Harriet Arbuthnot

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Harriet Arbuthnot, painting by John Hoppner

Harriet Arbuthnot ( September 10, 1793 to August 2, 1834 ) was an English diarist, social observer, and political host on behalf of the Tory Party in the early 19th century. During the 1820s she was the closest friend of Waterloo's hero and British Prime Minister , the 1st Duke of Wellington . She maintained a long correspondence and connection with the Duke, which she recorded in her diaries, which are therefore often used in all authoritative biographies about the Duke of Wellington.

Born on the fringes of the British aristocracy and married to a politician and member of the establishment, she was perfectly positioned to meet all of the key figures of the Regency and late Napoleonic era. By often capturing the meetings and conversations verbatim, today she has become “Mrs. Arbuthnot ”, which is quoted in many biographies and history books of this era. Her observations and memoirs in the British establishment are not limited to individuals, but rather document great events and daily life with equal attention to detail, so that they give historians a clear picture of the events described. Her diaries themselves were finally published in the 1950s as The Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot (Eng. The diary of Mrs. Arbuthnot).

Childhood and youth

Hon. Henry Fane , Member of Parliament (1739–1802), Harriet Arbuthnot's father.

Harriet Arbuthnot was born Fane, daughter of Henry Fane , second son of Thomas Fane , 8th Earl of Westmorland . As a young man, Henry Fane was described as "someone who is very lazy and reckless and who spends a lot of time in the country". However, he found time to join Lyme's Member of Parliament, and in 1772 he was named Keeper of the King's Private Roads. In 1778 he married Arbuthnot's mother Anne Batson, an heiress and daughter of Edward Buckley Batson. The couple had 14 children: nine sons and five daughters.

Young Harriet spent much of her childhood in the family home in Fulbeck Hall , Lincolnshire , perched on the limestone cliffs above Grantham . The house his father had given to Henry Fane was a modest, modern mansion in Arbuthnot's childhood. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1733 and expanded and modernized by Henry Fane in 1784. In Fulbeck, Harriet and her 13 siblings enjoyed a casual and reasonably prosperous rural childhood.

Harriet Fane's father died when she was nine years old, but the family fortunes improved considerably in 1810 when her mother inherited the Avon Tyrrell property in Hampshire and the Upwood property in Dorset . This made widow Fane an income of £ 6,000 a year (£ 460,000 a year as of 2020) - a large income by today's standards. With 14 children and a position to be maintained in society, however, the money was completely used up.


Harriet Fane married in Fulbeck on 31 January 1814 House of seconded Charles Arbuthnot . Born in 1767, her husband was 26 years older than her, an age difference that initially led her family to refuse the marriage. Another major obstacle to finalizing the marriage was financial. Her widowed mother delegated the wedding arrangements for her 20-year-old daughter to her older son, Vere, a 46-year-old widower who was considered qualified in these matters since he was with the Child's Bank worked. It appears that Vere Fane and his mother were initially unable to agree on a sufficient amount of money for his sister to please her future husband, so the prospective groom wrote to his fiancée, “How can you and I from £ 1,000 or £ 1,200 live and Fane [her mother] finds it so impossible to live on £ 6000 that she can't offer you any help at all? "

Charles Arbuthnot was a widower with four children. His son Charles was only nine years younger than his new wife. His first wife, Marcia, a lady-in-waiting to the well-known Princess of Wales , had died in 1806. Like the other two men so admired by his second wife, Viscount Castlereagh and Wellington, Charles Arbuthnot was a member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy . He had been a Member of Parliament since 1795 when he became the member for East Looe. At the time of his marriage to Fane, he was a member of St. Germans. He had briefly interrupted his political career to become special envoy to the Ottoman Empire between 1804 and 1807 . Marriage to such a pillar of the establishment as Charles Arbuthnot opened all doors for the young wife who would otherwise have remained on the fringes of society as one of 14 children of a younger son in an aristocratic family without much wealth. But as the discussion and argument about her dowry show, money was tight.

