WELLESLEY, Richard (1787-1831).
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Family and Education
b. 22 Apr. 1787, 1st illegit. s. of Richard Colley Wellesley†, 1st Mq. Wellesley (d. 1842), and Hyacinthe Gabrielle, illegit. da. of Christopher Fagan, chevalier in the French service1 (whom he m. 1794, s.p. legit.). educ. Mr. Roberts’s sch. Mitcham, Surr.; Eton 1800; Christ Church, Oxf. 1805. m. c. June 1821,2 Jane Eliza, da. of George Chambers† of Hartford, nr. Huntingdon, 4s. 1da. d.v.p. 1 Mar. 1831.
Ld. of treasury Jan.-June 1812; commr. of stamp duties 1826-d.
At the age of 21 Wellesley, taking his first step in public life, assured his father that ‘if I can ever forget myself I shall never forget my father. I hope to share his fortune with his toils’. His letter was later endorsed with this comment:
Alas! His youthful feelings and expectations of future fortune and happiness were not to be realized and all his future life was blighted by that very father he cherished.
Lord Wellesley, the most self-centred of men, was initially keen for his first-born son to succeed, but only on terms of obedience which made it impossible for Richard, too weak to rebel, to stand on his own feet. The vagaries of the marquess’s politics and his insistence on submission to them cost Richard his seat in Parliament, along with junior office, in 1812 and again in 1817, when he complained to his brother Gerald:
The quarrel between my father and the proprietor of ... [Yarmouth] rendered it impossible for me to vote with him in opposition; and my own sense of honour prevented me from keeping it and voting against him with the government ... It was no trifling misfortune to be thrown out of Parliament at the best age for exertion ... but in vain did I write to him repeatedly on the subject ... I did not receive a word of regret or of interest, of blame or of praise.
Additionally harried by poor health and lack of money, he became the victim of Lord Wellesley’s rancour against his late wife in a wrangle over the execution of her will. In 1818 his uncle the duke of Wellington managed to effect an improvement in Lord Wellesley’s relations with his offspring; but the marquess had lost interest in Richard and his attitude towards him rarely went beyond amiable indifference.3
Soon after vacating his seat in 1817 Wellesley became a member of Brooks’s, and he was suspected of masquerading as a supporter of the Liverpool ministry in his fruitless search for a seat the following year. His real wish was for a position of genuine independence in the House, but this eluded him. Early in 1820 it was rumoured that he was to be appointed a lord of the treasury: he denied it, but it was thought that ‘something of this sort has certainly been projected for him by others’.4 Lord Bath mentioned him to Lord Liverpool as ‘a person of abilities who would be of service to government’, whom he would be willing to return for Weobley, though he was ‘not certain as to his political opinions’, beyond his sympathy for Catholic relief. Liverpool discounted him, saying that he had already arranged his return, but he did not come in at the general election.5 His exclusion, according to his sister Hyacinthe and her husband Edward Littleton*, was ‘his own fault’, for he refused Wellington’s offer of a seat ‘free of expense’, having the ‘folly’ to insist on ‘only coming in upon independent ground’. His father, too, ‘could have procured him to be brought in, but not on those terms’.6 At the end of June 1820 he was returned on a vacancy for Ennis, which was controlled by the ministerialist Fitzgeralds of Inchicronan.
