Wellington’s Dearest Georgy: a review

For today’s blog we are going to review a new book by Alice Marie Crossland, Wellington’s Dearest Georgy, which explores the life of Lady Georgiana Lennox and sheds new light on the Duke of Wellington’s character. Alice previously wrote a guest post for us about her new book which you can also read by clicking here.

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Our first impression of Wellington’s Dearest Georgy is that it is, quite simply, a beautiful book. From the cover to the clear way the text is laid out inside, and the illuminated manuscripts similar to ones done by Georgy on the inside book flaps, it is clear that a lot of care to attention and detail has gone into this biography and expectations are therefore set high. We’re delighted to say that the book more than met them.

Lady Georgiana Lennox, known to her family as Georgy and to Wellington as his ‘dearest Georgy’, was a younger daughter of the 4th Duke of Richmond. Her mother, the Duchess of Richmond, is perhaps best known to history as the hostess of the famous ball held in Brussels on the 15th June 1815, where Wellington received notice that the French forces were advancing. The officers at the ball hurried away, some of them not even having time to change out of their dancing clothes before battle, and many never survived to enjoy another ball.

The Duchess of Richmond's Ball by Robert Hillingford (via Wikimedia).
The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball by Robert Hillingford (via Wikimedia).

The 19 year old Georgy was present at this ball and witnessed history in the making. Wellington was a great friend to her family and the young Lennox children had grown up knowing the duke; Georgy in particular was to remain a great favourite of his and she somewhat hero-worshipped the great man. Through his affection for and correspondence with Georgy we are able to view Wellington in a much different light from that in which he is usually seen, a kindly and, at times, even a playful man, ever the gentleman but always ready to offer words of advice or comfort to his young friend. There is never any suggestion of impropriety in the relationship between Georgy and the duke, although Georgy, as a young woman, was clearly a little in love with him.

One of our favourite anecdotes in Wellington’s Dearest Georgy, which perfectly illustrates the playful side of the duke, is a game played by the guests at Wellington’s house in Cambray in the months following the Battle of Waterloo, possibly a game of Wellington’s invention and called ‘Riding the Coach’. The gentlemen, including an enthusiastic Wellington, harnessed themselves and dragged the squealing ladies down the corridors on rugs. On at least one occasion goats were involved! We shall say no more but leave you to discover the rest from Alice’s book…

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, displayed in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle. The Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, displayed in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle.
The Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Georgy’s life is documented in full, and what a long and adventurous life she led for she lived to a grand old age, marrying for love and becoming Baroness de Ros. But it was her ‘unique and special friendship’ with the duke, which endured for the whole of his life, which defined her life. Through Georgy we are able to see the duke not just as a military hero and strategist, but simply as a man.

Using a wealth of unpublished material, this beautifully illustrated book celebrates Georgiana’s and Wellington’s friendship which evolved over time. Together they shared scandals, family tragedies and celebrations as Britain left the excesses of the Regency period behind and embraced the Victorian age. Providing a fascinating insight into the personal life of this most public of figures, Georgy remained, until the end, Wellington’s ‘Dearest Georgy’.

We whole-heartedly recommend Wellington’s Dearest Georgy. It is a fascinating biography of an aristocratic lady but it is more than that. It is the story of one of the most interesting periods in our history told from a different perspective than that usually given and, therefore, one which sheds new light on the events and characters of the age.

 

Wellington’s Dearest Georgy

We are delighted to welcome Alice Marie Crossland to our blog to talk about the story behind her new book, Wellington’s Dearest Georgy, which highlights a little seen side to the famous duke (we’ll also be reviewing Alice’s book in a later blog post, suffice to say for now that it’s one we highly recommend). To find out more, please visit Alice’s fantastic website or find her on Twitter. So, without further ado, over to Alice.

Wellington’s Dearest Georgy recounts the life and adventures of Lady Georgiana Lennox, daughter of the 4th Duke of Richmond, and the friendship that she cherished with the 1st Duke of Wellington. Georgy first met Wellington when he was known as Sir Arthur Wellesley, in 1806 when he had returned from India and was made Chief Secretary in Ireland. He was living close to the Lennox family as he was working with Georgy’s father who was then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Despite their twenty-six year age gap, they became close friends and Georgy developed her first teenage crush on Sir Arthur.

