Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
Special Collections

Introduction to the Wellington Archive

Map of Crumlin estate
Map of Crumlin estate

The archive forms the principal collection of the papers of Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington (1769-1852). It contains approximately 100,000 items, the Duke's political, military, official and diplomatic papers covering all aspects of his career. The collection includes some 15,000 papers for the period up to 1805; approximately 25,000 for the period 1806-18; a further 30,000 papers cover the period 1819 to the end of 1832 and there is a similar quantity for the period 1833-52. A separate summary catalogue of the archive has been published [C.M.Woolgar A summary catalogue of the Wellington Papers (Southampton University Library, occasional paper 8; 1984)] and a detailed catalogue is currently in preparation. A database containing detailed descriptions of the papers for 1819-32, together with summaries of the material for 1833-52, is available for on-line searching.

Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), was the fifth but third surviving son of Garret Wesley, first Earl of Mornington, and Anne Hill, daughter of the first Viscount Dungannon. He was educated in Chelsea and briefly at Eton. He was then sent to the military academy in Angers, 1785-6, to prepare him for a career in the army. When he was eighteen, Wellington received a commission in the Seventy Third Regiment of Foot, and thereafter he moved through the ranks fairly rapidly, becoming a colonel in 1796, and through his demonstrable military prowess, a major general in 1802, a lieutenant general in 1808, a general in 1811 and field marshal in 1813. Wellington was aide-de-camp to two successive Lords Lieutenant of Ireland, the Earl of Westmorland and Earl Fitzwilliam, 1787-1793, and between 1790 and 1797 he sat in the Irish Parliament as Member for the family seat of Trim (WP1/1-6).

From 1797 to 1805, Wellington served in India, largely in Mysore and adjacent areas, taking a prominent role both in the campaign against Tipoo Sultan in 1799, at Seringapatam, and during the Anglo-Maratha war of 1803-5, winning notable victories at Assaye and Argaum, and bringing about the submission of Sindhia and of the Raja of Berar (WP1/7-163; WP3/1-3). After returning to England, Wellington commanded a brigade in the abortive expedition to recapture Hanover, December 1805 to February 1806. He became Member of Parliament for Rye in 1806, for Mitchell, 1807, and for Newport (Isle of Wight) 1807-9 (WP1/164-5).

During 1807-9, Wellington was Chief Secretary for Ireland and a lord of the Treasury. From July to September 1807, Wellington commanded a division in the expedition against the island of Zealand, and was given command in the Iberian Peninsula in June 1808. In August of that year he won victories at Rolica and Vimeiro, which resulted in the French evacuation of Portugal. After resigning his Irish posts, Wellington was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in Portugal and marshal general of the Portuguese army. Wellington was to remain in command for six years, during which time he gained notable victories, including Talavera, Busaco, Salamanca and Vittoria; and his services were again employed for the Waterloo campaign of 1815. In 1809 he was created Viscount Wellington, in February 1812 Earl of Wellington, in October 1812 Marquis of Wellington, and in 1814, Duke of Wellington. He was also to hold the command of the Spanish army for two years from 1812. From August 1814 to January 1815, Wellington was ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary at Paris, and from January to March 1815 was first plenipotentiary to the Congress of Vienna. Between 1815 and 1818 he was Commander-in-Chief of the allied armies of occupation in France and from August to November 1818 he was joint plenipotentiary to the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (WP1/166-612).

Wellington's correspondence for the period 1819-32 now forms WP1/613-1245. His correspondence for 1833-52 (WP2/1-172) is supplemented by a sequence of subject bundles and memoranda (WP2/173-94). After Wellington's return to England in 1818, he held a number of official positions and political offices. He became Master General of the Ordnance, with a seat in the cabinet, 1818-27; he was Governor of Plymouth, 1819-26; colonel in chief of the Rifle Brigade, 1820-52; Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, 1820-52; and plenipotentiary to the Congress of Verona in 1822. Wellington was Lord High Constable for three successive coronations (George IV, William IV and Victoria), was special ambassador to St Petersburg for the funeral of Tsar Alexander in 1826 and was Constable of the Tower of London, 1826-52. Twice in 1827, Wellington was Commander-in-Chief of the British army, but he resigned the post, together with the post at the Ordnance and his seat in the cabinet, firstly during George Canning's government, and secondly with the start of his own premiership (January 1828 to November 1830). Wellington became Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1829, with which came tenure of Walmer Castle, where he died in 1852. He was also a governor of the Charterhouse from1828, an elder brother of Trinity House, from 1829, and later master, and, from 1834 until his death he was Chancellor of the University of Oxford. In November 1834, Wellington again became Prime Minister as well as Secretary of State for the Home, Foreign and Colonial Departments in a caretaker government until Sir Robert Peel could return to England. Wellington remained as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in Peel's first government (December 1834 to April 1835).

