Commentary Explorer Results
Commentary for Volume 1, Chapter 16 : The Cintra Inquiry (September–December 1808)
Unrealistic expectations in Britain:
The issue of the Naval Chronicle for June-July 1808 reported that AW’s army had sailed from Cork to Portugal and added: ‘General Junot had posted himself in the citadel; but, as all his supplies were cut off, it was expected that he must soon surrender. The surrender of the Russian fleet, in the Tagus, to the British flag, was also daily expected.’ (Naval Chronicle reprint of a selection of the contents of the Naval Chronicle in five volumes, edited by Nicholas Tracy vol 4 p 157).
Dearth of news and journalistic speculation about AW’s campaign:
Naturally the lack of reliable information did nothing to discourage journalistic speculation, and in view of later events the thoughts of the Morning Chronicle are particularly interesting:
As to the possibility of Junot’s surrender without a battle, no man can speak with any thing like reason…. It would appear to be his most sensible proceeding to capitulate, as it would be Sir Arthur Wellesley’s policy to accept it, and to grant him easy terms. His position is so strong that he might hold out for a long time, and it is in the interests of the allies that our army should be speedily released from this service, that it may proceed on another. (Quoted in Glover Britannia Sickens p 160).
News of Vimeiro:
Hawkesbury was delighted by the news of Vimeiro telling Richmond ‘I know we feel the same Personal gratification at the success of our Friend Sir Arthur Wellesley. He has proved himself upon the present occasion what those who know him always predicted he would turn out when a proper opportunity occurred of calling him forth at the Head of an Army.’ (Hawkesbury to Richmond, ‘Private’, 9 Sept 1808 BL Add Ms 38, 320 f 71-72).
The Gentleman’s Magazine published a new song by Mr Courtenay ‘England’s Pre-eminence in Arms’ which was addressed to Sir Arthur Wellesley – the chorus gives a fair taste of the work:
Britannia, then, disdain your foes,
And scorn their vain alarms:
Let Gallia feel your vengeful blows,
And yield the palm in arms.
(Gentleman’s Magazine Sept 1808 p 823).
Enthusiasm produced by news of Vimeiro and British visitors to the Peninsula:
The enthusiasm was not limited to England. Richard Wellesley, the 21 year old, eldest but illegitimate son of Lord Wellesley, was in Killarney in the remote southwest of Ireland when he heard the news, and wrote to his father
I have this moment read in the village coffee Room, the tale of Sir Arthur’s Victories, so well told by himself. Ireland is mad with joy, and we scarcely breathe until an account of Junot’s final surrender reaches this remote land. The success is most compleat, and every detail adds to the glory. I congratulate you upon this event, which must have delivered you from some uneasiness, as Sir Arthur was in a critical situation, if he had been attacked before the arrival of his reinforcements, by a superior Army of French Veterans, headed by an able officer. These triumphs have of course increased my desire to embark for Spain; in some character I must do it; for I will freely confess that I should prefer to volunteer as a private, and fight in the Ranks; if to remain in England inactive and inglorious, were the only alternative. (Richard Wellesley to Lord Wellesley, Killarney, 8 Sept 1808 Carver Papers 34).
Faced with this appeal Lord Wellesley arranged for his son to join the British embassy in Lisbon, and the young man sailed from Portsmouth in early December (Butler Eldest Brother p 404). The impulse to visit the scene of the action was widespread, and although wiser second thoughts usually prevailed, the closing months of 1808 saw a surprising number of British visitors to the Peninsula. Lord Louvaine was criticised for neglecting his domestic responsibilities (he had three children; his wife was pregnant; his father the Earl of Beverley was a detainee in France; and he was a Lord of the Treasury), when he accompanied the army as a volunteer. The poet, Walter Savage Landor attempted to join the Spanish patriot forces; and Lord and Lady Holland, accompanied by the sixteen year old Lord John Russell (the future prime minister), paid an extended visit to Spain meeting many grandees and political leaders. (On Louvaine see Complete Peerage vol 9 p 748-9 (under Northumberland); Auckland to Grenville, Private, 4 Aug 1808, HMC Dropmore vol 9 p 210-12; and The First Lady Wharncliffe and Her Family vol 1 p 155 (letter of 15 August). Lady Holland’s impressions are recorded in The Spanish Journal of Lady Holland; on Landor’s excursion see C.P. Hawks ‘The Spanish Adventure of Walter Savage Landor’, Cornhill Magazine, vol 74 May 1933 p 551-564).
Reactions to Cintra:
William Wilberforce confided to a friend, ‘I have been deeply hurt. The stroke fell just when our feelings made the discord of such a note the most inharmonious’. Lady Bessborough wrote that ‘the terms seem madness’; while even after the initial shock Moira was still bitter, ‘we have bungled … the most glorious opening that fortune could have presented’. (Wilbeforce to Babington, 28 Sept 1808, Wilberforce, Life of Wilberforce vol 3 p 379-80; Lady Bessborough to Granville Leveson Gower 24 Sept 1808 Granville Leveson Gower. Private Correspondence vol 2 p 329; Moira to McMahon, 26 Oct 1808 in Correspondence of George Prince of Wales vol 6 p 334-5).
Benjamin Sydenham told Col Allen, ‘The Convention ‘still occupies everybody’s attention, it has excited universal indignation such a ferment has never existed it is worse than even on the receipt of Whitelocke’s disaster’. (Benjamin Sydenham to Col Allen, 27 Sept 1808 NAM 2006-04-15 f 2-3). On 17 September 1808 Wordsworth told Richard Sharpe, MP, ‘We are all here cut to the heart by the conduct of Sir Hew and his Brother Knight in Portugal. For myself, I have not suffered so much on any public occasion these many years’. And on 29 Sept he wrote to Samuel Rogers ‘We are all here in a rage about the Convention in Portugal; if Sir Hew were to show his face among us, or that other doughty Knight, Sir Arthur, the very Boys would hiss them out of the Vale’. (both quoted in Thomas Wordsworth’s Dirge and Promise p 37).
