Baron of Mornington
There once was a gentleman named Richard Colley, born around the year 1690 of Anglo-Irish stock at Castle Carbery in County Kildare, Ireland the son of a Henry Colley or Cowley. The Colley family were originally from Gloucestershire and came to Ireland in the thirteenth century where they were landowners in the Wexford area.
This Richard Colley was not a man of any particular significance, but with the death of a cousin named Garret Wesley on the 23rd September 1728 he inherited the estates of Dangan and Mornington in County Meath, and thus became a landowner of some minor importance. Shortly afterwards on the 15th November 1728, Richard Colley legally adopted the surname of Wesley in recognition of his new position in society.
Between the years 1729 and 1746 he was returned as the member from Trim in the Irish Parliament, and after his retirement from the Irish Commons was created the Baron of Mornington in the Peerage of Ireland on 9 July 1746, taking the designation Mornington from his aforementioned estate in County Meath. Described as a "good-humoured, agreeable man" he married Elizabeth Sale, daughter of John Sale in 1719, a marriage that produced two daughters and a son named Garret born in 1735, who duly succeeded his father as the Baron of Mornington on the former's death 31 January 1758.
Earl of Mornington
The 2nd Baron of Mornington, Garret Wesley was an accomplished musician and composer, who wrote the glees 'Here in Cool Grot' and 'Come, Fairest Nymph' and later became Doctor of Music at Trinity College, Dublin in 1764. His musical talents were such that he won the favour of George III, who was sufficiently amused to grant him the titles of the Earl of Mornington and Viscount Wellesley of Dangan Castle on the 2nd October 1760. (As with the title of Baron of Mornington these were both titles in the Peerage of Ireland.
Garret Wesley married Anne Hill, daughter of the Viscount Dungannon, Arthur Hill-Trevor, and was blessed with a total of five sons. The eldest Richard Wellesley succeeded him as 2nd Earl and later became the Marquess Wellesley, the next William Wellesley-Pole succeeded his elder brother as the 3rd Earl. His third son was Field Marshall Sir Arthur Wellesley, who gained a substantial military reputation and the title Duke of Wellington; the fourth Gerald Valerian Wellesley undertook a clerical career, whilst the fifth Sir Henry Wellesley, gained the title Baron Cowley of Wesley and whose descendants later became Earls of Cowley.
The first Earl was also anxious to demonstrate the suitability of his family for their newly elevated position in society and commissioned much research into the family history. This established that the family originated from Somerset descended from a Sir William de Wellesley that had once held Wellesley Manor in that county. It was in order to emphasise his descent from his fourteenth century ancestor (and quite possibly to distance himself from his notorious Wesley relations who were undermining Church and State with their Methodism) that the 2nd Earl decided to change his name to Wellesley in 1789. The precedence set by the 2nd Earl was followed by his younger siblings, all of whom also adopted Wellesley as their surname in place of Wesley. (Which incidentally is pronounced as Wesley, no matter how it is written.)
Richard Wellesley succeeded his father as 2nd Earl in 1781, entered parliament where he became a great friend of William Pitt, served as the Commissioner for Indian Affairs between 1793 and 1797 and was afterwards appointed Governor-General of India in 1797 where he was responsible for a significant expansion of British influence in India. He was later briefly the Ambassador to Spain, held the office of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs between December 1809 and March 1812, and subsequently became Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland.
Earlier on in his life Richard had taken as his mistress a French actress by the name of Hyacinthe Roland, whom he brought to England in 1784. Although they later married in 1794 the five children which she had born him in the meantime remained, in the eyes of the law of the time, illegitimate. Hence although his career of public service was rewarded by the grant of the additional titles of the Baron Wellesley of Wellesley (a title in the Peerage of Great Britain) in 1797 as well as the extra Irish title of the Marquess Wellesley of Norragh in 1799, neither of these titles could pass to his children.
Although Richard made valiant efforts to persuade the king to grant him an English Marquessate or Dukedom, preferably with a special remainder to his eldest son, he failed in this endeavour and on his death the titles of Baron and Marquess Wellesley became extinct.
