in a letter, drafted but not sent, in early 1821:

This Society has for its object fidelity and allegiance to his Majesty, the support and maintenance of the laws and constitution of the United Kingdom, and the succession to the throne of his Majesty’s illustrious House; and I believe nobody will suspect me of being lukewarm in my attachment to these blessings. But I confess that I do object to belong to a Society professing attachment to the throne and constitution of these realms, from which, by the terms of the obligation of the person to be admitted to the Society, a large proportion of his Majesty’s subjects must be excluded, many of them as loyal men as exist, and as much attached to the Constitution.

   This objection is natural from one who was born in the country in which a large proportion of the people are Roman Catholic, and whose life had been passed in transactions with persons of that and of all other religious persuasions, and who has never found that, abstracted from other circumstance, the religious persuasion of individuals or of nations affected their feelings of loyalty to their Sovereign, or of attachment to the laws and constitution of their country

 But the principal objection which I have to belong to this Society is, that its members are bound to each other by an oath of secrecy. If such an oath be legal, which I doubt, I can’t swear it consistently with my conception of the Oath of Allegiance, and the oath which I have taken as one of his Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council.   (Wellington to Mr Stockdale, n.d. Feb 1821 WND vol 1 p 155-56.) (NB Letter not sent.)

Wellington’s life in London in 1819:

Lady Shelley described an evening with Wellington at this time:

On Friday we dined with the Duke of Wellington, a party of twenty, but only four ladies, namely, Lady Caroline Lamb, Mrs Arbuthnot, Miss Fitzclarence, and myself. After dinner the Duke showed us the drawings for his new house, and also the beautiful diamonds which belong to the Order of Saint-Esprit, give [sic] to him by the King of France. The Star and Cross are said to be worth twenty thousand pounds. We had a thorough examination of the pictures belonging to the King of Spain, which the latter will neither give nor take away. (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 37).

And on 5 March 1819 he wrote to Lady Charlotte Greville:

It is certainly true, as you say, that there are many persons in London who are very agreeable society, and one might collect more here than elsewhere; I don’t know how it is, but it always appears to me as if London was an immense petite ville, of which the inhabitants knew each other too well, indeed so well as to be completely tired of each other. … I wish the dinners were not quite so long, and that we had more society to go to in an evening. I passed yesterday delightfully! In the Committee of the House of Lords from 12 to ½ past 5. Went to dine at the Mansion-House at 6, and sat at table with the Duke of York, listening to the stupidity of the Lord Mayor and Citizens till 12, when I returned home.’ (Ellesmere Personal Reminiscences of the Duke of Wellington p 117-8).

Wellington shut out of Almacks:

It was in the season of 1819 that Wellington, along with Castlereagh and Westmorland went to Almacks after a cabinet dinner. The discussions had gone on longer than usual and they arrived late, near midnight, and about five minutes after the hour fixed for closing the doors, and were refused admittance, even though Lady Castlereagh was one of the ruling powers of Almacks.   Ten years later Lord John Russell, the rising Whig politician, commented that there was no ‘homage or court paid to anyone in this country. The Duke of Wellington and Brougham mix in Society as equals, and never think of claiming more deference than other people.’ (Ellesmere Personal Reminiscences of the Duke of Wellington p 118-9 (Wellington’s account of being shut out of Almacks); Lord John Russell to Lord William Russell, Woburn Abbey, 8 January 1829 Blakiston Lord William Russell and His Wife p 179.).

Birth of Queen Victoria:

On the night of the 23/24 May 1819 Wellington and many other senior figures, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lansdowne, Bathurst, Canning at the Duke of Sussex, attended the confinement of the Duchess of Kent and the birth – at 4:15am on the 24th – of the future Queen Victoria (Weintraub Victoria p 40).

The Pitt Club dinner:

There is a lengthy, and hostile, account in The Times of 29 May: as well as Wellington, Liverpool, Eldon, Westmorland, Bathurst and Peel were present. Liverpool proposed Wellington’s health in a flattering speech. The Times commented: ‘Upon the whole this meeting was the dullest that we ever attended, the only symptom of energy being that burst of animated vociferation with which they hailed the anti-Pittite toast and song about the “Protestant Ascendency”; and the only incitement to pleasantry arising out of the recitation of some solemn verses by Mr Swift: we believe, composed by himself. It must be allowed, however, that the Chairman exerted himself to promote one of the supposed sources of mirth, by pushing about the toasts very freely’.   James Sack’s article ‘The Memory of Burke and the Memory of Pitt’ (see fn) is excellent on the history, numbers and membership of Pitt Clubs and their use of the ‘Protestant Ascendancy’ Toast.