Major Charles Bevan of the 28th, part of Moore’s force, wrote that ‘Sir Hew, if he had a military feeling would have shot himself’ (quoted in Archie Hunter Wellington’s Scapegoat p 46). The same thought occurred to John Aitchson’s father but the young ensign in the Guards disagreed:
You express a hope that Hew Dalrymple has by this time shot himself. I must confess I have no such desire, nay I should feel disappointed did it take place, but as far as I can judge of his conduct, I see no reason to entertain the hope that he will have so much resolution, for I cannot conceive that any man who can act to basely irresolute as Sir Hew appears to have acted throughout could meet death with such coolness. I hope he is destined to receive the punishment he appears to deserve, that will serve to warn those officers who may be appointed to high commands. We have acted with too much lenity to all the officers commanding expeditions that have failed, and the evil has now risen to such a height as to require a dreadful example on some. (Aitchison to his father, Chatham, 5 Oct 1808 Aitchison An Ensign in the Peninsular War p 24).
The King’s reaction to Cintra:
According to different sources ‘the King was much displeased’ if not ‘exceedingly angry’ at the news (Calvert Irish Beauty 18 Sept 1808 p 111, retailing gossip from General Calvert; and Auckland to Grenville Private 20 Sept 1808 HMC Dropmore vol 9 p 215-6). One well informed if not always reliable gossip goes further,
The King himself has been in a state to be pitied ever since this news arrived. His joy on the receipt of Sir Arthurs’s two first dispatches was extreme; the reverse has been almost too much for him, and Colonel Taylor [the King’s Private Secretary] has written to a friend that he has quite lost his rest upon it. Sir Arthur was to have been Viscount Vimiera, and to have had the rank of General in Spain, where he would have commanded-in-chief. All now an empty bubble, and if ordered home, of which I have no doubt, it is all over with him. The King is said, to have said that he knew of no excuse for a British officer could make for signing such disgraceful conditions both for himself and for the nation, and that he could not separate Sir Arthur’s conduct from that of the other two. ([Mr Dardis] to Marquess of Buckingham, 23 Nov [sic, Sept] 1808 Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George III vol 4 p 251-3).
Canning’s reaction to Cintra:
Canning regarded the Convention unequivocally as a ‘disgrace and [a] disaster’, mixing hot anger with passionate disappointment and expressing his feelings in a stream of letters to his colleagues as fresh objections kept occurring to him.
Portugal … must hate us for the Article giving up their Plunder. Instead of hailing us as deliverers, they must consider us as having interfered only to sanction and secure French Robbery. By no other probable combination of circumstances could the French not only have kept what they had stolen, but have carried it out of the country unmolested … It makes me sick with shame to think of it – and in what Country after this – in what part of Italy, of Spain, or of the North, shall we be received with open arms as deliverers? (Canning to Perceval, ‘Private’, Sat morn. 17 Sept 1808 Canning Papers Bundle 32/1).
When the full text of the Convention arrived later in the day, it only added to Canning’s fury:
I confess it is even worse than my expectations. The Substance to be sure I could not expect to be different, but I did not think that I should find every sore place touched in the coarsest manner; and all the shameful parts of the transaction brought forward with such unsparing, such studious and laboured particularity. (Canning to Perceval, ‘Private’, 5pm 17 Sept 1808 Canning Papers Bundle 32/1).
The ministers’ concern for AW’s involvement:
Harrowby, who was not then in the cabinet although very close to it, told his wife, ‘One great misery is, that Wellesley seems so deeply implicated … the very man to whom we most look’d up as a General’. (Harrowby to Countess Harrowby, Tiverton, 24 [September 1808] Harrowby Papers vol LVII f 256-7).
Newspaper reaction to Cintra:
Even the pro-government Courier could not conceal its disappointment:
The Park and Tower Guns were fired between eight and nine o’clock. Undoubtedly it is a matter of great and deep rejoicing, that the main object of the expedition has been accomplished, and accomplished by British arms alone, the deliverance of Portugal from the yoke of France, and the depriving the enemy of another portion of his naval means. But here joy and congratulation cease; for it must be confessed, that the terms are not such as the public had expected. They expected from the decisive victory of the 21st, gained by a British force which had afterwards been strengthened [sic] by 15,000 men, that Junot would have been compelled to an unconditional surrender, and that the Russian fleet would have been added to the British Navy. But here we find the French obtaining the favourable terms of being allowed to evacuate Portugal, retaining their baggage, that is, their plunder. They are not be submitted to the usual condition of not serving again till regularly exchanged. No – the moment they reach France they may set out upon their march to resume hostilities against this very Portugal which they have but just evacuated. This is certainly not what the public expected – it is not that brilliant result which they had expected would have crowned the glorious battle of the 21st’. (Courier 16 Sept 1808 quoted in Thomas Wordsworth’s Dirge and Promise p 22-23).