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Georgy was one of fourteen children, a large and extremely unruly family. They were also plagued by money troubles, often struggling to keep up appearances as one of the greatest aristocratic families of the time. In an attempt to save money, the Lennox family went to live in Brussels in 1814 as living was cheap and a strong ex-pat community was flourishing there. Europe was at the time enjoying a short period of peace whilst Napoleon languished in exile on the Isle of Elba. Little did anyone know that the following year Brussels would play host to the most important and significant battles of the nineteenth century: the Battle of Waterloo. It was Georgy’s mother, the Duchess of Richmond, who threw the now legendary ball the night before the battle, where news that Napoleon had invaded was brought into the event by a messenger who had galloped through the night to reach Wellington. Georgy, one of the belles of the ball, had been privileged that evening to be given the seat of honour next to Wellington. As a sign of his affection for her, he now gave her a beautiful miniature of himself recently finished by the Belgian artist Simon-Jacques Rochard. It was a moment, and a gift, which Georgy would cherish for the rest of her life. As the news of war now spread throughout the partygoers, men dashed away in their dancing clothes, anxious to return to their regiments at the front. Many would never return over the course of the following days.

During the battle as the Allied forces clashed with the might of Napoleon’s army, Georgy and her sisters waited anxiously for news. They tended the wounded, bringing them cherry water to drink and making bandages for the many wounded men they saw returned to Brussels. After victory was declared on the third day, Georgy and her father the Duke of Richmond met with Wellington in the park near his house. Wellington was devastated at the number of lives it had taken to beat Napoleon, and he said to them ‘It is a dearly brought victory. We have lost so many fine fellows’. Despite his sadness, he had managed to secure a lasting peace for Europe, and France henceforth became Britain’s ally.

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Wellington and Georgy remained friends for the rest of the Duke’s life, and afterwards, she carried with her the happy memories of her youth and the special position she had enjoyed in Wellington’s inner circle. Through her relationship with Wellington new aspects to his character are revealed which have not been explored in any previous biography of this great hero of his generation. Through the Duke’s letters to Georgy we see a more playful, fun and flirtatious man revealed, quite at odds with his reputation as a rather humourless disciplinarian. The Duke always referred to Georgy as ‘My Dearest Georgy’ in all his letters to her. He never once called her by her formal title, as was customary in all his correspondence with others; even family. This simple gesture shows the intimacy of their friendship, which stretched over some forty-six years.

Throughout her adult life Georgy, of course, had to contend with rumours that her friendship with the Duke was more, and certainly, if Wellington had not already been married things might have turned out differently. Yet Georgy did enjoy her own fair share of youthful love affairs, and her love of partying took her from Brussels to Paris, then Wellington’s headquarters in Cambrai, then London. She did not marry until she was twenty-nine, which was very late for the time, and when she did she married for love. Her chosen partner was William Fitzgerald de Ros, who later became Baron de Ros, the Premier Baron in England due to the fact that he held the oldest title in existence. Georgy and William had three children and lived between London and the family estate in Ireland. Wellington’s Dearest Georgy tracks the de Ros family through highs and lows, always retaining their friendship with the Duke, now an old man.  Wellington was godfather to Georgy’s youngest daughter Blanche, and enjoyed having the family to stay regularly at his Hampshire estate at Stratfield Saye, and his seaside retreat at Walmer Castle. It was at Walmer where the Duke finally died on 14th September 1852 at the age of eighty-three, leaving Georgy bereft of a man she had loved and venerated for almost fifty years.

Credit for images used: Alice Achache.

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‘Wellington’s Dearest Georgy: The Life & Loves of Lady Georgiana Lennox’

By Alice Marie Crossland

Published by: Unicorn Press
Released: 16th September 2016

Author Alice Marie Crossland specialised in 19th Century British Art at University College London. She worked with the Wellington family on the catalogue of portraits Wellington Portrayed, published in 2014. She has since worked at the National Gallery London and Royal Academy of Arts whilst pursuing her own research projects.