He was cabinet minister without office in Peel's second ministry of 1841-6 and he became Commander-in-Chief of the army again, 1842-52. In 1847 he was appointed Ranger of St James's Park and he was Ranger of Hyde Park, 1850-52. Besides these positions, Wellington held numerous other appointments, as trustee of the Deccan Prize Fund from 1823, as colonel of the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards, of the Grenadier Guards and of the Forty Second Regiment of the Line in the Austrian army, as Commissioner for the Improvement of Windsor Castle, 1824 onwards, and as president or patron of a great many societies including the Society of Friends of Foreigners in Distress, the Benevolent Society of St Patrick, the Royal Westminster Hospital for Diseases of the Eye, the Royal Western Hospital, the Middlesex Hospital, the London Hospital, the Society in Scotland for propagating Christian knowledge in the Highlands and Islands, the Highland Society of London, the Medico-Botanical Society.

The papers relating to these offices are in WP1 up to c.1827-9; thereafter there are separate sequences for Wellington as Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire (WP4), Constable of the Tower of London (WP2/195-211), as a governor of the Charterhouse (WP2/212-14), as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports (WP2/215-38), as an elder brother and subsequently master of Trinity House (WP2/241-3), as Chancellor of the University of Oxford (WP2/244-56) and as Chief Ranger and Keeper of Hyde Park and St James's Park (WP2/257). Cinque Port salvage depositions, 1846-53, taken under the Wreck and Salvage Act, 1846, form WP2/239-40.

Some of Wellington's papers are well-known from nineteenth century editions of the Duke's correspondence and there have been more recent selections and editions. The published papers are, however, only a fraction of what survives and much of the Spanish and Portuguese material from the Peninsular War, for instance, has not been published. During the preparation of these editions and at other stages during the first Duke's life, various other collections of papers were acquired and became embedded with his own papers and copies were also taken of correspondence in other hands. Further collections of papers were presented to later Dukes of Wellington. Notable groups include papers of Sir John Cox Hippisley, first Baronet, relating to plans for attacking the Spanish colonies in Latin America, c.1804-8 (WP1/185-6), and to Catholic emancipation, 1794-1819 (WP1/1069/1-16); papers of the second Earl of Liverpool (Harcourt papers); papers of Lieutenant Colonel J.Gurwood, the editor of the Dispatches; correspondence of William Fitzgerald, second Baron Fitzgerald and Vesey; some items from the papers of George IV; records of the Adjutant General's department for the Peninsular War (WP9/1), together with military secretary's papers and papers of Lord Fitzroy Somerset for the same period (WP9/2); copy letter books of Henry Bathurst, third Earl Bathurst, for letters to the Duke of Wellington, 1813-16 (WP10); papers of Richard Colley Wellesley, first Marquis Wellesley, principally 1798-1802 (WP11); correspondence of Henry Wellesley, first Baron Cowley, with the first Duke of Wellington, 1810-15, and Henry Wellesley's letter book as ambassador at Vienna, containing his correspondence with George Canning, 1823-6 (WP12); and the diary of Henry Richard Charles Wellesley, first Earl Cowley, as ambassador to France, 1852 (WP13). Copies were taken of papers of the first Earl of Eldon after his death in 1838 and during the 1870s copies were made of the correspondence of Prince Metternich in Vienna. A series of maps from India, the Peninsular War and later forms WP15.

A further group of papers, separated from this archive in the 1860s and containing the papers of Christopher Collins, the Duke's manservant, is now MS 69.

Archive Catalogue

Search for information on the Wellington Archive in the Archive Catalogue.

Privacy Settings