Last chance to see! The 1st Duke of Wellington’s Coronation Robes

To mark the coronation of King Charles III on the 6th May, the magnificent robes made for the 1st Duke of Wellington and his two sons for the coronation of George IV in 1821 will be going on display at Apsley House. As a national hero, Wellington was given the prominent role of Lord High Constable; he took part in the procession to Westminster Abbey, and during the ceremony he was amongst the chain of officials who passed the regalia to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who crowned the king. At the grand banquet, held afterwards in Westminster Hall, Wellington also made an impressive entry on horseback, a spectacle that was greeted with great applause.

The costumes worn at the coronation of George IV were designed in the style of Tudor and early Stuart dress and made of luxurious silks and velvets in crimson, cream and blue. They were a celebration of tradition and a reflection of the king’s extravagant tastes and desire for ostentatious display. As Wellington himself remarked, the effect was a truly magnificent spectacle that delighted the thousands of spectators.

Displayed to the public for the first time in over thirty years, the robes worn by Wellington and his sons recall the splendour and ceremony of previous coronations. They also have contemporary significance. The 1st Duke’s coronation mantle was worn by the 9th Duke of Wellington at the coronation of Charles III. The Duke wore the 200 year old garment for the ceremony in Westminster Abbey, at which he carried Queen Camilla’s crown.

The coronation robes will be on display at Apsley House from the 22 April 2023 –  10 March 2024.

Domestic Life at Apsley House

Modern visitors to Apsley House often ask about Wellington’s domestic arrangements. Where did the servants live? How many servants did the Duke have? How much did Wellington pay his servants? How did they get the food from the kitchen to the first floor for all those wonderful banquets?

These are all good questions and the fact is that until recently not a great deal of work had been done on the subject. Mostly because sources are scant and amongst the tales of the Duke’s heroic victories and the splendour of his dazzling interiors and important art collection, interest in the domestic side of Apsley House has been neglected.

When Wellington bought the house in 1817 it was a rather plain, square red-bricked house designed by Robert Adam in the 1770s.


Here we can see a picture of the original house in the 1770s on a dessert plate from the Saxon Service at Apsley House.

Wellington’s architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt added two extensions to the house. The first, a three storey addition in 1820, was created to supply the Duke with a first floor dining room but also allowed for expanded domestic quarters in the basement.

Secondly, in 1828 the Waterloo Gallery, a huge double height room running the whole length of the west side of the house. This  increased the number of domestic rooms in the basement (and living quarters for the Duke) from 7 rooms plus some living quarters to more than 17 rooms which included a new servant’s hall.


Benjamin Dean Wyatt’s completed house can be seen here with the massive new extension on the west side (to the left). On the first floor Wyatt created the magnificent Waterloo Gallery, a large entertaining space and picture gallery.


Serving the Duke

In its heyday the house had 25 servants.  Of those, we know that 22 lived in and their accommodation would have been in the 3rd floor attics and in the basement.

The notable exception is Louis Auvrey, the Chef, who was probably French, and who did not live in. He was paid more than the long- serving Butler, Christopher Collins, which illustrates the value of a French chef in the early 19th century.

In 1853 the list of servants shows that the upper servants, the Butler, Housekeeper, Head Coachman and Valet, had all been in service for over 25 years in the Duke’s household. Matilda Cross, the Housekeeper had worked for the Duke for 35 years, the longest serving member of staff.

James Morris, the Porter at Apsley House, was a Waterloo Veteran who worked for Wellington from 1831. On the 1851 census he is recorded as ‘Porter and Chelsea Pensioner’. A Chelsea Pensioner was an old or disabled soldier who lived at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Morris had his own room on the ground floor (now an office) and his large Porter’s chair can still be seen in the entrance hall.

When Wellington died in 1852 a very helpful list was made of his domestic staff which gave us not just names but ages, how long they have been working at Apsley House and their wages.  Below is a transcript of the original document.