Further newspaper reaction to Cintra:
‘Never did such a gloom pervade the capital as pervaded it during the whole of yesterday’ reported the Courier the day after the terms of the convention became public. ‘It seemed as if some great calamity had befallen the country, and instead of any one’s feeling exultation at the deliverance of Portugal, the first indignant question asked by everyone was, Whether such terms were ever heard of?’ (September 17, 1808, p 3). The weekly London Observer shared in the gloom: ‘the illusions of victory faded before the painful knowledge, that the glory of our arms, and the expectations of the empire, had been compromised in a Convention honourable only to the enemy’. (September 18, 1808 p 2). (Both quoted from Thomas Wordsworth’s Dirge and Promise p 25). And the Naval Chronicle wrote ‘the account of the victories in Portugal, obtained by Sir Arthur Wellesley on the 17th and 21st of Auugust, was received by people of all ranks with the most generous enthusiasm; but the dissatisfaction which afterwards pervaded the public mind, on the appearance of the Extraordinary Gazette, relating to the evacuation of Portugal and the surrender of the Russian fleet is indescribable. A defeat, unless it had been marked by cowardice, could not have produced so vexatious, so mortifying a sensation. It is said that, at the time of signing the disgraceful convention, by which we have given away advantages with the pen, more than tantamount to these which we had gained by the sword, the British army consisted of 32,000 men, while that of the French, beaten, and in an enemy’s country, amounted to only 15,000!’. (Naval Chronicle August Sept 1808; Naval Chronicle reprint vol 4 p 166).
Comment on Newspaper reaction:
Quoting from the Edinburgh Annual Register 1808 ‘The London newspapers joined in one cry of wonder and abhorrence. On no former occasion had they been so unanimous, and scarcely ever was their language so energetic, so manly, so worthy of the English press. The provincial papers proved that from one end of the island to the other the resentment of this grievous wrong was the same. Some refused to disgrace their pages by inserting so infamous a treaty; others surrounded it with broad black lines, putting their journal into mourning for the dismal information it contained’. (Quoted in Thomas Wordsworth’s Dirge and Promise p 32-33).
The reaction of the Wellesleys to the news of Cintra:
According to a family confidant, Henry ‘is taken ill on this business; his fibre is of the most irritable nature, and he cannot bear up against this severe stroke upon his family importance, who were sailing before the wind with every sail set, and have struck almost in the harbour’s mouth’. William Wellesley-Pole was just ‘as agitated, but he gets over it by cursing and swearing and talking over it to everybody’. Only Lord Wellesley preserved a semblance of calm helped by a recent infatuation ‘with a very stale inamorata’ – one of a string of affairs with courtesans which provided food for gossip in these years. ([Mr Dardis] to the Marquess of Buckingham n.d. [Sept. 1808] Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George III vol 4 p 255-7 see also Butler Eldest Brother p 399, 402-3).
And Benjamin Sydenham gave Colonel Allen a similar account: ‘Pole is completely depressed, Lord W. is gone back to Ramsgate, & holds up against it very well, he thinks the case very clear as far as Arthur is concerned. Henry came to Town for a day but is returned to Suffolk…’ (Benjamin Sydenham to Col Allen, 27 Sept 1808 NAM 2006-04-15 f 2-3).
But beneath the appearance of calm, Lord Wellesley was greatly upset by the shattering of his – and the nation’s – hopes, and he did not entirely trust the government to defend Arthur from the public outcry. On 30 September he wrote to his son:
The unfortunate state of affairs in Portugal (occasioned entirely by the folly & madness of superseding Sir Arthur) and the crying injustice of the public conduct towards him, have brought me into a very embarrassing predicament. It is yet impossible to know to what course the conduct of the Govt. may drive me. But you will have anticipated my determination never to abandon the cause of my Brother, who has saved Portugal and is now to be sacrificed to those, who have undone all the consequences of his victories. Such a cause never existed in the world, and you may be assured that I shall not relinquish it, for the sake of sheltering the Govt. or any other persons. (Lord Wellesley to Richard Wellesley II 30 Sept 1808 Carver Papers 34).
No doubt he heard reports of differences in cabinet on the issue and this may explain why he is said to have indulged in ‘violent invective against that insolent upstart [Canning]’ at this time. (Tom Grenville to Lord Grenville 7 Oct 1808 HMC Dropmore vol 9 p 221-3). He made some tentative overtures to Buckingham and his family who had already expressed their delight in the victory and their readiness to defend Arthur Wellesley, providing he really was not to blame for the Convention. This was more of an insurance policy than a definite plan, although there are hints that Wellesley had day-dreams of driving the ministers from office and forming a new administration in which he would naturally take the leading part. (On the overtures to Buckingham see [Dardis] to Buckingham n.d. Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George III vol 4 p 255-7; on Lord Wellesley’s daydreams see Lord Wellesley to Richard Wellesley II 13 Oct 1808 Carver Papers 34).
Lord Auckland commented to Grenville:
An old friend of yours and mine feels all this most poignantly; in truth from the 2nd (when news of the ‘complete victory’ arrived) to the 4th when Sousa’s communication was made, that person was under the persuasion that the whole political and military influence of the United Kingdom would be in his hands, and in those of his three brothers. (Auckland to Grenville, ‘Private’, 20 Sept 1808 HMC Dropmore vol 9 p 215-6).
The campaign to defend Sir Arthur Wellesley:
Once released, the story of the protest spread, with Wellesley’s defenders pushing it with all their might. Henry Redhead Yorke – an ally of the Wellesleys in 1806 – wrote in the Sun of 29 September 1808
[Sir Arthur] was commanded and made to sign the Armistice, which was neither written, negotiated, nor approved by him. It is a fact, which will be fully proved when the day of rigid Inquiry shall arrive, that the Armistice was negotiated by Sir Hew Dalrymple in person … in the presence of Generals Burrard and Wellesley. Kellermann then insisted on its being signed by Sir Arthur to give it to authenticity, which barbarous and cruel act Dalrymple ordered him instantly to do, although Sir Arthur expressed his most decided disapprobation of the language, as well as the terms of the armistice. (Quoted in Schneer ‘Arthur Wellesley and the Cintra Convention’ p 97-98).