Pitt regarding himself as a Whig. See O’Gorman Emergence of the British Two-Party System p 51: ‘So long as Pitt the Younger lived, a new Tory party could not be born. For Pitt was a Whig, and Independent Whig, perhaps, one whose Whiggism stood in contradistinction to that of Fox and his party, but a Whig, nonetheless. Like most politicians of his age, Pitt called himself a Whig, reveled in the Whig tradition of the Glorious Revolution and would have steadfastly refused to recognize himself as a Tory’.

Wellington’s trip to the Continent: does not go on to France as originally intended:

Originally Wellington had planned to extend his tour to include a visit to Paris so he could pay his respects to Louis XVIII. The state of France had caused a great deal of concern in the first half of the year. The new government led by Decazes looked to the liberals for support, and the foreign ambassadors in Paris were alarmed by many of its measures, and wrote freely to Wellington to seek his advice, and even in the hope that he would use his influence. In reply he made it quite clear that he agreed with their dismay at the turn French politics had taken, but that he was convinced that any foreign intervention would be counter-productive. The French government was seeking cheap popularity and in the mood of the moment nothing would be more popular than asserting French sovereignty and defying the other great powers. In Wellington’s view the allies had no choice but to hold their tongues and hope that the French domestic politics corrected themselves before the restoration itself was imperiled or its ministers looked to foreign adventures satisfying their critics. Above all it was important that the allies remain united and avoid the risk of giving the French the provocation that some of them were seeking. This advice repeated in different forms in many letters must have played a part in restraining the Russian, Austrian, Neapolitan and other diplomats who trusted Wellington far more than Sir Charles Stuart, their British colleague, who appeared rather too sympathetic to the liberals. (Wellington’s papers contain many letters along these lines, for example Baron Vincent to Wellington, Paris, 4 & 18 June 1819 WP 1/613/7 and WP 1/614/13; Pozzo di Borgo to Wellington, Paris, 15 January 1819 WP 1/614/7; Duque de Fernan Nunez, Paris, 18 January 1819 WP 1/614/14; Pozzo di Borgo, Paris, 11 February 1819 WP 1/617/28; Baron Vincent, Paris, n.d. [May 1819] WP 1/624/1; Pozzo di Borgo, Paris, 10 May 1819 WP 1/624/10. And Wellington to Vincent, London, 12 January 1819 WP 1/616/9; Wellington to Pozzo di Borgo, London, 15 January 1819 WP 1/616/13; Wellington to Fernan Nunez, London, 5 February 1819 WP 1/619/8; Wellington to Vincent, London, 2 June 1819 WP 1/626/7).

Against this background there was much to be said in favour of a visit to Paris which would enable Wellington to talk directly both to the foreign diplomats, and to the King and Decazes. But against this the trip would undoubtedly arose a great deal of speculation and interest which might even heighten tensions rather than defuse them. It would be all too easy for the French liberals, and their supporters in Britain, to suggest that the Duke’s visit was just the sort of intervention that he had been privately arguing against. In the end the risk outweighed the gain and having consulted his cabinet colleagues Wellington decided not to visit France at all. Well before the end of August he had turned back towards home. (Wellington to Decazes, Brussels, 8 August 1819 WP 1/629/4).

Wellington and the Westminster By-election of 1819:

The inhabitants of Westminster who went to the polls at the beginning of March in a by-election caused by Romilly’s suicide. The real contest was between Byron’s friend John Cam Hobhouse for the radicals and George Lamb for the Whigs: ‘Orator’ Hunt appeared as an ultra-radical but attracted only 84 votes in one of the most open electorates in the country (there were about 12,000 eligible voters). Wellington used his influence as Colonel of the Royal Horse Guards in favour of Lamb telling the regimental agent that he should give tradesmen connected with the Blues the hint, ‘that they might as well make an effort to save the city of Westminster from falling into the hands of the Jacobins’ (Wellington to C. Greenwood, London, 28 February 1819 WP 1/619/33). In the end Lamb was elected by a comfortable margin: 4,465 votes to 3,861, but celebrations were cut short by a riot.

