Tag Archives: westmeath

20 January 1827. If you are lower class, “a word and a blow go together”. But if you are a nobleman…

After years of conflict, the domestic battle between Lord and Lady Westmeath ended up in the courts. She had a ferocious temper, and it is fair to say, a lack of judgement on matters matrimonial. He was violent, beating her several times. Attempts at an agreed separation fail, and she sued for divorce. He countered with a suit in the Consistory Court for restoration of conjugal rights, and won. That judgement was overturned on 20 January 1827.

Sir John Nichol, judge of the Arches Court of Canterbury, was measured in his judgement. There are things he cannot not say because they did not contravene the law in 1827. He was judging aristocrats and, as a man of some standing himself, he struggled to give credibility to poor and poverty stricken witnesses against the word of a man of standing—Lord Westmeath. Early in a lengthy judgement, he opined on whether domestic violence is more acceptable among the lower classes.

“Among the lower classes, blows sometimes pass between couples who, in the main, are very happy, and have no desire to part; amidst very coarse habits, such incidents occur almost as freely as rude or reproachful words: a word and a blow go together. Still, even among the very lowest classes, there is generally a feeling of something unmanly in striking a woman.”

He was saying that it may be unmanly but quite expected that a lower class man might swear at and thrash his wife. What then of the noble classes? Judge Nichol continues:

“But if a gentleman, a person of education… if a nobleman, of high rank and ancient family, uses personal violence to his wife, his equal in rank, the choice of his affection, the friend of his bosom, the mother of his offspring—such conduct, in such a person, carries with it something so degrading to the husband, and so insulting and mortifying to the wife, as to render the injury itself far more severe and insupportable.”

To be fair to Nichol, after this crustaceous start to his judgement, he did identify Lord Westmeath as the principal guilty party, ruling that “to compel the wife to return to cohabitation would be but to expose her to the risk and danger of renewed violence”.


The image above is Gillray’s cartoon of Judge Thumb, Sir Francis Buller, who famously decreed that a man might beat his wife if the stick was no thicker than the man’s thumb. Buller was Anna Eliza’s legal guardian.

30 January 1826. Menai Bridge opens: “in beauty it surpasses all powers of description”

Thomas Telford’s magnificent bridge was opened on 30 January 1826. One of the early descriptions of the bridge is by Lord Westmeath in a letter to Richard Temple, the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos.

Holyhead Aug. 26

My dear Duke

[…] The crowds coming down to see the bridge are quite beyond belief. I would mention that observing it the other day when it blew hard I could perceive it undulating quite distinctly, but it evidently proceeded from the wind beneath, & not from the workers above.

An intelligent man at the toll house informed me that the S.W. wind is that to which it is worst exposed, & it has received a cast from that point by last winters gales before it was finished, which it will never lose. It seems to me however from its mighty strength to be secure from the elements greatest power, & in beauty it surpasses all powers of description.

Everly My dear Duke yours
sincerely & gratefully


Menai Bridge as engraved by George Hawkins


20 March 1821. Death of a confidential postman

Richard Temple, Marquess of Buckingham, writes to his London confidant and fixer, William Henry Fremantle:

The date of my letter compared with that of the receipt of it will have shewn you that you ought to have got it a day sooner. But the poor wretch who carried my post bag on Sunday night was thrown from his horse & killed on the spot & my bag lay with him all night in the road.

It was unlucky indeed for the poor postman, whose name history has not recorded. It could have been more unlucky for the Duke of Wellington if the letter the postman was carrying had been stolen.

The letter, marked “Confidential”, offered advice to be conveyed by Fremantle to Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, the nation’s conquering hero on the battlefield—and in the bedroom.

Five or six years earlier, the Duke had an encounter with Lady Westmeath. Beautiful, dark eyed and rapacious, Emily was struggling through a tempestuous, sometimes violent marriage. Now, as tortuous divorce proceedings got under way, there seemed no hope that the Duke of Wellington’s name could be kept out of it.

One accusation made by Emily was that her mother had suggested she sleep with the Duke to advance the family fortunes. Perhaps she did so in the winter of 1815/16, or on others that presented themselves. She would not have been the first woman to fall for the Duke’s advances. Whether she dallied or not, her husband saw it as an opportunity to lay a trap for his wife and to drag the Duke of Wellington into the divorce proceedings.

It took a while for the bitter Westmeath affair to unravel. Although the Duke of Wellington was mentioned in court documents, his reputation came to no harm as by then his reputation as a womaniser was well established. This satirical print drawn by Isaac Cruikshank in 1819 leaves little to the imagination:

duke_of_wellington_cannon_cruikshank© Trustees of the British Museum

The ladies are saying:

“Bless what a spanker! I hope it won’t fire it at me, I could never support such a thing!”
“It can’t do any harm, for he has fired it so often in various Countries, that it is nearly wore out!” 

As I said, it leaves little to the imagination.