Wilhelm Müller: a German James Bond

I should be reading about Sir Home Popham right now, and I am. Honestly I am. Well, mostly I am. Because this week I fell down a massive research rabbit-hole and have been mucking happily about at the bottom of it ever since.

It’s the same thing that happened when I felt compelled to spend a fortnight researching the elusive Major Charles James, and in fact the circumstances are similar. James was a shady character whose public persona concealed a whole world of secret activity. My new chap also seems to have led several parallel lives, some of them highly dangerous.

I first encountered this chap while working through The National Archives (TNA) ADM 1/4354, which (rather excitingly) purports to be Secret Correspondence relating to the naval station in the Downs, 1809–10. I was hoping to find some evidence of Sir Home Popham’s activities during the Walcheren campaign: as it happens he was not mentioned once, but I did find a whole ream of correspondence from Lieutenant William Muller, King’s German Legion.

After reading a few pages I realised I had to find out more. And when I started to look, I found stuff. Lots of stuff, in fact, because Lt Muller KGL was a pretty cool guy. So without further ado may I introduce you to Wilhelm Müller, a chap my son has (aptly enough) described as ‘the German James Bond’.

Early life

Wilhelm Müller was born on 13 May 1783 in Stade, Hanover, reasonably close to Hamburg on the River Elbe.[1] His mother was Portuguese; his father, Christian Gottlieb Müller (1753–1814), owned a fleet of merchant vessels and was a Hanoverian customs officer.[2]

Young Wilhelm probably spent some years training to be an engineer before going to study at the University of Gӧttingen in 1803, where he received a PhD and was for some time employed as a Public Lecturer of Military Sciences. (There was a family history of dual military/academic life: Müller’s grandfather had been professor of mathematics at the University of Gießen alongside being chief engineer of the Duchies of Grubenhagen and Cadenberge.[3])

Müller claimed he had taught ‘several Russian, German, and Polish Princes, three of whom hold … the rank of generals in the French and Russian service’. He taught a broad course, liberally founded on mathematics (he was friends with Carl Friedrich Gauß) but also including ‘orthography, geography, general history, the languages … dancing, fencing, riding, and even jumping and swimming’ as well as sciences (‘natural philosophy’) and moral development. He also travelled ‘through France, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Austria, Westphalia, Holland, &c. in order to inspect all remarkable contrivances of machines and inventions, and particularly all military inventions … [and] fields of battle … where the present sovereign of France, and other celebrated warriors, evinced the superiority of their talents over other eminent generals’.[4]

Müller’s map of the terrain of the Wagram campaign from Relation of the Operations and Battles of the Austrian and French Armies in the Year 1809 (1810)

He authored several books: on analytical trigonometry (1807); on the elements of mathematics more generally, including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, stereometry, and spherics (1807); a military encyclopaedia (1808); a handbook of artillery (1810); A Relation of the Operations and Battles of the Austrian and French Armies in the Year 1809 (1810), including details of the Battle of Wagram; Elements of the Science of War (3 vols, 1811); and several books from the 1820s and 1830s on cosmography and terrestrial globes (he later engaged in an extended dispute with Johann Caspar Garthe over a particular kind of globe, which both separately claimed to have invented).[5]

‘The German James Bond’

On 24 April 1809, Dr Müller’s life took a different turn when he was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in the Engineer’s Corps of the King’s German Legion. What persuaded him to return to military life is unclear, but he was probably already working undercover for the British government. Perhaps the military rank was intended as some sort of protection.

Müller was known to and employed by various government departments. In his letters he namechecked William Huskisson (War Department), Joseph Planta (Foreign Office), William Wellesley Pole, John Barrow, and John Wilson Croker (Secretaries of the Admiralty), and Lord Mulgrave (First Lord of the Admiralty). Clearly a man like Müller, intelligent and fluent in German, French, and likely Dutch (living as close as he did to the Dutch border), was a valuable commodity. By the summer of 1809 he was being employed to scout out French fortifications between Boulogne and Bergen-op-Zoom and to report on affairs in northern Germany. As a trained engineer (and an expert in military fortifications at that), he was the perfect man for the job.

Müller’s sketch of a French mortar and British carronade (TNA ADM 1/4354)

Müller’s exploits – his ‘excursions’, as he called them, rather light-heartedly – are covered at some length (and detail) in TNA ADM 1/4354. These are his reports of two trips, one at the end of June/early July 1809 and one in August and September 1809.

‘Excursion’ 1: 29 June–15 July 1809

Müller was clearly not afraid to strain his faculties and bodily strength to the limit, and his report of his July 1809 trip is particularly dizzying. It began on 29 June, ‘about 3 hours after I had the honor of receiving the necessary papers from your [William Wellesley Pole’s] hands’. By noon on the 30th of June he was on board a cutter, the Princess of Wales, making for Heligoland, where he arrived on 3 July.

At this point the journey went a little crazy. Müller wrote a letter to the senior naval officer at Heligoland asking him for a cutter to be sent to meet him on the 9th or 10th July at Ems. Having given himself a rendezvous, Müller then landed at Norden at 10 pm on 4 July – presumably to be under cover of darkness – and travelled overnight to Emden, a journey of 19 miles. An hour after arriving at Emden, and around dawn, he was in a boat taking soundings of the harbour and of the Ems river. He then sailed a little upriver to Delfzijl then continued his breakneck journey, pausing only to change horses. He arrived at 4 am on 6 July at Zwolle, having done (roughly) 110 miles in 24 hours (on early 19th century roads!).

Müller’s map of the area around Cuxhaven (TNA ADM 1/4354)

The next few days passed in similar fashion, with Müller travelling across parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and northern Germany, hardly pausing to do anything but examine the fortifications on his path. His observations, which he recorded in his letter to William Wellesley Pole, were similar for every stop: observations on the fortifications he passed; the size and quality of the garrisons; the number of guns; and whether there were any bodies of troops nearby. He must have done all this on the wing, because he really travelled VERY fast.

Most pertinently for me, on 9 July he travelled to the island of Walcheren, which the British were then preparing to invade. Not that Müller stopped to savour the local sights: he spent a single hour in Middelburg (‘surrounded by a Wall and Ditch’), where he learned there were 14 sail of the line at Flushing and Antwerp and 5 ships of the line on the stocks, along with 8,000 seamen and plenty of shipbuilding materials. By 5 pm he was back on the mainland and by 4 am next day he was in France at Bois-le-Duc.

By this point Müller must have realised he was very close to missing his 10 July appointment with that cutter on the Ems, so he cast a swift eye over the fortresses on the French border then nipped back up to Norden (stopping only to take some more soundings on the Ems ‘as far as a ward for my personal safety would permit’). He reached the rendezvous at 2 am on 11 July. Technically he was late, but the cutter was there anyway. Müller landed at Yarmouth three days later and made his way immediately to London, where he arrived on 15 July at 3 pm, hopefully having had a moment to shave and change his clothes.

Müller’s itinerary (TNA ADM 1/4354)

As Müller put it, ‘I had no time at all for sleep or refreshment except when in the coach or on bord [sic] Ship.’ No kidding. I hope he didn’t faceplant on the table and start snoring halfway through his report to Pole.

‘Excursion’ 2: 3 August–11 September 1809

‘In respect to my remuneration for my troubles,’ Müller wrote, ‘I left it at their Lordships liberallity [sic] either to remunerate me or to give me any further employ[ment], whereby I might receive a proportionate recompense. Accordingly, the following Month … I was again employed on a secret service,’ this time by Lord Mulgrave himself.

