Sir Arthur Wellesley the 1st Duke of Wellington, often called the ‘Iron Duke’ because of his iron will and demeanour, was an Anglo-Irish military leader and statesman that rose to prominence in a time of great upheaval in Europe, the Napoleonic wars. This was a time when all the major kingdoms in Europe were either subjugated to Napoleon Bonaparte or to afraid to fight against him. He gained his title as the duke of wellington after (some say during) the peninsular campaign, because of his exemplary service to the crown of England.
Though often considered the inferior of Napoleon Bonaparte (who he is always compared against) in military genius, he ultimately defeated napoleon and had a major role in reshaping 19th century Europe and restoring France to some level of stability Arthur Wellesley (then Wesley) was born on the 1st of May 1769 in Dublin Ireland. He was born into the protestant ascendancy in Ireland. He was born into an aristocratic family, as the 3rd living son of the first earl of Mornington.
His birthplace is debated, but is most likely the families’ townhouse at 24 upper Merrion street, but his mother recalled that he was born at 6 Merrion street in Dublin. In his young life he was enrolled in Eton were he studied from 1781-1784. He showed little distinction until his early twenties and his mother was concerned that he was idle and dim. “I don’t know what I shall do with my awkward son Arthur”. Because of his father’s death he had to leave with his mother to live in Brussels.
A year later in 1785, Arthur enrolled in the French Royal Academy of Equitation in Angers, where he rogressed significantly, becoming a good horseman and learning French, which later proved very useful. Upon returning to England in late 1786, he astonished his mother with his improvement. Despite the new promise he showed as a young man, his family was still short of money so he got his brother Richard (the earl because of his father’s death) to recommend him to his friend the 4th duke of Rutland to get a commission into the army. This resulted in him being gazette as an ensign in the 73rd regiment of foot in 1787.
Over his 28-year military career, he fought in many wars and battles. He also had a successful political career (because of his astute mind and cunning) which was much needed for military leaders of the time but disliked the intrigues and bootlicking in politics, serving as British prime minister twice. He started off his career as and ensign on the 7th march 1787 in the 73rd regiment of foot. He then was promoted to lieutenant in the 76th regiment. He purchased a commission as a major in the 33rd regiment, then borrowing more money from his brother.
In the Flanders campaign in June 1794, a military disaster for the British, but Wellington is said to have remarked “it taught me what not to do, which is always a valuable lesson”. Then after many years in England he traveled to India as a full colonel of the 33rd regiment and participated in the fourth Anglo-Mysore (1798) war and the second Anglo-Maratha war (1803). After he returned to England he then participated in the war in Denmark in 1807 giving up his political positions as chief secretary of Ireland but he retained his position as a ‘privy councilor’ to the ruler of Britain.
Then he traveled to the peninsular, to fight Napoleon’s generals in 1808. This was his greatest military campaign and the one that brought him the most fame and glory. This was also the campaign that he became the, viscount, marquis, duke of wellington. This is where his skills as a general developed into the military genius of his later battles.
After he defeated Napoleon at waterloo on 17th June 1815, he retired from the army saying that waterloo would be his last battle, ecause he felt much guilt over the deaths of around 30,000 of his soldiers during the battle, he is known to have said, “My heart is broken by the terrible loss I have sustained in my old friends and companions and my poor soldiers. Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won”. Letter from the field of Waterloo (June 1815), as quoted in Decisive Battles of the World (1899) by Edward Shepherd Creasy. In the years after waterloo he pursued a largely successful political career in the Tory party in government.
A major part of Wellingtons success against the French was his reforming and reinforcing of his military forces and discipline. Armies of the time in other European countries were mostly made of conscripts, and infantry trained in the old way of warfare (stand in a line, take turns in shooting at each other etc. ), these armies were quickly defeated by napoleons swift and aggressive tactics as the generals of countries like Austria and Italy where incompetent (mostly made up of nobles who bought their way to the position) and using outdated tactics.
The British army however, was a standing force who were constantly trained to shoot up to 5 shots from their muskets in a minuet, (with live ammunition, the only army to do so at the time) and be disciplined under fire (which was what made or broke armies in that time). This allowed them to beat Napoleons forces using the old line method of fighting, the British ‘thin red line’. Wellington rigidly enforced discipline within his force and punished any break in it.
Wellington turned the well trained but poorly administered and organized, British troops into a force that was rarely beaten in any battle. He had little faith in any soldiers but his owns veterans and those who proved that they were able to perform against the French, so he had little love for the Spanish Troops who helped in the peninsular campaign as they where largely incompetent and badly led, he wrote in august 1809 (peninsular war) “the Spanish troops will not fight, they are undisciplined, they have no officers, no provisions, no means of any description”.
Wellington was a very reserved character, the opposite of Napoleon who was said to have been very passionate and arrogant. Officers around wellington often said that he would never get angry or over emotional except when faced with an over pampered officer who thought he was entitled to something. Wellington stood out at the time because of his calm refusal to fear napoleon, “the only thing I’m afraid of is fear” (attributed to Wellington when asked if he feared Napoleon), and his blunt, no-nonsense attitude toward other officers.
He accepted no flattery (he disliked the men cheering him) and gave so little praise that men strove for it. Sir Arthur Wellesley rose to prominence in the Tory parliament of the British empire after his defeat of napoleon at waterloo. He became British prime minister in 1828-1830 then again in 1834-1834(his least successful term). He was not the greatest politician. Though he ran the country well enough he couldn’t deal with the public displays and crowds.
Wellington was shy, disliked people cheering him and his way of speaking bluntly seemed rude to many of the aristocracy. His second term as prime minister is considered largely unsuccessful as he was aged 75 and quite deaf. Wellingtons major rise to prominence though was during his wars against the French empire the the 19th century. His military talent and genius was shown during the peninsular war in Spain. In this campaign Wellington is said to have never lost a battle (though even he admits that there where draws and stalemates).
Significance and evaluation Wellington is one of the only men (Prussian field marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher deserves credit for waterloo as well) to defeat napoleon in open battle. He also made the British army more disciplined and more effective. the army went from a small awkwardly administered force of around 40,000 men to and efficient professionally trained force of around 250,000 in 1813 because of a series of recruitment, administrative and training reforms. he is said of have hated the army because of its breaks in discipline during the