WELLESLEY, Hon. Henry (1773-1847).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



20 Apr. 1807 - Apr. 1809

Family and Education

b. 20 Jan. 1773, 7th but 5th surv. s. of Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington [I], and bro. of Sir Arthur Wellesley*, Richard Colley Wellesley, 2nd Earl of Mornington [I]* and Hon. William Wellesley Pole*. educ. Eton 1783-9. m. (1) 20 Sept. 1803, Lady Charlotte Cadogan (div. 1810), da. of Charles Sloane Cadogan, 1st Earl Cadogan, 3s. 1da.; (2) 27 Feb. 1816, Lady Georgiana Charlotte Augusta Cecil, da. of James Cecil, 1st Mq. of Salisbury, 1da. KB 10 Mar. 1812; GCB 2 Jan. 1815; cr. Baron Cowley 21 Jan. 1828.

Offices Held

MP [I] Feb.-Apr. 1795.1

Ensign, 40 Ft. 1790, 1 Ft. Gds. 1791, lt. 1793; cornet, Mdx. yeomanry 1803.

Sec. of legation, Sweden 1792; précis writer, Foreign Office Apr. 1795-Oct. 1797; sec. to Earl of Malmesbury’s mission to Lille July 1797; priv. sec. to his bro. as gov.-gen. Bengal 1798-1803, commr. Mysore 1799; envoy to Lucknow 1801. lt.-gen. of ceded districts, Oudh 1801-2; ld. of Treasury May-Aug. 1804; sec. to Treasury Apr. 1807-Apr. 1809; PC 21 Dec. 1809; envoy extraordinary to Spain Jan. 1810, ambassador Oct. 1811-Mar. 1822; ambassador to Austria Feb. 1823-Aug. 1831, to France Mar.-May 1835, Oct. 1841-July 1846.


Charming and indolent, Wellesley hesitated between a military and a diplomatic career. His mother encouraged him in the former, and his brother Mornington, enlisting Lord Grenville’s assistance, in the latter. He served his diplomatic apprenticeship at The Hague until he was old enough for employment at Stockholm, but thence he departed in 1793 to join his regiment in Flanders. Grenville subsequently placed him at the Foreign Office. In October 1795 Mornington, referring to him as ‘the prisoner’, wrote to Pitt asking that, as there was no opening in the diplomatic line, he might be placed on one of the revenue boards in Ireland. In 1797 he was Malmesbury’s secretary in the bid to make peace with France at Lille.2

He next proceeded to Calcutta as private secretary to Mornington. In 1800 he arrived in England to announce the conquest of Mysore and solicit further honours for his brother. On his return the court of directors was jealous of the appointments in India awarded him by his brother. He came home before him in 1803 and was his spokesman with Addington, who also ineffectually ‘promised to make the directors provide for me’. He was desirous of a place on the India Board to defend his brother, and when Pitt came to power was encouraged by Lord Melville to look to it. Pitt fobbed him off, assuring him of satisfaction when his brother came home, with a place at the Treasury. He had declined to become under-secretary at the Home Office, because of the poor state of his health, but for which Melville would have proposed the government of Bombay for him. His health remained poor and in the autumn of 1804 he resigned the Treasury board, allegedly to be sent as envoy to Spain: Lord Harrowby, the Foreign minister, had indeed suggested this, but it came to nothing. Out of Parliament, he was spokesman for his brothers in India. By July 1805 he was fit for business and was tipped as a potential secretary to the Treasury. On 14 Dec. 1805 he applied to Pitt to become governor of the Cape, adding that Melville had previously recommended him to Addington as Sir George Yonge’s successor there.3

Wellesley’s claims for office were urged on Lord Grenville by his eldest brother on his return from India. He was implicated in the charges against the marquess’s Indian administration raised in the House. In July 1806 he unsuccessfully contested the by-election at Seaford. He informed the marquess, 21 Sept. 1806, that he was willing to go to Buenos Aires, or anywhere except the East Indies, though he did not wish a specific application to be made for him. Like his brothers he obtained office in the Portland administration. Canning wished to propose him as his under-secretary at the Foreign Office, but at Spencer Perceval’s instigation he had previously accepted the post of secretary to the Treasury, being given the parliamentary business. He had been chosen Member for Eye on the Cornwallis interest shortly before the dissolution and at the ensuing election retained that seat, though his brother Arthur, as Irish chief secretary, had also procured his return for Athlone.4