Müller’s remit was to check out the French coast closest to Britain and to work out what might be going on in the hearts and minds of the Dutch and German people. This time, however, he had several close shaves. This was, after all, the beginning of August 1809: the Walcheren expedition was in full swing and the French were decidedly twitchy, and definitely on the lookout for British spies.

Müller took precautions. He had to look, as well as act, the part and bought ‘clothes to dress me according to the fashion of the country’: as he explained later, so as ‘not to raise suspicion respecting my dress.’ He also changed a great deal of money through trusted third parties – money he used to buy a carriage and horse, purchase maps and charts, and occasionally outright bribe people for information.

He left London on the evening of 3 August 1809 and landed at Cuxhaven on the 5th. He travelled immediately to Stade, his hometown, because he needed a passport to go to Hamburg.

(The passport is a gift to any historian trying to add flesh to a historical personage. The physical description noted that Müller was tall – 180cm, to be precise, or about 5 foot 11 inches – with brown hair and eyes, an oval face with a round chin, and a fresh complexion.)

(TNA ADM 1/4354)

On 8 August Müller was in Hamburg, where he wrote a letter to William Wellesley Pole recording his initial thoughts about the place and the inclination of the locals (against Bonaparte, he thought). He spent a few days there, buying maps and charts, ‘part of which I thrust [sic, trust] will be usefull, and the rest I was forced to purchase to prevent Suspicion.’

His next major stop was to be Paris, so he needed some people to back him up as a trustworthy man of good character. Accordingly he went to Gӧttingen, where he got the university professors to write him letters of recommendation. On 13 August he was in Cassel, where he found he had company: ‘Jerome Bonaparte was there with almost 2,500 Westphalian troops.’ Apparently Jerome had ordered the execution of 13 ‘estimated Gentlemens [sic]’, which had stirred up anti-French sentiment in the locality.

At Mainz (Mayence) Müller was told he would have to wait two weeks before going into France: ‘however some money procured me directly a French passeport for Paris.’ This wasn’t the last time he used wit and wiles to get his way. At Metz he dined with three imperial messengers, whom he plied with food (and drink). At one in the morning he persuaded one of the couriers, a secretary to Marshal Berthier, to travel with him in his coach (the man was probably too shaky to get back on his horse). His new friend continued to be amazingly talkative. Among other things, Müller learned that Napoleon was keen to finish the war with Austria as soon as possible; that he wanted to invade Russia (this was three years before he actually did, of course); and that the frontiers of France were being strongly reinforced by 18,000 men.

Travelling with the courier may have provided Müller with more than just information: it may also have provided him with immunity. At any rate, they reached Verdun without incident and split up. Müller then went on to Paris, where he arrived at 5 pm on 20 August.

Things now started to get tricky. Müller went to the office of the police and stated his intention to visit Boulogne. He was told, however, that ‘it was forbidden to any stranger to travel to a seaport.’ Müller compromised: he asked for a passport to Montreuil-sur-Mer, still 9 miles or so from the sea. This he secured.

At 4 pm on 23 August Müller left Paris. He arrived at Montreuil the next day at 8 pm. He couldn’t officially go to Boulogne, but that wasn’t going to stop him doing it anyway. At 2 am, therefore, under cover of night, he walked the rest of the way to Boulogne (about 20 miles!). He stayed there long enough to compile some very detailed notes on the defences and garrison and likelihood of a British assault on the place, but then, to his dismay, he bumped into two gendarmes.

Müller must have thought this was the end, but luckily he was able to bluff his way out of this potentially sticky situation by claiming he had lost his way. The gendarmes did not blink at the statement that this man was 20 miles from where his passport said he ought to be and promptly escorted him back to Montreuil.

On 28 August, back in Paris, Müller tried to get a passport for Antwerp. This was wishful thinking – the British expedition to Walcheren was then about 10 miles from Antwerp (it had, however, reached its furthest point and was about to start retreating) – and he failed. Determined to get something out of his visit to Paris, Müller visited an old friend who was a captain in the imperial engineers. ‘By several Means,’ Müller reported with frustrating vagueness, ‘I bought from him for 1800 livres all the maps of French seaports’, along with a map of Westphalia that had been drawn up for Marshal Berthier. While his friend wasn’t looking, he also tore various other charts out of a large book and secreted them in his carriage (I wish he had explained how, but he didn’t, so let your imagination run wild).

With his cabriolet bursting with sensitive documents obtained by the most questionable means, Müller now made his way towards Brussels. On his way he passed several large bodies of troops marching hastily towards the Scheldt and Antwerp, where the British were still expected on an hourly basis. Not unnaturally, Müller ‘hope[d] to meet anywhere … corps of the English Expedition’, but instead ‘I was so unhappy to meet two Gendarmes’ (his phrasing, not mine). Surely he couldn’t be lucky twice? Well actually … he could. They examined his passport and searched his cabriolet: ‘however they saw not my maps etc.’ Müller, presumably sweating profusely, put on the same ‘I am a lost tourist, help help help’ act that had worked so well at Boulogne, and pulled it off a second time. The gendarmes escorted him to Brussels; they left him, and ‘I proceeded discreetly.’ I bet he did.

Flanders, he said, was all in a flap, roused by the proximity of British troops: ‘The general sentiment … was against their Government … they thought likewise that all Holland would soon revolt against their King because a second English Expedition would land in the neighbourhood of Amsterdam.’ (Alas!) At this point, however, Müller just wanted to go home. He therefore made for the Ems as quickly as he could. The moment he got aboard a British ship in the river he showed his ‘official Letter’ from the Admiralty to the commanding officer, who promptly arranged for him to be whisked home by the fastest available route. Müller arrived back in London on 11 September at 9 am.

He was justifiably proud of all he had done: as he wrote to John Wilson Croker, he had travelled 3,592 English miles altogether across his two trips. For this he received a remuneration of £400 (a further £352 was eventually extracted), although Müller did not consider this to cover the risk and discomfort he had undergone.

Müller’s signature (TNA ADM 1/4354)

Later career

Müller may have been engaged in more secret service work in 1813 in the run-up to Leipzig: his record in Beamish’s History of the KGL records that he was employed in North Germany in 1813 and 1814.[7] According to his ODNB entry (and yes, he has one) he did more survey work in Germany and also ‘was employed in the home district’ (i.e. London), so he probably did not serve actively with his regiment abroad.[7] He continued in the KGL, however, and was promoted second captain in December 1812. Here he stuck until the regiment was disbanded in February 1816 and he went on half-pay, although he subsequently served in the Hanoverian army’s engineer corps and was eventually promoted to major. He also became Librarian to the Duke of Cambridge, Governor of Hanover, a position he kept until 1834, and was appointed a Knight of the Guelphic Order in 1821 – perhaps a reward for some of his services?

Private life

After all this, what about Müller’s private life? I wasn’t able to glean much about him as a person from his letters, other than that he seems to have been resourceful, proactive, and quick-thinking, not to mention capable of superhuman abilities to stave off sleep. One thing is for sure: he was not married in 1809, which was possibly one reason why he was willing to undertake such dangerous missions. Müller did, however, latermarry a girl from Newtown in Ireland named Clarinda Catherine Ready, about eight years his junior. Their first child, Wilhelm Adolf, was born in September 1812. Over the next 12 years they had at least five sons (there is no sign of daughters). All the children were born in Stade, which suggests Müller settled back there to bring up his family.