Magistrates had to be present for troops to be used against rioters:

Legally this was not strictly true but it was widely believed at the time and few officers were willing to act without the legal security given by the presence of a magistrate: K. O. Fox Making Life Possible. A Study of Military Aid to the Civil Power in Regency England (privately published, 1982) p 5-7.

St Peter’s Field or Fields:

Both primary and secondary sources use both Field and Fields, and it is not clear which form is correct.

Radical agitation before ‘Peterloo’:

Wolseley was charged with sedition and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment; and the constable who arrested him was shot outside the court. (Ziegler Addington p 370).

Neither Canning nor Wellington were in London when news of Peterloo arrived:

Cookson Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 178n: Canning attended a cabinet on 12 August and sailed for the Continent two days later i.e. before the events at Manchester. On Friday 27 August Wellington told Mrs Arbuthnot ‘I arrived on England on Friday’ i.e. Friday 20 August; Bloomfield’s letter, conveying the Prince Regent’s approval of the conduct of the authorities in Manchester is dated 19 August Wellington and His Friends p 5-6; Pellew Life of Sidmouth vol 3 p 262.

Cabinet Meetings in aftermath of Peterloo:

Lord Eldon told his brother that the only ministers in town were Liverpool, Castlereagh, Sidmouth, Wellington, Van[sittart] and himself ‘we meet daily but can resolve on nothing’. The letter undated and may have misled some writers into supposing that Wellington was present at the initial meeting. Wellington was in London by 23 August but at Stratfield Saye by the 27th.

It is not certain that Sidmouth did consult his colleagues before advising the Regent to issue his congratulations: Pellew (Life of Sidmouth vol 3 p 261) says he did. Phipps Memoir of Plumer Ward vol 2 p 19 rather implies that he did not but is not very reliable in this passage. Ziegler Addington p 373-4 does not specify and is misleading in implying that the reaction of the Whigs led to the thanks.

It is possible that in deciding to support the magistrate the ministers in London were influenced by their understanding of Wellington’s conduct in the Peninsula, for only a few months before Liverpool had told a private dinner that ministers had been much impressed by the fact that Wellington had never attempted to shift the blame for failures or disappointment onto his subordinates even in cases when, as the ministers knew from other sources, they had marred his well-laid plans. Nelson and General Graham were said to have acted upon the same principle and thereby gained the loyalty and trust of their juniors. (Hatherton ‘Extracts from Lord Hatherton’s Diary’ edited by A. Aspinall Parliamentary Affairs vol. 17 1964 29 January 1819 pt 1 p 16). Whether or not this impression was entirely accurate, it set an example which ministers may have sought to emulate, although there is no direct evidence of a connection.

Effect of the Prince Regent’s praise:

In November Lady Shelley wrote that:

All accounts from Manchester confirm my opinion that Ministers made a mistake in so impetuously thanking the magistrates, a step which not only made Ministers unpopular with the people, but also exposed them to Opposition rancour. If that letter of thanks had not been written, we should have heard little of the field of Peterloo, and there would have been no excuse for these numerous meetings. Personally, I think that the Manchester magistrates were to blame for not having read the Riot Act earlier in the day; but this may have been but an error in judgment. They were presumably determined to arrest the demagogues while performing a treasonable act, in order to put a stop to their harangues in future. On the whole, I think that the magistrates did their best, according to their lights’. (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 88-9).


Even if this is exaggerated, there is no doubt that the message added to the strength of the reaction. Walmsley’s Peterloo: The Case Reopened p 241-53 prints many extracts from initial coverage but his interest is particularly in how the actual events were portrayed.

Verdict of the Grand Jury:

On 5 September a Grand Jury at Lancaster threw out charges against the magistrates and yeomanry, while finding true bills against Hunt and the other organizers of the meeting. This result must have come as a great relief to the ministers who would have been severely embarrassed if the decision had been reversed; not that it did anything to check the tide of opinion.

Peterloo Prints:

Although Dorothy George attributes the print Massacre at St Peter’s or Briton’s Strike Home to Robert Cruikshank (English Political Caricature vol 2 p 181), and I followed her in the first, hardback edition of Wellington: Waterloo and the Fortunes of Peace, it is clear from the evidence cited by Robert L. Patten in George Cruikshank’s Life, Times, and Art vol 1 1792-1835 (p 443n12) that it was probably designed and drawn by George Cruikshank, the more famous and talented brother.

Prints along similar lines: British Museum Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires nos 13,260; 13,262; 13,263; 13,266; 13,270.