Wellesley’s experience as secretary to the Treasury was unhappy. Perhaps his only satisfaction was a defence of his brother the marquess (and of himself) against the Oudh charge in the House, 15 Mar. 1808. On 4 Apr. he complained of the misrepresentation of another Member’s speech about his brother in The Times. That was all: ‘a tolerably good speaker’, he ‘never attracted unusual attention’. At the end of the session of 1808, disliking his duties, he talked of resignation. He was mentioned in ministerial circles, though not as first choice, as a possible successor to his brother Arthur as Irish chief secretary, or as envoy to Sweden. Meanwhile criticism of Arthur’s conduct in the Peninsula worked on his ‘irritable nature’ and seems to have caused him to change his mind about resigning by October 1808, to the great satisfaction of Spencer Perceval who thought he would be difficult to replace. In January 1809 he was criticized for mustering Treasury voters on the question of the vote of thanks to his brother Arthur, but not on the Duke of York affair. In March 1809 his wife eloped with Lord Paget* and refused his repeated pleas to come back to him and their four children. Reeling under this blow, he resigned office, 21 Mar. To William Huskisson he wrote that his official duties had ruined his domestic happiness: his wish to resign the year before had been justified. He could not undertake such an office again and wished only to retire. He suggested Charles Arbuthnot as his successor. He resigned his seat, at the very time that William Alexander Madocks accused him of corruption, in his official capacity, over the conduct of parliamentary elections. Spencer Perceval shielded him and he was not obliged to answer for it, though there were rumours that he resigned his seat on that account. He obtained £20,000 damages against Lord Paget.5

Wellesley remained out of Parliament, though he was intended in April 1809 to be secretary to his brother the marquess’s embassy to Spain. Before Canning broke with the government in September 1809, he offered to send him as envoy to Lisbon, but this—and the honour of being Canning’s second in his duel with Castlereagh—Wellesley declined. As the marquess was expected to return shortly from Spain he had no wish to go abroad, and he realized that he was being courted by Canning in his struggle for power. Castlereagh had been civil both to him and to his brother Arthur. Above all, he dreaded Perceval’s taking the Whigs into the government and, until the marquess returned, wished to be understood as belonging ‘to no party whatever’. This delighted the marquess, who procured his appointment as envoy to Spain on succeeding to the Foreign Office.6 At Cadiz he endeavoured to support his brother Arthur’s campaign. In 1811, refusing a place at the Admiralty board, he became ambassador in Spain, where despite the shipwreck of his brother the marquess’s political ambitions in 1812, Castlereagh encouraged him to remain for ten years.7 Further diplomatic appointments followed. He died 27 Apr. 1847.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Without taking his seat.
  • 2. Iris Butler, The Eldest Brother, 49, 106, 142, 252; HMC Fortescue, ii. 165; Add. 34439, ff. 184, 431; 34450, f. 50; PRO 30/8/188, ff. 54, 72; Malmesbury Diaries, iii. 447, 519.
  • 3. Wellesley Pprs. i. 38, 127, 130; Pellew, Sidmouth, i. 268; ii. 83; Butler, 272; Add. 37309, f. 25; 37415, ff. 3, 7, 177, 181, 202, 209; 38241, f. 16; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2918; Sidmouth mss, Addington to Wellesley, 30 Sept. 1804; PRO 30/8/188, ff. 179, 181; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 11 July 1805.
  • 4. HMC Fortescue, viii. 201-2; Parl. Deb. vii. 510; Add. 34715, f. 236; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 6 Aug. 1807; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 48-9.
  • 5. Gent. Mag. (1847), i. 84; NLI, Richmond mss 60/267, 73/1644; Perceval (Holland) mss 14, f. 6; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 26 Oct., Perceval to same, 31 Oct. 1808; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 256; Malmesbury mss, FitzHarris to Malmesbury, 26 Jan. 1809; Jackson Diaries, ii. 417; Letters of Lady Harriet Cavendish, 307, 309; Add. 38737, ff. 299, 303; Colchester, ii. 182-3; Sidmouth mss, Addington to Sidmouth, 10 May 1809.
  • 6. Jackson Diaries, ii. 443; Wellesley Pprs. i. 252, 257, 266, 276, 294; Rose Diaries, ii. 385, 391; Canning and his Friends, i. 319, 321; Add. 37295, ff. 131, 132, 176.
  • 7. Add. 45036, f. 97; Arbuthnot Corresp. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, lxv), 7, 8.