He immediately voted against the aliens bill, 7 July 1820, but this was his last independent gesture. He soon lapsed into illness and depression. His father commanded him to ‘exert your manly spirit to subdue all nervous despondency, the inseparable companion of bilious disorder’.7 More sympathetically, his sister wrote to Gerald Wellesley, 20 Apr. 1821:
I wish he would get some official employment: it would do him more good than anything else, as he would then feel himself bound to work hard. I suspect that he frets at finding although life advances, he does not get on.8
He was present to vote against parliamentary reform, 9 May, and for the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 4 June 1821. At the end of the year his father was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland. Lord Bathurst, asking if it were true that Richard was to go with him ‘in some court place’, thought he had recently ‘looked much more like a man going to his last home. I was quite hurt to see him such a wreck’.9
From this point Wellesley, enjoying improved health, voted consistently and regularly with government. He opposed tax reductions, 11, 21, 28 Feb., abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., and the Whig attack on the lord advocate, 25 June 1822. In April he told his father that his regime in Ireland enjoyed ‘the universal confidence of the House of Commons’. On a personal note, he continued:
I am very glad that the improvement of my health enables me to attend these debates ... and it is certainly not from want of interest that I do not take any part in them, but I believe from those mixed and painful feelings which have often prevented me from exerting whatever portion of ability I may possess to my own honour and advantage. In the summer and autumn I suffered most severely from illness, not only in health but in spirits and therefore in mind; and I am convinced that the greater part of those sufferings may be ascribed to the want of a regular and compulsory or rather responsible occupation; but I am so far recovered at present that I hope to make Parliament a substitute for this want, and by a salutary system to preserve the health I have been able to acquire.10
Soon afterwards he surprised his relatives by disclosing that he had been married for some time (perhaps as long as a year) to the ‘very pretty’ Jane Chambers. His sister, who fairly described her parents as ‘good for nothing’, attributed his secrecy to his ‘dreadful shyness’. He had probably feared his father’s disapproval of the match, which brought him no money; but the marquess sent him an affable, if lifeless letter of congratulation, to which Wellesley replied with obsequious relief. The marriage proved reasonably happy, but the regular production of children only increased his financial problems.11 In October 1822 Lord John Russell* wondered why George Canning* had ‘never thought of’ Wellesley as his under-secretary on his recent appointment to the foreign office: ‘To be sure he is undecided ... but he is an amiable and well-informed man’.12 He divided with ministers against repeal of the assessed taxes, 10, 18 Mar., on the sinking fund, 13 Mar., against attacks on the legal proceedings following the Dublin Orange theatre riot aimed at his father, 24 Mar., 22 Apr., for the grant for Irish glebe houses, 11 Apr., and against reform of the Scottish county representation, 2 June 1823. By an Act of the following month (4 Geo. IV, c. 70), his father’s sinecure post of remembrancer of the Irish court of exchequer, to which he held the reversion, worth £3,700 a year, was made an efficient office. A compensatory annuity was provided for Lord Wellesley and for Richard after his death. He is not known to have spoken in debate in this period, but was credited with the presentation of a petition from Inverness for repeal of the barilla duties, 16 July 1823.13 He was in the government majorities against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb., in defence of the conviction of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June, and for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824. On 17 Dec. 1824 he attended a non-party London meeting called to raise money to assist ‘the unhappy Spanish and Italian refugees’.14 He voted for repeal of the usury laws, 8 Feb., and the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15, 25 Feb. 1825. He was a defaulter, 28 Feb., but was in his place next day to vote for Catholic relief, as he did again, 21 Apr, 10 May. He voted steadily for the duke of Cumberland’s grant in May and June 1825. His last recorded votes were in defence of the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., for the proposal to give the president of the board of trade a ministerial salary, 10 Apr., and against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr. 1826.
Wellesley was hurt not to receive ‘one word’ from his father about his second marriage in October 1825, but could see in it no threat to the interests of his own family, beyond the slight chance that it might produce a son who would succeed to the title from which he himself was debarred by illegitimacy. More importantly, with a growing family and an income of ‘scarcely £700 a year’, he was facing penury; and in 1826, swallowing his ‘scruples’, he threw himself on the mercy of ministers in a quest for ‘a public employment’. He failed to find a seat in the new Parliament and at the dissolution wrote The Last Will and Testament of an Expiring Member of Parliament:
Of mind and memory sound (at least in sense
Of Parliament) my goods I thus dispense.
