How Wellington beat Napoleon in bed as well as battle

How Wellington beat Napoleon in bed as well as battle

The first Duke of Wellington – the so-called Iron Duke – was a true hero.

His achievements made him Europe’s most famous man for decades.

Of course, his defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 played a big part in that. Indeed, he was a brilliant general and leader who fought in 60 battles, always keeping a cool head and sleeping on a cot to one day be ready for action.

He was prime minister twice, was an accomplished horseman, spoke at least three languages ​​and read avidly. He also had “a strong, sturdy body, long arms and a fine aristocratic nose” and prided himself on keeping fit.

He could function for weeks with almost no sleep – he only slept 48 hours during a 14-day campaign. So it’s no surprise that the duke’s extraordinary machismo was enough to get many 19th-century ladies into a bit of a foam.

A little more unexpected is the revelation that this “man’s man” far preferred the genteel company of women to that of his military brethren.

According to a new exhibition of letters, magazines and diaries at Apsley House, Hyde Park Corner, the grand London home of the Wellesleys (the family name of the Dukes of Wellington), his closest relationships were with women.

Among them were the aristocrats Harriet Arbuthnot, Lady Salisbury, Lady Bessborough and Lady Shelley, to name just four.

A portrait of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, in military uniform.  He was prime minister twice, was an accomplished horseman, spoke at least three languages ​​and read avidly

A portrait of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, in military uniform. He was prime minister twice, was an accomplished horseman, spoke at least three languages ​​and read avidly

He apparently liked their opinions, their brains and their outlook. But he also liked women’s bodies. Very much.

So while maintaining impressively platonic relationships with a group of his favorites, he took a rather different approach with dozens of others, sleeping with everyone from princesses to prostitutes, opera singers to duchesses, with a particular fondness for married women.

No wonder he was known throughout Europe as ‘the Rutting Stag’.

The one woman he didn’t seem to think much of was his wife, Kitty Pakenham, whom he first met in the mid-1790s.

Kitty was beautiful, vivacious and from a very wealthy Anglo-Irish family, but Wellington – born Arthur Wesley, fourth son of the Earl of Mornington – was considered to be under her status. He was rejected by her family as a bad prospect.

So he went to serve in the army in India, where, while enjoying various fleeting affairs and pursuing his enthusiasm for other men’s wives, he fostered a romantic image of the youthful Kitty for 12 years.

When he finally returned – a triumphant general with a growing personal fortune – he again asked for her hand in marriage, and her family readily agreed. But Arthur was shocked to find that Kitty had lost quite a bit of her prime in the intervening years.

“She’s gotten ugly, by Jupiter!” he would have said to his brother before the wedding.

He was also disinterested in her intellect, noting—as recorded in documents preserved by his confidant, the diarist and political hostess Harriet Arbuthnot—that “political or important subjects were discussed with her.” [Kitty] was as if I were speaking Hebrew to her.”

The Duke seduced two of Napoleon's former mistresses, including an Italian opera singer named Giuseppina Grassini (pictured)

The Duke seduced two of Napoleon’s former mistresses, including an Italian opera singer named Giuseppina Grassini (pictured)

To be fair, poor Kitty – who loved him at least as much as all his other wives, but found him intimidating – wrote to her betrothed just before their wedding in April 1806: ‘I don’t think I’ll be a companion to you and a friend for life.’

But they got married and, despite the fact that they had two sons, they forged a separate life almost immediately.

She wandered through their Hampshire home in a nerve-racking depression as he lived to the fullest, racking up huge bills with a London courtesan, Madame Derville.

In one, just before he was sent to Spain to fight Napoleon in 1808, he is reported to have been paid £55 13s – the equivalent of several thousand pounds today – for 15 visits to a brothel, including a flirtation with an ‘American lady’. ‘. ‘ which cost a full £10 and a Mrs Dubois who was described as ‘La Grande Blonde’.

His success in his career and with women surprised his family.

Arthur Wesley, born in Dublin in May 1769 (the family changed their name to Wellesley in 1798), was unpromising according to his demanding mother. “I don’t know what to do with my clumsy son Arthur,” she would say.

He hated school and after a number of unhappy years at Eton and an unexpected plunge into family finances, he was sent to Brussels to continue his education, where he showed no sign of distinction until his early twenties.

It was only after joining the army in 1787 that he found his calling: he led the British, Portuguese and Spanish forces during the Peninsular War (1808 to 1814), eventually forcing the French to withdraw from Spain and Portugal.

On his triumphant return he was given the title Duke of Wellington and in 1815 he was victorious at Waterloo.

Before the battle and in Brussels, where he took command of the forces that would challenge Napoleon, he found time for flirtation.

Between collecting men, weapons and supplies and refining his military strategies, he attended dinners and soirees and conducted business with some of the seedy ladies in town.

As Lady Caroline Capel wrote on June 2, 1815: ‘The Duke of W. has not improved the morality of our society, as he has given various things [parties] and makes it a point to ask all ladies with a loose character.’

A portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was defeated by the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo in 1815

A portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was defeated by the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo in 1815

To make matters worse, the Duke seduced two of Napoleon’s former mistresses: an Italian opera singer, Giuseppina Grassini, and the actress Marguerite-Josephine Weimer, known as Mademoiselle Georges, who stated that, compared to Napoleon, the Duke was “by far the stronger ‘.

With his military triumphs came a slew of honors and titles, and in 1828 he became prime minister. It only polished his attraction to other men’s wives.

His long list of rumored “friendships” included Lady Caroline Lamb and Lady Frances Wedderburn-Webster (both of whom were supposedly having affairs with Lord Byron) and even his future sister-in-law, Marianne Patterson.

However, it was his romantic friendship with Harriet Arbuthnot that lasted. In letters to her, he expressed his deep regrets about his marriage.

“Would you have thought someone could be such a goddamn fool? I wasn’t in the least bit in love with her.’

While Wellington fought and flirted, Kitty hid at home, where everything from her unkempt, graying hair to her poor housekeeping drove him insane.

He wanted a glamorous hostess bobbing on his arm, with humor and personality to match his own.

Raised by her gloomy Calvinist mother to believe that all appearances were wrong, Kitty eschewed the diamonds and feathers her husband’s lovers wore. She wore the same clothes – plain white muslin – for years and refused to wear a wig.

At gala dinners they had in Hampshire, she sat with her sons’ tutors rather than visiting dignitaries.

“She looks more like a shepherdess than a duchess,” lamented the duke. But, of course, he was partially guilty. His lack of love and attention, and the endless affairs, took a toll on her confidence, health, and self-esteem.

One of her diary entries sums it up: “My life is so uninteresting and so unchanging that it is almost impossible to keep a diary.”

After Kitty died in 1831, Wellington continued to enjoy the company of women, who rejoiced in his presence.

Even at the age of 77, he fascinated 32-year-old Angela Burdett-Coutts so much that she proposed to him.

He refused, telling her in a letter ‘don’t throw yourself away for a man old enough to be your grandfather’.

Perhaps the only time in the Iron Duke’s life he said no to a woman.

  • Wellington, Women And Friendship opens April 19 at Apsley House.

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