Bringing the past to present times

Arthur Wellesley – Duke of Wellington

1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), Commander-in-Chief of the British army during the Napoleonic Wars, and British Prime Minister.

Arthur Wesley (later Duke of Wellington) was born in Dublin, Ireland on 1st May 1769. He was the third out of fives sons of Anne (née Hill-Trevor) and Garrett Wesley 1st Earl of Mornington. He spend most of his childhood at a large house in Dublin, and at Dangan Castle in Summerhill, County Meath. Both places were own by his parents.

1781, Arthur’s father died, he eldest brother Richard inherited his fathers earldom. Author was enrolled into Eton College, near Windsor, Berkshire in England.

1785, A lack of funds due to his fathers death, took Arthur out of Eton. He moved with his mother to Brussels. His mother became concerned at his idleness, not knowing what to do with him. A year later, Arthur was enrolled into the French Royal Academy of Equitation in Angers. He excelled at horsemanship and French. Both of these skills would serve him in good stead in later years.

the duke of wellington
The Duke of Wellington, by Thomas Lawrence

Military career

7th March 1787, After a year back in England, Arthur was commissioned as ensign to the 73rd Regiment of Foot. In October he was assigned as Aide-de-Camp to Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Buckingham. He was transferred to the 76th Regiment in Ireland, and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on Christmas Day.

23rd January 1788, Arthur was transferred into the 41st Regiment of Foot.

25th June 1789, He was transferred into the 12th (Prince of Wales) Regiment of (Light) Dragoon’s. He was nominated, and elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Trim, Ireland.

30th January 1791, Arthur became Captain, and transferred into the 58th Regiment of Foot. He was again transferred to the 18th Light Dragoons on 31st October.

1793, He became a Major of the 33rd Regiment, and in October he gained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

June 1794, He set sail with the 33rd regiment from Cork, Ireland to Ostend, Belgium. This brought reinforcements for the army that was already in Flanders. He arrived too late and joined the Duke of York pulling back towards the Netherlands.

15th September 1794, Arthur was in temporary command of his brigade, as part of an allied force. The Battle of Boxtel in the Netherlands was his first experience of battle. The battle resulted in a French victory, Arthur remarked “at least I learned what not to do, and that is always a valuable lesson.”

March 1795, For the second time, Arthur returned as a member of Parliament to represent Trim, Ireland.

3rd May 1796, Arthur was promoted to a full Colonel, he then set sail with his regiment for Calcutta, India.

Campaign in India 1797-1805

1798, At the beginning of the campaign in India, Arthur changed the spelling of his surname from ‘Wesley’ to ‘Wellesley’. His eldest brother Richard (recently became the Governor-General of India) considered the ancient and proper spelling.

27th March 1799, During the Battle of Mallavelly, Arthur led his men in a formation of a line of two ranks and fired upon Tipu Sultan’s army. Arthur ordered the 33rd Regiment to a bayonet charge, which forced Tipu’s army to retreat.

5th April 1799, Arthur suffered an injury to his knee with a musket-ball at the Battle of Seringapatam. He lead a failed attack with a number of his men killed and injured in the dark against the fortress at Seringapatam to clear the way for artillery. Arthur became ill for a considerable time after drinking water, with severe diarrhoea, fever, and then a fungal infection of the skin.

10th September 1800, At the Battle of Conaghul, Arthur personally led a charge of a combined force of 1,400 British dragoons and Indian cavalry, against Dhondia Wagh’s 5,000 cavalry. Dhondia was killed during the battle, his body was tied to a cannon and taken to a British camp.

17th July 1801, He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General, whilst serving as Governor of Mysore. Arthur had now taken up residence in the Sultans summer palace.