Name Length of service Board Wages Standing wages Total Wages Age Occupation
Christopher Collins 28 54.12.0 78.15.0 133. 7.9 50
James Kendall 25 54.12.0 52.10.0 107.2.0 48 Valet
Louis Auvrery 6 54.12.0 157.10.0 212.2.0 51 Cook
William Heath 30 41.12.0 37.16.0 79.8.0 49 Head Coachman
John Robey 10 36.8.0 37.16.0 74.4.0 58 Under Butler
John A Mears 33 36.8.0 29.8.0 65.16.0 53 Groom
John Finch 8 36.8.0 26.5.0 62.13.0. 35 Footman
George Stubberfield 8 36.8.0 26.5.0 62.13.0 28 Footman
John George 2 36.8.0 26.5.0 62.13.0 32 Second Coachman
James Morris 20 36.8.0 26.5.0 62.13.0 58 Porter
John Mansfield 1 36.8.0 21.0.0 57.8.0 20
Matilda Cross 35 42.0.0 54 Housekeeper with the late Duchess
Ellen Bebb 1 29.18.0 26.0.0 55.18.0 27 Assistant Cook
Ann Mucklestone 5 29.18.0 21.0.0 50.18.0 41 Assistant Cook at Stratfield Saye
Jane Tomlinson 5 29.18.0 15.15.0 45.13.0 24 Assistant Cook at Stratfield Saye
Mary Williams 18 29.18.0 16.16.0 46.14.0 47 Head Housemaid
Mary Smart 16 29.18.0 14.14.0 44.12.0 40 Housemaid
Margaret Anderson 11 29.18.0 14.14.0 44.12.0 44 Housemaid
Hannah Baker ?Barber 7 29.18.0 12.12.0 42.10.0 29 Housemaid
Hannah Shepherd 6 29.18.0 14.14.0 44.12.0 28 Housemaid
Charles Cooper 25s/- per week 2 65.0.0 65.0.0 35 Watchman
Joseph Alsop 15s/- per week 2 39.0.0 39.0.0 22 Helper in stables

The Servant’s Life

Servants were meant to be invisible, but through letters and other documents we can start to build a picture of their lives. Wellington had many long serving members of staff like James Kendall, Valet, William Heath, Head Coachman, and Christopher Collins, Butler, who were well paid and who received generous allowances.


William Heath, the Head Coachman and his staff of Grooms were supplied with their livery from shops such as Francis W Woodfall, a tailors at 10 Waterloo Place, Pall Mall. Each outfit consisted of a pair of drab (dull light brown) cord riding breeches, frocked jackets, overalls and greatcoats with velvet collars. In 1844, seven such outfits were purchased for a total sum of £132. 7s. 0d. The Coachman and Footmen were also supplied with hats, cockades, gold braid and deerskin gloves from Moore, Bicknell’s and Moore on Old Bond Street, the same shop which supplied the Royal Family.

The servant’s boots were ordered from Northampton, historically an important centre of shoe production. In 1844, there are two orders for boots in January and July, and the Duke spent £25. 4d. The Head Coachman, William Heath, received two pairs of boots in the same year.

The painting below shows John Mears, Wellington’s Groom, dressed in his chocolate coloured coat with a velvet collar and drab coloured trousers as itemised in the clothes bills from the tailors Francis W Woodford. Mears is the only Apsley House servant depicted in a painting or print.

In his military life Wellington was renowned for his administrative flair and his eye for detail. These skills were put to good use in household management. However, it was the 1st Duchess of Wellington’s task to run the household but the Duke seems have a taken a very active role. His instructions on when and how the servants should dine show just how involved he was.

In order to keep regularity in the family it must be settled at an early period that the Servants Hall have their meals at stated times. The Lower Servants to breakfast at 9 dine at two; sup at 8.

They must be allowed ¾ of an hour for breakfast & supper & one hour for dinner. There must be no eating or drinking at other hours. Each of the lower Servants to have a pint of Ale at dinner & the same at Supper & at each & at breakfast as much Small beer as he or she can drink during the time of the meal.