Threats of Revolution:

The coverage of Peterloo encouraged the radicals to emphasize their peacefulness and respectability. The movement had already been tending on this direction, hence the care taken to organize the crowd, but the political mileage they gained out of appearing the innocent victims, and the failure of attempts at violence such as Cato Street (and its lack of popular support) pointed the way forward towards peaceful pressure for reform not menaces of revolution.

Press reaction to Peterloo:

There was an exception to general support for the protesters. The St James’s Chronicle (a forerunner of the Standard and ultra Tory in its views) wrote: ‘What had long been desired by every friend of order has at length taken place. The strong arm of the law had at length been put forth to put, we trust, a final stop to the assemblage of the ignorant and the seditious, which can produce nothing but evil, and which cannot be permitted under any form of government, nor, indeed, in any state of social existence’. (quoted in Dennis Griffiths Plant Here The Standard (Basingstoke, Macmillan 1996) p 40.

Praise of Byng:

Donald Read Peterloo p 124n goes so far as to say that ‘There seems little doubt that if Byng had been present at Manchester on the 11th the arrests would have been made without bloodshed’. Which seems a remarkably bold assertion. Of course Byng was a Whig who subsequently supported the Reform Bill, which goes some way to explain the kindly light in which he has been viewed by modern historians.

Radical mood in London after Waterloo:

There is much good material on this in Iorwerth Prothero’s Artisans and Politics in Early Nineteenth Century London, John Gast and his Times p 166ff. Gast was a supporter of the extreme Thistlewood-Watson group, but Prothero’s account makes clear that even at the height of outrage at Peterloo, this strand of radicalism could not attract much support. Hunt had previously had a good deal of contact with them, but was wary of them now and in mid October dealt them a deadly blow by implying that they were misled (if not worse) by agents provocateurs (p 122). On the other hand Prothero supports Byng’s statement that in November Hunt’s influence in Lancashire was waning and being displaced by extremists who looked to Thistlewood (p 124-5).

Some other interesting points: Thistlewood and co were constantly hampered by extreme shortage of even small amount of cash; and on at least two occasions after Peterloo they were given money by Jeremy Bentham (p 124, 125).

They feared that foreign troops, belonging to the Holy Alliance, would arrive in Britain to crush them (p 122).

They were firmly committed to violence and looked to mass meetings in the hope that they could then provoke it (p 118, 123, 124 etc).

Hunt by contrast favoured peaceful pressure and a tax strike through abstaining from tea, coffee, liquour etc. (p 117-119).

Wellington’s letter to Byng of 21 October 1819:

Pellew, in his Life of Sidmouth vol 3 p 292-3 has a story re the background to this letter which is a little too good to be entirely convincing:

… the Duke of Wellington, readily lent his invaluable assistance. An instance of this, which Lord Sidmouth was very fond of relating, will now be described. On the 21st of October his Lordship was anxiously revolving in his office the usual perplexing problem – how the largest number of affected towns might be kept in order by the smallest amount of disposable force – when his Grace dropped in, and on hearing the difficulty, most kindly said, “Can I be of any use to you? shall I write a few hints to Byng?” The offer, as none will doubt, being gladly accepted, the Duke immediately sat down, and with characteristic energy stuck off, and left open, on “the long table”, to be copied and forwarded, a most able and elaborate letter of instructions to Sir John Byng, which, when afterwards presented at the Horse Guards, were pronounced by the Duke of York and other competent authorities to be the best that could possibly have been advised for the purpose intended’.

The Government’s military measures:

Secondary sources are contradictory and unclear over whether the government increased the size of the army in response to Peterloo, with Donald Read stating that ‘ten thousand additional troops were raised, and two thousand additional marines’ (Read Peterloo p 189). While not strictly inaccurate, this is highly misleading. The government rejected an application from the Duke of York to increase the army, but summoned 10,000 pensioners to the colours to form Veteran battalions and so free regulars in case they were needed as a temporary measure; and increased the number of yeomanry.

‘The Duke of York “urged very strongly,” as Lord Liverpool reported to one of his colleagues, “an augmentation of the army,” a measure which, “independent of the expense, which, however, was a very material consideration at that time, Lord Liverpool was persuaded would have the most unfavourable effect on the minds of the friends of the Administration; who would consider the ministers as availing themselves of the present circumstances to retrace their steps on the subject of the army establishment’. (Yonge Life of Liverpool vol 2 p 414).