Unfortunately, Müller’s story does not have a tremendously happy ending. He and his wife died within a couple of months of each other in 1846, aged 63 and 55. Their children were not especially long-lived: of the three whose lives I’ve managed to track, Hermann Wilhelm died aged 50, Wilhelm Adolf (the eldest) died aged 46, and David Miles Wilhelm died aged 24.[8]

But what a story their father must have had to tell.

References

All quotations from Wilhelm Müller’s correspondence come from TNA ADM 1/4354.

Many thanks to Lynn Bryant (ever my partner in crime), Rob Griffith, and Gareth Glover for help and pointers.

[1] Date of birth from Werner Kummer, ‘J.A. Brandegger, F. Schneider, J.C. Dibold, J.C. Garthe and W. Müller: minor German globe makers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries’, Globe Studies 51/52 (2005[for 2003/04]), pp. 59–71, p. 68 n 18

[2] His father was an interesting character in his own right. Also educated at Gӧttingen, he was briefly in the British Royal Navy but was invalided out after his leg was permanently damaged during a skirmish with Chinese pirates. He subsequently became captain of a customs frigate on the Elbe and published several works on maritime engineering. See https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Gottlieb_Daniel_M%C3%BCller (accessed 16 October 2020)

[3] http://m.genealogias.info/mobi/1/upload/moller.pdf (accessed 16 October 2020)

[4] William Müller, Elements of the Science of War, vol. 1, pp. ix-xvi

[5] Kummer, ‘Minor German globe makers’, p. 68

[6] North Ludlow Beamish, History of the King’s German Legion (T&W Bone, 1837), p. 531

[7] H.M. Chichester, revised by James Falkner, ‘Müller, William (d. 1846)’, ODNB online, published 22 September 2005, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19515, accessed 15 October 2020

[8] These last two paragraphs have been pieced together through searches on ancestry.co.uk.

The name’s James, Charles James: a Napoleonic-era enigma (Part 2)

James portrait from Poems vol 1 1811

From the frontispiece of the 1808 edition of Charles James’s Poems

You can read last week’s post about Charles James, poet, fixer, and international man of mystery extraordinaire, here.

Major of the Royal Artillery Drivers and ‘French Secretary’ to the Ordnance

In 1806, Pitt the Younger died and Lord Moira’s Whig associates came to government as the Ministry of All the Talents. Moira himself became Master-General of the Ordnance.

Moira – who was, as you will recall, Charles James’s patron and employer – wanted to bring James with him, but couldn’t quite manage to get him openly attached to the Ordnance. As the Master-General could employ the services of any officer on the Ordnance establishment in any way he wanted, however, Moira appointed James (who, insofar as he had any military duties at all, was currently a lieutenant on half-pay in the 62nd) as Major of the Royal Artillery Drivers.

This was, to put it mildly, a bit of a stretch, but it doesn’t seem to have been exactly illegal. The majority was a new post (created January 1806) with a handsome salary of about £400 a year (a guinea a day, plus perquisites and allowances); because it overlapped with field commissions that already existed, the majority also had very few practical duties. This allowed Moira to use James in any way he liked, and the way he chose to use him was as ‘French Secretary’.

James’s duties as ‘French Secretary’ were just as nebulous as his duties as a major. James himself later described them as follows: ‘attendance on the Master-General, receipt, transcript or translation of foreign papers, personal interviews with foreigners and others, together with confidential reports … chiefly on foreign matters’. [1] The closest anyone got to any practical official designation of James’s duties was a line in a letter from Colonel Charles Neville, Secretary to the Master-General of the Ordnance, employing him for a task ‘whereon his Lordship [the 2nd Earl of Chatham, Moira’s successor at the Ordnance] and you conversed when you last saw him’. [2]

regimental_companion

(The Regimental Companion, vol. 3, p. 508)

From this, it seems that James’s duties either didn’t exist at all, in which case the post was a total sinecure – which James strenuously denied – or that his duties weren’t the kind of thing he could talk about in a public document.

James’s strange position inevitably came to the notice of the Commissioners of Military Enquiry (the Commission for Military Enquiry had been instituted in 1805 to look into potential financial abuses in many military departments). The Commissioners were convinced the new majority was a job, but proving this was like nailing jelly to the wall.

The most likely explanation for James’s role at the Ordnance is that Moira was using him as he had often used him before – to undertake rather shady activities out of the public eye, and to engage in liaison with Ordnance contacts and agents abroad: ‘engaged in particulars of a military nature, for the general benefit of the service’. [3]

It All Becomes Too Much

A-Kick-at-the-Broad-Bottoms-Gillray

James Gillray, ‘A Kick at the Broad-Bottoms!’ (1807), from here. Moira is portrayed on the right with his arms in the air in alarm

Moira fell from the Ordnance (along with the rest of his government) in March 1807, but James stayed on as ‘French Secretary’ under the 2nd Earl of Chatham. Chatham, however, was at the opposite end of the political spectrum from James, and seems to have avoided employing James except when it was absolutely necessary to do so.

James was understandably unhappy with Chatham and with the Commission for Military Enquiry, which he thought should have been investigating why Chatham kept him on the Ordnance’s paybooks without actually using him rather than engaging in a witch-hunt against innocent parties (viz. Major Charles James, RA Drivers):

‘There is not an officer in the service, civil or military, but may be subjected to the most rigorous inquiry. There is not one but may have the dirty passions of the human mind let loose against him; and there are many who may be placed in a situation to excite and consequently to incur the visitation of envy, spleen, and prejudice.’ [4]

But politics was in no mood for military inefficiency, and it was a bad time to be a public servant with a salary but no obvious duties.

Hague

In early 1809, the Duke of York, the Commander-in-Chief, was investigated by a whole House of Commons committee in 1809 to determine whether he’d been complicit in selling commissions through the influence of his former mistress, Mary-Anne Clarke. James didn’t crop up during that investigation, but he was name-checked in a bile-filled pamphlet by Thomas Hague:

‘I do not inquire what distinguished talent recommended him, whether his poetical effusions, or his military dictionary? I leave Colonel Crewe [James’s friend and another Moira connection] to describe his excellence as a billiard player, and his never erring stroke at some pocket or other. Whether the Major or Lord Petty [a former Chancellor of the Exchequer] be the better financier I care not – I do not question his dexterity as a truckster, his cold closeness as a bargain driver; but, as a gunner driver, I may be permitted to speak of him; to ask what are his claims to the rank he bears, and the pay he receives? Do they arise from foreign service, wounds, or exploits? I will not assert that the Major has never been abroad, because he was educated in the Jesuit’s college, at Bruges; where he has perhaps qualified himself to become the head of that order [ouch]; but, I aver that he has never done a day’s military duty, OUT of England.’ [5]

James v Stuarton

stuarton

James had also been attacked from an altogether dodgier quarter. In February 1808, James brought a case against George Francis Stuart, Count Stuarton (a direct descendant of James II and the Jacobite ‘Kings Over the Water’). Stuarton was almost certainly a connection between Moira and the French Royalists, whose cause Stuarton was in Britain to promote.

The background to the case is hazy – James’s only comment on the matter was that he had ‘instituted a Criminal Information against’ Stuarton ‘for reasons known to the Earl of Moira, and to Earl Spencer, then Secretary of State for the Home Department’. [6] He later claimed he had prosecuted the case with funding from the Ordnance, which suggests the business was one with potential implications for the government. [7]

Stuarton’s libel doesn’t survive, but he probably accused James of playing a double game during the Quiberon affair in 1795, betraying the Royalists and ‘encourag[ing] or abett[ing] their persecutors in Paris’ – perhaps insinuating that the government’s employment of such a man showed it had never been serious about helping the Royalists at all. [8] The man formerly known as ‘Jacobin’ James may well have been a figure of suspicion to many, but, with the silent might of the government behind him, James naturally won his case. Stuarton subsequently escaped to America to avoid arrest.