It is worth noting that it was Richard Wellesley, the 2nd Earl who gave his name to the Mornington Crescent in Camden, London and thus to both the tube station and the game of the same name.
The Decline and fall of the Earls of Mornington
Richard's younger brother William Wesley was fortunate in that he inherited the estates of a cousin named William Pole, and therefore decided from December 1781 to change his name to 'Wesley-Pole' which he subsequently changed once more to 'Wellesley-Pole' in 1789 in line with his brother's example. This younger Wellesley was granted the title of Baron Maryborough of Maryborough on the 17th July 1821, which was a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom and therefore guaranteed William a seat in the House of Lords. With the death of his elder brother 2nd Earl on the 26th September 1842 without any direct male heirs, William inherited the title of Earl of Mornington, becoming the 3rd Earl a title which he held for a mere three years before his death in 1845.
His eldest son, another William, was to marry an heiress by the name of Catherine Tylney-Long, and in anticipation of this match, and in accordance with family tradition, on the 14th January 1812 he adopted the name of William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley. Which it has to be said must be a contender for the most ridiculous surname ever adopted by a member of the peerage.
From his wife he obtained a considerable amount of property including the impressive Wanstead House in Essex, where a son William Richard Arthur was born in October 1813. Despite his significant wealth William scandalously blew the lot on gambling and loose women and was bankrupt by 1823. He spent the rest of his life in poverty surviving on a pension from his richer and more illustrious cousin the 2nd Duke of Wellington. He died on the 1st July 1857 and his obituary in the Morning Chronicle was suitably scathing; "Redeemed by no single virtue, adorned by no single grace, his life has gone out without even a flicker of repentance".
His son William Richard Arthur inherited little except his titles and unusually for this branch of the family decided not to change his surname. He died unmarried at the age of 49 on the 25th July 1863 in Paris. Since his younger brother James had died earlier in 1851, the title of Baron Maryborough of Maryborough became extinct. The various Irish titles including that of the Earl of Mornington passed to his cousin the second Duke of Wellington.
The title Earl of Mornington is currently one of the subsidiary titles held by the 8th Duke of Wellington, Brigadier Sir Arthur Valerian Wellesley and is used as a courtesy title by his grandson Arthur Gerald Wellesley.
The origins of the Wesleys
Some sources claim that the name Wesley is derived from the Old English 'West-Leas' meaning 'western meadow'. However it seems that the original form of the name was 'Welswe' or 'Welswey' which very probably meant 'the way of the well', and was a place name given to a manor that stood on the road to Wells in Somerset.
The enthusiastic researches of the 1st Earl allegedly traced his family's origins back to a certain Guy, who was made a thane by Athelstan around the year 938, and placed this 'Guy of Welswe' as the original founder of the family. It would be wise not to pay to much attention to this story; Guy is of course, a suspiciously Norman name for a supposedly tenth century Englishman, and it was the fashion at the time for the nobility to demonstrate links with the 'Saxon' past (a fundamentally difficult task given that many were of thoroughly Norman origin); it was therefore quite common for genealogists to invent such links were none existed.
There was undoubtedly a Sir William de Wellesley who was a member of parliament in 1339 and whose second son, Sir Richard de Wellesley, went to seek his fortune in Ireland and founded the Wellesley later Wesley family of County Meath. The eldest son of Sir William de Wellesley, Walrond de Wellesley, naturally remained in England and succeeded to he family estate at Wellesley Manor in Somerset. The family name was variously rendered as Westley, Wesly, and Wesley. It was the Epworth branch of the English Wesleys which produced the Methodist John Wesley.
THE EARLS OF MORNINGTON
See Duke of Wellington thereafter.
- Royal Genealogy information held at University of Hull see http://www.dcs.hull.ac.uk/public/genealogy/royal
- RoyaList Online at http://www.royalist.info/royalist/index.html
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
- A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at http://www.thepeerage.com
- Wesley/Wellesley genealogy at www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/british/ww/wellesley2.htm
- Wanstead House at http://www.essexhistory.net/wansteadhistorical.htm
- Mornington Crescent at http://www.camdenbus.co.uk/newsite/pages/ST11.htm