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The Duke of Wellington and Lady Shelley

‘There is a middle state’, Landor once said, ‘between love and friendship, more delightful than either, but more difficult to remain in.’ Such was the affectionate association that the Duke and Lady Shelley long enjoyed, writes Prudence Hannay

If a novelist were looking for a promising theme for an historical romance of Regency times, it would be hard to find anything superior to the story of Frances, Lady Shelley, whose journals, edited by her grandson Richard Edgcumbe, were published by John Murray in 1912.

Edgcumbe certainly knew that these private day-to-day recollections would be of immense interest, for, as he says in his Preface, his grandmother ‘was fortunate in having lived in stirring times, and among people who helped to shape the destinies of Europe’. Lady Shelley’s Journals would scarcely have merited publication had it not been for her own and her husband’s great friendship with the Duke of Wellington.

The Duke in his relationship with women friends had a flair for amitié amoureuse - described by Margaret Lane in a recent book of essays as a ‘romantic friendship in which there is implicit sexual attraction... exchange of confidences, a liking to be seen together, a sense of mutual support and appreciation... Such amitié has all the comforts of openness because there is nothing to conceal... It takes a special sort of man to be adept in this relationship.’

Such a man, it seems, was the Duke of Wellington though his list of romantic friendships was rather long. At the height of his fame, in the years after Waterloo, it contained Mrs Arbuthnot, Lady Frances Wedderburn-Webster, Lady Charlotte Greville, Lady Jersey, Lady Caroline Lamb and Mrs Marianne Patterson (until she made the fatal mistake of marrying his eldest brother en secondes noces) - and for nearly forty years, Lady Shelley.

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