By this time, however, James was becoming a liability. His usefulness depended on his low profile, and between 1808 and 1810 he was being talked about far too much. Lord Mulgrave, Lord Chatham’s successor at the Ordnance, quietly let James go in August 1810. I don’t suppose it was coincidental that James had just finished giving evidence to the Military Commissioners at the time.

Spying for the Home Office

In 1813, Moira introduced James to Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, ‘for the purpose of being honourably employed’. [9] This wasn’t referring to a clerkship.

recto

Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, from here

By November, James was pulling in old favours from his contacts and informants on the continent – men he either knew through his financial ventures, or through his family’s wine trade, or through his work with the French Royalists in the 1790s and early 1800s. His background in Flanders (particularly Liège) also came in handy. [10]

Throughout 1814 and 1815, James’s information networks were crucial to a government seeking to keep an eye on French opinion of the newly-restored Bourbon monarchy. The importance of his contacts rose sharply with the return of Napoleon. [11] James may have remained in the pay of the Home Office until the end of his life: he may have been the ‘Major James’ who was called upon in the trial of the Cato Street conspirators, one of whom confessed to him that the cabinet was about to be murdered. [12] Although I can’t prove James’s connection with the Cato Street Conspiracy, it’s just the sort of thing I’d expect him to be mixed up in.

The end

After 1815, James seems to have spent most of his time devoting himself to domestic concerns. In October 1818, he married a woman named Judith Appleton, who was roughly 23 or 24 years his junior. The pair had already been an unmarried item for at least a decade, and had five children: Charles Woodcock, born in 1807; Francis, who died in 1818; William Bosville, born in 1809; Maria; and Louisa (born in 1816 or 1817). There may also have been another son named John, born in 1808.

Why James waited so long to marry Judith is unclear, but it raises the possibility that one or the other of them may have been secretly married to someone else. I haven’t been able to substantiate this, though.

James didn’t live long enough to enjoy married life much. He died suddenly at the beginning of 1821, at the age of about 63. He was buried with his son Francis in St Mary’s, Paddington.

st mary

St Mary’s Church, Paddington, from here

His widow Judith inherited his house at Gloucester Place and (in a somewhat bizarre twist) she married another army agent – James Ashley – within seven weeks of burying her husband. Keeping it in the family, Ashley’s daughter Elizabeth later married James and Judith’s son Charles Woodcock.

Judith spent many years trying to obtain the money her husband had been owed by Moira (now Marquess of Hastings), but never succeeded. I can’t help feeling that, after so many years of devoted service, James and his family were owed something at least, but then maybe Moira felt his preferment and protection (and James undoubtedly needed both) had cleared all arrears between them.

Acknowledgements

I owe huge thanks to Rory Muir, Lynn Dawson, Sarah Murden, Charlie Stevenson, and Stephen Lark, whose time and resources I have totally monopolised in trying to track down the elusive Major James.

References

[1] 17th Report of the Commissioners of Military Enquiry (1811), p. 228.

[2] Charles James, Regimental Companion (1811), vol 3 (7th ed) (London: T Egerton, 1811), p. 508.

[3] James, Regimental Companion, vol. 3, pp. 511-12.

[4] James, Regimental Companion, vol. 3, p. 507.

[5] Thomas Hague, A letter to his Royal Highness the Duke of York on Recent Events, with a statement of the conduct of Generals Trigge and Fox, during their Commands at Gibraltar, and an Inquiry into Major Charles James’s Claims to Promotion (London: Wm Horseman, 1809), pp. 38-9.

[6] Memorandum by James, 6 Nov 1807, Liverpool MSS, British Library Add MS 38259, f. 267.

[7] James, Regimental Companion, vol. 3, p. 500.

[8] This is clear from some of the evidence printed in Papers on Charles James read to the Grand Jury for Westminster in the cause James versus George Francis Stuart, alias Count Stuarton, etc, 12 Feb 1808 (London: C. Roworth, 1808).

[9] James to Lord Liverpool, undated [1820], Liverpool MSS, British Library Add MS 38286, f. 228.

[10] James to Lord Sidmouth, Devon Record Office, Sidmouth MSS, 152M/C1813/OF/37, 38.

[11] James to Lord Sidmouth, Devon Record Office, Sidmouth MSS, 152M/C1815/0F29, 30, 31, 36; also Lyon and Turnbull’s Rare Books, MSS, Maps and Photographs catalogue of 31 August 2006, https://issuu.com/lyonandturnbullauctioneers/docs/476.

[12] Morning Chronicle, 20 April 1820.

The name’s James, Charles James: A Napoleonic Enigma (Part 1)

A few months ago, while I was researching something completely different, Major Charles James exploded into my life.

James portrait from Poems vol 1 1811

Charles James (frontispiece to the 1808 edition of his poems)

James was what one might delicately label ‘a right piece of work’. I have started using the hashtag #shady to refer to him in my notes. He was many things in his relatively short life (c1758–1821), many contradictory. While he would have described himself as a poet and an author, he was also a soldier and military encyclopaedist; a man of business; an army agent; a revolutionary sympathiser; a political jobber; a ‘fixer’; and a spy.

He was a chameleon who constantly reinvented his identity to suit the circumstances, and haunts the sources like a fabulously interesting and often rather sordid shadow. [1] I’ve become maybe a little bit obsessed with finding more about him over the past few weeks. Here, in a nutshell, is why.

Who Was Charles James?

Charles James was probably born in 1758 (give or take a year or two), possibly in Warwickshire. The only other things I know for certain are that he was the eldest son, he had a sister named Mary, and his father was a merchant (possibly a wine merchant) operating between Dover and Flanders.

The contradictions surrounding James’s life were evident to me right from the start. Even his name is disputed. In April 1780, he was admitted to Gray’s Inn to study law (he switched to Lincoln’s Inn in 1796) under the name Charles Simpson. Five years later, he petitioned Gray’s Inn to have his name changed to James, on the pretext that he had given his uncle’s name by accident. [2]

james or simpson grays inn

Joseph Foster, Register of Admissions to Gray’s Inn, 1521–1889 … (London: Hansard, 1889) p. 390, from here

I find it hard to believe Charles had entered a wrong surname for himself by mistake, particularly as it took him five years to rectify the error, but whatever the explanation, he was already an identity chameleon in his mid-20s.

James was almost certainly Catholic, and he was educated at the Jesuit College at Bruges and Liège. This ‘Papist’ background brought his trustworthiness (and even his patriotism) into question on more than one occasion. He was fluent in Latin and French and spent much of his life abroad; many of his early poems were inspired by experiences in Flanders and France.

liege

The Collège en Isle of Liège (engraving of 1740), public domain from here

His early inclinations were, indeed, towards literary pursuits. He published a translation of Beaumarchais’ Tarare in 1787, another translation of Petrarch’s Laura in 1789, and his first volume of Poems in the same year (republishing and expanding them frequently until 1817).

‘Jacobin’ James

James was on the continent when the French Revolution broke out. He found the whole experience profoundly inspiring and made absolutely no attempt to conceal which side he was on. Clue: it wasn’t the side of Louis XVI.