The Upper Servants to have tea for breakfast; a quart of Ale at dinner & quart at Supper with as much Small beer as they can drink.

It is very desirable to keep the consumption of the House at 1 ½ Pound of Meat for each Person. Meat in the Country being 10shillings a pound

The servants at Apsley House were attended at home by an apothecary. In a household account for May 1845 there are 19 occasions on which he visited, charging 5 shillings a time, and one night visit at 15 shillings. It is unclear whether all these visits were made in one month.  The servants are treated with pills and ‘mixtures’ and leeches. The Housekeeper, Mrs Cross, is recorded as receiving treatment with six leeches for which Wellington is charged 4 shillings and sixpence.


On Campaign

James Thornton, Cook

James Thornton was Wellington’s Cook, and later Steward, from 1811 to 1820. He first joined Wellington on campaign in Portugal at his winter headquarters in Freineda during the Peninsular Wars (1807-1814) which took place in Spain and Portugal against Napoleon’s army led by his brother, Joseph Bonaparte.

Thornton had one ‘kitchen lad’ and a’ Portuguese scullery man’ to help him prepare meals. At winter headquarters life took on a routine as Thornton recalls  ‘ breakfast at 9 to 10 o’ Clock, and the dinner at 6. No regular lunches’.

Once on campaign Thornton could travel 20 miles a day with all his kitchen equipment carried on mules. He had folded ‘board tables with hinges and the kitchen furniture was packed in boxes on the back of the mules’.

What did Wellington eat on campaign? Thornton’s memoir gives us little detail on the actual food that he cooked. He does record Wellington often going off for the day with a crust of bread and a couple of boiled eggs in his pocket.

Dining With the Duke

In Apsley House Wellington entertained on a grand scale and his banquets and music evenings were attended by members of the Royal Family and leading European personalities. George IV, William IV and finally then Prince Albert, all attended the Waterloo Banquets.

The Waterloo Banquet took place every year to commemorate the victory of the Battle of Waterloo, a glittering social occasion reported in great detail. In 1835 The Times describes the table set with the Prussian Service; the sideboard displaying the Waterloo Vase and Wellington Shield, and that ‘one of the servants stated that the plate was estimated at £300,000’.

There was one evening in April 1828 when there were 12 Dukes on the guest list. Such guests were of great interest to the press but so too was how the tables were laid and what they ate. The arrival of the Prussian Dinner Service in December 1819 was widely reported with the Morning Chronicle saying that it was ‘the finest service of china ever imported into the country’.

The Prussian Service is just one of six dinner services that were given to the Duke by the crowned heads of Europe after Waterloo that  can be seen on display at Apsley House.



The Story of Apsley House

Apsley House was built in the 1770s for Henry Bathurst, 1st Baron Apsley, by the architect Robert Adam. An apple stall and an inn called Hercules Pillars made way for Apsley House .

The setting was thought to be one of the finest in London, on the edge of the city with the Royal Park at the back and “fine views over to the Surrey and Kent hills”, as Thomas Shepard’s popular guide ‘London in the Nineteenth Century’ noted, but the area was quickly developed and houses made their way along Piccadilly.

The house that Robert Adam built is no longer visible from the outside but it survives to a considerable extent behind the stone facing and extensions of 1828-30. It is documented in the Adam drawings held in Sir John Soane’s Museum.

In 1807, the 3rd Earl Bathurst sold the house to Marquess Wellesley, the elder brother of the 1st Duke of Wellington. Ten years later Wellington bought the lease from his brother and engaged the architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt who writes to the 1st Duke:

“I have carefully examined it throughout. It certainly is an excellent house, and in very good repair. It is as substantial and as well built as any house need be, and it is splendid without containing any superfluous room.”

Despite Wyatt’s first report being very favourable, Wellington decided that the house was in need of expansion and refurbishment. The work at Apsley House covered two periods. Wyatt’s first addition was a large three storey extension to provide a dining room on the 1st floor and private rooms for Wellington on the ground floor, completed in 1820.

