King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
Byron & politics: ‘born for opposition’

15. King’s Colledge [sic] to wit: a practical essay

Cartoon in colour depicting the duel. Wellington is depicted on the right aiming his pistol wide and Winchilsea is depicted on the left firing his pistol in the air.Thomas Howell Jones. King’s Colledge [sic] to wit: a practical essay. London: SW Fores, 1829. KCLOn 21 March 1829 the Duke of Wellington confronted the Earl of Winchilsea in a duel in Battersea Fields. Earlier that year Wellington, as Prime Minister, had suddenly changed his long-standing opinion on the Catholic question and lent his support to the Roman Catholic Relief Act. His actions angered Tory Anglicans, including Winchilsea.

At the same time, Wellington was closely involved in the founding of King’s College London, conceived as a Church of England alternative to the largely secular ‘London University’ (later University College London).

In a letter to the Duke which he also sent to be published in the Standard, Winchilsea furiously criticised Wellington’s advocacy of Catholic emancipation and his simultaneous support of the establishment of an Anglican King’s College, accusing him of using his King’s College role as a cloak for his ‘insidious designs for the infringement of our liberties and the introduction of popery into every department of state.’

Following an angry exchange of correspondence, Wellington demanded a duel. Pistol shots were fired, although it appears that both men aimed wide.

Byron intensely disliked Wellington and his Tory policies. It is therefore ironic that it should have been under the premiership of his arch enemy that two of Byron’s political goals were achieved: first the Roman Catholic Relief Act, which was given royal assent on 13 April 1829, and then, on 3 February 1830, the signing of the Protocol of London by the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and Russia, recognising the sovereign independence of Greece and finally setting the seal on Byron’s dream of Greek freedom.

In this exhibition

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