September 1802, While at Mysore, Arthur was promoted to Major-General.

major general wellesley commanding his troops at the battle of assaye
Major General Wellesley commanding his troops at the Battle of Assaye, by W.Heath

23rd September 1802, During the Battle of Assaye against the Maratha army, Arthur came under fire. Resulting in two horses being shot from underneath him, he had to mount a third horse. He found himself in the thick of the action the whole time. Despite it being a British victory, with 400 men killed and heavy casualties, the Marathas were defeated with losses of 6,000 killed. Arthur found himself troubled by the loss of men and remarked “I should not like to see again such a loss as I sustained on 23rd September, even if attended by such gain”. In later years, Arthur would say that Assaye was the best battle he ever fought.

November 1802, Arthur saw victory at Argaum against a larger Maratha army. The Anglo-Indian army had 361 casualties, while the Maratha army had 5,000 killed.

15th December 1803, Arthur’s Anglo-Indian army besieged fort Gawilghur. After two failed attempts at the main gate, Captain Campbell led the 94th Scottish Brigade and attacked and overcame the northern gates. The remaining British forces gained entry to the fort, resulting in victory.

March 1805, Arthur reportedly said “I have served as long in India as any man ought who can serve anywhere else”. Arthur boarded HMS Howe with his brother Richard (Lord Mornington), and sailed back to England. During the voyage, they stopped at the British owned island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic. Coincidentally Arthur stayed at Longwood House, the place Napoleon Bonaparte would be exiled to.

September 1805, Upon arriving to the office of the Secretary for War to request a new assignment. Major-General Wellesley met Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson. The only time they both met, Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar the following month. Some 30 years later, Arthur recalled “I don’t know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more”.

10 April 1806, A marriage to Kitty Pakenham (1773-1831) in Dublin. Over the next two years they would have two children, Arthur in 1807, and Charles in 1808. The marriage became a failure, due to the amount of time they spend apart from each other.

29th August 1807, Arthur commanded an infantry Brigade at the Battle of Koge (Second Battle of Copenhagen). He besieged Copenhagen and the Danish militia that was raised on Sjaelland. It ended in a British victory, with Arthur present during the surrender.

Peninsular War 1808-1813

25th April 1808, Arthur was raised to the rank of Lieutenant-General.

August 1808, the Peninsular War started for Arthur when he landed in Portugal with 15,000 British troops, including the King’s German Legion. Victory came in quick succession at the Battle of Roliça (17th August 1808) and the Battle of Vimeiro (21th August 1808). Arthur was superseded in command after the last battle by General Sir Hew Whitefoord Dalrymple, 1st Baronet. They would both be recalled to Britain to face a Court of Enquiry over the controversial Convention of Sintra. An agreement signed on 30th August 1808. Arthur was cleared of any wrong doing, he was appointed as head of all British forces in Portugal.

12th May 1809, Having arrived in Lisbon on 22nd April, Arthur defeated the French army with his Anglo-Portuguese army, at the Second Battle of Porto to take back the city of Porto.

27th July 1809, At the Battle of Talavera Arthurs British army would fight of several advancements of Marshal Soult’s French army at a heavy cost. A force of 30,000 French moving south to cut the British from Portugal. Arthur sent the Light Brigade to hold the bridge over the Tagus at Almaraz. Arthurs forces would retreat back into Portugal.

wellington at the battle of salamanca
Wellington at the Battle of Salamanca, by William Heath

26th August 1809, Following the victory at Talavera, Arthur was elevated to the Peerage of the United Kingdom as Viscount Wellington of Talavera and of Wellington in the county of Somerset. He also gained the subsidiary title of Baron Douro of Wellesley.

27th September 1810, The French were defeated at the Battle of Bucaco by Arthurs Anglo-Portuguese Army. He prevented the Lisbon Peninsula by secretly constructing lines of forts and other military defences, with flanks defended by the Royal Navy.

3rd May 1811, Arthurs British-Portuguese army at the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, stopped the French Army under Marshal André Masséna relieving the besieged city of Almeida. Arthurs subordinate William Beresford, 1st Viscount Beresford fought Marshal Soult’s ‘Army of the South’ to a mutual bloody standstill at the Battle of Albuera (16th May 1811).

