Rivista di Massoneria - Revue de Franc-Maçonnerie - Revista de Masonerìa - Revista de Maçonaria
History Literature Music Art Architecture Documents Rituals Symbolism

_sc64.gif - 6039 Bytes



WELLINGTON : Soldier, Politician and initiated Freemason

The eventful life of Arthur, Duke of Wellington was evenly apportioned between a triumphant military career and a hardly less remarkable political one.

His early involvement in both fields kept him away from home, which may explain why, notwithstanding his five-year membership of the Lodge in Trim, he never progressed beyond the first degree of Freemasonry.


Arthur Wesley, whose original 12th century name Wellesley was reverted to by the family in 1798, was almost certainly born in Dublin and not Trim, Co Meath and, almost certainly, on 1st May 1769 and not 29 March as has been claimed. These discrepancies are characteristic of a man, lonely and withdrawn in his youth, reticent in nature and notoriously indifferent to the impact he was making on history. Wellington was the third of the five sons born to Garret Wesley III and Anne Hill. Every single one of the Wesley children was to excel in his own field of endeavour and Arthur, amongst them, scintillated throughout his life-long career. His early education in Trim, later in London and from 1781 to 1784 at Eton College culminated, after an additional 2 years of private tuition, in his joining the prestigious Royal Academy of Equitation at Angers in Anjou, France. Although he was to return to England after just one year, the influence of the director of the Academy, Marcel de Pignerolle, was to make of Wellington a cosmopolitan Englishman and his military experience there was to serve him for life. There appears to be no doubt that Wellington would have preferred a University education and service to his country in civilian life. Through the influence of his elder Brother Richard, however, he was launched on a military career from the start. He returned to Ireland in February 1788 an officer and was appointed aide-de-camp to the Lord Lieutenant and simultaneously followed in the political footsteps of the family. A Wesley had had a presence in the Irish Parliament since its inception as an independent Assembly in 1782. In April 1790 Arthur was elected Member of Parliament for Trim, Ireland.  He was 21 years old.


His decision to be initiated into the family Lodge on 7th December of the same year may have been influenced by political expediency. There is no doubt, however, of the intense involvement of his immediate family in the Craft. Both his father and his brother served as Masters of the Trim Lodge No. 494 and they both reached the peak of their Masonic careers as Grand Masters of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. Garrett Wellesley, first Earl of Mornington, was proposed as a member of the Lodge by one of its founders, John Boulger, and raised a Master Mason in July 1775. A year later he served as Worshipful Master of the Lodge and was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, serving for one year, as was customary at the time, being succeeded by the Duke of Leinster in 1776. His eldest son, Richard, 3rd Baron and 2nd Earl of Mornington, was raised on 31st July 1781 having paid his late father's arrears and his own admission fee a few weeks earlier. A year later he followed in the footsteps of the Right Honourable William Randall, Earl of Antrim (who also served as Grand Master of the Antients Grand Lodge of England) as the new Grand Master of Ireland. Wellington would no doubt have followed in their footsteps had time permitted him to pursue his Masonic career. There is no reason to suppose that the young Arthur was in any way disenchanted with the craft. The Lodge records show that on 7th December 1790 he paid his admittance fee of £2 5s 6d. He is here referred to as the Honorable Capt. Wesley. A second entry on 26th June 1792 states Pd now in advance Br. Wesley 14s 1d. The records continue to show several occasions on which his dues are paid, the last entry on 8th September 1795. A further telling entry of his continued, even active, interest in the Lodge affairs is his part purchase of an English Lottery Ticket on 16th February 1795 from the Treasurer of the Lodge. The minutes for that date show that two English lottery tickets, which were the property of the only remaining seven regular Brethren of the Lodge, cost  £45 10s 0d and


. . . .  the members who subscribed and are entitled to benefit of the

tickets purchased of part of their fifty pounds are . . . the Honorable A.

Wesley. . .


