Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of Stapleton Cotton, 1st Viscount Combermere (1773-1865), wearing the uniform of Lieutenant-General (circa 1812) 

John Wright (c.1745-1820)

Portrait miniature of Stapleton Cotton, 1st Viscount Combermere (1773-1865), wearing the uniform of Lieutenant-General (circa 1812), John Wright
Watercolour on ivory
19th Century
Rectangular 114mm (4.5 inches) high
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Stapleton Cotton, 1st Viscount Combermere is perhaps best known for his extensive military service, in particular his successes under Arthur Wellesley 1st Duke of Wellington. Even from a young age ‘Young Rapid’, as he was known, on account of his quick pace and haphazard attitude, show signs of promise. He entered a private military academy in Bayswater at the age of sixteen, and in February 1790 obtained a second lieutenancy without purchase in the 23rd Royal Welsch Fusiliers, joining the corps in Dublin in 1791. Cotton attained the rank of colonel on 1st January 1800 and became major-general on 30 October 1805. Cotton’s political career is also of note and between 1806 and 1814 he was Tory MP for Newark. With an established name in both politics and the military, Cotton was welcomed in society and following the death of his father and subsequent inheritance of his estate and title, Cotton had many reasons to leave his military career behind him. He was however adamant to fulfil his duties, and with a fast-growing reputation of discretion and responsibility, Wellington held him in high favour.

Cotton rejoined the army in 1810 and was appointed the command of the 1st division and soon the whole of the allied cavalry, being awarded the local rank of lieutenant-general. One of Cotton’s most notable achievements at the head of cavalry was his successful leadership at Llerena on 11th April 1812, when he attacked and defeated a far superior force of Soult’s rear-guard. Another triumph was during the battle of Salamanca where he was second in command only to Lord Wellington, and led the charge of Le Marchant’s and Anson’s heavy brigades.

On 17th May 1814 Cotton was created Baron Combermere of Combermere, Chester, awarded a pension of £2000 a year and also decorated with Hanoverian, Portuguese and Spanish orders. In 1815 following services in France Cotton was made KB (Knights Companion) and two years later was appointed governor of Barbados and commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands, a position held until June 1820. In 1822 Cotton was made commander-in-chief in Ireland, and retained this position until 1825 when he was selected by the East India Company, on the advice of Wellington, to lead the attack on Bharatpur, a fortress long desired by the British.

Cotton was made Viscount in 1827 and in 1829 colonel of the 1st life guards. Cotton remained in India for the customary five years and for nine months of which acted as governor. When back in England Cotton turned increasingly to politics, and as a die-hard Tory opposed numerous innovative ideas including the repeal of Corn Laws and army short service. On Wellington’s death he was made constable of the Tower of London and in 1855 a field marshal. Cotton died in 1865 of a severe cold and was buried in the family vault at Wrenbury, Cheshire.

We see Cotton wearing the uniform of Lieutenant-General (circa 1812) and on his lower left side the Order of the Tower and Sword, an award with Portuguese origins, but available also to foreigners for military, political or civilian achievement. He also wears around his neck the Large Army Gold Medal, which was awarded to generals for actions during the Peninsular War 1806-14 and War of 1812.

John Inigo Wright exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1795-1819 and was well acquainted with the leading artists of the day including Sir Thomas Lawrence, John Hoppner and William Owen. It would have been through Lawrence that Wright came into contact with Wellington’s generals, both copying Lawrence’s portraits in miniature form and painting from life. A smaller work by Wright of Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey (1768-1854), (formally part of the Albion collection), is a fine example of his work after Lawrence. The Paget portrait however is slightly later than the present work which shows Cotton in his lieutenant-general attire, a rank achieved in 1812, the year he was also awarded the KB (Knights Companion) for acts of chivalry.
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