To Hume my silence and my modest fears;
My voice to Pelham, Eldon all my tears;
To Country Gents, my independent votes;
To Maiden Speakers, all my Folio notes
Of still-born periods and of embryo jokes.15
His sister wrote:
It grieves me to see poor Richard thrown out for want of money and kind friends to bring him in again. However, if he gets some situation under government that will be lucrative, it will be better for him than being in Parliament, and we have some hopes that ere long this object will be attained ... [His] health has been his greatest enemy through life. It has always deprived him of the power of availing himself of the advantages he possessed as to situation or friends and he is now so shy and nervous that his great wish in life is to avoid his friends instead of seeking them and benefitting by their assistance.16
His father intervened with Liverpool and Wellington to help secure his appointment as a commissioner of stamp duties: as he later wrote, though it was ‘contrary to the habits and feelings of my earlier life, the very subsistence of my family obliges me to adhere to it’.17
Wellesley remained a tragic figure, dogged by worsening health, which disrupted his attendance at his office, and living beyond his means on borrowed money.18 His father’s recall from Ireland and exclusion from Wellington’s administration were further blows to his hopes, and when he applied to Wellington for a more lucrative office which would allow him to maintain his position as a gentleman and provide for his children, the duke replied that there was no possibility of being able to oblige him.19 His father took household office in the Grey ministry in November 1830, but by then Richard was near his end. He spent his last days at Brighton (transported there ‘almost without consciousness’) in a pitiful state, as his wife reported to John Fazakerley*, 25 Jan. 1831:
Wellesley ... still remains dangerously ill; his life has been despaired of by all his physicians. He is reduced to the appearance of death, from total lack of sleep and refusal of all nourishment for the past month ... I have never left him day or night now for nearly one month, expecting and dreading every moment to have the horror of seeing him lost to his poor children and me for ever ... Lord Wellesley has ... during this awful calamity been everything I could have wished. He has sent the best physicians from London, his own servant, and writes every day; and he is not satisfied without daily and hourly accounts. Everyone here have [sic] been most kind, including the king and queen; and from his universal popularity his door has been thronged from morning to night with anxious enquiries, but all now is of no avail to him ... He has had so much to contend with, and no friend to assist him in any way in his endeavours for independence for himself and poor children; and feeling it impossible to ask for places, disgusted with the horrid stamp office, so different to all his father had brought him up to expect, and with such a mind and education as his, his mind was unable to bear up against his sufferings any longer ... He is reduced to a perfect skeleton. He has not the least trace of his former appearance.20
Lord Wellesley told Robert Wilmot Horton* that Richard was ‘in a state of insane hypochondria’; and he was twice thwarted in suicide attempts.21 Lord Dudley (soon himself to go incurably mad) lamented the impending loss of ‘a very amiable and accomplished man’, which took place at the beginning of March 1831.22 Both his body and his finances were found to have been in ruins: the reversion was lost with him and his pregnant widow, who was accused by the Wellesleys of extravagance, was left in dire straits.23
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. She was adopted as his da. by Pierre Roland, banker, of Paris (Iris Butler, The Eldest Brother, 50)
- 2. TNA FO 352/10A/3, Planta to S. Canning, 18 June 1822 suggests that the marriage may have taken place c.Mar. 1822.
- 3. Butler, 487-99.
- 4. Add. 51659, Whishaw to Lady Holland, 15 Jan. 1820.
- 5. Add. 38283, f. 104; 38458, f. 285.
- 6. Hatherton diary, 31 Mar.; Hatherton mss, Hyacinthe Littleton to Gerald Wellesley, 11 June 1820.
- 7. Butler, 520.
- 8. Hatherton mss.
- 9. HMC Bathurst, 526.
- 10. Add. 37315, ff. 267, 271.
- 11. TNA FO352/8/4, Planta to Canning, 18 June 1822; Hatherton mss, Hyacinthe to Gerald, 10 July 1822, 26 May 1823; Butler, 517-18.
- 12. Add. 51679, Russell to Lady Holland [Oct. 1822].
- 13. The Times, 17 July 1823.
- 14. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary.
- 15. Butler, 520-1, 524; Add. 38301, f. 204.
- 16. Hatherton mss, Hyacinthe to Gerald, 16 June 1826.
- 17. Wellington mss, WP1/855/26; 936/18; Wellesley Pprs. ii. 222.
- 18. Wellington mss, WP1/925/54; 939/23; Hatherton mss, Hyacinthe to Gerald, 26 June, 9 Dec. 1827.
- 19. Hatherton mss, Hyacinthe to Gerald,27 Mar. 1829; Add. 40396, f. 104; Wellington mss WP1/1054/66.
- 20. Duke Univ. Lib. Fazackerley mss.
- 21. Add. 61937, f. 123; Butler, 536.
- 22. Ward, Letters to 'Ivy', 368.
- 23. Butler, 536-7; Hatherton mss, Hyacinthe to Gerald, 7 Mar., 23 Apr. 1831; Add. 40880, f. 515.