Wellesley’s friends in the Irish government were just as vigorous in his defence. Richmond told Hawkesbury that he could not ‘think with patience of the Convention. Had Wellesley’s Actions never taken place the Terms would have been but bad. I am certain that he had nothing to do with the negotiation and that he totally disapproved’ (Richmond to Hawkesbury ‘Private’ Phoenix Park 3 Oct 1808 BL Add Ms 38,568 f 192-3). And Sir Charles Saxton, who had replaced Trail as civil Under Secretary in Ireland, summoned the editor of the Dublin Correspondent, a paper which relied heavily on government assistance, and asked him to ‘put the best face’ on the news from Portugal. The editor, Edward Morgan, returned to his office and stopped the presses in order to cancel his first, unflattering account of the Convention and replace it with some milder paragraphs. However the proprietors of the paper were furious and dismissed him. (He was promised compensation by the government but received little before he died, mentally damaged, in 1814). (Aspinall Politics and the Press p 266). The Duke of Richmond went even further, for when Lady Bessborough visited Dublin at the end of September she reported that
The Duke of Richmond shews about some letters of Sir A. Wellesley that make one’s blood boil. The first is just after the battle, saying he hopes soon to have better news to send, but that not a moment is to be lost; that he has tried already, and hopes still to persuade Sir H. Burrard to renew the attack; that the Corps de Réserve are the finest men in the army, had not fired a shot, and were impatient to be engaged … The letter is written by bits, and with ye utmost vexation, saying in one part ‘that Dowager Dalrymple and Betty Burrard are Haggling with Kellermann on inadmissible terms, and losing a glorious opportunity of having the whole French army at our mercy’ … He next says he is call’d upon to sign the most disgraceful convention that ever was made, and that he has resisted to everything short of Mutiny, and submits only to the Command of his superior Genl. (Lady Bessborough to Granville Leveson Gower, 28 Sept 1808 Granville Leveson Gower. Private Correspondence v. 2 p 330-1).
Now this is very odd, for the quoted passages do not in the least resemble Wellesley’s surviving letters, either in substance or expression, and whatever his frustration with Burrard he always regarded him as a gentleman and is unlikely to have resorted to calling him silly names. (The only hint in this direction is that years later Wellesley described Dalrymple and Burrard as ‘old women’ when discussing the affair with Mrs Arbuthnot (The Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 233); but when talking to Croker he invariable spoke of them as ‘the gentlemen’ albeit with an edge of scorn (Croker Croker Papers vol 2 p 123, 25 May 1831)). Did Richmond then invent a letter, or did Lady Bessborough embroider her tale? Even if the latter is more likely it is clear that Richmond was vigorously arguing Wellesley’s case.
Another example of the campaign to defend AW:
On 27 September Benjamin Sydenham wrote to Colonel Allen:
The Generals in chief uniformly overruled all Arthur’s plans 1st Burrard would not allow him to march on the 20th instead of waiting to be attacked. 2nd Burrard would not allow troops to be landed at Figueras & to be marched to Santarem in order to cut off Junot’s retreat, on the contrary when Moore began to disembark his men in consequence of letters from Arthur W. he ordered them to be re-embarked and to come round to Maceira where they could not obtain supplies. 3rdly Burrard would not allow Arthur to follow up the victory of the 21st by an immediate pursuit of the enemy.
I have seen a letter from Moore in which he says if this had been done in the way proposed by Sir Arthur Wellesley the whole French army must have been annihilated [?].
4thly Sir Arthur was not at all consulted about the Armistice, it was negotiated by Dalrymple, or rather dictated by Kellermann; Arthur neither wrote, approved, or negotiated it. Sir Hew intended to have signed it himself but Kellermann requested that Sir Arthur might sign it, and he did so by Dalrymple’s desire. Afterwards Dalrymple wished to have sent him to Sir C. Cotton, but the French would not let him go, because he objected so strongly to the Armistice.
However notwithstanding all this he will never I fear get over His signature. The King is outrageous about it, and neither He nor his army will receive any Honours, had this not happened he would I hear have been a Viscount with a pension, and the command of the army in Spain – He is now not recalled & that is all.
Dalrymple is recalled & is considered to be the responsible person – it is a sad business, and has given us all the greatest affliction..…
[P.S.] Arthur is adored by the army, all the Generals including Moore have written home about him in the highest terms. (Benjamin Sydenham to Col Allen, 27 Sept 1808 NAM 2006-04-15 f 2-3).
Reaction to the campaign to defend AW:
Lady Bessborough asked ‘why did not he throw up his commission? He might have been sure of being reinstated’. And while her correspondent, Granville Leveson Gower thought ‘it hard that the laurels acquired by Wellesley should in the indignation of the people at the convention be totally forgotten’, he added that the ministers would act most unwisely ‘if they do not shew equal readiness to investigate the share he took in the negotiation, as they will do in enquiring into the conduct of Sir Hew’. (Lady Bessborough to Granville Leveson Gower, 28 Sept, and reply 2 Oct 1808 Granville Leveson Gower. Private Correspondence vol 2 p 330-1, 334).
AW’s return from Portugal
Lord Boringdon saw AW at Plymouth and reported that he looked ‘low and nervous’ (Granville Leveson Gower to Lady Bessborough 8 Oct  Granville Leveson Gower. Private Correspondence vol 2 p 339).
Date of AW’s arrival in London:
This is uncertain because he wrote to both Lord Wellesley and to Castlereagh announcing that he head reached London ‘this day’; the first letter was dated 5th October and the second the 6th. If he landed at Plymouth on the 4th it seems unlikely he could have reached London the following day. The Times of 7th Oct reported his arrival and Castlereagh announced it to the King on the 7th, so it seems that the 5th was probably a slip of the pen. (Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 139).