He returned frequently to Liège and to France between 1789 and 1790 and claimed to have taken a piece of the Bastille as a keepsake. He chronicled his experiences and his thoughts on the revolution itself in a publication entitled Audi Alteram Partem, or an extenuation of the conduct of the French Revolutionists (1792; reissued 1793), in which he defended the aims of the revolution and suggested facts had been twisted for political purposes.

audialterampartem

This was probably enough to put his name on the Pitt government’s very long list of troublemakers. Nor did James ever change his political opinions, despite his later activities (and more on those shortly). He remained convinced the French Revolution would have been a harmless domestic uprising had foreign governments not interfered. Although he benefited from Britain’s system of corruption and political jobbery, he was never comfortable with it, and in darker moments suspected he was being blocked and blacklisted by a vengeful government with a very long memory.

He may have had a point. Although government members clearly found him useful, his requests for preferment, promotion, or reward were generally met with a po-faced rebuff. James was, after all, the son of a merchant (and a Catholic one at that); although he was happy to swallow his political opinions when required, he was publicly connected with oppositionists and outcasts. James named one of his sons after Sir Francis Burdett, and his library contained a number of personally-dedicated volumes written by John Horne Tooke, who had been tried for treason in 1794 and was a close friend.

James was so outspoken in private circles that his friends nicknamed him ‘Jacobin James’.

The Moira Connection

In April 1788, having given up on a legal career, James joined the West Middlesex Militia as a lieutenant. A year later he was promoted to captain.

NYPL Moira

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. Right Honble. Francis Rawdon Hastings Earl of Moira from here

At around this time he became acquainted with Francis Rawdon-Hastings, Lord Rawdon and, later, Earl of Moira (later still Marquess of Hastings). Moira was a military man and an oppositionist, most closely associated with the Prince of Wales’s reversionary circle. Moira’s comparatively liberal opinions (he supported religious freedom and the abolition of slavery) appealed to James, whose intelligence and discretion in turn appealed to Moira.

Moira became James’s military and political patron. In 1789, James received permission, possibly through Moira, to dedicate his first book of poems to the Prince of Wales. In 1791, James dedicated a pamphlet to Moira on the reform of the militia. In the same year, James published the first edition of his famous Regimental Companion with the approval of the Commander-in-Chief. It’s hard to imagine Horse Guards taking a punt on an unknown captain of a militia regiment had James not had a highly influential sponsor like Moira to speak for him.

James’s Military Career (… such as it was)

Although best known as a military theorist, James never saw active service. In 1793, Moira did try to bring James (still a militia captain) with him to Flanders, but the request was refused by the commander-in-chief Lord Amherst on the grounds that officers of the militia could not serve abroad. [3]

Two years later, Moira managed to get James appointed to the pleasingly alliterative post of Deputy Muster-Master General on the expedition of French royalists to Quiberon in the summer of 1795.

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Letter addressed to Capt. Charles James in his capacity of Deputy Muster-Master General, British Library Add MS 32694

Even now, however, Captain James was not permitted to serve overseas as a militia officer: he had to do all his work from the expedition’s British base in Southampton. James’s language skills must have been an absolute boon, although presumably his ‘Jacobin’ credentials were something of a down side. James seems, however, to have been well-regarded by the Royalist officers with whom he liaised, and he impressed Moira with his grasp of detail in his financial and logistical duties (and his other, less overt, assignments).

James transferred from the West Middlesex militia to the North York Militia in 1795, but his career took a hit in 1797 when he resigned over what he thought of as the political promotion of a junior captain over his head. Due to a misunderstanding, which James was convinced was due to prejudice at the highest levels against his personal opinions, he tried to transfer into the Line and was refused. Subsequent schemes, including a proposal to raise and captain a mulatto regiment in Demerara, were also turned down by the War Office.

With Moira’s assistance, James managed to purchase an ensigncy in the 60th in November 1798, but sold out in 1799 – the same year he brought out his celebrated Military Dictionary. This, along with the Regimental Companion and his collection of court-martial sentences, cemented his reputation as a military theorist, so it’s ironic that he was a civilian when it first came out.

James did not re-enter the army until 1804, when Moira’s political barometer seemed to be rising: his connection with the Prince of Wales and the political mess following Pitt the Younger’s resignation in 1801 made him a likely prime minister. James ‘was presented’ (his words, not mine) with an ensigncy in the 55th Foot, which he rapidly swapped for a half-pay lieutenancy in the 62nd.

The Austen Connection

James later claimed he had served Moira ‘to the known destruction of all my professional views and prospects’, [4] but the connection was bearing quiet fruit. With such aristocratic patronage behind him, James dabbled as an army agent – essentially an individual or firm handling the financial business and pay of a regiment, and also brokering the sale of commissions (sometimes for sums far higher than the official price, with the agent pocketing the difference). [5]

Moira also employed James as his ‘confidential agent’ and man of business. In this capacity, James managed Moira’s financial affairs, arranging loans and raising funds for his patron.

James’s legal background and connections to business and trade (his father and brother-in-law were both wine merchants; his youngest son also later became one) fitted him for this role. It wasn’t exactly a sinecure. Moira had lent a great deal of money to the Prince of Wales, which was roughly equivalent to throwing thousands of pounds out of a window. He had also possibly invested funds in the British-sponsored French Royalist risings of the 1790s. By March 1804, Moira may have owed a whopping £100,000. [6]

James’s main task, therefore, was to keep Moira’s affairs either afloat, or at least out of the newspapers. This brought hm into contact with Jane Austen’s brother Henry, of the bank Austen and Maunde.

James may have known Henry Austen since the late 1790s, when they had both served in the militia at Colchester. [7] In 1801, Henry Austen, Henry Maunde, and Charles James signed a secret agreement to operate as an army agency for a number of militia regiments. James asked to keep his part in the arrangement secret, but took a third of the profits and retained the right to inspect all the accounts. Lord Moira’s name did not appear, but the main purpose of James’s connection with Austen and Maunde seems to have been to use the bank to raise loans for his patron.

Getting involved in Moira’s tangled finances was a fatal business. In 1813, Austen and Maunde lent Moira £6,000 (a loan brokered, or perhaps extorted, by James). When Moira inevitably failed to pay, the bank took him to court for damages, but lost because the courts felt they had demanded an illegally high rate of interest. The bank folded, and Henry Austen became bankrupt. [8]

It wasn’t all bad for the Austens. Henry did persuade James to put pressure on Moira to obtain commissions for Francis and Charles Austen, both naval officers; he was successful for Charles Austen at least. [9] And Henry’s sister Jane may have got her first break as an author through James, whose own publisher – Thomas Egerton – broke away from his usual military stock to publish her first novels. [10]

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Letter addressed to Charles James at Thomas Egerton’s Military Library, Whitehall, British Library Add MS 32694

This probably didn’t really make up for what James did, and Henry Austen must have been delighted to know that James himself eventually got steam-rollered by Moira’s debts. James claimed never to have received any pay for his work for Moira; even if he was lying, he certainly didn’t benefit much from it in the long term. A friend later heard that James had lent Moira £8,000 on his own account, which Moira never repaid, and which contributed to James’s own financial insolvency. [11]

 

TO BE CONTINUED

Part 2 of my mini-biography of Charles James can be read here.

 

Acknowledgements

I owe huge thanks to Rory Muir, Lynn Dawson, Sarah Murden, Charlie Stevenson, and Stephen Lark, whose time and resources I have totally monopolised in trying to track down the elusive Major James.