In 1829, the spectacular Waterloo Gallery was finished.  The style is eclectic and typically Wyatt, but overwhelmingly French. Certainly Wellington’s close friend, Harriet Arbuthnot, a keen amateur designer, may have had a hand in some of the elements of the gallery.

Towards the end of the building project Wellington was not on good terms with Wyatt. Costs had spiralled and Harriet Arbuthnot acted as go-between as she recorded in her journal: “When the house is the admiration of London….I shall consider the merit all due to me.”

Wyatt encased the original red brick of the Robert Adam house in Bath Stone and added a portico and a new entrance. The first guidebook to Apsley House written in the 1850s recalls:

“Towards the park it (Apsley House) has a pleasing aspect and is surrounded by a small garden in which, on a Sunday afternoon the late Duke might often have been seen walking undisturbed by, and apparently heedless of all the bustle that was passing around, but in front it is almost excluded from view by a rich and lofty bronzed palisade, corresponding with the gates to the grand entrance to the Park.”

The Story of the Collection

The core of the Wellington Collection was formed by the ‘Spanish gift’, those paintings rescued from the battlefield at Vitoria, Spain, in June 1813 at the end of the Peninsular Wars.

The retreating Joseph Bonaparte had taken over 200 paintings from the Spanish Royal Palaces but was unable to escape with them all. Wellington’s men saved most of the paintings, amongst them works by Velázquez, Titian, Rubens and Brueghel. They were being transported in big trunks called ‘imperials’.  All the works were off their stretchers and rolled up.

Wellington was aware of the quality of the paintings in Spain but he had no real idea of what treasures he had rescued until they were sent back to his brother William, Lord Maryborough, in London.

When most of the paintings had been identified and Wellington was informed that they had come from Spain he wrote to the restored King Ferdinand VII and offered them back. Wellington was told that the King was “touched by your delicacy”. He did not want to deprive Wellington of ‘”that which has come into your possession by means as just as they are honourable”.

Today 82 paintings from the Spanish Royal Collection are on display to the public in Apsley House.

When Wellington purchased Apsley House he started to collect paintings that appealed to him. At two sales in Paris, his agent purchased 12 important Dutch pictures including three by Jan Steen and two by Nicolaes Maes.

Wellington also commissioned portraits of his contemporaries, notably three full-lengths by Sir Thomas Lawrence of the 1st Marquess of Anglesey, Lord Lynedoch and Viscount Beresford which joined other military portraits by the Dutch artist Pieneman.

The most expensive painting that Wellington ever bought is by Sir David Wilkie, ‘The Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Despatch’.  It cost £1,260, an enormous sum at the time. It might be explained by the fact that Wilkie started drawing his first studies in 1817 but the final payment for the painting did not come until 1822.

The Wellington Collections is not just about paintings. The Museum Room on the ground floor houses some of the magnificent gifts that were given to Wellington after Waterloo by the grateful monarchs of Europe.

Dinner services by Sèvres, Meissen and the Berlin Factory dominate the room along with a rich collection of silver and silver. The rosewood cases around the room date from Wellington’s day and they contain many of his numerous dinner services.

The 2nd Duke opened parts of the house, including the Museum room, after his father’s death in 1852. A special ticket was required for admission. The first guidebook to Apsley House stated:

“No more graceful compliment has of late years been paid to public opinion than that rendered by his Grace, the present Duke of Wellington, in submitting to general inspection the Mansion which has so long been identified with his illustrious father’s name”.

The 1st Duke of Wellington

Arthur Wellesley was born in Dublin in 1769, the third son of the 1st Lord Mornington and Anne Hill, daughter of the Viscount Dungannon. His childhood was spend at Dungan Castle, Ireland, the family seat.

Family life changed dramatically when his father died. Arthur was 12 and just about to go to Eton. His father Garret Wesley (the family name was later changed to Wellesley) left his mother Anne and brothers with large debts and they decided to move to London, and later Brussels.