The logical conclusion that Arthur had intentions to progress in the Craft are supported by the words of Lord Combermere,  Provincial Grand Master of Cheshire, at the death of Wellington. On 31 December 1852 the Freemasons’ Quarterly Magazine and Review reported verbatim Lord Combermere’s words addressed to the Brethren of the Province on 27th October of the same year:


Perhaps it is not generally known that he (the Duke of Wellington)

was a mason; he was made in Ireland; and often when in Spain,

where Masonry was prohibited, in conversation (with Lord

Combermere), he regretted repeatedly how sorry he was his military

duties had prevented him taking the active part his feelings dictated. ..


In June 1794 Wellington left Cork for Ostend in command of a brigade for active service for the first time in his career. He returned home nearly a year later, a respected and recognized soldier. He finally resigned from the Lodge when he was posted to Austria and then to India in 1796, in command of the 33rd regiment.


At the end of the eight-year spell in India, Arthur Wesley appears to have been undecided on his choice of career as soldier or politician. Clearly, in either case he wished for the highest position that may have been available to him. He returned to England in September 1805 crowned with glory and honours and in April 1806 was elected Member of Parliament for Rye in Sussex. (He was later to represent Mitchell, Cornwall and Newport, Isle of Wight). Exactly a year later he joined the Duke of Portland’s Tory Government as Chief Secretary for Ireland. Meanwhile his military career was reaching a peak. In 1808 he was made a Lieutenant General and involved in the various military campaigns against Napoleon familiarly refereed to as the Peninsular War, which ended with the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814.


Whilst stationed in Portugal in the autumn of 1809, an interesting episode gives us an insight into his attitude toward Freemasonry. The Portuguese government, no doubt still under the influence of the several catholic Papal Bulls banning Freemasonry, had a natural political and religious distrust of Freemasons and other liberal bodies considered to be anti clericals. Nevertheless Freemasonry prospered in the Country, all the more since it had been revived by the French aggressors under Napoleon with several of his officers active in the Craft, including Marshals Lannes, Junot and Ney. In what would appear to be the manifestation of Freemasonry universal, troops under Wellington’s command held a Masonic meeting in Lisbon, following which they walked in procession and in full regalia through the streets of the City. This incident, in which the Masons were stoned and only narrowly escaped being shot at, was an embarrassment to the Duke than acting as Marshal General of the Portuguese Army. In an attempt to diffuse the tension and in typical awareness of the sentiments of the local populace, Wellington issued a General Order dated 5th January 1810 addressed to his officers requiring them to refrain from overt Masonic activity


an amusement which, however innocent in itself and allowed by the

law of Great Britain, is a violation of the law of this (Portugal)

Country, and very disagreeable to the people.


The Portuguese presumed Wellington to be an active Freemason, not appreciating that he had not progressed beyond his initiation. They presumed that his inactivity as a Mason was merely a matter of discretion because of political sensitivities.


Only five years later Wellington was again to come face to face with his Masonic reputation. Marshal Michel Ney, who famously met his end during the White Terror as a traitor, executed by a firing squad on December 7, 1815 in a Paris public park, recognized Wellington as a full-fledged Masonic brother. In a document now apparently lost between Apsley House and the Southampton University archives, Marshal Ney appealed to Wellington as a Brother to assist and save his life. Wellington was not in a position to intervene. Ney had been initiated in Le Trinosophes Lodge number 494 in Paris under the Grand Orient of France and a legend has persisted that the Bravest of the Brave, as he had been referred to by Napoleon, escaped execution with the help of French Freemasons and the Duke of Wellington. The legend is perpetrated by the inscription on Peter Stuart Ney's tomb in the Third Creek Presbyterian Church in rural Rowan County, North Carolina, USA: In memory of Peter Stuart Ney, a native of France and soldier of the French Revolution under Napoleon Bonaparte, who departed this life Dec. 15, 1846, aged 77 years. Peter Stuart Ney, a schoolmaster, was buried there in 1846. His last words on his deathbed are reported to have been: By all that is holy, I am Marshal Ney of France!.


Wellington’s military career was to reach its glorious peak on 18 June 1815 with the defeat of Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo. He served as Commander in Chief of the Occupation forces until his return to England in November 1818 and within a month had been appointed to the Cabinet of Prime Minister the Earl of Liverpool, as Master-General of Ordnance. His continued, if somewhat tumultuous, political career was also crowned with success when he was made Prime Minister on 9th January 1828. He was an active politician and kept his hand in military matters into his 80s.