AW refuses to authorize any pamphlets in his defence:
Nonetheless several pamphlets were written in his defence, although it is impossible to trace any connection between them and the Wellesley family, and it seems likely that they were genuinely spontaneous; just as was much of the criticism, including Wordsworth’s tract on the Convention. (AW to Croker 23 Oct 1808; AW to ___ 25 Oct 1808; AW to ___ 3 Nov 1808 all WD III p 131-133; Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 139n quotes Robert Ward on Stockdale offering to publish anything of AW’s. Pamphlets defending AW or the Convention included Advantages of the Convention of Cintra, briefly stated in a candid review of that transaction, and of circumstances under which it took place… By a friend of the people [attributed by British Library to Edward James of Wepre Hall]. And Multum in Parvo A Vindication of the Convention concluded at Cintra… anon (London, 1808). Wordsworth’s tract was Concerning the relations of Great Britain, Spain and Portugal, to each other , and to the common enemy, at this crisis…).
Castlereagh hesitates to take AW to the King’s levee:
Ironically the one minister whose conduct seems to have rankled with Wellesley was Castlereagh, his staunchest friend. Wellesley decided to attend the King’s weekly levee on 12 October, the first since his return, as a customary mark of respect. However, by ill luck this was also the occasion on which a petition from the City of London denouncing the Convention was to be presented to His Majesty, and Castlereagh thought that the conjunction of the two might be needlessly inflammatory, for the ministers had proposed a decidedly cool response for the King to make to the petitioners. Wellesley however was affronted and declared that if he did not attend the levee, ‘I never will go to a levee in my life’. Castlereagh naturally gave way before this determination, and the King, whatever his private thoughts, received Wellesley most graciously. (AW told this story to Croker in 1826 – Croker Papers vol 1 p 344-45, Dec 1826 – source of quote – and Stanhope in 1840 – Notes of Conversations p 243-4, 2 Nov 1840. The King’s reply to the petition is quoted (from the Morning Chronicle 13 Oct 1808) in Glover Britannia Sickens p 172-3. See also Hawkesbury to the King 11 October and reply 12th in Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 139 and – for a contemporary mention of Castlereagh’s hesitation – Tom Grenville to Lord Grenville 19 Oct 1808 HMC Dropmore vol 9 p 229-31.).
Lord Wellesley abandons thoughts of opposing the government:
On the whole Arthur Wellesley was satisfied by the government’s treatment of him, and Lord Wellesley abandoned his insurance policy with some relief. On the day after the King’s levee Lord Wellesley wrote to his son
It was not untill [sic] yesterday evening that I could determine the course to be pursued in Sir Arthur’s cause. He has been well received, and has no complaint against the Ministers, nor does he entertain any idea of separating himself from them. No motive of respect or affection towards him now exists to induce me to abandon the King’s present government. With regard to the management of affairs in Spain and Portugal, (on which I entertained many doubts) I am inclined to believe, after more full consideration, that no such degree of blame can attach upon Ministers, or can justify one in determining (according to your expression) to expose and expel them. (Lord Wellesley to Richard WellesleyII 13 Oct 1808 Carver Papers 34).
The dream of sweeping the government aside was pleasant, but the storm over Cintra showed no sign of abating and it clearly was not the moment to embark on a risky political gamble.
Opinion at the Horse Guards:
Other senior figures at the House Guards were less hostile to AW than the Duke of York, but not necessarily convinced by Wellesley’s version of events. Robert Brownrigg, the Quartermaster General, told a military friend that Wellesley had ‘made a sacrifice of his feelings and judgement to a sense of Publick Duty’ when he signed the Armistice; and added, ‘I feel great sympathy for him, for believe he is a gallant and able Officer’. And J. W. Gordon, the Duke of York’s Military Secretary, wrote to Sir David Dundas, ‘It is impossible in hearing him [Wellesley] not to wish him well and safe out of the scrape, but it is equally impossible not to feel that he materially involved in one’. (Robert Brownrigg to Gen. Hope, Horse Guards 8 Oct 1808 Scottish Record Office, Hope of Luffness Papers GD 364/1/1179; J.W. Gordon to Sir D. Dundas ‘Private’ Horse Guards 15 Oct 1808 BL Add Ms 49,512A f 31-34).
Cobbett’s attack at the Hampshire meeting:
The campaign culminated on 2 November with a famous Hampshire Meeting at Winchester which was dominated by Cobbett in one of the finest moments of his life. He began his attack with Sir Arthur, moved on to the Wellesley family, then to the government, the military establishment of the country, the Duke of York and was beginning to stray into the further reaches of the radical agenda when the restlessness of his audience forced him to give way. There was nothing mealy-mouthed about his views:
‘It is evident to the whole nation, that his Majesty’s Ministers are fully determined to screen Sir Arthur Wellesley.’ ‘Sir Arthur, it is well known, is allied to a family the most powerful of any in the country – a family raised to a predominance, not by great and shining talent, nor by any actions of a sort that can be deemed even meritorious. They have beaten the poor Indians, just as dogs would do a flock of sheep out of a field’. ‘Sir Arthur, before he left this country, enjoyed a salary of £6566 for being Chief Secretary of Ireland. Ministers take him from that office and send him to Portugal as a general. He still enjoys the emoluments of that office, although it was impossible for him to execute the duties of it’. ‘I wish you to bear in mind that the Wellesley family actually at this moment receives out of this country the sum of £23,766 annually. This sum you have to pay out of your pockets and it is a sum equal to the poor rate of sixty parishes’. (The Times 4 Nov 1808; Spater William Cobbett vol 1 p 212-214).
