King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
In the Beginning ...

The Duel

Cartoon image of two men in top hats firing dueling pistols, the Earl of Winchelsea on the left firing into the air and leaning backwards, the Duke of Wellington pointing in the direction of Winchelsea and firingKing's Colledge To Wit by Thomas Howell JonesThe decision to grant Catholic emancipation divided the political nation. Wellington and Peel were both accused of betrayal by their former allies, who included many prominent financial backers of the King's project.

George Finch-Hatton, 9th Earl of Winchilsea, who had earned a ferocious reputation as a vocal critic of O'Connell, led the boycott.

Winchilsea went further than most, however, authorising the publication of a letter addressed to the Secretary of the Provisional Committee. In this letter he accused Wellington of dishonesty in championing the cause of a protestant King's College.

Wellington, he continued provocatively, was hardly 'the public advocate of religion and morality'. Instead, argued Winchilsea, emancipation had shown the Duke was the friend of popery. King's College under his patronage would, in this view, become a Trojan horse designed to catholicise the protestant establishment.

The furious Wellington demanded retraction or reparation in the form of a duel that took place on Saturday 21 March 1829 at Battersea Fields. Both men left the ground unscathed, whereupon Winchilsea issued a formal apology and retraction of his comments.

A separate exhibition, The Duke of Wellington, available on this website, focuses on the career of the duke as well as his role in the foundation of King's including the duel.

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