MESSAGE FROM THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON TO THE BRITISH FOREIGN OFFICE IN LONDON–
written from Central Spain, August 1812
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 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,
Summer of 1809
In the hot summer of 1809 the future Duke of Wellington commanded a British Army in Spain and was trying very hard to work with the Spanish general Don Gregorio de la Cuesta – a stuffy, bad tempered ageing officer who distrusted and disliked this 40 year old British general some thirty years his junior. After a most difficult start to the campaign against the French the allies, Spainish and British soldiers, stood at bay at the town of Talavera a 115kms south west of Madrid on the night of 27th July, 1809.The two commanders met at the left flank of the Spaniards and the extreme right of the British redcoats. Wellington’s men were quiet and formed in line while to their right the Spanish camp was all chaos and noise. Suddenly 2.000 of Cuesta’s troops discharged their muskets in one great smokey thunder. The old Spanish commander, with hands on hips, turned to the Wellington and asked what the British commander thought of that! “Quite impressive” said Wellington in a cold, calm tone “I trust they will do the same when the enemy arrives!”
In the Spring of 1814 Europe was, for the first time in living memory, not at war. The Emperor Napoleon was in exile and the Bourbon king, Louis XVIII was back on the throne of France. Wellington had, from 1809 to the termination of the Peninsular War in both Spain, Portugal and Southern France, defeated every Marshal of France that Napoleon had sent against him. Each of these great warriors; Massena, Victor, Ney, Jourdan, Marmont and Soult entered the Iberian Peninsula with past honours heaped upon them by their Emperor, Napoleon. Each returned with their military reputations in tatters! All beaten by Wellington. It was therefore expected that they would give a somewhat cool reception to the Duke of Wellington when Louis XVIII invited him as guest of honour to a Ball in Paris. When Wellington arrived the Marshals of France whom he had so resoundingly beaten in previous campaigns turned their backs on him. A blushing Bourbon king apologised for their rudeness but the Great Duke just shrugged his shoulders and said ” Tis of no matter your Highness, I have seen their backs before!”