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The Duke of York affair (1809) and the complexities of wartime patriotism*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

Philip Harling
University of Kentucky


The essay examines the forced resignation of the duke of York as commander-in-chief of the British army in 1809 as a case study in the complexities of patriotism during the Napoleonic war. The recent work of Linda Colley and others has emphasized the conservative use of wartime patriotism as a means of defending the established political order in general and royalty in particular. But the parliamentary and outdoor pressure that prompted the duke to step down in response to suspicions that he had permitted his mistress to trqffick in army commissions indicates that staunch supporters as well as critics of the status quo did not hesitate to invoke patriotism as a means of criticizing royalty when it was thought to have neglected its duty to set a good moral example to the nation. There is no question that a large majority of the duke's critics felt that royalty was integral to what they believed was Britain's uniquely privileged position in the world. But the York affair suggests that a great many ‘patriotic’ Britons felt that the royal family had to be protected from its own occasional indiscretions as well as from the Napoleonic peril.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1996

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1 Hansard, XII, col. 186 (27 Jan. 1809).

2 Ibid. XIII, col. 709 (17 March 1809).

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17 Perceval to George III, [2 Feb. 1809], The later correspondence of George III, ed. Arthur, Aspinall (5 vols., Cambridge, 1962), V, 187.Google Scholar

18 At one point, for instance, she claimed she was a widow, but was later forced to admit that for all she knew, her long-estranged husband was still very much alive. Hansard, XII, cols. 282–4, 334 (1 Feb. 1809).

19 See for example Edinburgh Annual Register, 11, part 1 (1809), 163Google Scholar; Hansard, XIII, cols. 178–9 (9 March 1809), 272–3 (10 March 1809), 367–8 (13 March 1809).

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24 Examiner, no. 63, 174 (12 March 1809).

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28 Mr. Redhead Torke's weekly political review, VI, no. 6 (11 Feb. 1809).

29 Examiner, no. 60 (19 Feb. 1809).

30 Ibid. no. 65 (26 March 1809).

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38 Ibid. cols. 278–9 (10 March 1809).

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48 Hansard, XII, col. 301 (14 March 1809).

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55 Duke of York to Charles Abbot, 23 Feb. 1809, Hansard, XII, cols. 1032–3 (23 Feb. 1809).

56 Ibid. XIII, col. 238 (9 March 1809).

57 Ibid. cols. 378, 385–6 (13 March 1809).

58 Garlick, , Macintyre, and Cave, (eds.), Farington diary, IX, 3415 (5 March 1809).Google Scholar

59 Courier, 24 Feb. 1809.

60 Hansard, XIII, cols. 230–1 (9 March 1809).

61 For example, Sun, 2 Feb. 1809; Times, 29 March 1809.

62 Political register, XV, no. 6, col. 221 (11 Feb. 1809).

63 Ibid. no. 11, col. 409 (18 March 1809).

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65 William, Jerdan, The autobiography of William Jerdan (4 vols., London, 1842), I, 111–12Google Scholar. For a detailed assessment of right-wing newspapers' coverage of the York affair, see Sack, James J., From Jacobite to conservative: reaction and orthodoxy in Britain, c. 1760–1832 (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 138–40.Google Scholar

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73 Hansard, XLL, col. 190 (27 Jan. 1809).

74 Ibid. col. 202 (27 Jan. 1809).

75 For details of the suits, see Thorne, (ed.), The house of commons, 1790–1820, V, 487–8Google Scholar; Trial: the king, on the prosecution of Gwyllym Lloyd Wardle, esq., M.P., against Francis Wright, Daniel Wright, and Mary Anne Clarke (London, 1809)Google Scholar; General Evening Post, 12 Dec. 1809; Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Trigge to Sir Charles [Hastings], 13 Dec. 1809, Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on the manuscripts of the late Reginald Rawdon Hastings, esq., of the manor house, Ashby de la £ouche (3 vols., London, 1928), III, 75–6.Google Scholar

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78 Clarke, , The rival princes, I, 22–3Google Scholar. Kent ostensibly sought revenge against the commander-in-chief for having been relieved of his command of the garrison at Gibraltar after his harsh disciplinary methods had incited a mutiny there.

79 Satirist (June 1811), p. 502.

80 Reid, W. Hamilton, Memoirs of the life of Colonel Wardle (London, 1809), p. 82.Google Scholar

81 Hansard, XIII, cols. 52–3 (8 March 1809).

82 Ibid. cols. 236–7 (9 March 1809).

83 Courier, 16 Feb. 1809.

84 Times, 13 March 1809.

85 See for example Thompson, E. P., The making of the English working class (Vintage edn, London, 1963), p. 79Google Scholar; James, Epstein, ‘Understanding the cap of liberty: symbolic practice and social conflict in nineteenth-century England’, Past & Present, no. 122 (1989), 75118Google Scholar; Cunningham, , ‘The language of patriotism’, esp. 5762Google Scholar; John, Belchem, ‘Republicanism, constitutionalism, and the radical platform’, Social history, VI (1981), 132.Google Scholar

86 For a detailed discussion of ‘constitutionalist’ radicalism during the Napoleonic wars, see Philip, Harling, The waning of ‘Old Corruption’: the politics of economical reform in Britain, 1779–1846 (Oxford, 1996), ch. 4.Google Scholar

87 Major John Cartwright to Thomas Northmore, 27 June 1809, The life and correspondence of Major Cartwright, ed. Cartwright, F. D. (2 vols., London, 1826), I, 391Google Scholar. Reid, , Memoirs of the life of Colonel Wardle, pp. 33216Google Scholar, gives excerpts from roughly seventy-five of the meetings.

88 Political register, XV, no. 13, col. 502 (1 Apr. 1809); no. 18, col. 702 (6 May 1809); no. 17, col. 644 (29 Apr. 1809).

89 See for example Political register, XV, no. 17, col. 644 (29 apr. 1809).

90 See note 3.

91 Political register, XV, no. 18, col. 704 (6 May 1809).

92 Ibid. no. 20, col. 791 (20 May 1809).

93 Reid, , Memoirs of the life of Colonel Wardle, p. 38Google Scholar: speech of a Mr Quinn at the Common Hall meeting of 1 Apr. 1809.

94 Norfolk chronicle, 6 May 1809.

95 Gentleman's magazine, lxxix, 348 (Apr. 1809).

96 Political register, XV, no. 18, col. 701 (6 May 1809).

97 Colley, , ‘The apotheosis of George III’, p. 97.Google Scholar

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