Harriett Arbuthnot (1793-1834) was a diarist and notable political hostess for the Tory party. Marrying Charles Arbuthnot (who was at the heart of British politics as joint Secretary of the Treasury) enabled her to become close friends with Lord Castlereagh and the Duke of Wellington. It is widely agreed that she was the Duke of Wellington’s closest female companion. Building a network with the men that occupied positions in the upper echelons of the Tory party and British politics gave her access to daily workings of parliament and internal dynamics of Westminster.


In 1820, Harriett began writing her journal quoting her motivations for doing so:


“It has often been a matter of great regret to me that, in all the years that I have been married and from circumstances have been living so much among the leading men of the day, it had never occurred to me to keep a journal.  I have constantly heard so many things it would be interesting to remember, the greater part of which, from their succeeding each other so rapidly, I have already forgotten.  I have now determined to conquer my natural laziness & make it a rule from this time forth to write down all that occurs to me, or that I hear of in public affairs that is interesting to me.  I begin with the reign of George the 4th, the 1st of February 1820.”


Her journal has been vital to the historical record of the political decisions and actions following the Napoleonic wars. As so much political action was conducted in undocumented personal meetings, Harriett’s journal gives us access to the thoughts of politicians that without her journal could have never been revealed.


During the time of the Bristol Riots, Harriett’s journal indicates her anxiety (one that was shared by many in government)  that hundreds were killed as a result of the riots,  significantly higher numbers died than official numbers provided by the Bristol authorities. Historians have similarly argued that the numbers were concealed to avoid further public outrage and that many deaths resulting from the fires across the city went undocumented as the bodies were never found.


Harriett also documents the Duke of Wellington’s correspondence with the King regarding illegal armed associations across the country. Wellington stated that the illegal armed associations causing riots across the country were bound to eventually collide with the government and challenge them as they had done all over Europe. The king agreed with the Wellington that the associations “could not be tolerated and must be put down” in order to ensure the survivability of the government. Shortly following the king informing Lord Grey of this, the narrative the “The Times” had been pursuing (supporting these armed unions) “changed its tune” as it now claimed these unions could not continue to exist. This incident exhibits the influence and power the political elites held over the media and the narrative it promulgated.


The Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot 1820-1832, eds. Francis Bamford and the Duke of Wellington (2 vols., London, 1950)

The Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot, ed. A. Aspinall (Camden 3rd Series, vol. LXV, London, 1941)