Wellington: A Journey Through My Family

Weidenfeld & Nicholson just published Wellington: A Journey Through My Family by Jane Wellesley. The Right Honourable Lady Jane is the daughter of the present 8th Duke of Wellington and takes the reader a bit haphazardly but amusingly through 200 years of family history and anecdotes. 

For 200 years, Wellesleys have tried to get out of the long shadow of the Iron Duke. But how could they, when he is greeting from Pub signs everywhere and just about everybody owns and wears Wellington boots? It’s not a pair of shoes put on lightly, anyway.

Obviously, the mother of the Iron Duke knew him well; she is reported having said ‘Anyone can see he has not the cut of a soldier.’ But at least he didn’t take after his father who had fashionably died in debt at 46. The Duke in his turn was at the battle of Waterloo exactly at the same age.

Two centuries later, Jane takes her father and the readers through another war on the continent. In World War II, her father’s cousin died at Sarento, leaving her grandfather to become the seventh Duke some time later. This was not the only time the Wellington succession was warped. Like all major English families, wars and disastrous marriages have left their mark on the Wellesley family tree.

The present Duke married Diana McConnel during that same war. The marriage took place in Jerusalem, where Diana’s father was chief of staff, just after a bomb had been discovered at the church. Diana didn’t bother to tell anyone, least of all her bridegroom and the marriage went ahead as planned.

The late Queen Mother was descended from the Iron Duke’s elder brother Richard and his first wife French actress Hyacinthe Roland who bore him five children before he married her. Later in life he would marry again, an American heiress from the early Dollar nobility. But the iron was inherited down the line all the same for those who know the Queen Mum.

Lady Jane tells the story of poor Kitty Pakenham, the Iron Duke’s spurned wife. She also tells the story of Dottie, wife of the seventh Duke, who went off to live with Vita Sackville-West. Dottie was a sensitive writer in her own right; she was also a close friend of Yeats.

The book is not a history lesson which would fill several volumes anyhow, nor does it pretend to be one. It’s rather a family’s history as seen by a member of the family, and therefore it is slightly biased. This bias is not a drawback, but rather a plus, as it makes it more immediate, believable, and colourful. It’s a delightful read with some history lessons on the sideboard. 

Further reading
Money Married Title
Official Biography of The Queen Mother
Prince George of Hanover, Duke of Cambridge