A while back I wrote a couple of posts about dissipated nineteenth-century aristocrats who squandered family fortunes. These posts were inspired by a thread on the Victoria scholastic forum/listserv at Indiana. A few of the participants suggested the previous aristocrats I’ve blogged about. Today’s aristocrat was suggested by scholar Bob Muscutt.
According to Wikipedia, William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley (the name alone is worth a blog post) was “an Anglo-Irish nobleman notorious for his dissipated lifestyle”.
Those are words I always like to hear. Off to a wonderful start.
A few bullet points:
-He was the nephew of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington.
-His actual last name should have been “Colley”. An ancestor, named Richard Colley in 1728 received a large inheritance from a relative, on the condition that he take their last name, Wesley (later spelled “Wellesley”). This was extremely common practice amongst the upper classes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, hence why you get so many aristocrats with double-, triple-, and in this case quadruple-barrelled surnames.
-The inheritance/last name situation happened again and again to this family. When William’s father’s godfather, William Pole, died in 1781, he left great estates to William’s father on the condition that he took the last name Pole. So the family became known as Wesley-Pole (or “Wellesley-Pole”).
In 1812, when William was preparing to marry the heiress Catherine Tylney-Long (the richest commoner in England), her father insisted that William Wellesley-Pole take HER last names, as well. So he became William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley.
-Despite his own family wealth, and the incredible rents and investments his wife brought to their marriage, he managed to be so extravagant that he started mounting up serious debts–debts so serious that his friend George IV appointed him as Gentleman Usher in 1822, which was an appointment that protected him from being arrested for debt.
When you’ve married the richest commoner in England, have a vast family fortune of your own, and still have so much debt that you need the King to bail you out to save you from getting arrested, then you have more money than sense.
-Despite his new appointment, he had to flee England anyway to evade his creditors.
-Then, while in Europe, he started an affair with a woman named Helena Paterson Bligh, and abandoned his wife Catherine for her.
I don’t presume to know what sort of financial arrangement he and his wife had–it’s common knowledge that everything a wife owned or earned during her marriage became her husband’s property, but this is really more of a middle-class issue than an aristocratic one. Women with serious money often had certain contracts and agreements drawn up before their marriage to protect their inheritances, at least partially.
I would assume that Catherine, who was a woman greatly sought after for her wealth, would have had such provisos. If this is the case, then our friend Willy here is dumb as a bag of hair. You’re lucky enough to marry one of the richest people in your country, spend that money like it’s nothing, have to flee for your freedom, exiled to the Continent, and then publicly abandon that same wife whose yearly income you’re relying on? Buddy. C’mon. Keep your mistress discreetly. This is, like, Aristocratic Business Arrangements 101.
But I suppose if he made good business decisions, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.
-Luckily for him (?), Catherine died only two years after he abandoned her. She insinuated in a letter to her sister that William had given her a venereal disease, likely syphilis. The problem with Catherine dying was that he only had a life-interest in her property and money, meaning he lived off her yearly income from rents and investments (which was no paltry sum, by the way), but he couldn’t actually touch any of the principal, sell any of the land, etc. The principal and property was in trust for their son, and upon William’s eventual death, all of Catherine’s yearly income/interest would revert to the son, as well.
-William eventually married his mistress, three years after Catherine’s death, but their marriage turned out to be disastrous, as well, due to his rakish lifestyle. Surprise, surprise.
-William had several clashes with Catherine’s sisters, who raised his children after Catherine’s death. William was particularly interested in gaining access to his son, upon whom Catherine’s property had descended. Her wealthy sisters were having none of it, and William had made the mistake of pissing of his uncle, the Duke of Wellington, who was at this point Prime Minister. William had voted, with some other Tories, against the Wellington ministry and caused its collapse in 1830.
As many of you know, the Duke of Wellington was not a man to be fucked with, so while still attempting to recover his government, he made special time to intervene legally on behalf of Catherine’s sisters and to keep William’s kids away from William.
-While going through one of these custody battles, William got himself in contempt of court and landed in Fleet prison for a while. He tried to plead for parliamentary privilege (i.e., “Do you know who I am? I’m too good for your rules and prison! Good day, sir!”), but this was rejected. For the next long while he was brought in and out of court on charges of libel regarding to the custody case.
-In 1836, his son (at the tender age of 23) even took William to court, because William had been caught selling off expensive furniture, pictures, and other family heirlooms that belonged to a property the son had inherited from Catherine. William, living only on a life interest, had no right to touch any of the property itself.
-Eventually William moved to Brussels, again to avoid creditors. Things got so dire that he had to live on only ₤10 per week, allotted to him by the Duke of Wellington’s son. That’s the equivalent of roughly $850 per week, or ₤675 per week, so still not too shabby. I imagine, however, for a man who could spend that in a single night out or in a single shopping trip–easily–that this must have seemed like absolute poverty.
-He became Earl of Mornington in 1845 when his father died, but only outlived him by twelve years, dying in London in 1857 of heart disease. His obituary in the Morning Chronicle read: “A spendthrift, a profligate, and a gambler in his youth, he became debauched in his manhood… redeemed by no single virtue, adorned by no single grace, his life gone out even without a flicker of repentance“.
-William’s son, who in turn became the 5th Earl of Mornington after William’s death, outlived his father by only six years, dying in 1863 of cancer of the tongue. He died without children, so the title and money reverted back to the Duke of Wellington’s son (by that point the 2nd Duke of Wellington). The title was absorbed under the greater Duke of Wellington title, which is still going strong today.
The Earl of Mornington title is now used as an honorary title, i.e. any direct heirs get to use their father’s lesser titles until the father dies and they inherit the main title. So the current Duke of Wellington’s son/heir apparent is known as the Marquess of Duoro, and his son/heir apparent is known as the Earl of Mornington. The current Earl was born in 2010.