During the course of their marriage, Mrs. Arbuthnot, the former Harriet Fane, made close friends with powerful older men. She described Castlereagh as her "dearest and best friend" until his death in 1822. Then she passed on her affection to the other great Anglo-Irish comrade of the 19th century, the Duke of Wellington. However, all social commentators of the time agree that their marriage was a happy one. In fact, her husband was as close to Wellington's as his wife was. Married to a politician, she was fascinated by politics and enjoyed success as a political host, using her energies to support the Tory cause . But while she was the dominant partner, her conservative appearance secured the ongoing favor of her older Tory admirers. During the early part of their marriage, her husband was Secretary of State for the Treasury . Later, in 1823, he was given the Office of Forests and Forests, a position that gave him responsibility for the royal parks and gardens . The ensuing entry into the royal family allowed not only his prestige to grow, but that of his wife as well.

When she spoke in her diaries about other women who shared her affection with powerful men of the time, Arbuthnot showed sharp, ironic wit. Of Wellington's one-time mistress , Princess Dorothea von Lieven , the wife of the Tsar's Russian ambassador to London from 1812 to 1834, she wrote: "It is strange that the loves and intrigues of a femme galante should have such an influence on the affairs of Europe." Arbuthnot evidently failed to realize that she was viewed as a femme galante even by some of London society in a similar situation .

Her political observations are clearly written from her own Tory standpoint. Still, her detailed account of the rivalry for power between the Tories and the Liberals that took place between 1822 and 1830 is one of the most reliable accounts of this struggle.

Relationship with Wellington

It is likely that Arbuthnot first caught Wellington's attention in 1814 in the Paris salons that reopened after Napoleon's exile to Elba . Wellington was the British ambassador at the Court of the Tuileries been appointed, and the city was crowded with English visitors, who after the Napoleonic wars were eager to travel the continent and socialize.

Among those who made amusement rounds in the lively environment were the newlyweds Arbuthnots. Charles Arbuthnot was known to Wellington as a staunch supporter of Wellington's younger brother Henry during his divorce. It is possible that Wellington had met, or at least heard of, Mrs. Arbuthnot - she was a second aunt of his favorite John Fane, Lord Burghersh . But it was not until after Castlereagh's death in 1822 that the Wellington-Arbuthnot friendship blossomed. It is unlikely that any closer friendship developed before this time. Wellington settled in the Hotel de Charost (had only recently been vacated by Napoleon's sister Princess Pauline Borghese ) and - celebrated throughout the Paris of the restoration  - had already found a close companion in Giuseppina Grassini . Known as "La Chanteuse de l'Empereur" (Eng. The Emperor's Singer) because of her close friendship with Napoleon, this woman shocked both English and French society when she appeared at Wellington's side, especially after Arrival of the Duchess of Wellington in Paris.

The story of a ménage à trois between Mrs. Arbuthnot, her husband Charles, and Wellington, which has been widely speculated about, has been rejected by some biographers. However, it has been said that the unhappily married Duke enjoyed his relationship with Mrs. Arbuthnot because he found in her company "the comfort and satisfaction that his wife could not give him". Arbuthnot was certainly the duke's confidante in all matters, especially those of his marriage. He confided that he had only married his wife because "they asked me to do it" and that he "had absolutely no love for her." In fact, Wellington hadn't seen his wife in ten years before their wedding day. After the wedding, the bride and groom found that they had little to nothing in common. Despite the birth of two sons, they lived mostly apart until the death of the Duchess of Wellington in 1831.

As a result of his unsatisfactory marriage, Wellington began dating other women, but "reserved his deepest affection" for Arbuthnot. Her husband was working in the Treasury at the time, and Arbuthnot became what would be now called his personal secretary during Wellington's first term as Prime Minister between January 1828 and November 1830. It has been suggested that the Duke of Wellington gave her "almost unrestricted access to the secrets of the Cabinet". Whatever her knowledge and access, however, it appears that she was unable to sway the Duke, but even his refusal to bring her husband into the cabinet in January 1828 failed to shake the intimacy of the trio.