Arthur was an unpromising child and his mother thought that he was only fit for the army so he was sent to military academy in Angers, France. His early commissions were due in part to the influence of his brother Richard Wellesley, who has forging his own career in public life and did a great deal to help his younger brother.

India was where Wellington made his name. He was promoted to Major General in 1803 and achieved his first major victory at the Battle of Assaye. As he prepared to sail home his thoughts turned to Catherine (Kitty) Pakenham, the daughter of Lord Longford. They had met in Dublin society and had fallen in love but his proposal has been rejected by the Longford family.

Now returning from India with money, rank and growing fame, Arthur Wellesley renewed the proposal which was this time accepted. In the intervening years Kitty had been ill and had lost those youthful looks that had so attracted the young Wellesley.

They married in 1806 but the union was a not a success and long periods apart, especially during the Peninsular Wars (1807-1813), made the relationship even more difficult. They had two sons, whom Wellington always felt had been spoilt by their mother.

The period spent in Spain and Portugal fighting the French under the general command of Joseph Bonaparte was decisive for Wellington. Proving his abilities against Napoleon’s most capable generals led to a series of very hard fought battles where Wellington honed his strategic skills.

The war concluded at Vitoria in June 1813 and the French were forced to retreat back across the Pyrenees with the British Army following them as far as Toulouse.

Wellington’s finest moment came at the Battle of Waterloo, where he won the day at the head of a European army against Napoleon Bonaparte.

After Waterloo he retired from active service, famously saying: “I hope to God that I have fought my last battle. It is a bad thing to be always fighting.”

Wearied by years of campaigning Wellington settled into civilian life, he bought Apsley House in 1817 from his brother Richard and set his sights on making a name for himself in politics.

By 1828 he was Prime Minister, but he proved to be unpopular and Apsley House was attacked twice by the mob. Wellington had to install iron bars on the ground floor windows of Apsley House to stop the bricks breaking his windows. This is what led to him being called the ‘Iron Duke’.

Although Wellington retired from public life in 1846, he continued to serve as Commander In Chief of the armed forces. He was unable to step away completely from the limelight after serving his country for more than 60 years.

He died at Walmer Castle in September 1852 and his funeral sparked an outpouring of national grief.

Wellington and Russia

In February 1826, the Duke of Wellington attended the funeral of Tsar Alexander I as the representative of the British government. His visit was widely recorded in the Russian press. He was hailed as the “commander who struck the last blow against Napoleon”, and his presence caused a great deal of excitement in social circles in St Petersburg.

Wellington recorded in letters home his impressions of St Petersburg and the details of the elaborate ceremony surrounding the funeral of Alexander I in Kazan Cathedral, before the traditional burial in the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Despite the freezing temperatures Wellington rode on horseback with the Tsar and the Prince of Orange, each of the important guests had been given Yakutzk and Kamchatka sable coats to help them keep warm. These expensive coats formed only part of a range of generous commemorative gifts which Nicholas presented to the most honoured guests at the funeral.

Wellington returned to London with a collection of outstanding examples from the Royal workshops. The gifts included a pair of malachite-topped pier tables with bronze stands which can still be seen in the Red Striped Drawing Room today.

A large pair of Korgon porphyry torcheres is now on display in the Waterloo Gallery. A similar pair can be seen in The Hermitage Museum today.

Two large mirrors are also listed as arriving at Apsley House, but are no longer part of the collection. It is unclear when and why they left the house.

These were all rich additions to Apsley House as it reached the end of lavish restoration under Benjamin Dean Wyatt.

On a more mundane but no less interesting note was Wellington’s fascination with Russian secondary glazing. Although the weather was freezing, Welllington notes in his letters home how warm Russian apartments are, sometimes too warm for him.

He was intrigued by the secondary glazing, and when he returned to Apsely House he asked for it to be installed. Unfortunately it was later removed, possibly because of changes to windows or shutters, but it can be seen in the Thomas Shotter Boys watercolour of the Red Striped Drawing Room of 1853.

