Two centuries after the Duke of Wellington helped to defeat Napoleon’s army in Spain, his modern descendants are facing a new battle, this time over disputed property.
The mayor of a small town in southern Spain is considering taking action against the Iron Duke’s successors, whom it accuses of illegally laying claim to parts of an estate.
Wellington was hailed as a conquering hero for his commanded of allied troops against the French during the Peninsula War of 1808-14. Waged by the British and Portuguese against the French occupying army in Spain, it was a precursor to Napoleon’s eventual defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
By way of gratitude, Spain granted the Duke an estate at Illora, a town near Granada in southern Spain, in 1814. The 850-hectare (2,000-acre) estate, whose metal gates bear a “W” for its famous owner, contains lush olive orchards, a mill and an aqueduct. The estate is now the property of Charles Wellesley, Marques of Douro, a Spanish title, who is the son of the Eight Duke of Wellington. The Prince of Wales was known to visit the estate on hunting trips during the 1970s.
Today, however, Miguel Angel Espejo, a local historian, believes that Wellington’s agent, Joseph O’Lawlor, added land to the estate without a royal decree from Spain to authorise the move. Mr Espejo said: “Many noblemen took advantage of the slovenliness of the administration of royal land and arbitrarily expanded their boundaries.”
Francisco Domene, the Socialist Mayor of Illora, is considering legal action to expropriate the land to allow locals to use it for farming. “This is something which could change our history,” Mr Domene told the Spanish daily El País.
The estate lies in Andalucia, which traditionally has been one of Spain’s poorest regions. With the country mired in its worst recession for decades and unemployment standing at nearly 20 per cent, the prospect of providing jobs through new farmland would no doubt be welcomed by locals. It might also prove a vote-winner for Mr Domene.
Mr Espejo trawled through 19th-century official papers before making the claims. One document, dated 1868, was written by a local politician called Pascual Madoz. It appears to suggest that Mr O’ Lawlor, a brigadier, claimed a parcel of land that had not originally been decreed to the Duke.
It reads: “Once acquired by the Duke, he gave Brigadier O’Lawlor powers to control it. He [O’Lawlor] claimed that it included the countryside of Illora. The government, once consulted, found that this was not part of the donation.”
The Times attempted to contact Mr Wellesley, the present owner, by telephone yesterday for comment, without success. Gonzalo Zuleta, administrator of the estate, said: “We don’t talk to the press.”