Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot
The Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot, 1820-1832, Vol. I
February 1820 to December 1825
Edited by Francis Bamford and the Duke of Wellington
London, Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1950, 434 pages
The Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot, 1820-1832,
January 1826-January 1832
Edited by Brancis Bamford and the Duke of Wellington
London, Macmillan & Co. Ltd, 1950, 490 pages
Anyone who's ever read about Waterloo's hero,
the Duke of Wellington, has read about his closeness to Mrs. Arbuthnot.
Many biographers—as well as their contemporaries—say she was his
mistress, though no one has ever uncovered concrete evidence to
substantiate these claims. There is nothing in these two volumes of her
journals to shed light on that aspect of their friendship.
Certainly, she loved Wellington, but whether
that love manifested itself physically cannot be ascertained. Only once
in the journals does she speak of her own feeling toward anyone. She
writes that next to her husband and his children, she loves Wellington
more than anyone else. She does not mention her mother or any of her
many siblings in the context of love. (Mrs. Arbuthnot never had any
children of her own.)
When writing of Wellington's eldest son, she
writes, "I am very fond of him because he is so very like the Duke."
What is evident in the journals is that
Wellington wished to spend as much time with Harriet Arbuthnot as
possible and that she served as his intimate confidant throughout the
years these journals cover, almost up to her untimely death of cholera
in early 1834. She died at age forty, a quarter of a century younger
than Wellington. The grieving Wellington and Mrs. Arbuthnot's grieving
husband—who was almost the same age as Wellington—lived out their lives
together at Wellington's house.
The pictures of Mrs. Arbuthnot in these volumes
show a very attractive woman in her twenties and thirties.
Regarding Wellington's duchess, Mrs. Arbuthnot
writes, "I am sorry for her; she cannot help being a fool, & never was a
person so mismatched. I am sorry for him too. It drives him from his
home." In another passage, Mrs. Arbuthnot writes, "She [the Duchess of
Wellington] is the most abominably silly, stupid woman that ever was
born; but I told the Duke I thought he was to blame, too, for that all
would go much better if he would be civil to her, but he is not. He
never speaks to her and carefully avoids ever going near her."
Those wishing to learn about the people who were
Mrs. Arbuthnot's contemporaries will do well to read these journals.
After all, once Wellington attached himself to Harriet Arbuthnot, she
moved in the highest echelons of English society. She was also one of
the principal influences encouraging him to serve as prime minister,
which he did from 1828 through 1830.
It was her closeness to the men who ran English
government that prompted her to pick up her pen and begin her journal.
"It has often been a matter of great regret to me that, in all the years
that I have been married & from circumstances have been living so much
among the leading men of the day, it had never occurred to me to keep a
journal," she writes at the beginning. "I have now determined to conquer
my natural laziness & make it a rule from this time forth to write down
all that occurs to me, or that I hear of in public affairs that is
interesting to me."
Though not published until more than a hundred
years after her death, the diaries have provided a great source to
historians studying the ministrations of British government during late
These accounts of leaders' actions both public
and behind-the-scenes are in no way unbiased. Harriet Arbuthnot was
unabashedly a Tory—and a passionate Tory who was opposed to any kind of
reform. Her extreme dislike of Whig leaders Lord Gray, Lord Palmerston,
and Henry Brougham nearly singes the pages.
Mrs. Arbuthnot's observances almost exclusively
pertain to things occurring in the political arena, where her husband
served in the House of Commons.
Not only is she a strong Tory, she is a prude.
Her intolerance toward unfaithful wives would seem to absolve her from
charges of infidelity.
Lady Shelley, who claimed close friendships with
both Wellington and the Arbuthnots, said she was certain that Mrs.
Arbuthnot could not have been Wellington's mistress. "Mrs. Arbuthnot was
devoid of womanly passions," Lady Shelley is quoted in the introduction
to the first volume. Lady Shelley also said Mrs. Arbuthnot was possessed
of "a man-like sense." That is clear in her journals. Why would
Wellington not wish to be with a beautiful woman in possession of a
If one can read past her many prejudices, her
high intellect shines.
This article was first published in The
Quizzing Glass in December 2010.