Richard Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’s Older Brother


Richard Wellesley in his red East India Company Uniform

Richard Wellesley in his East India Company Uniform

Almost everyone knows the name of Sherlock Holmes’ older brother Mycroft, and most people probably know something about his employment.  Likewise, those who study the Georgian era, particularly the period of the Napoleonic Wars, know something about Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, one of the leading British military and political figures of the 19th century.  Famous for his adaptive defensive style of warfare that resulted in several victories against numerically superior forces while minimizing his own losses, he is regarded as one of the greatest defensive commanders of all time, and many of his tactics and battle plans are still studied in military academies around the world.

Fewer are familiar with Arthur’s older brother, Richard, who may actually be responsible for Arthur’s success.  Due to his mother’s concern for Arthur’s future, Richard asked his friend, the 4th Duke of Rutland (then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland), to consider Arthur for a commission in the army.  Soon after, on 7 March 1787, he became an ensign in the 73rd Regiment of Foot.  In October of that year, again with the Richard’s assistance, he was assigned as aide-de-camp to the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Lord Buckingham at a salary of ten shillings a day (twice his normal pay as an ensign), thus kick starting his illustrious career.

Early Life and Career

But I get ahead of myself.  Richard Colley Wesley, 1st Marquees Wellesley, KG, PC, PC (Ire) (20 June 1760 – 26 September 1842), styled Viscount Wellesley from birth until 1781 and known as The Earl of Mornington from 1781 until 1799, was born in 1760 in Ireland, where his family were part of the Ascendancy, the old Anglo-Irish aristocracy.  Educated at the Royal School, Armagh, Harrow School, and Eton College, and at Christ Church, Oxford, he distinguished himself as a classical scholar.

In 1780, he entered the Irish House of Commons for Trim until the following year, when by his father’s death he became 2nd Earl of Mornington, taking his seat in the Irish House of Lords.  Due to his father’s and grandfather’s extravagance, he found himself so indebted that, to clear his debt, he sold all the Irish estates and thus lost his seat in the Irish Parliament.

In 1784, he joined the British House of Commons as member for Bere Alston and, coincidentally, his first speech was on an Indian subject.  He attacked Lord North for his support of the first Governor-General of Bengal, Warren Hastings, who was accused of corruption.  Asking how Lord North could support Hastings when the entire Court of Directors of the East India Company had condemned his actions.  His oratory was so effective and persuasive that the following year William Pitt the Younger appointed him a Lord of the Treasury.

In 1793 he became a member of the Board of Control over Indian affairs; and, although he was best known for his speeches in defense of Pitt’s foreign policy, he was gaining in-depth knowledge of Asian affairs, which made his rule over India so effective when, in 1797, he accepted the office of Governor-General of India offered to him by the Court of Directors of the East India Company.

Working for the East India Company

Mornington seems to have internalized Pitt’s grand political vision during 1793 to 1797.  Whether he had actually conceived of the need of acquiring a great empire in India to compensate for the loss of the American colonies cannot be proved.  However, the threat posed by France, which in placed Britain at the head of coalition after coalition against the French republic and empire, made Mornington’s rule in India a time of necessary, enormous, and rapid extension of British power.  While Robert Clive won, and Warren Hastings consolidated the British ascendancy in India, Mornington extended it into an empire.  (Torrens, 1880)

East India House - the Company's Headquarters in London (1817)

East India House – the Company’s Headquarters in London (1817)

On the voyage outwards, he formed the design of annihilating French influence in the Deccan.  Soon after his landing, in April 1798, he learned of an impending alliance between Tipu Sultan and the French republic.  Mornington decided to anticipate the enemy’s action and ordered preparations for war.  The first step was, through a Subsidiary Alliance, to remove the French troops hosted by the Nizam of Hyderabad. Wellesley neutralized the Nizam by getting him to sign the Subsidiary Alliance to replace his French detachments.  the Alliance also forbade Nizam to correspond with the Marathas without British consent.  As the Nawab was a French protégé, he had appointed many Frenchmen at his court, but after this treaty, he had to dismiss the French employees and host six battalions of East India Company Sepoys. (Malleson G. B., 1875)

The Mysore invasion followed in February 1799, and the campaign came to a swift conclusion by the capture of Seringapatam on 4 May 1799 and the killing of Tipu Sultan.  In 1803, the restoration of the Peshwa proved the prelude to the Mahratta war against Sindhia and the raja of Berar, where his brother Arthur took a leading role. The result of these wars and of the treaties which followed them was to extinguish French influence in India and forty million people and ten millions of revenue were added to the British dominions, and that the powers of the Maratha and all other princes were so reduced that Britain became the true dominant authority over all India.

