Durham, Shaun Robert
The Duke of Wellington and the people, 1819-1832.
University of Southampton, Faculty of Arts, School of Humanities,
At the end of 1818 the first duke of Wellington returned to Britain after making his name
and fortune on the continent. Despite primarily being remembered as a military hero and
diplomat, his excursion into party politics upon joining Lord Liverpool's cabinet constituted
a second career that continued until the duke's death in 1852.
This thesis sets out to analyse that political career from 1819 to the first Reform Act
in 1832 through Wellington's unsolicited correspondence. This previously neglected source
offers a revealing insight into the popular perception of politics, society and Wellington
himself, which often challenges the assumptions made about press and public opinion.
Indeed, these letters themselves can be regarded as a form of public opinion.
Hundreds of ordinary people from across the country wrote Wellington on every
matter of government and society, for personal, commercial, political or charitable reasons.
They wanted patronage for themselves or friends, money and favours. They contributed to
debates on Catholic Emancipation, Parliamentary Reform and Economic distress. A
sizeable minority wrote anonymous, threatening letters in an attempt to intimidate
Wellington, while others gave the duke their wholehearted support.
These letters reveal the politicisation of 'The People' and their willingness to get
involved in public debates. The correspondents often used the same language and terms of
reference. They wrote with the same concerns, albeit for different reasons and with varying
suggestions. These letters also provide a glimpse of the popular perception of Wellington -
how this military hero was considered, in turn, to be a saviour, influential friend and 'evil
nemesis' of the people.
Wellington did not ignore this correspondence. Most people got a reply. Their letters
were filed, discussed, forwarded to appropriate people, acted upon and investigated.
Crucially, some of this correspondence influenced the duke's thinking and impacted on
events. Writing a letter to a member of the ruling elite could make a difference.
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