Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of
- Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of
- Campaign cloak, believed to have been worn at the Battle of Waterloo
- wool, gilt metal buttons
A REMARKABLE RELIC SAID TO HAVE BEEN WORN AT WATERLOO, AND THE BEST DOCUMENTED ITEM OF WELLINGTON'S COSTUME FROM THE CAMPAIGN EVER LIKELY TO COME TO AUCTION. This cloak matches both contemporary descriptions of Wellington's garb on campaign and later portraits of him at Waterloo (with slight discrepancies explained below), it is marked with clear signs of use including mud spatters and probably perspiration stains, and is documented from the early 1820s.
The first documented owner of this cloak was Grosvenor Charles Bedford (1773-1839), a civil servant in the exchequer with strong literary and antiquarian interests who counted Robert Southey as a lifelong friend. On 14 May 1823 he and his close friend the printer and bookseller William Nicol (d.1855?) were shown around the Hunterian collection at the Royal College of Surgeons by their mutual friend the surgeon and anatomist Anthony Carlisle (1768-1840), a surgeon at Westminster Hospital, Fellow of the Royal Society, and Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Academy. Bedford was a lifelong diarist and recorded the events of the day:
"Sir A. Carlisle took me & Nicol over Mr Hunter’s Museum at the College of Surgeons. We dined with him afterwards and he presented me with the Cloak worn by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, and in Spanish Campaigns. It was given to Sir A.C. by Lady Caroline Lamb, who had received it from the Duke. W.N. recognised it as the same he had seen at the Marquess of Anglesey’s while [blank] was employed there in painting a portrait of the Duke."
The earlier steps in the provenance of the cloak are convincing. Lady Caroline Lamb was the sister of Colonel Frederic Ponsonby, and when Ponsonby was severely wounded at the Battle of Waterloo she hurried to Brussels to tend to him (see lot 20). Caroline Lamb was openly and repeatedly unfaithful to her husband, the future Prime Minister William Lamb (later Lord Melbourne) and is now best remembered for her affair with Byron. In the summer of 1815, however, she set her eyes on Wellington. Her cousin Harriet Cavendish described the scene:
"Nothing is agissant but Caroline William in a purple riding habit tormenting everybody, but I am convinced primed for an attack on the Duke of Wellington, and I have no doubt that she will to a certain extent succeed, as no dose of flattery is too strong for him to swallow or her to administer." (quoted in Paul Douglas, Lady Caroline Lamb (2004), pp.172-73)
Caroline Lamb did indeed make a conquest of Wellington in Brussels, and evidently the Duke gave her the cloak as a memento. The circumstances in which it passed from Lamb to Carlisle are less clear, but the two would certainly have known one another and she had a chaotic life punctuated by scandal, drugs, and alcohol. It is easy to imagine her giving away this relic of a past lover who was of passing interest compared to her beloved Byron.
The appearance and characteristics of the cloak itself, together with its provenance, leave little doubt that this was a cloak worn by Wellington during the Waterloo campaign, but it remains impossible to be sure whether he wore it on 18 June 1815. It is almost certain that that he took more than one cloak on campaign; at least one other Waterloo campaign cloak candidate once existed in the hands of Wellington's friend John Wilson Croker, although that cloak has been lost since 1824. Croker tells the story of how Wellington had given him the cloak worn at Waterloo, but that he lent it to Sir Thomas Lawrence when he was commissioned to paint Wellington for Sir Robert Peel (this portrait was commissioned in 1824, see Charles Wellesley, Marquess of Douro, Wellington Portrayed (2014), p.179), and when he asked for it back Lawrence admitted that he had given it - with the Duke's permission - to a lady, whom Croker declines to identify (The Croker Papers: Volume 3 (1888) p.279). In 1853 Croker wrote to Bedford's niece, then owner of the present cloak, confirming that her cloak was not the one he had once owned and that Caroline Lamb was not the lady to whom his cloak had been given. This is unsurprising since Lamb's cloak had already passed to Bedford when Croker lent his cloak to Lawrence.
Lawrence painted two portraits of Wellington in his Waterloo cloak: the Peel portrait and a more impressive painting commissioned by Wellington's ally Lord Bathurst (pictured; see also lot 19). Both depict a cloak of very similar design to the current example but with a lining of light-coloured silk. Bedford's diary entry records that William Nicol recognised the cloak from a portrait of Wellington commissioned by the Marquess of Anglesey, who had commanded the cavalry at Waterloo, but the only known portrait of Wellington that belonged to Anglesey is of a later date (Wellington Portrayed, p.188). Wellington himself was entirely unsentimental about this relic of his greatest victory - commenting that one cloak was as good as another - so it may well be that he made gifts of two campaign cloaks and may not even have remembered which one he had been wearing on the day of Waterloo. Wellington also commissioned at least one replica of the cloak, but the current example, bearing clear signs of use, cannot be a copy. There also survives a white overcoat in the Wellington family collection that is said to have been worn on campaign. Wellington is depicted in such an overcoat in a portrait of 1819 (Wellington Portrayed, p.164) but, as the account of his appearance by Gleig quoted above makes clear, this was a distinct piece of campaign costume from the blue cloak.