31th July 1811, Arthur was promoted to the rank of a full General.

7th January 1812, Arthurs forces besieged the Spanish city of Ciudad Rodrigo. The on 19th January, the British artillery opened fire and breached the walls of the city. The British then successfully took the captured the city from the French General of Brigade Jean Léonard Barrié. The Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo ended, once the city had been returned to the Spanish.

16th March 1812, the Siege of Badajoz was the bloodiest of battles, and was considered a costly British victory. Around 4,800 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded during the intense fighting against the French forces.

22nd July 1812, At the Battle of Salamanca, Arthurs Anglo-Portuguese army overwhelmingly defeated Marshal Auguste Marmont’s French forces with a succession of flacking manoeuvres. 5,100 were killed from the Allied forces, while the French suffered 13,000 men killed.

22nd February 1812, As a reward for liberating the Spanish city of Madrid, Arthur became the Earl of Wellington.

18th August 1812, He became Marquess of Wellington and was given command of all allied armies in Spain.

19th September 1812, at the Siege of Burgos, Arthur failed to capture the fortress of Burgos. Due to a lack of siege guns, he was force into a headlong retreat, resulting in over 2,000 casualties.

21st June 1813, Arthur had a victory at the Battle of Vitoria against the French forces of Joseph Bonaparte. He was promoted to the rank of Field-Marshal. Arthur is reported to have said that though many of the men were, “the scum of the earth, it is really wonderful that we should have made them to the fine fellows they are”.

After taking the small fortresses of Pamplona, Arthur forced Marshal General Jean-de-Dieu Soult’s French army into a fighting retreat into France. Resulting a series of battles from July 1813 at the Battle of the Pyrenees, through to April 1814 at the Battle of Toulouse. The result of this was the abdication of Emperor Napoleon I:

13th May 1814, Arthur was hailed a conquering hero. He was made Duke of Wellington, along with the subsidiary title of Marquess Douro in the county of Somerset.

Waterloo 1815

The Allied forces were beaten back by the Marshal Ney’s French army. Wellington’s Anglo-Allied army withdrew 15 miles north to a site he had noted the previous year. The north ridge of a shallow valley on the Brussels road, just south of the small town of Waterloo.

16th June 1815, the Battle of Quatre Bras was tactically indecisive, resulting in Napoleon preventing Arthur’s forces from aiding Blucher’s Prussian army at the Battle of Ligny. After withdrawing 15 miles north on a ridge of a shallow valley, it was at this spot Arthur had noted it to have been a favourable place for a battle, it was Waterloo.

wellingtons march from quatre bras to waterloo,
Wellington’s March from Quatre Bras to Waterloo, by Ernest Crofts

18th June 1815, the previous day rain had soaked the ground, making it very muddy. The Battle of Waterloo was the first time that Arthur had encountered Napoleon at a battle. The Anglo-Allied army arrived with a force of 68,000, along with 156 cannon. He accepted that Napoleon’s presence would make a huge difference to his 72,000 men and 246 canon.

Duke of Wellington positioned most of his forces behind a ridge, giving protection from the French canon. He then placed the remaining men in front of the ridge.

British Guardsmen and German Light Infantry took up positions at he Chateau of Hougoumont, and more British and German riflemen were in the centre at the farm of La Haye Sainte.

Napoleon launched a bombardment from his canon, and a diversionary attack against Hougoumont. The French were shot down by the British and German riflemen.

The Dutch-Belgians were driven back from the centre by the French. Once they reached the ridge, the French were driven back British infantry followed by a counter-attack by British heavy cavalry. The cavalry routed the French infantry, but was cut to pieces with counter-attack by French cavalry.

wellington at the battle of waterloo
Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, by Jan Willem Pieneman

The soggy ground hampered the French cavalry again the British troops in formed squares. The French captured La Haye Sainte from the British and Germans. Duke of Wellington strengthened his position when Napoleon sent troops to recapture the village of Plancenoit from the Prussians.