 

References

[1] His papers were sold at auction in 1986, but I have no idea where they are now. If anyone does know, could they tell me? Pretty please? Thank you.

[2] Joseph Foster, Register of Admissions to Gray’s Inn, 1521–1889 … (London: Hansard, 1889) p. 390; many thanks to Sarah Murden for flagging this up to me.

[3] Papers on Charles James read to the Grand Jury for Westminster in the cause James versus George Francis Stuart, alias Count Stuarton, 12 Feb 1808 (London: C. Roworth, 1808), p. 1.

[4] Will, TNA PROB 11/1647/77.

[5] Clive Caplan, ‘Jane Austen’s Banker Brother: Henry Thomas Austen of Austen & Co, 1801­–16’, Persuasions (20)  1998, pp. 69–90, p. 70.

[6] Stuart Bennett, ‘Lord Moira and the Austens’, Persuasions 35 (2013), pp. 129–52, p. 134.

[7] E.J. Clery, Jane Austen: The Banker’s Sister (London: Biteback Publishing, 2017, ebook edition).

[8] Bennett, ‘Lord Moira and the Austens’, pp. 142-3; Clery, Jane Austen: The Banker’s Sister; Annual Register for 1816 (London: J. Dodsley, 1817), p. 287.

[9] Bennett, ‘Lord Moira and the Austens’, p. 130.

[10] Bennett, ‘Lord Moira and the Austens’, p. 141.

[11] John Taylor, Records of my Life, vol 2 (London: Edward Bull, 1832), p. 301.

 

Who wrote “Letters from Flushing”?

One of the most famous contemporary descriptions of the Walcheren campaign is a small volume entitled Letters from Flushing … an account of the expedition to Walcheren, Beveland, and the Mouth of the Scheldt, under the command of the Earl of Chatham (London: Richard Phillips, 1809). The book consists of 14 letters allegedly written home to friends by ‘an officer of the 81st Regiment’, covering the period from 27 July (just before the expedition sailed) to 8 September (just before half of the forces returned to Britain).

 

lettersfromflushing

This book has long been a puzzle to me. It’s a brilliant text – apart from anything else, the description of the bombardment of Flushing between 13-15 August is just fabulous – and some of the details given in it about life in Zeeland under the British occupation are wonderful. But there are several odd things about it. Why does the author of the letters return to England in mid-September, when the 81st remained on Walcheren until the final evacuation of the island in December? Why is he hardly ever with his regiment, when the movements of the 81st can be easily traced in the various diaries and official proceedings?

These mysteries, I feel, ought to be cleared up if the author can be identified. We know he was on the 81st; the fact that he is hardly ever with the 81st, and in fact finally leaves without it in mid-September, suggests he was on the staff. This is supported by his birds’ eye view of the campaign and his familiarity with the higher echelons of command, which is highly unusual for a junior officer attached to a particular regiment.

Who, then, was the author? He was educated although probably not classically so. He had his ear to the ground (there are frequent references to public affairs that could only be garnered by someone with an interest in them). He was unmarried, referring approvingly to ‘Sir John Moore’s maxim that a soldier should have nothing to do with a wife’ – but possibly attached, going on to say ‘And yet I think that some of these wives are too precious luxuries for us contentedly to give the monopoly of them to you non-military gentlemen’ (p. 19). He probably wasn’t at Corunna with the rest of the 81st, as he talks of opinions ‘which I have frequently heard from the officers who have served in Spain’ (p. 154), suggesting he did not do so himself. Otherwise, I had to guess.

The obvious place to start in my quest to identify this officer was to see if anyone had done it before me. (That would have been handy.) Were there any identifying marks on the various versions of Letters available on the internet, or recorded in any online catalogues? Alas, no.

My next port of call was the Army List (annual and monthly), although I’m not entirely sure what I was looking for here. I guess I was I was kind of hoping one of the names would leap out at me waving a sign reading ‘I wrote Letters from Flushing!’, but no such luck. Not only that, but most of the names from both battalions of the 81st were jumbled together, with only a few identified as belonging to one or the other (only the second battalion was at Walcheren).

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My eureka moment was provided by a visit to the National Archives, where I called up the muster book of the second battalion of the 81st [1] and the monthly returns of the officers attached to the Walcheren campaign [2]. This latter document contained a detailed list of the staff, including regimental affiliation.

Squeezed at the very bottom of the first page was the only officer attached to the 81st – Captain George Charles D’Aguilar, ADC to Colonel Thomas Mahon (a staff officer).

officersreturn_daguilar

D’Aguilar (1784-1855) is an interesting character of himself. Of Jewish extraction, he entered the Army as an ensign in the 86th Regt in 1799. He spent nearly his entire early career in India with his regiment, before transferring to a captaincy in the 81st and returning home in May 1809 – just in time for Walcheren. He went on to become Assistant Adjutant-General in Ireland and at Horse Guards, before participating in the Opium Wars and becoming Lieutenant Governor of Hong Kong.

George_Charles_D'Aguilar

G.C. D’Aguilar in later life, from here

Could D’Aguilar have written Letters? It’s certainly possible. He sailed on 29 July with Mahon, which corroborates information given in the second letter of Letters (which clearly shows the author to have sailed with the second part of the fleet). Excitingly, he also seems to have returned in mid-September. The Gentleman’s Magazine [3] states that he ‘returned to England with the cavalry’ under Mahon’s command, and he was certainly in Lancashire to propose to his future wife, Eliza Drinkwater, at the end of September.[4]

The fact D’Aguilar had left Walcheren by the end of September is confirmed by the officers’ return.[2] Although the return shows him as still being on Walcheren in October, this was an error, as shown by a pencilled ‘LA’ (Leave of Absence) next to his name.

officersreturn_LA

The next return confirms that he was given leave until the end of December.

officersreturn_absentI must admit that D’Aguilar’s authorship is a speculative, rather than a definite, identification. I can’t find any obvious connection between D’Aguilar and the printer of Letters, Richard Phillips, except that Phillips was a well-known publisher of other military works. Nor can I confirm that D’Aguilar stayed at Bedford Square, where the Advertisement at the beginning of Letters is signed. D’Aguilar did, however, go on to publish several other works in his lifetime, including The Officers; Manual (a translation of the Military Maxims of Napoleon).[5]

And yet, if I can’t confirm that D’Aguilar was the author, I can’t find anyone else in the 2nd battalion of the 81st who fits the bill. This is evident from comparing the information in the payroll [1] and the officers’ returns. [2]

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At the end of September, only a handful of 2nd battalion officers were not present on Walcheren. Apart from D’Aguilar (and a scattering of officers who were serving with the 1st battalion in Sicily), 18 officers were listed as absent:

  • Lt-Col James Kempt – serving in North America as QMG
  • Major Henry Milling – severely wounded at Corunna and not yet fit for duty
  • Capt J. Lutman – severely wounded at Corunna (effectively invalided for life)
  • Capt Ralph Crofton – guarding the battalion’s heavy baggage at Bletchington, Oxon. (the regimental depot)
  • Capt Caesar Colclough – recruiting in England since July
  • Capt William Dams – recruiting in England since July
  • Lt J.G. Hort – lost his right leg at Corunna
  • Lt Armstrong – recruiting in England since July
  • Lt Thomas Thomson – recruiting in England since July
  • Lt William Hyde – recruiting in England since July
  • Lt Thomas Manning – recruiting in England since July
  • Ens R.J. Marston – recruiting in England since July
  • Ens J.L. Serjeant – recruiting in England since July
  • Ensigns Anderson and Pringle – absent without leave, but last seen alive during the march to Corunna and ‘presumed dead’
  • Ens White – sick with fever since 12 Sept
  • Apothecary Chislett – sick with fever since 13 Sept

None of these people could possibly have written Letters – leaving D’Aguilar as the only possible person capable of compiling Letters as early as October 1809.

