The Duke of Wellington, the much decorated general who defeated Napoleon twice and who, to many in the era, defined the British character, still had to answer a flurry of petty questions generated by bureaucrats in London. The following is a letter he wrote to the National Office in 1812 in response to some trifling expenses for which he was held accounted:
Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by H.M. ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch to our headquarters.
We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit, and spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been accounted for, with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.
Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as the the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstance, since we are war with France, a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.
This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue either one with the best of my ability, but I cannot do both:
1. To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or perchance.
2. To see to it that the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.
Your most obedient servant,
Update: While I try to link to resources directly (see link list below), at times I can find no attributions or a source. I found this letter on a fun fact site and had no initial reference to point to. If you will note, this blog largely consists of a series of links to other sites of interest, especially in the pages at top. In addition, as with David Brass Rare Books, I receive their permission to write about their publications and use certain images PROVIDED I make no money off the enterprise and make certain that I mention David Brass Rare Books prominently in my posts. I also try to use e-text quotes and images that are in the public domain (Wikimedia Commons), or to quote no more than a paragraph from books that are copyrighted. Publishers that have asked me to review their books have given me permission to use images of their book covers and use quotes. When I am reviewing a blog post (as in my Seen Over the Ether post), I will use an identifying image from that post.
- See another letter that the Duke wrote in this link
- History of the Wellington Boot
- Wellington and the British Army
- I found some interesting anecdotes in an 1852 NY Times article about the Duke.
- Architects of Empire: The Duke of Wellington and His Brothers, John Kenneth Severn, 2007, google books
Image: William Heath, A Wellington Boot – or Head of the Army.
Portrait of the Duke by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), 1814.