Two Dukes…who disobeyed orders.
In 1809 the French were once again on the ascendant in Spain. Whilst at Talavera in July the British had fought Marshals Victor and Jourdan to a standstill, Sir Arthur Wellesley (soon to be Lord Wellington) was forced to fall back towards Portugal as another French force threatened to outnumber his small army. And of course he couldn’t rely on the Spanish.
Well…there was one man he might have relied on – a man who unfortunately did not rank highly enough in the Spanish hierarchy. The Duke of Albuquerque was a Spanish aristocrat; a horseman who commanded the Army of Estremadura. His cavalry in particular acquitted themselves well at Talavera and the duke himself was so exasperated by his commander General Cuesta’s actions he wrote to Wellesley warning him that his superior should not be trusted.
After the battle the duke was ordered south to protect Seville, now threatened by the French. But realising that even if he did reach the city in time he would only be delaying its inevitable fall, he disobeyed orders and headed straight to Cadiz. In doing so he succeeded not only in strengthening its garrison sufficiently to withstand the subsequent French siege, but that siege tied up 20,000 French troops for two and a half years. Thanks to his courage and foresight Cadiz never fell and remained a Spanish stronghold until the French were expelled from Spain after the battle of Vittoria in 1813.
Fast forward a hundred and sixty years to 1974 and we find Beltran de Osorio y Diez de Rivera, 19th Duke of Albuquerque, disobeyed an order from his doctor not to ride in the Grand National.
Since childhood the duke had dreamt about riding in, and winning, the world’s greatest steeplechase. His first ride in 1952 ended with a fall and, never blessed with the best of horses he fared no better in subsequent attempts. In 1974, however, he had a decent horse. He also had only recently had screws and plates removed from a leg broken in a racing fall some months earlier. And whilst in training he fell and broke his collarbone, which he insisted on being strapped up for the race itself (something that would not be allowed today).
So with freshly mended, and freshly broken, bones the duke rode in the race and this time completed the course, finishing 8th.
The 19th duke’s story has a slightly sad end. In the 1976 National he suffered a horrendously bad fall and was trampled by other horses. For two days he lay in a coma, but true to form, once recovered he expressed his intention to enter the race again, now aged 57. The Jockey Club had other ideas, however, and refused to grant him a license.
So, despite seven attempts, the poor duke never achieved his ambition, and I have read articles that allude to him as the ‘worst jockey in history’. How unfair is that?
He was simply a brave man. They both were. Two dukes who disobeyed orders.