Wellesley (Wesley), Richard Colley (1760–1842), Marquis Wellesley , governor-general of Bengal and lord lieutenant of Ireland, was born 20 June 1760 at Dangan Castle, Co. Meath, eldest child of Garret Wesley (qv), 1st Viscount Wellesley and earl of Mornington, and Anne, eldest daughter of Arthur Hill-Trevor, 1st Viscount Duncannon. Richard had five younger brothers, including Arthur Wellesley (qv), the future duke of Wellington, and one younger sister. He was educated at a private school in Trim before being sent to Harrow, and later to Eton. He entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1778, but left without taking his degree after the death of his father in 1781, whereupon he succeeded as 2nd earl of Mornington . On coming of age, he took his seat in the Irish house of lords, having previously sat as MP for Trim (1780–81). In 1784 he was elected to the British house of commons as MP for Beeralston in Devon. He subsequently represented Saltash, Windsor and Old Sarum. He adopted the surname Wellesley in 1789.
Wellesley was a supporter of a number of liberal causes including free trade and the abolition of the slave trade. He joined the Irish Volunteers, acting as colonel of the Trim Volunteers, and became a friend and follower of Henry Grattan (qv). In 1783 he supported a motion before the Irish parliament calling for annual parliaments, but opposed the reform bill drafted by the National Volunteer Convention, arguing that the convention was illegal. In 1793 he was appointed to the board of control for Indian affairs by William Pitt, and in 1797 was appointed governor-general of Bengal. At the same time, he was raised to the British peerage as Baron Wellesley, and in 1799 was created Marquis Wellesley of Norragh in the Irish peerage. (Both titles expired on his death.) He arrived in India to find British supremacy under threat, and embarked upon a vigorous expansionist policy with the intention of consolidating British, and eliminating French, influence. By 1805, when Wellesley was recalled, the East India Company was once again in a secure position, although his activities had significantly increased the size of the company's debts and led to growing unease in Britain.
In 1809 Wellesley was appointed foreign secretary. He resigned in 1812 and remained out of office until 1821 when he was made lord lieutenant of Ireland. The appointment was a popular one. Catholics welcomed a supporter of catholic emancipation, and protestants were reassured by his reputation for having secured British power in India. Enthusiasm, however, soon gave way to disillusionment. Protestants were dismayed by his attempts to discourage Orange demonstrations, and catholics were alienated by the slow progress towards emancipation. Although his efforts to govern impartially were frequently undermined by the anti-catholic leanings of his ministerial colleagues, Wellesley did oversee a number of reforms intended to conciliate the catholic community and increase public confidence in the law, including reform of the magistracy and the establishment of a professional police force. He resigned in 1828 when his brother, the duke of Wellington, a confirmed opponent of catholic emancipation, became prime minister. He was reappointed as lord lieutenant in 1833 after the departure of the marquis of Anglesey (qv), and left office in 1834 after the break-up of Lord Grey's government. Wellesley was happiest exercising autocratic power in India and found it difficult to adjust to the demands of cabinet government. Anxious to preserve his reputation as a great statesman, he was excessively cautious in passing judgement. He died 26 September 1842 at Kingston House, Brompton, and was buried in the college chapel at Eton.
Wellesley married twice. On 29 November 1794 he married his partner of nine years and the mother of his three sons and two daughters, Hyacinthe Gabrielle, daughter of a French actress, Hyacinthe Varis, and Pierre Roland, a Paris banker. Her maternal grandfather, Chevalier Fagan, had been one of the Irish ‘wild geese’. When Hyacinthe died (5 November 1816) the couple had been legally separated for some years. Wellesley's second wife, Marianne, whom he married at the viceregal lodge (29 October 1825), was an American catholic, widow of Robert Paterson, and daughter of Richard Caton, an auctioneer's clerk of Philadelphia. Her mother, Mary, was the second daughter of Charles Carroll of Carrollton (Maryland), the last surviving (and only catholic) signatory of the declaration of American independence. Wellesley and Marianne had no children. Without legitimate issue, he was succeeded as 3rd earl of Mornington by his brother William Wellesley-Pole (qv). The National Portrait Gallery in London possesses two portraits of Wellesley by J. P. Davis, and a marble bust by John Bacon. His papers are in the British Library.