It was a bravura performance if rather too long and ambitious: for Cobbett narrowly failed to carry the meeting and the original motion, calling for a full Inquiry was carried rather than his overtly radical amendment.
AW’s strategic advice to Castlereagh:
From Holyhead, on his way over to Ireland, he wrote to Castlereagh discussing the prospect of the war in Spain, prefacing his remarks a little forlornly that ‘recent events may not encourage you to pay much attention to my military opinions’. He feared that the Spaniards had not taken sufficient advantage of their opportunities and were ill-prepared to withstand the vast torrent of French reinforcements who would soon cross the Pyrenees. Yet he continued to urge that the British army be based further forward in Asturias, rather than at Coruña. Much more sensible was his advice that Castlereagh send out a large supply of shoes ‘and some worsted socks and flannel waistcoats’, for winter was fast approaching and the army was likely to have to make long marches in difficult conditions. But the overall impression left by the letter is that Wellesley had temporarily fallen out of the inner circle planning Britain’s campaigns – the result of his long absence from London rather than any loss of Castlereagh’s confidence. (AW to Castlereagh, 19 Oct 1808 Castlereagh Correspondence vol 6 p 476-81).
General St John wants to serve with the Spanish or Portuguese armies:
When a senior British officer, Lieutenant-General St John, wrote to Wellesley expressing a desire to serve with the Spanish or Portuguese armies, Wellesley discouraged him, warning that the Spaniards, ‘must meet with severe reverses; and with their usual liberality, the good people of England will be disposed to attribute to an English general the reverses of their friends the Spaniards, which they do not at present expect’. (AW to Lt. Gen. St. John, Dublin Castle, 30 Oct 1808 WSD vol 6 p 180-1, name supplied by Chris Woolgar in e-mail of 28 April 2008).
Lt. Gen. the Hon. Frederick St. John (1765-1844) had seen active service in Ireland and under Lake in India. A dispute with Lake led to a Court of Inquiry and although it returned an open verdict the Commander-in-Chief [presumably this means the Duke of York not CinC India] formed an unfavourable view of his personal courage. With this creating a formidable obstacle to his employment in the British service, his willingness to consider joining the Spanish or Portuguese is easy to understand. And presumably it also explains why he was not considered to take command of the Portuguese army in February 1809. His uncle was the 4th Duke of Marlborough and Lord Pembroke was his cousin. (Thorne History of Parliament vol 5 p 85).
Anxious letters from William Wellesley-Pole:
Even before Arthur reached Dublin, William sent an express after him begging him to return at once. Dalrymple was reported to be throwing the whole blame for the Convention on Arthur’s shoulders alleging that he ‘scarcely put in a word or made any objection to anything whatever’ during the negotiations. Lord Wellesley endorsed William’s plea, ‘Sir Hew’s line of conduct is so extraordinary, that it is impossible for any other person than yourself to meet it’ (William Wellesley-Pole to AW with postscript by Lord Wellesley 19 and 27 Oct 1808 WSD vol 6 p 164-5). From the relative quiet of Dublin Arthur replied to this calmly: there was no need for him to rush back, as it was quite impossible for him to be held responsible for anything after he had relinquished command of the command of the army (AW to William Wellesley-Pole, Dublin Castle, 23 Oct 1808 Raglan A no 7). This was not enough to reassure Pole who worked himself into a panic by speculating on what line other parties might take. He worried that it might suit everyone else to frame the Inquiry so narrowly as to exclude all events prior to 21 August, whereas he had become convinced that Arthur’s reputation could only be restored by a wide ranging investigation that would remind the public of the successful campaign that had preceded the detested Convention. It is clear that Pole did not trust Castlereagh (who might wish to conceal deficiencies in the equipment of the army), or the Duke of York (who might view Arthur as a rival and who would favour Dalrymple, Burrard and Clinton as Guards’ officers). And ‘all agree that Sir Hew is most artful and assiduous, and that he is favoured at headquarters’ (Pole to AW 27 Oct 1808 WSD vol 6 p 170-174 see also same to same 26 Oct 1808 Raglan Papers Wellington B no 90).
Arthur Wellesley’s feelings on receiving this letter can only be imagined but fortunately it was closely followed by another, much more reassuring letter. Castlereagh had been to see Pole and had convinced him that ‘his most anxious desire was that you should have an opportunity to place your conduct on the most conspicuous point of view, and that full justice should be done to you without regard to any of the consequences that may thereby fall on him, the government or either of the generals … He is most anxious that you should rise triumphant and that your fame should be increased by the inquiry… Castlereagh’s whole conduct to me quite charmed me, and made me feel that I had done him great injustice in the argument I used in my [last] letter’(William Wellesley-Pole to AW 8pm 28 Oct 1808 WSD vol 6 p 174-6).
Members of the Court of Inquiry:
There was a shortage of suitable officers who might have been appointed: Abercromby, Grey, Sir Charles Stuart, Lake and Cornwallis were all dead; Moore, Sir John Stuart, and Craig employed overseas; Lord Hutchinson was in Ireland – the Duke suggested him but the King didn’t want the delay of bringing him over; the Duke of York could not sit on such a board – the only notable omission was Cathcart who was commanding in Scotland. (Duke of York to J. W. Gordon 28 Oct 1808 f 152).