Wellington made no attempt to hide his friendship with Arbuthnot. The fact that the Duchess of Kent Wellington allowed Arbuthnot to be introduced to her young daughter, future Queen Victoria , in 1828 can be taken as an indication that their relationship was platonic and accepted as such in the highest social circles. Arbuthnot stated that the young princess is "the most adorable child I have ever seen" and that "the Duchess of Kent is a very reasonable person who raises her (Victoria) amazingly well". Arbuthnot's impressions of the Duchess were less frank and not shared by Wellington or other establishment figures. However, if Arbuthnot's own character had not been judged to be honorable, an audience with the little princess would not have been allowed.

However, many references in Arbuthnot's diary are less respectful than those relating to the Duchess of Kent. Wellington and Arbuthnot traveled together often, and a joint visit to Blenheim Palace in 1824 provoked a sharp-tongued entry in her diary concerning Wellington's acquaintance, the 5th Duke of Marlborough , of whom she wrote: “Goes with the great general's family it's sadly downhill and they are a shame on the famous Churchill name that they have chosen to carry on. The current Duke is overloaded with debt and only little better than a common swindler ”.

When Wellington and the Tories lost power in November 1830, Arbuthnot lost interest in her diary. She wrote: “I will now write very rarely. I dare to say in my book that I am interested in none of the men in public except the Duke. ”Her interpretation of the collapse of the Tory Party is the most comprehensive account of any follower, right down to the events outside the inner circle of the Tories. but written on a rougher scale and not as decidedly political as that of Henry Hobhouse .


In the summer of 1834, Arbouthnot died suddenly of cholera in a manor near Woodford House , the Arbuthnot country estate near Kettering in Northamptonshire. An express message was sent to Apsley House immediately after her death . However, the messenger had to be diverted to Hatfield House , where Wellington was having dinner with the Marquess of Salisbury and his wife. After her death, it was revealed that she had been receiving a civil list pension of £ 936 a year (equivalent to £ 96,000 in 2020) since January 1823 .

The exact nature of Arbuthnot's relationship with Wellington has always been a subject for speculation. Speculation was fueled when Wellington was persecuted by female suitors immediately after her death. One of them was a Miss Jenkins who persecuted him "body and soul" from the time of Arbuthnot's death. Another resurfaced from his past was Arbuthnot's cousin, the eccentric Lady Georgiana Fane , who constantly harassed Wellington with threats of posting intimate letters he once sent her and suing him for allegedly doing that Promise to marry her had broken. It seems most likely that, in addition to helping Wellington in his social life, Harriet's presence by his side had protected him from the advances of other women. The Duke certainly kept mistresses during the time he knew Arbuthnot, but Harriet has never been proven to be one of them. When visiting Apsley House , the Duke's London residence, it is alleged that she merely served as his hostess at political dinners.

After her death, Charles left Woodford House and lived with his close friend Wellington. Charles died at Apsley House in 1850 at the age of 83. During their time together, the two older men mourned the loss of Arbuthnot and lamented the developing split within the Tory party. Wellington lived another two years and was buried with due pomp and pomp in St Paul's Cathedral . Harriet Arbuthnot was buried in the grave of the Fane family in St. Nicholas' Church in Fulbeck .


