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Wellington and the Arbuthnots: A Triangular Friendship.

Anyone who has read a life of the Duke of Wellington will have encountered the name of Mrs. Arbuthnot. Her lively Journal, edited by a later Duke in 1950, is one of the prime sources for British history in the 1820s and 1830s. Many readers have assumed - as did many contemporaries - that Harriet Arbuthnot must have been the mistress of the great Duke.

Dr. Smith has demonstrated that Harriet Arbuthnot was indeed a close friend of the Duke, but she certainly was not his mistress. In fact, Harriet's husband, Charles, was also one of the Duke's greatest friends. Wellington was in many ways a lonely man as his Duchess bored him. He liked to spend much of his time with the Arbuthnots either in London or at a succession of country houses.

Both the Arbuthnots were fascinating figures in their own ways and one of the many attributes of this delightful book is the attention given to Charles Arbuthnot. He was one of those key 'men of business' who are crucial to the working of government but who are often forgotten. After a series of diplomatic posts, he held various offices on the fringe of the Cabinet and acted as a sort of chief whip to the Tories during a time in which they dominated British politics. Dr. Smith's wide research throws a great deal of light on Arbuthnot's relations with King George IV. Among Arbuthnot's many duties was the management of Royal Parks in the 1820s. Here he moaned about damage caused by 'idle boys who destroy all they can'.

The romance between Harriet Fane and the much older widower, 'Gosh' (as he was known) ran into all sorts of difficulties from Harriet's family, but love triumphed and continued to do so. Dr. Smith shows how happy the Arbuthnots' marriage was, although Charles was many years older than Harriet. She was devoted to him and to the Tory politicians she revered: Castlereagh and Wellington. She was forthright in her views which is one reason her Journal makes such good reading. Her early death in the cholera epidemic of 1834 left both her husband and the Duke bereaved. The two old gentlemen spent much of their remaining two decades in each other's company, bemoaning Harriet's loss and splits within the Tory party.

This well written and engaging book is marvellously illustrated with numerous drawings and cartoons of the time. Dr. Smith has shown how friendship can influence history. Here is history with verve, but without vice.

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Author:Mullen, Richard
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1995
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