Sunday, 4 May 2008

The Iron Duke, St Helena, Napoleon & Count Walewski

Before we start, some anniversaries: May 4th 1810 - birth of Alexandre Walewski (see below); May 5th 1821 - death of Napoleon I.

The truth is often stranger than fiction.

Wellington had visited St. Helena on his way back from India in 1805, and by a strange coincidence had also stayed at the Briars. (see plate above)

Apparently he also stayed at the Porteous house in Jamestown in which Napoleon had lodged uncomfortably on the first night.

The House (below) has long been demolished.

Not only did Napoleon and Wellington stay in the same places. They even apparently shared at least two mistresses, although not at the same time and not on St. Helena! (1)

The Iron Duke

Although a national hero after Waterloo, Wellington was far from universally popular:
The exaggerated loathing of the Whigs for the man who threatened and finally defeated their idol, Napoleon was to be a constant feature throughout Wellington's career.(2)

As a member of the post war Tory Government Wellington became very unpopular with those who were campaigning for reform. As Prime Minister (1828-1830) he opposed any extension of the right to vote, arguing that the existing system of representation was as near perfection as possible.(3)

The sobriquet Iron Duke does not derive from his personality, his military exploits or his constitution, but from the fact that the windows of his house had to be covered with iron shutters to stop the mob breaking them during the campaign for parliamentary reform.

On the anniversary of Waterloo in 1832 a pro-Reform mob stoned him, shouting Bonaparte for ever.(4)

The Strange Career of Count Walewski

Count Alexandre Walewski(1810-1868), Napoleon's natural son, born to Marie Walewski, a young Polish Countess.

Alexandre Walewski became the French Ambassador to the United Kingdom during the rule of Napoleon III. His first wife was a member of the English aristocracy, Lady Caroline Montagu, the daughter of the 6th Earl of Sandwich. Walewski socialised with Wellington, who attended some of his dinners at the French Embassy.

Walewski was ordered by Napoleon III to attend Wellington's funeral (18th November 1852), much against his will. He not unnaturally did not like having to walk behind a catafalque bearing the word WATERLOO. He was later thanked by the British Prime Minister (The Earl of Derby) for attending.


1. One of the mistresses was the actress Mademoiselle George (Marguerite-Joséphine Wiemer). Andrew Roberts, Napoleon and Wellington is an interesting comparison of the two men by a modern Conservative historian.

2. Roberts p. 6

3. This, at a time when less than 20% of the adult male population could vote, and when large cities like Manchester had no separate representation whilst the 7 voters of Old Sarum had a seat in Parliament! In 1830 Wellington was succeeded as Prime Minister by Earl Grey, and in 1832 the Great Reform Bill made the first relatively limited change to parliamentary representation.

4. Wellington was booed and hissed and apparently bricks were thrown at the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway in 1830. This was a reaction to his views on the Peterloo Massacre and his opposition to Reform.

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