Lord Moira and the Court of Inquiry:
Only the choice of Moira caused much comment, arousing some waspish remarks from his political allies: Auckland wrote to Lord Grenville that ‘Lord Moira has what is vulgarly called ‘a good thing of it’, in being appointed a member of the Court of Inquiry’; while Temple told his father ‘it is impossible to trust Lord Moira, who may be, and probably is, playing a game of his own, and even were he not, his vanity would prevent him from attending to the suggestion of anyone’. (Auckland to Grenville 7 Nov 1808 HMC Dropmore vol 9 p 239; Temple to Buckingham 7 Nov 1808 Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George III vol 4 p 277-8). Moira himself suspected ‘that I have been made one of the members in order to impress the public (who will not know that all goes by a majority) with a fallacious belief of the earnestness and impartiality in the investigation’. (Moira to McMahon 9 Nov 1808 Correspondence of George, Prince of Wales vol 6 p 339-340). Yet he hardly approached the question with an open mind, and his views would have given little comfort to Arthur Wellesley or his supporters. ‘It is clear’, Moira had written on 26 October,
that Wellesley, to have a claim to the exclusive merit of finishing the business in Portugal, overbore his commander and in fact dictated the procedure. The plea that in military obedience he merely signed a Convention which he disapproved, is so unsubstantial as at once to expose the hollowness of his defence. No notion of discipline ever yet required such an acquiescence from any officer: but it is totally out of the question when it is recollected that Sir Arthur was himself the negotiator with full powers, and that no one of the conditions of the preliminary articles could have been presented for his signature he had not previously admitted them. The truth is that he is a very gallant and gentlemanlike fellow, but very limited in talents. (Moira to McMahon 26 Oct 1808 Correspondence of George, Prince of Wales vol 6 p 334-5).
Clearly, at least one member of the Inquiry would require some convincing if Wellesley was to be exonerated.
The Court of Inquiry and the Press:
The proceedings were extensively reported in the press in a similar fashion to Parliamentary debates: an almost verbatim report of important passages and a précis of the rest, with very little description or comment. Wellesley privately complained of the inaccuracy of the reports, but they do not appear to have been biased or hostile, unlike the occasional editorial comment such as that in the Times which again denounced the ‘cruel and atrocious falsehood’ that Dalrymple had ordered Wellesley to sign the Suspension of Arms (The Times 18 Nov 1808). Nonetheless Dalrymple prefaced his evidence with a complaint against the newspaper articles written in Wellesley’s defence, which were ‘calculated to load my character with gross and accumulated obloquy, for the purpose of rescuing a more favoured officer from the unlooked for unpopularity of a measure he most certainly approved’ (Proceedings p 18). Wellesley responded by flatly denying that he, his family, friends, or staff ‘ever gave any authority to any publisher of a newspaper, or anybody else to declare, that I was compelled, or even ordered, to sign the paper to which my name appears’ (Proceedings p 17). From which one can only conclude that either Lord Wellesley and William Wellesley-Pole had concealled their part in the creation of the story of the protest from their brother (and that he naively believed them), or that he was lying. But he was on much firmer ground when he pointed out that he had as much as to complain of in the press coverage as Dalrymple.
The Court of Inquiry: audience and procedure:
Although the Inquiry’s proceedings were generally dry and lacking obvious drama, it attracted a large and fashionable audience. The Duke of Cumberland attended frequently, the Duke of Cambridge at least once, and many other notable figures ranging from General Miranda to Lady Temple and ‘a number of elegantly dressed females’ (Gentleman’s Magazine Nov 1808 p 1033-4; The Times 21 Nov. 1808). Wellesley and Dalrymple represented themselves, without benefit of lawyers, although Dalrymple was accompanied by General Green and Wellesley by Major Tucker – presumably to provide moral support, and advice (Gentleman’s Magazine Nov 1808 p 1033-4). Both men probably also drew on their ADCs for clerical help and encouragement. Each prepared a narrative of their proceedings which they read to the Court and on which they were gently cross-examined. They were also permitted to question each other.
The Court of Inquiry: the Suspension of Arms
At first attention concentrated on the negotiations with Kellermann and the signature of the Suspension of Arms. Dalrymple, who ‘spoke with firmness and precision, and appeared in good spirits’ (Gentleman’s Magazine Nov 1808 p 1034), made clear that he, Burrard and Wellesley were present throughout and
That all and each of us seemed to offer whatever observations we thought proper, but that Sir Arthur Wellesley appeared to me to bear that pre-eminent part in the discussion, which the situation he so lately filled, the victory he had so recently gained, and his own more perfect information upon many important, though local and incidental circumstances, gave him a just right to assume. (Proceedings p 16).
The reporters complained that Wellesley spoke rapidly ‘and in so low a tone as to be scarcely audible without the bar’ (Times, 23 Nov. 1808) – a fault of his Parliamentary speeches as well – but they still quoted him at length, possibly with help from the keepers of the official record. He did not dispute the main thrust of Dalrymple’s statement, although he naturally stressed Dalrymple’s responsibility for the result. ‘It is true that I was present when the Armistice was negotiated by the Commander in Chief, and I did assist his negotiations’. But he differed on several important points, such as the duration of the suspension of arms, and his objections were overruled. Still ‘as I concurred in and advised the adoption of the principle of the measure, viz that the French should be allowed to evacuate Portugal … I did not think it proper to refuse to sign the paper on account of disagreement on the details’ (Proceedings p 17).
The Times is almost satisfied of AW’s guilt:
This was almost enough to satisfy The Times which observed
We are … greatly amused at the incessant endeavours of Sir Arthur Wellesley to shake this Armistice from his shoulders. He is like the good man in Pilgrim’s Progress, striving to get rid of the burthens of his sins; when up jumps the Great Irresolution, in the shape of Sir Hew, and immediately re-affixes the odious load to his back, by producing some undeniable testimony of Sir Arthur’s to the propriety of that act. (The Times 23 Nov 1808)
AW feels that Dalrymple’s hostility frees his hands:
Wellesley was far from dismayed by Dalrymple’s attack telling Richmond that it freed his hands:
If he had done what a gentleman ought to have done, and what he has done before the Court of Inquiry, viz relieve me from the responsibility of negotiating the Armistice … and if he had not attacked me when he first addressed the Court of Inquiry, and in his narrative, I should have defended for him the measure of allowing the French to evacuate Portugal, and I should not have said one word about the details of the Convention. I only hope Burrard will be a little more fair, or a little more candid, than Sir Hew had been. You see that the papers have already changed their tone about the evacuation; and, excepting personal abuse of me and misrepresentation of what I said, they do what one would wish. (AW to Richmond 23 Nov 1808 WD III p 179).