References

[1] WO 12/8953.

[2] WO 17/2479.

[3] Gentleman’s Magazine, vols 198-9 (1855), p. 94.

[4] D’Aguilar v Drinkwater, Francis Vesey and John Beames, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the High Court of Chancery during the time of Lord Chancellor Eldon, vol 2 (London: Reed and Hunter, 1814), p. 227.

[5] H. Stephens (2008) D’Aguilar, Sir George Charles (1784–1855), army officer. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 15 May 2019, from here.

 

Walcheren 1809: the mystery of the missing memorandum

walcheren_sick

The Walcheren Expedition of 1809, which Lord Chatham infamously commanded, was unquestionably a disaster. Although the British managed to take the islands of Walcheren and South Beveland, they failed to get to Antwerp, the ultimate objective, to destroy the fortifications there and the French and Dutch fleet.

Most seriously of all, the army was rendered completely useless by a violent illness known as “Walcheren Fever”, thought to be a combination of malaria, typhoid, typhus and dysentery. Of the 39,219 men sent to the Scheldt River basin, 11,296 were on the sick lists by the time the inquiry was underway. 3,960 were dead. The British Army suffered from the recurring effects of “Walcheren fever” until the end of the war.

Not long after the last soldier had been landed back in Britain in January 1810, the House of Commons formed itself into committee to inquire into whose bright idea it had been to send nearly 40,000 of Britain’s best (i.e., only) troops to a pestilential swamp at the height of the unhealthy season.

Careers were at stake, and nobody wanted to own up. Chatham, the military commander, was nevertheless pretty sure he knew who was most to blame for what had happened. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t him. Contrary to what nearly every historian of the campaign has tried to argue, however, it wasn’t his naval counterpart, Sir Richard Strachan, either.

Chatham wasn’t very successful at fighting accusations of his sloth and incompetence, and he eventually ended up with most of the blame for the campaign’s failure, even if the Walcheren inquiry technically cleared him of wrongdoing. In my opinion, however, one aspect of Chatham’s evidence has been overlooked: his indictment of the Board of Admiralty, under the First Lord, Earl Mulgrave.

Henry Lord Mulgrave

Lord Mulgrave

After the inquiry was over, Chatham wrote a series of memoranda defending his conduct on Walcheren and during the parliamentary proceedings that followed. These memoranda reveal Chatham’s conviction that Mulgrave had been trying to cover up the Admiralty’s role in planning the expedition for months.

By April 1810, when he probably wrote these memoranda, Chatham was as paranoid as it is possible for a man to be. Nor was he the least bit impartial in the matter. And yet there is some evidence that the Admiralty – a highly organised political body, and one with which Chatham (a former First Lord himself) was extremely familiar – did indeed try to conceal evidence from the inquiry.

One very important piece of information was only laid before the inquiry at all on 1 March 1810, and only because Chatham’s testimony had drawn public attention to it. This was a memorandum, written on 19 June 1809 at the Admiralty Office, entitled “Respecting the Practicability of effecting a Landing between Sandfleet [Sandvliet] and Fort Lillo”. (Sandfleet, or Sandvliet, being the place where the British Army was meant to land on the continent, nine miles from Antwerp; Lillo being one of the two forts straddling the point at which the Scheldt River narrowed before the dockyards.)

CaptureThe belatedly-published memorandum quoted two naval officers, Sir Home Popham (one of the planners of the expedition) and Captain Robert Plampin, both saying they had both been to Antwerp in the 1790s and thought there would be no problem in landing a large body of men between Lillo and Sandvliet. On that basis, the Opinion made the following statement:

The Board of Admiralty having made inquiry respecting the practicability of effecting a Landing between the point of Sandfleet and Fort Lillo … are prepared … to undertake that the troops shall be conveyed, when the Island of Beveland, including Bathz is in our possession, to the Dyke between Fort Lillo and Sandfleet, and landed, as far as the question of Landing depends on the nature of the place, with relation to the approach to the shore of boats and other vessels capable of receiving troops.[1]

Why was this so mysterious? Because Chatham remembered this memorandum rather differently from the form in which it was published for the inquiry.

According to Chatham, the Cabinet had only approved the expedition in the first place after the Admiralty Board had issued this Opinion as a guarantee that a large fleet could carry twenty thousand men up the West Scheldt and land them at Sandvliet. This was in response to doubts voiced by Chatham himself – doubts formed after discussions with military officers who had been to Sandvliet and told him an army could not be landed there. Since the whole plan hinged on landing at Sandvliet, Chatham rather reasonably told the Cabinet he would not undertake to sanction his own expedition unless the Admiralty could prove the military men wrong: “This last Point I considered as a sine qua non [which] … must be placed beyond all doubt, to warrant the undertaking the enterprize [sic].”[2] Mulgrave’s response was the 19 June memorandum, which circulated through the Cabinet the day after it was drawn up.

Chatham remembered it as being signed by the three professional Lords of the Admiralty. In 1809, these would have been Sir Richard Bickerton, William Domett, and Robert Moorsom.

Chatham’s assertions are to an extent backed up by official correspondence. Following the mid-June cabinet meeting, Castlereagh informed the King of the need to postpone preparing for the expedition until “the practicability of a Landing at Sandfleet [sic] can be assured”. Two days after the circulation of the 19 June Opinion, Castlereagh wrote: “Under the sanction of this opinion … Your Majesty’s confidential servants … feel it their duty humbly to recommend to Your Majesty that the operation should be undertaken”. Castlereagh edited out the line “should the Immediate object be abandon’d”, which suggests that the viability of a Sandvliet landing was indeed the make-or-break feature – to borrow Chatham’s words, the sine qua non – of the expedition going ahead.[3]

All this corroborates Chatham’s account completely, except for one detail. Three copies of the Opinion exist, one in the Castlereagh MSS at PRONI (D3030/3241-3) and two in the National Archives (ADM 3/168). None is signed. The copies of the Opinion that remain are therefore no more than that – an opinion. They were unofficial, and could not be claimed to form the basis of any Cabinet decision to undertake the expedition.

Did Chatham simply misremember the opinion? This is the opinion of Carl Christie, who deals with the 19 June Opinion thoroughly in his excellent thesis on the Walcheren expedition. “The suspicion is that his memory was playing tricks on him”, Christie writes, and concludes that he “misinterpreted the Admiralty opinion”.[4] But Chatham clearly wasn’t the only one who did so, as Castlereagh’s letters to the King show above.

The question, therefore, is whether a signed Opinion ever existed. We only have Chatham’s word for this; but it does seem unlikely that the Cabinet would have made the important decision to proceed with the expedition on the basis of the opinion of two subordinate naval officers. (Popham in particular had a track record of leading British troops into madcap schemes that often went wrong, as the Buenos Aires expedition of 1806 demonstrates).