Wellington at Home

Apsley House was never intended as an all year round residence for the Duke. When he served as Prime Minister he had to be in London from early February until July. Apsley House was perfectly placed for Parliament and Wellington was often seen riding between the two.

Whilst in London, he would make brief visits out of town to friends, particularly to Harriet and Charles Arbuthnot’s country home in Northamptonshire. Harriet Arbuthnot records in her diary how the Duke “who is always the person that makes the fewest difficulties brings his own little travelling bed”. Wellington was shown in a William Heath cartoon of 1829 carrying his bed on his back from one residence to the next as if he was still on campaign.

At Apsley House his library was handsome and designed to be entirely practical. His bedroom was plain with a single bed. Richard Ford who visited Apsley House in 1853 noted that “curtained indulgences and eider-down pillows had no charms for him, whose hard mattress was so narrow that all stretchings were impossible”.

Certainly Richard Ford’s images of Wellington’s private suite of rooms on the ground floor of the house reveals as comfortable and practical, almost like a gentleman’s club and fit for purpose, whether Wellington was holding meetings or writing letters. In Ford’s pictures you can see the contrast between the grandeur of the state rooms of the house on the first floor and Wellington’s private taste.

Wellington entertained royalty and high society at Apsley House. The grand Waterloo Banquet took place every year from 1820 to the year the Duke died in 1852. Wellington would gather his old comrades together, often with the Prince Consort Albert in attendance. The guests would be treated to a dazzling banquet cooked by Wellington’s French chef and the table would be decorated with the Portuguese silver service.

One such occasion is recorded in William Salter’s 1836 painting which hangs in the Portico room at Apsley House. All the years of disruption that Benjamin Dean Wyatt caused by his building work meant that Wellington had periods when he could not be at home.

When Wellington became Prime Minister in 1828, the builders were hard at work on the Waterloo Gallery, a massive extension to the house, and he had to move into No. 10 Downing Street until the work was complete.

Wellington never seemed to have enjoyed Apsley House the way he did his country house Stratfield Saye, or later Walmer Castle, when he was Warden of the Cinque Port.

Wellington and Napoleon

Born in the same year, 1769, the two men took up their first commissions in the army around the same time.

Although Wellington spent nearly half of his career fighting the French and defeating them, Napoleon was scathing about Wellington’s abilities referring to him as the ‘sepoy general’, referring to his time in India.  On the morning of 18th June 1815 just before the battle of Waterloo Napoleon informed his generals that Wellington was a bad general and they had nothing to fear.

Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo brought to an end a remarkable career.

Wellington in contrast famously said that Napoleon’s presence on the battlefield “was worth forty thousand men”. Privately he criticised his military and political rule, referring to him as ‘Buonaparte’ to emphasise his non-French origins. “His whole life, civil, political and military, was a fraud’.

However, it was Wellington who saved Napoleon after Waterloo. When there were calls for him to be executed, he was strongly against it. Although Napoleon blamed Wellington for his exile to St Helena it was not his choice. Napoleon hated St Helena and he died in 1821, an ill and embittered man.

His will, written on St Helena and amended countless times, contains an interesting addition. He left ten thousand francs to an officer called Cantillion who had been put on trial (and found innocent) for an assassination attempt on Wellington in 1818. He noted in his will: “Cantillion has as much right to assassinate that oligarchist as the latter had to send me to perish upon the rock of St Helena.”

Visitors to Apsley House will be surprised to see so many images of Napoleon and other members of the Bonaparte family. Wellington bought, or was given, paintings of Napoleon including the colossal statue of the Emperor by Canova, which dominates the main staircase of Apsley House.

Wellington became acquainted with Napoleon’s favourite sister, Pauline Borghese, in Paris in August 1814, when he negotiated the purchase of her house, the palatial Hotel de Charost, for use as the British Embassy. The house is still the British Embassy today.