King's College London
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The Duke of Wellington

A Question of Honour?

Wellington's memorandum on the insultWellington's memorandum on the insultCrucially, all concerned realised that this was no mere private dispute but that the political circumstances lent it particular gravity and wider import.

It was, in Wellington's own words:

'Scarcely…a private quarrel'

Instead, Wellington chose to interpret the event as a test of the right of any minister to change his opinion on an issue - on this occasion Catholic emancipation - without being branded a 'traitor'.

Wellington made the most of the opportunity by exploiting the duel to silence his most vocal critics and rally moderate opinion, recognising in this piece of theatre the possibility of outmanoeuvring them as comprehensively in the political arena as he had once done his enemies on the battlefield.

Indeed, the duel shows that he was often a subtler and more ingenious politician than some historians have allowed. In this one moment, then, scheduled for 21 March 1829 on Battersea Fields, the cause of reform, the direction of public policy and the history of the new King's College became inextricably linked.

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