See also Palmerston to Sulivan, 22 October 1819: ‘Government decided yesterday morning to have a call of out-pensioners to raise 10,000 men to be formed into Veteran Battalions. The call is to take place as soon as it is possible to carry it into effect. The men can hardly be got together in less than a month as the proclamation is not to go out till tomorrow week to give the officers who are selected for the regts which are to be formed time to get down to the places of assembly before the men come in’. (Palmerston Letters to the Sulivans p 147-8).

See Beckett The Amateur Military Tradition p 133 for the expansion of the yeomanry.

Pellew Life of Sidmouth vol 3 p 326 says that Wellington urged that the militia be mobilized – possibly in spring of 1820 (that is the context). This sounds unlikely, and cannot be taken at face value without further evidence; and in any case nothing was done.

Ministers uncertain whether to recall Parliament:

The ministers debated amongst themselves whether Parliament needed to be recalled before Christmas. Sidmouth and Eldon strongly pressed for it, the former believing that the country could only be saved by emergency measures; the latter frustrated by deficiencies in the law which made it hard to frame charges that would convict radicals of any serious offence, even when they were openly plotting to overthrow the government.   Liverpool was reluctant. He was struck by the fact that although the discontent was intense it was concentrated in a few manufacturing counties in England, the area around Glasgow and Paisley in Scotland and, to some extent, in London. It was possible that the popular indignation would fade away of its own accord, in which case the recall of Parliament would only serve to revive it, and would look like panic. (Cookson Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 182-85).

Lord Wellesley and the Buckingham connection support the Government against the Radicals:

Wellesley to Buckingham, Stratfield Saye, 22 October 1819:

I thought you would not object to the communication of your letter to the Duke, who was very much gratified by learning your sentiments on an occasion, which he considers, as you have well expressed it, vital to the existence of the country. With his permission, I inform your Lordship, that the Government has viewed the conduct of some leading characters of Opposition in the same light, in which you have place it; and that, considering Lord Fitzwilliam to have in effect, encouraged the disturbers of public tranquility, in violation of his official duty, the Prince Regent had removed his Lordship from his Lieutenancy in Yorkshire … (Buckingham Memoirs of the Regency vol 2 p 356-7).

The Opening of Parliament:

The new session opened on 23 November with the Prince Regent delivering the speech from the throne in person. There was some apprehension of a riot, although Wellington thought trouble was more likely on following days after the government’s proposals were known and when a protest meeting was going to be held at Smithfield. In the event the Prince was hissed by part of the crowd on his return but also cheered and applauded, so that if anything his reception was rather more favourable than usual. Plumer Ward, who accompanied Wellington to Parliament noted that the Duke’s arrival aroused considerable interest from the crowd, but was neither cheered nor booed. On the other hand, when he left with Sir John and Lady Shelley he was much cheered, and had no hesitation in leading them through the crowd to his carriage. (Phipps Memoir of Plumer Ward vol 2 p 31; Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 85-86).

Radical caricatures attacking Wellington:

Poor Bull & His Burden – or the Political Murraion – !!! – by G. Cruikshank 15 December 1819 (British Museum Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires nos 13,288 vol 9 p 942-3).    A bull, representing John Bull, lies shackled to the ground, his muzzle inscribed ‘gagging bull’, and weighed down by a huge pyramid of placemen and office holders among whom Castlereagh and Sidmouth are clearly to be seen. Six tax collectors, seven soldiers, courtiers, sinecurists, parsons (one of them a magistrate), bishops, and the Crown are all piled on top of each other. Wellington in full uniform but with the apron, oversleeves and steel of a butcher stands by the bull’s head ready to dispatch him.

Blockheads by G. and I. R. Cruikshank n.d. (late 1819 or Jauary 1820) (British Museum Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires no 13,346 vol 9 p 956-7). A panel of ten caricatures – mostly ministers with the Prince Regent at the end, and Wellington in the middle of the second row. He is labeled ‘Waterloo-Man’ and a placard on his chest is inscribed ‘Coruption [sic] Prize Mony £60,000 Allowances £200,000 & c & c’. He holds a dagger which transfixes a bleeding heart and on his back a label read ‘Inquisition’. The associated text claims that he saved the Spanish nation only to send them to perdition under Ferdinand, and even ‘The General he’d not ought to do / But scenes of Triumph to review’ “[having lingered in Brussels]” – the interpolation is Dorothy George’s but presumably reflects the full accompanying text which is not reproduced.