The French Imperial Guard marched up the ridge between Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. They came under fire from the British guardsmen and light infantry. The Imperial Guard were defeated, which send the rest of the French forces into panic and retreat.

It was a victory for the Duke of Wellington. He was reported to say that the battle was “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life.”

Political career, and Prime Minister

26th December 1818, Arthur, the Duke of Wellington entered politics again. He was appointed the Master-General of the Ordnance in the Tory government of Lord Liverpool. In October the following year, he also became Governor of Plymouth.

22nd January 1827, He was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British Army. In February he also became Constable of the Tower of London.

1828, King George IV invited Arthur to form his own government, he had become the British Prime Minister. He chose not to live at 10 Downing Street for the first seven month, due to finding it too small. Only when his own home Apsley House had extensive renovations did he move into the official residence.

One of his first jobs as Prime Minister was overseeing Catholic emancipation. It gave almost full civil rights to Catholics within the United Kingdom. Feelings on this issue would run high.

23rd March 1829, the Duke of Wellington got into a disagreement with the Earl of Winchilsea over a recently passed Catholic Relief Bill, this disagreement got so heated that Arthur was challenged to a pistol dual. Both Arthur and Winchilsea turned up at Battersea Fields (now Battersea Park) in London. Arthur took the first shot and intentionally missed, Winchilsea fired his pistol into the air. Winchilsea sent Arthur a letter apologising to the Duke for accusing him of having ‘disgraceful and criminal motives.’

the duke of wellington's duel with lord winchilsea
The Duke of Wellington’s Duel with Lord Winchilsea.

15th September 1830, the Duke of Wellington formally opened the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. I was designed and built by George Stephenson (1781-1848). It was a major public event, huge crowds lined the track at Liverpool to watch the trains depart for Manchester. Arthur and other dignitaries rode on one of the first of eight trains.

William Huskisson, an MP for Liverpool approached the railway carriage and shook Arthurs hand. Just in a moment of distraction, Huskisson stepped back from the carriage while hanging on to the door. He then fell onto the railway tracks into the path of an approaching locomotive, named ‘Rocket’. Huskisson suffered serious leg injuries, and died later during the night.

15th November 1830, Arthur experienced a growing amount of unpopularity, personally and politically. Riots swept the across the county, as he firmly kept to the Tory policy of no reform and no expansion of suffrage. The ‘Iron Duke’ as he was known as, lost a vote of no confidence which ended his term of being the Prime Minister. The party was replaced by the Whigs, with Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764-1845) as the new Prime Minister.

24th April 1831, his wife Kitty died of cancer. He remarked “How strange it was, that people could live together for half a lifetime and only understand each other at the end.”

1832, Arthur continued in the Tory party fighting reform, though he finally had to consent to the Great Reform Bill.

1834 He was invited to form a Tory government for the second time, but Arthur refused. He joined Sir Robert Peel’s ministry as Foreign Secretary, and would later become the Leader of the House of Lords.

Two years later he refused a second invitation to form a government. He instead joined Sir Peel’s ministry as Foreign Secretary. He later became Leader of the House of Lords, and upon Sir Peel’s resignation in 1846, retired from politics.

arthur wellesley, 1st duke of wellington in 1845
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington in 1845, by H.T Ryall

1846, Upon Sir Peel’s resignation as Prime Minister, Arthur withdrew from politics and public life.

Death of the Iron Duke

14th September 1852, after a series of seizures, Arthur died from a stroke while at his residence (as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports) at Walmer Castle, Kent. He had died seated in his chair, aged 83 years old.

18th November 1852, After lying in state at Royal Hospital in London, over a million people watched the Duke of Wellington state funeral. The cortège went passed the Dukes London residence, Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner. He was interred in a sarcophagus within the crypt at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

funeral of the duke of wellington
Funeral of the Duke of Wellington, by Louis Haghe


By , last updated: 19th November 2020