Red Tape and the Duke of Wellington

Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the  approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by H.M. ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch to our headquarters.

We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all  manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit, and spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been  accounted for, with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.

Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of  circumstance, since we are war with France, a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.

This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as  given below. I shall pursue either one with the best of my ability, but I cannot do both:

  1. To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or perchance
  2. To see to it that the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.

Your most obedient servant,


A message to the British Foreign Office in London from the Duke of Wellington.

Central Spain, August 1812

There is nothing new under the sun.  Bureaucracy might just be part of the human condition.

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Bureaucracy and The Duke of Wellington

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Image by Ewan-M


  1. Hello James

    Love it, thank you for sharing.

    I met up with a friend today and we were discussing this amongst other organisational matters. If the folks at head office were not issuing order and asking for all kinds of work to be done then how would these folks justify their existence?

    We also wondered why it is that we don’t design organisations that work by default. We came to the conclusion that if workability was designed into the organisation then the Tops would not be needed. And possibly lots of Middles as well. Besides designing structures that work by default is not glamorous. Putting out fires, thundering from the pulpit, is both more exciting and more rewarding.


  2. James Lawther says:

    That is a very interesting point Maz, I wonder how many organisations do work by default? My guess would be McDonald’s and some of the other franchising operations where it is part of the business model?


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