Torrens’ evidence, 24 November 1808:
On Thursday 24 November Colonel Torrens gave evidence that on the morning after the Suspension of Arms was signed Wellesley had told him that ‘he had signed the Armistice by the desire of Sir Hew Dalrymple, although he totally disapproved of many points in it, and of the tone of the language in which it was drawn up’. Torrens also testified that it was evident from their first meeting that Dalrymple showed no confidence in Wellesley’s judgement and was more inclined to listen to the advice of other officers than to Wellesley’s opinions. (Proceedings p 64).
On Wednesday the 14th Burrard examined Wellesley in an attempt to show that the French cavalry posed a serious threat, to raise doubts about an advance on the 21st, and about the idea of an advance on Santarem, but he gained little from the exchange. Torrens was then recalled by Wellesley and confirmed Wellesley’s account of both occasions when Burrard had thwarted Sir Arthur’s plans (Proceedings p 102-3). Wellesley then addressed the Court and made his case both for his conduct of the campaign and for why, given the position of the armies on the day after Vimeiro, he agreed with the principle of letting the French evacuate Portugal. There was little or nothing new in this summary, but all the previous evidence heard by the Inquiry placed it in new light: for it was clear to anyone who had attended the hearing that Wellesley knew how to command an army and conduct a campaign, and that Dalrymple and Burrard did not (Proceedings p 103-5).
Burrard now presented a final address and came close to breaking down in tears as he again tried to justify the unjustifiable. Wellesley interposed that while his opinion had differed from Burrard’s he believed that he had acted from the best motives (Proceedings p 107-8; Gentlemen’s Magazine 1808 supplement p 1179-80). Dalrymple then asked Burrard if he, Dalrymple, had been justified in believing that both Wellesley and Burrard had approved the terms of the Suspension of Arms? Burrard agreed: many points had been discussed but few left unresolved and Burrard had not believed they were of any great significance. Dalrymple then made a final brief statement and the Court adjourned. It met again privately four times between 15th and 22 December to sift through the evidence and prepare its report.
Comments on the conduct of the Court of Inquiry:
George Tierney, a leading member of the Opposition, attended the Inquiry as a spectator and wrote to Grey on 15 December that he ‘came away quite disgusted with the manner in which the business was conducted. Wellesley and Burrard were placed upon the floor to examine one another! Wellesley’s tone and deportment I thought very offensive. Poor Burrard made a sad figure … I never saw so dull a man in my life. Dalrymple sat quite snug and unconcerned, much in the manner of little Jack Horner!’ (quoted in Later Correspondence of George III vol 5 p 167n).
Reaction to evidence of Cintra Inquiry:
On 23 December 1808 Walter Scott wrote to George Ellis,
Our army is a poor school for genius, for the qualities which naturally and deservedly attract the applause of our Generals are necessarily exercised upon a limited scale. I would to God Wellesley were now at the head of the English in Spain. The last examination shows his acute and decisive talents for command; and although I believe in my conscience, that when he found himself superseded, he suffered the pigs to run through the business, when he might in some measure have prevented them –
Yet give the haughty devil his due,
Though bold his quarterings, they were true.
Such a man, with an army of 40,000 or 50,000 British, with the remains of the Gallician army, and the additional forces whom every village would furnish in case of success, might possess himself of Burgos, open a communication with Arragon, and even Navarre, and place Buonaparte in the precarious situation of a general with 1,000,000 enemies between him and his supplies; – for I presume neither Castanos nor Palafox are so broken as to be altogether disembodied. But a general who is always looking over his shoulder, and more intent on saving his army than on doing the service on which he is sent, will, I fear, hardly be found capable of forming or executing a plan which its very daring character might render successful’. (Letters of Sir Walter Scott vol 2 p 139-141).
AW’s reaction to the report and resentment of Moira’s opinion:
He wrote to Burghersh from Dublin on 11 January
The report of the Court of Inquiry is indeed an extraordinary production. Opinions, like colours, are now matters of taste, and may on this view of them be inconsistent with each other. But a Court of this description ought, if it touches facts, to state them correctly; and a principal member, if he observes upon the subject, ought not to pass unnoticed or to contradict the principal fact bearing upon the question on which he observes. (AW to Burghersh, Dublin Castle, 11 January 1809 WD III p 180. See also AW to Williams 9 Jan 1809 WSD vol 5 p 524-5).
And he was anxious to know whether the Ministers considered the report as conclusive, ‘and, on that ground, to justify it and all the measures of which the Report approves; or do they mean to leave the whole question to be scrambled for as it may suit those who choose to mix in the scramble?’ (AW to Castlereagh, 9 Jan 1809, Castlereagh Correspondence vol 7 p 25). Evidently he feared that the controversy would be renewed, in Parliament, and in the press, and that Moira’s opinion would be used as the basis of further attacks. He even prepared a detailed rebuttal headed ‘Observations by Sir Arthur Wellesley on Lord Moira’s separate judgement to the Court of Inquiry’, possibly intending to publish it as his justification. (Manuscript in Carver Papers 99).
© Rory Muir