Brougham blames Wellington for the Government’s measures:

Brougham to Grey 24 October 1819:

These strange things (Lord Fitzwilliam and the new army) are plainly none of Lord Liverpool’s doing. I see Wellington in them, and have little doubt that they seriously and desperately intend to change the Government into one less free. I should say they did so if they passed laws restricting meetings and the press. Nor would it stop there. That many will support them cordially, I cannot doubt. The Radicals have made themselves so odious, that a number even of our own way of thinking would be well enough pleased to see them and their vile press put down at all hazards. And a still larger body of our enemies secretly long for a good quiet despotism, not reflecting that its blessings must (in this country at least) be obtained through long civil wars’. (Brougham Life and Times vol 2 p 347-9)

And a week later p 349 he again blames Wellington for dismissal of Lord Fitzwilliam.

Effect of the Six Acts on radical literature:

Aspinall Politics and the Press p 56-60 discusses the Six Acts and their effect on the press, showing that they certainly had some effect. Yet not only did Hone’s work flourish, but The Black Dwarf itself survived until 1824, and when it closed Wooler blamed its demise, not on political repression, but on popular indifference.

The Blackburn Female Union:

According to K. O. Fox: ‘The Blackburn Female Union made no bones about it; one of their prime aims, written into the constitution of the Union, was “to instill into the minds of our children, a deep and rooted hatred of our corrupt and tyrannical Rulers.”’ (Making Life Possible p 152-3). So the hostility it aroused may not have been entirely due to outrage at the idea of mere women expressing views on politics.

Wellington visits the Shelleys at Maresfield:

Not long after his visit to Bath and Plymouth, Wellington received another flattering welcome when he took up a long-standing invitation from Sir John and Lady Shelley to spend a few days with them at Maresfield in Sussex. He came at short notice and Lady Shelley was more than a little flustered and disappointed at her inability to summoning a glittering circle of his friends to ensure the success of the occasion. However she did have time to warn the steward who told the local people and collected forty local farmers who rode out to greet Wellington in the Ashdown Forest. Closer to Maresfield and the road was lined by a cheering crowd, who unhorsed the carriage and pulled it themselves for the final mile to the house. Lady Shelley noted in her diary that when she ‘saw his smiling familiar countenance, my courage came back … My nervous headache vanished, and I was alive only to the happiness and the honours of receiving under my roof the great hero and saviour of my country’. (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 66-7).

Her account of the visit gives a good impression of Wellington relaxing in friendly society. On the first evening she was worried that she had only been able to find four suitable neighbours to join them at dinner: Mr and Mrs Law, Major Dalbiac and Major Synge, of whom Wellington only knew the last, although both officers had served with distinction in the Peninsula. ‘I dreaded these introductions’, the hostess wrote in her diary, ‘as I had often seem him [Wellington] so reserved with strangers, and felt that if he were so in a small party it would be dreadful’. However all was well and, ‘I never saw him so agreeable’. (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 67).

During dinner the discussion turned to recollections of the war and in particular the battles of Orthez and Toulouse: Wellington drawing a plan of the latter on paper and the former, ‘on the knee of his breeches with an eagerness and intentness which were quite delightful’. He dismissed a French account of Toulouse with a brusque, ‘“All a lie. The French were much superior to us in force”, although he acknowledged that the wound he had suffered at Orthez had delayed the advance by a day. And he described the Plymouth breakwater which he had just seen, but admitted that he had not gone down in the diving bell to examine its lower levels. It is not clear from Lady Shelley’s account whether Wellington really monopolized the conversation or if the other guests enjoyed the evening, but when the party broke up around midnight she was content: ‘I never saw the Duke so happy and so animated’. (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 67-8, 73).

The next morning was bright and fair, the ‘fountain was playing, and the birds were singing as in June’. Wellington came out and joined the family in the flower garden before breakfast. ‘My children joined us there, and the Duke caressed them as much as the fondest mother could desire’. (He was always good with other people’s children). After breakfast Lady Shelley showed him over the house, not scrupling to let him see sentimental mementos of him that she had acquired such as ‘the cup out of which he drank his coffee on the morning of Waterloo’. Evidently this flattery was treated with indulgence, for a little later she says that, ‘I began to breathe more freely, and a sense of real happiness stole over me. I felt that the visit was a real success, and that all was going on well’. (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 75).







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© Rory Muir

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