Castlereagh later played down the importance of the opinion: at the inquiry, when questioned about it, he seemed confused as to which memorandum Chatham had intended to single out, and fudged the issue by saying there was a paper “which I may have seen in circulation, with the names of three [Admiralty] lords attached to it, but I rather imagine that it is the same paper as that which is dated the 9th of June”. But the Admiralty opinion of 9 June 1809 was on a completely different topic, and had also been drawn up prior to the Cabinet meeting to which Chatham referred.[5]

There is, however, one further possibility: that Chatham’s memory was not faulty at all, and that the opinion he saw was different from the printed version. The accusation that the Admiralty later cherry-picked the evidence laid before the Walcheren inquiry to play down its role in the planning, indeed, seems to form the thrust of Chatham’s memorandum. He did not come outright and say so, but he came close when he asserted:

An attempt was made in the course of the Enquiry, to question the existence of this Document, and they [the Admiralty] never would produce it, but they did not venture to call the Sea Lords [to give evidence], and with them the question whether they had not signed such a Paper and delivered to Lord Mulgrave, to be shewn to ye Cabinet.[6]

So where is the signed version of the Opinion the Admiralty failed to produce? Did it ever exist? Castlereagh’s evidence, vague as it was, certainly suggests that it did. Chatham was certainly convinced the Admiralty was covering its back at his expense. Was he right?

We will probably never know.

References

[1] Parliamentary Papers 1810 (89), “Respecting the Practicability of effecting a Landing between Sandfleet and Fort Lillo”

[2] Memorandum by Chatham, PRO 30/8/260 f. 100

[3] Castlereagh to the King, draft, 14 June 1809, PRONI Castlereagh MSS D3030/3137. The 15 June copy that was sent is printed in Aspinall V, 298

[4] Carl A. Christie, “The Walcheren Expedition of 1809” (PhD, University of Dundee, 1975), pp. 126, 131

[5] Testimony of Lord Castlereagh, 13 March 1810, Parliamentary Debates XV, Appendix 5xxii-iv

[6] Memorandum by Chatham, undated, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/260 f 100

The Diary of Colonel Thomas Carey, 27 February 1810

an00686648_001_l

Image from here

And now for something (not entirely) completely different… I wrote this short fiction piece as a guest post for another blog a couple of years ago. I had hoped to put it up yesterday (27 February), as the anniversary of the event in question, but it took a little while to find the document.

Those of you who’ve read The Late Lord will know Thomas Carey was Lord Chatham’s military secretary at Walcheren. I’d much like to know more about him.

Oh, and I didn’t make any of this up.

***

Lord Chatham was called up again to appear before the Committee. He had been dreading it very much; certain members of the Committee had previously fastened upon His Lordship’s explanatory narrative of his conduct, which he had delivered to the King without submitting to the Secretary of State for War. This action the opposition to government supposed to be unconstitutional.

I saw His Lordship after breakfast. He had eaten nothing; I suppose he could not. “Will they mention it again, do you suppose?”

I had no doubt they would, but I said only, “I understand from Mr Huskisson the intention is to examine matters of strategy today.”

In the afternoon I accompanied His Lordship to the House. He was called almost immediately to the Bar, where a chair had been set up for him beneath the galleries, as before. The tiny chamber was full to bursting. The Chairman, Sir John Anstruther, settled his spectacles on his thin hooked nose and began.

I watched from the lobby. I could not see Lord Chatham’s face but I could tell from his stiff shoulders he was uncomfortable. Still, the questioning began well enough.

“At the start of the expedition, did Your Lordship believe Antwerp might be taken by a coup-de-main?”

“Might Antwerp have been taken by assault?”

“Did Your Lordship confer with your general officers on the adviseability of advancing on Antwerp?”

His Lordship answered all of them, rather curtly, but sensibly. And then the strange gentleman rose, on the left of the empty Speaker’s chair. He looked like he had slept in his clothes. I am fairly certain, from the slurring of his words, that he was drunk.

“I know Antwerp could have been taken by two men and a blunderbuss. Was Your Lordship not aware?”

A silence. My Lord looked across at the gentleman who had spoken. The Chairman coughed and said, “Are there any more questions?”

“Two men and a blunderbuss,” the man repeated, then added, “playing the penny whistle.”

Someone laughed. Lord Chatham shifted visibly in his chair. He took a sip from the wineglass he kept under his chair to wet his dry mouth during the questioning.

“Next question,” the Chairman said, firmly.

“Maybe three men, if one had a wooden leg.”

“Will you be quiet?” Sir John shouted.

I fear it was a mistake.

“God Damn me, sir,” the drunk man said, rising unsteadily to his feet and waving a finger, “I have as much right to be heard as any man who is paid for filling the place he holds.”

The silence was so deep I could hear my own heartbeat. Every man on the Treasury Bench looked as though they were wondering if they had heard aright. The opposition was blank-faced. One of the men standing next to me leaned forwards and muttered to himself, gleefully, “And I thought this would be dull.”

“I fear that language is unparliamentary,” Sir John Anstruther said at last. “Gentlemen, I think the Committee ought to interrupt its proceedings to allow the Speaker back to the chair. He will, no doubt, wish to name this gentleman.”

As I understand, naming a Member of Parliament involves entering their name into the Journals for to record poor behaviour. This gentleman, however, remained ufazed. “You need not be diffident, Sir. My name is Jack Fuller.”

Open laughter now. But when the Speaker returned and ordered the man to withdraw, he refused. The Serjeant at Arms came forward with two assistants to remove him; and then Jack Fuller threw a punch, missed his target, and struck the Member for Wool Downs in the back of the head, knocking him off the bench with a cry.

“Take this man into your custody, Serjeant,” the Speaker called.

Eventually Mr Fuller was carried from the chamber, calling back over his shoulder, “Two men I say! Did you hear me, my lord? Two!”

“Any further questions?” Sir John Anstruther said loudly, when the Speaker had retreated once more.

I hoped the questions would be kind, for I knew Lord Chatham’s nerves were under considerable strain as it was, but unfortunately the first person to stand was Mr Whitbread, from the opposition bench. “When you submitted your narrative to His Majesty, my lord, did you enter into any correspondence with him?”

I had hoped the subject would not come up. I closed my eyes. Lord Chatham replied, tensely, “Merely a cover letter. I have no copy.”

“Did you–” Mr Whitbread began, but he was interrupted. Someone pushed past me roughly, reeking of brandy. It was Mr Fuller. He rushed back into the Chamber, shouting, “You have no authority to take me away! Who do you think you are?”

For once Mr Fuller had perfect timing, and I was almost glad for Lord Chatham’s sake that the course of the questioning had been stalled. He stood and swayed, jabbing his finger at the empty Speaker’s chair. “Where is he? Where is that insignificant little fellow in the silly wig?”

“Serjeant!” Anstruther bellowed.

Before the Serjeant could appear Fuller put his head down and rushed at Sir John. Unfortunately Lord Chatham’s chair was in Fuller’s path. His Lordship had to dive out of the way in alarm; I would wager he would much rather have been fighting the French on Walcheren than facing this mad beast.

The Serjeant-at-Arms ran in with his assistants, and started to chase Jack Fuller round the chamber. Four Messengers followed. Mr Fuller picked up Lord Chatham’s vacant chair and waved it at them.

I do not know how long it took them to catch the man; he was surprisingly nimble for a man in his cups. With the assistance of several gentlemen of the House they eventually managed to draw him out. I could hear him shouting as they dragged him down the stairs to the Serjeant’s chamber: “I only wanted to ask a question!”

“Lord Chatham may withdraw,” Sir John Anstruther said, wiping his brow with a handkerchief. “The Committee will now adjourn.”

His Lordship found me in the Lobby. His face was white and I think, had he not had that glass of wine to support him, his legs may well have collapsed beneath him.

“I think that went well,” I said, aiming to encourage him.

He merely looked at me, and did not reply.