Oliff’s Life

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The Duke of Wellington’s connections with Northamptonshire were perhaps deeper than one might suspect.

I recently came across another little document written in the hand of one of Britain’s most iconic heroes, addressed to a lady who had lived close to the place of my own birth.

Apart from once duelling with George Finch-Hatton, who had lived at Kirby Hall near Gretton, Wellington was a very close friend with Harriet Arbuthnot from Woodford House, near Kettering.

During the 1820s she was known as the “closest woman friend” of the celebrated Field Marshall and Prime Minister, though any suggestion that they may have been anything other than just good friends was disputed in the book Wellington and the Arbuthnots by E A Smith.

Then again, the Iron Duke was not the first to attract the affections of the wife to Charles Arbuthnot, a British diplomat.

Until his death Harriet had described Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, as her “dearest and best friend”, before turning her sociable attentions to Wellington.

Coincidentally, Wellington was born in Ireland, and Castlereagh had been the second Marquess of Londonderry.

What surprises me is my lack of knowledge of such fascinating local history.

Throughout my education not one single history lesson mentioned any connection that our county or surrounding counties may have had in the larger picture.

I strongly believe that such knowledge may have induced further independent research at a much earlier age and may even have encouraged a minimum of interest in my contemporaries.

Holding a piece of paper that had once been written and signed by the great Duke is one thing.

To see the words Woodford and Kettering written in his own hand from Thursday, September 16, 1819: quite thrilling.