The Killing of Tipu Sultan

The Killing of Tipu Sultan

Mornington was an excellent administrator, and picked two of his brothers for his staff: Arthur was his military adviser, and Henry was his personal secretary.  He founded Fort William College in Calcutta as a training center intended for those who would be involved in governing India. In conjunction with the college, he established the governor-general’s office, where civilians who had shown talent at the college were transferred, to learn the necessary diplomatic skills in the immediate service of their chief.  A free-trader like Pitt, Wellesley endeavored to remove some of the restrictions on the trade between Britain and India in the interest of increasing the value of the colony to Britain. Unfortunately, both the commercial policy of Wellesley and his educational projects brought him into conflict with the East India Company’s Court of Directors, and he more than once tendered his resignation. Public necessities however led him to postpone resigning until the autumn of 1805, returning to England just in time to see Pitt before his death.

Although created a Peer of Great Britain in 1797, and in 1799 he became Marquees Wellesley in the Peerage of Ireland, Wellesley had hoped to receive the Order of the Garter for his service in India. As a result, Wellesley was disappointed by the Irish peerage, which he contemptuously referred to in a letter to Pitt as a “double-gilt potato.” (Malleson G. B., 1899)

Political Service During the Napoleonic Wars

Upon the fall of the coalition ministry in 1807, George III invited Wellesley to join the Duke of Portland’s cabinet, but he declined pending the resolution of charges brought against him regarding his Indian administration.  Resolutions in both the Houses of Lords and the House of Commons, condemning him for the abuse of power were debated and defeated by large majorities thus fully vindicating him.

In 1809, Wellesley was appointed ambassador to Spain.  He landed at Cádiz just after the Battle of Talavera, and tried unsuccessfully to bring the Spanish government into effective co-operation with his brother, who, through the failure of his allies, had retreated into Portugal.  A few months later, Wellesley accepted the post of Foreign Secretary in Lord Perceval’s cabinet.  He held this office until February 1812, when he retired, partly from dissatisfaction with the inadequate support given to Wellington by the ministry, but also because he had become convinced that the Catholic emancipation question could no longer be kept in the background.

Painting of The Battle of Talavera

The Battle of Talavera

From early life Wellesley had, like his brother Arthur, been an advocate of Catholic emancipation, and from this point forward, identified himself with the demands of the Irish Catholics for justice.  On Perceval’s assassination he, along with George Canning, refused to join Lord Liverpool’s administration, and he remained out of office until 1821, severely criticizing the proceedings of the Congress of Vienna and the European settlement of 1814, which, while it reduced France to its ancient limits, left to the other great powers the territory that they had acquired by the Partitions of Poland and the destruction of the Republic of Venice. He was also one of the peers who signed the protest against enactment of the 1815 Corn Laws, which kept bread prices high and resulted in rioting in London.

His Later Life in Ireland

In 1821 he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.  Catholic emancipation had now become an open question in the cabinet, and those in Ireland believed Wellesley’s acceptance of the viceroyalty to herald the immediate settlement of the Catholic claims; but their desires would remain unfulfilled.  Some efforts were made to placate Catholic opinion, notably the dismissal of the long-serving Attorney-General for Ireland, William Saurin, whose anti-Catholic views had made him bitterly unpopular.  Lord Liverpool died without having grappled with the problem. Canning died; and upon the Duke of Wellington assuming the office of Prime Minister, his brother resigned the lord-lieutenancy.  It was rumored that Mornington was deeply hurt by his brother’s failure to find a Cabinet position for him (Arthur made the usual excuse that one cannot give a Cabinet seat to everyone who wants one). He had, however, the satisfaction of seeing the Catholic claims settled in the next year by the very statesmen who had declared against them. In 1833 he resumed the office of Lord Lieutenant under Earl Grey, but the ministry soon fell, and, with one short exception, Wellesley did not take any further part in official life.

Portrait of Richard Wellesley in Later Life (ca. 1826)

Richard Wellesley in Later Life (ca. 1826)

On his death, he had no successor in the marquisate, but the earldom of Mornington and minor honors devolved on his brother William, Lord Maryborough.  He and Arthur, after a long estrangement, had been on friendly terms for some years: Arthur wept at the funeral, and said that he knew of no honor greater than being Lord Wellesley’s brother.

© 2015
Chuck Hudson


Malleson, G. B. (1875). An Historical Sketch of the Native States of India in Subsidiary Alliance with the British Government . London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

Malleson, G. B. (1899). Life of the Marquess Wellesley. London: W. H. Allen & Co.

Pearce, R. R. (1846). Memoirs of the Most Noble Richard Marquess Wellesley, KP; KG; D.C.L. in Three Volumes. London: Richard Bentley.

Torrens, W. M. (1880). The Marquess Wellesley: Architect of Empire. London: Chatto & Windus.



One comment on “Richard Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’s Older Brother

  1. Freda says:

    Henry Wellesley, his younger brother was the British envoy to Spain in 1809.


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