Catherine Sarah Dorothea Wellesley, Duchess of Wellington (1773-1831) was the daughter of Edward Pakenham 2nd Baron Longford of Tullynally Castle and his wife Catherine Rowley. She was one of ten children and more commonly referred to as Kitty.
At the age of 20, Arthur Wellesley, later to become the 1st Duke of Wellington, proposed to Kitty but was promptly refused permission by her older brother and mother. This did nothing to alter her affection for Arthur and when he proposed again 11 years later, she accepted. Family and friends had given up hopes of Kitty ever getting married, she was 33 when Arthur proposed the second time and her health and looks had deteriorated badly over the years, due to family bereavements and illness.
In the 11 years they were apart, Arthur had served in India and on their first return meeting he was shocked by the change in her appearance. Kitty offered him the chance to withdraw his proposal, but he declined, they were married a few weeks later. In 1807, their first son, Arthur, was born followed by a second son a year later, whom they named Charles after Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond, nephew of Lady Louisa. The two couples were said to have grown close while Charles was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Arthur was chief secretary.
By 1808, two years after they were married, rumours began circulating that the marriage was in trouble. Kitty suffered bouts of depression and anxiety. She hated public life, preferring to spend much of her time in Tunbridge Wells or Broadstairs with her two sons, rather than entertaining or celebrating her husband’s successes. Even her closest childhood friend, Maria Edgewood, tired of her at times, as did others. Lady Bathurst, niece of Louisa Lennox, once said of Kitty, ‘I am very sorry to be convinced that the duchess has been more hurt by her friends than her enemies and more by herself than both put together’. But Kitty was generous to a fault, preferring to give money to charity instead of taking care of the household expenses, infuriating her husband even further. She was a gentle person and admired by many, in fact, the duke was often criticised for the way he treated her. Some even claimed she feared him, observing his abrupt manner toward her and it was common knowledge that he had been unfaithful to her on many occasions.
During the winter of 1829-30, Kitty became ill, the devotion she had shown her sons was reciprocated as the two boys rallied to her side. She remained devoted to the duke till the end, still preoccupied with his happiness. His fondness for Kitty did return in the final weeks of her illness and he was by her bedside when she passed away. Two days after her death, Maria Edgeworth arrived at Kitty’s home to visit her dying friend. After informing Maria of her death, the housemaid presented Maria with a lock of Kitty’s hair. The following day, a mob of demonstrators attacked the house, angry at Wellington’s opposition to a proposed reform bill, while poor Kitty was still inside. Wellington later wrote, ‘they certainly intended to destroy the house and did not care one pin for the poor duchess being dead in the house’.
Kitty was the first cousin of Admiral Thomas Pakenham, who was married to Louisa Staples, the niece of Thomas Conolly. It was their son Edward Michael Pakenham who inherited Castletown House after the death of Lady Louisa Lennox.
The Irish Portrait collection has been donated to the Irish Georgian Society and is on loan to Castletown House to be displayed in the Lady Kildare Room.