  • Arbuthnot, Charles: The Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot, edited by A. Aspinall . Royal Historical Society, London 1941, OCLC 15746373 .
  • Arbuthnot, Harriet, edited by Francis Bamford and the 7th Duke of Wellington : The Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot, 1820-1832 . Macmillan, London 1950, OCLC 2731598 .
  • Aspinall, A: Review of The Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot, 1820-1832 . In: The English Historical Review . Vol. 67, No. 262 , January 1952, p. 92-94 .
  • Blenheim: The Grandest and Most Famous House in England. ( accessed April 3, 2015 ).
  • Charmley, John: The Princess and the Politicians . Penguin Books Ltd., 2006, ISBN 0-14-028971-2 .
  • Hobhouse, John: Diary from period in Constantinople . ( accessed April 3, 2015 ).
  • Lincolnshire Archives Committee: Report 17, 1965-1966 . ( PDF file, accessed April 3, 2015 (53 pages)).
  • Longford, Elizabeth, Countess of: Wellington, the Years of the Sword . Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London 1969.
  • Moncrieff, Chris: The pleasures and perils of life at No 10 . In: The Guardian . June 7, 2001 ( accessed April 3, 2015 ).
  • Mullen, Richard: Review of "Wellington and the Arbuthnots: A Triangular Friendship" . In: Contemporary Review . July 1995.
  • New, Chester W. Review of " The Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot " by A. Aspinall . In: The Journal of Modern History . Vol. 14, No. 3 , 1942, pp. 384-385 , doi : 10.1086 / 236648 .
  • Record Office, Northamptonshire County Council . ( accessed on May 9, 2007 (53 pages)).
  • Smith, EA: Wellington and the Arbuthnots: a triangular friendship . Alan Sutton Publishing, UK 1994, ISBN 0-7509-0629-4 .
  • Woodham-Smith, Cecil: Queen Victoria, her Life and Times. Vol. I (1819-1861) . Hamish Hamilton Ltd, London 1972.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. This portrait of John Hoppner is today in the Fundación Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid .
  2. ^ Longford, p. 195.
  3. Harriet Arbuthnot: The Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot, 1820-1832 . 1950.
  4. a b c d Lincolnshire archives, p. 19.
  5. ^ Fulbeck Hall.
  6. a b Lincolnshire archives, p. 20.
  7. a b Mullen
  8. ^ Hobhouse, footnote 177.
  9. a b Arbuthnot.
  10. a b c d e f g Aspinall.
  11. a b c d e f Longford, p. 441.
  12. Charmley.
  13. The Wellesley's divorce came in 1810 after Henry Wellesley discovered that his wife Charlotte was having an affair with Lord Paget . Wellesley decided not to turn a blind eye, as usual, which led to a major scandal. Wellington and Paget later reconciled and it was Paget who said to Wellington at Waterloo : "By God, sir, I lost my leg!" - to which Wellington replied: "By God, sir, you have that!"
  14. John Fane, Lord Burghersh, served under Wellington as his aide-de-camp and was married to Wellington's niece, Lady Priscilla Wellesley-Pole . Lord Burghersh succeeded his father in 1841 as the 11th Earl of Westmorland .
  15. Longford, pp. 435-441.
  16. ^ Longford, p. 440.
  17. ^ Smith.
  18. Both quotations are from Longford, p. 141.
  19. Longford, pp. 130-140.
  20. a b Moncrieff.
  21. Woodham-Smith, p. 89.
  22. Woodham-Smith pp. 92-114
  23. Blenheim: The Grandest and Most Famous House in England (dt. The largest and most famous houses in England)
  24. ^ NCC Record Office, has information pertaining to the Arbuthnot family in Woodford.
  25. News . In: The Times , August 6, 1834.
  26. ^ Longford, p. 192.
  27. It was also alleged that Lady Georgina refused the marriage proposal of the young Wellington because she could not marry him because of the low status of a soldier. Another version of the same story is that Lady Georgiana's father, the 10th Earl of Westmorland , forbade his daughter's marriage to a civil soldier with apparently limited prospects. Both of these stories must have been made up, however, as Lady Georgiana did not know him until he was a "great man". She was born in 1801.
  28. This is assured in the official tour at Apsley House ; if it is true, this would be unusual for the etiquette at the time.
  29. New, pp. 384-385.