Much has been made of the Duke’s negatory remarks about his initiation into Freemasonry. In 1838 when Lodge 494 of Trim decided to move to Dublin, the newly appointed Secretary, Bro Edward Carleton wrote to the Duke asking for permission to rename the Lodge in his honour. The Duke’s reply was polite and firm:


…(the Duke) perfectly recollects he was admitted to the lowest grade of Free Masonry in a Lodge which was fixed at Trim, in the

County of Meath.

He has never since attended a Lodge of Free Masons. He cannot say that he knows anything of the Art.

His consent to give this Lodge his Name would be a ridiculous

assumption of the reputation of being attached to free Masonry; in

addition to being a misrepresentation.

            The Duke of Wellington hopes, therefore, that Mr Carleton will

excuse the Duke for declining to comply with his suggestion. ..


Notwithstanding this rebuff the members of the Lodge were not to give up so easily. In March 1843 the Secretary applied to the Grand Lodge of Ireland as follows: 


To The Right Worshipful the Grand Lodge of Ireland


The Memorial of Lodge No. 494 formerly held in Trim but now in Dublin respectfully sheweth that on the seventh day of December 1790 His Grace The Duke of Wellington then the Honorable Capt. Wesley was admitted a member of said Lodge No. 494.


That his Grace the Duke of Wellington having since that period signalized himself in a manner universally known Lodge No. 494 therefore prays that if in your wisdom you shall find it not inexpedient you will permit said Lodge No. 494 to bear the name and title of The Wellington Lodge and your memorialists aim duty bound will pray


Dated Lodge Room 20 March 1843


James McDonnell  Master

William Wilson  SW

Frank Thorpe Porter  JW

Richard Pim  Secretary


The response and result of this appeal is recorded in the Grand Lodge of Ireland Minutes of 6th April 1843, which state: -


Read a Memorial from Lodge 494 requesting permission to take the title of the Wellington Lodge. The Board recommend that said request be granted. Postponed for the reconsideration of Lodge 494


Lodge 494 Minutes 17th April 1843 show their decision not to pursue the matter:

That this Lodge do communicate to the Grand Lodge their sense of the kind feeling they have received through the Secretary respecting the Memorial presented praying to be allowed in future to call themselves the Wellington Lodge and in consequence of the suggestions by him so expressed they beg to withdraw said memorial.


It may have been the reluctance by members of the Lodge to publicise these various communications that led to much confusion of the Duke’s membership of the Craft. These were added to following Wellington’s death on 14th September 1852. In the letters section of the Freemasons’ Quarterly Magazine for 31st March 1854 a Mr Walsh sent in a letter dated March 6th referring to the various fraternal tributes being paid to the memory of the late Duke of Wellington. Mr Walsh stated that he had been writing a book to be entitled Ancient Builders of the World and


I was anxious to have the name and date of reception into

Freemasonry of every illustrious man. . . . For this purpose, I wrote to

the Duke of Wellington, and the following is his reply: -



London October 13, 1851

F M The Duke of Wellington presents his compliments to Mr Walsh.

He has received his letter of 7th ult. The Duke has no recollection of

having been admitted a Freemason. He has no knowledge of that



Chetwood Crawley has correctly pointed out that the Duke of Wellington was now in his 82nd year and that his blunt retort to an impertinent inquirer is much in character.


 The Duke of Wellington stands out as England’s greatest military hero and outstanding politician. Circumstances did not allow him to pursue a Masonic career. It detracts little from the pride we take in the Wesleys’ membership of our ancient Craft.



Credits and Bibliography:


Chetwod Crawley W J Notes On Irish Freemasonry No VI  AQC  LXV 1902

Hayes, Rebecca - Librarian grand lodge of Ireland, Dublin

Longford, Lady Elizabeth - Wellington Abacus 2002

Mainguy, Irene – Librarian, Grand Orient of France, Paris

Slade, Sophie - Apsley House, The Wellington Museum, London

Wellesley A R ed Supplementary despatches and memoranda of Field

 Marshal Arthur Duke of Wellington, KG,  London, 1858-72