Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)


Duke of Wellington

Arthur Wesley (the family name was changed to Wellesley in 1798) was the fifth son of the 1st Earl of Mornington. He Joined the Army in 1787 as an ensign in the 73rd Foot, but saw little regimental service, acting as aide-de-camp to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland until 1793. By then ha had gained rapid promotion, chiefly by means of purchase and was a lieutenant-colonel in the 33rd Foot. He took the regiment to Flanders in 1794 and participated in the dismal retreat to Germany in 1794-5.

In 1797, as a full colonel, he accompanied the 33rd to India, where he achieved a reputation as an effective commander, initially at Seringapatam (1799) and as a major-general, at Assaye and Argaum (1803), Knighted in 1804, he was promoted to lieutenant-general four years later and given command of British forces committed to the defence of Portugal.

His victories at Rolica and Vimeiro were impressive, but his association with the Convention of Cintra threatened to end his career. However, after Sir John moor's death at Corunna in January 1809, the government turned to Wellesley for advice and in April he was sent back to Portugal. His subsequent campaigns in Portugal, Spain and France (1809-1814) confirmed his reputation as an astute often brilliant general. He was prepared to give ground when necessary, drawing the French into untenable positions, yet at the same time was capable of seizing any opportunity to attack.

His victories at Talavera in 1809 (for which he was created Viscount Wellington) and Salamanca three years later are often cited as his most impressive. By 1814 he was a duke and a field-marshal, but it was at Waterloo on 18 June 1815 that he reached the height of his fame, commanding Allied forces that, aided by the Prussians, inflicted a crushing defeat on Napoleon. Wellington served as C-in-C in France until 1818, when he returned to Britain to pursue a political career which included term as prime minister in 1823-30 and 1834, but it is as a military commander (the best produced by Britain since Marlborough) that he is remembered.

Field-Marshal the Duke of Wellington, is shown to the left in the uniform he wore at Waterloo, his own design of semi-civilian dress. The low cocked hat bore cockades, of Britain, Portugal, Spain an Prussia; however, the hat was usually covered in a black oilskin ‘waterproof’. The Duke’s dark blue ‘surtout’ coat was covered by a cloak and cape of the same colour; a white neckcloth completed his dress. Note the absence of gloves, to which the Duke had a marked aversion!

The sword carried by the Duke was, in fact, French, being made by the Imperial goldsmith, Biennais of Paris; how it came into Wellington’s possession is not know, though probably it was a trophy of the Peninsular War. The large telescope was also carried at Waterloo.