1st Duke of Wellington: A Biographical Glance

21 Sep

By Simon S. Sundaraj-Keun

The French Napoleonic Wars were fought across Europe with such vigor and scale in such it would leave a lasting impression till the outbreak of World War I. In the modern era students of history, military officers, and even politicians came to admire the man called Napoleon. Whenever there is a villain there will always be a hero and that man was Duke Wellington. Since the dawn of warfare there always been nemeses and rivals challenging the limits of the mind and might in order to be called the greatest general or commander of all time. To the amazement of many one question comes to mind and that is what drives a man to greatness?

Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley (Wesley) commonly known as the 1st Duke of Wellington, was an Anglo-Irish born officer and politician who became one of the leading military and political figures of the early 19th century. The Duke was born in his family’s Dublin residence, known as the Mornington House or Dangan Castle near Trim, County Meath, Ireland on May 1st, 1769. He was the third son of Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington, who came from a titled family long settled in Ireland.

 The main notion of Wellington struggle was one against Napoleon’s shadow, which by enlarge was the general perception of amateur readers and historians alike. One has to keep in mind that Wellington came to be a superb military tactician due to his experience serving the British Crown in the far reaches of the Empire.  Wellington is a member of the Protestant British ruling class of Ireland and began his education at Eton from 1781 to 1785, but a lack of success with a combined deficiency of family finances, which led him to a move to Brussels, Belgium to further his studies.

In a way, Wellington’s Irish roots had something to do with his characteristics in proving his worth to the Crown. The sense of ones heritage has to do with everything in 18th and 19th century Britain as it is still evident today in most part of the world. It is appalling for present day society to imagine that there were such a subdue difference which existed between fellow British islanders.

Therefore, it is important to analyze Wellington’s family and childhood as a stepping stone in understanding the mind of a mere mortal who would upstage and outlive a military legend such as Napoleon. To understand the Duke of Wellington, one has to look at his early career and military campaigns in order to paint the image of Wellington as the soldier. What makes a man a champion of a nation? How could an individual who was considered as a half-Fein rise to great prominence? Where did Wellington found the courage and composure to propel him to greatness?  The influences of one’s culture could be a possibility or could it be for love? Whatever the reason was Wellington was ready to make a difference for his family and himself, which would have a significant consequence on Britain’s prestige.

There were a number of books written on the great general Wellington but each one tailored on a specific issue that would climax into conflict between the Duke and Napoleon in Waterloo. The issue was to find legitimate sources, which solely concentrated on Wellington’s notion as the man not as Napoleon’s rival, is few, if not non-existing. This research endeavor was at best difficult but achievable under the limited circumstances and resources available. One could associate Wellington’s life to a puzzle piece or a rough gem, which needed preparation and sculpting in order to transform this anonymous individual for the greatest military showdown in history and for the brewing political troubles that would appear down the road.

Wellington at War 1794–1815 by Brett-Jamesis a book on Wellington’s military service during the Napoleonic Wars and the Duke’s rise to prominence in Imperial Britannia. Brett-James examines Wellington’s early military career from Netherlands to India, and nothing short of Wellington’s achievement in obtaining the rank of a general within a decade. Brett-James book also mentions Wellington youth, which mention no one would expect him to be great man who face-off with one the greatest generals on the continent of Europe in 1815. The reason was Wellington non-ambitious attitude and lifestyle as a noble spoiled brat. The good Duke was a mere jester with some considering him as a nobleman playboy who carouse the evening ladies and gambles his family’s fortunes away. Wellington failed marriage proposal to the beautiful Miss Kitty Pakenham was due to the fact it was rejected by her family. Some might consider this as Wellington’s first defeat!

Brett-James argues that Wellington began a rigid of self-education and discipline in military science and the rid of his vices by straighten his lifestyle. The author states that Wellington’s family procured a commission as an ensign in the 73rd Regiment of Foot. Wellington completed his military training in England and later attended the Military Academy of Angers in France. His first obligation was as aide-de-camp to two different but successive Lords Lieutenant of Ireland (1787–1793). There Wellington uses his contacts within the Anglo-Irish government to purchase military ranks, entered politics and was elected as an independent Member of Parliament for Trim in the Irish House of Commons. Due to the common practice of the British Army in the day, Wellington gained rapid promotion by purchasing his ranks.

 Brett-James describes Wellington’s battlefield experience as a lieutenant colonel in the 33rd Regiment of Foot by his participation in the unsuccessful campaign against the French in the Netherlands between 1794 and 1795. In part Wellington at War 1794–1815 by Brett-James is an essential source in understanding the elements that became the foundation that built Wellington’s resolve not only as a leader but as an individual who determent to change ones destiny.

In AlexanderBeatson’s book A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun a collection of Wellington’s letters during his military career, battle experience, and ability as an administrator in India. Beatson points out that Wellington’s elder brother Richard, Marquees Wellesley was appointed Governor-General of India in 1797 and it made the good Duke’s promotion and influences a smooth transition into prominence easier.  The Fourth Anglo-Mysore War of 1798 against the Sultan of Mysore or Tipoo Sultan was Wellington’s claim to fame as he commanded a division, was appointed Governor of Seringapatam and Mysore, which he held until 1805. It was in India, Wellington hone his military prowess by defeating rebellious Rajahs and Chieftains in the unforgiving Indian terrain and weather. This book by Beatson describes Wellington’s personal letters on the trial and tribulations he faces in India which gives an idea what ran through the mind of Wellington.

 The Maratha War of 1803, which was illustrated in The History of British India by James Mills, is an illustration of Britain’s involvement in asserting its authority in India. It was during this time period when Wellington’s career blossom as a proficient leader on and off the battlefield. The successful conclusion of the Mysore and Maratha campaigns propelled Wellington to the rank of supreme military and political authority on the Deccan plateau. In Lester Hutchinson’s European Freebooters in Mogul India is based on the European economic domination of Indian markets as a source to promote their global imperialism and costly military expansions. Hutchinson’s describe the cost of lives and money in expansion cause Wellington and his brother, Richard’s term as Governor-General of India to end in 1805 and return to England to defend their expensive methods in India. Mills and Hutchinson books offers a unique perspective how a land at the far corner of the British Empire made and hone Wellington’s skills into a great leader.

For the British, who were frequently irritated by the French military successes sought another round of military engagements. The Anglo-Russian expedition into northern Germany in 1805 resulted in a total French domination of the European continent after the Battle of Austerlitz. Back on British soil, Wellington rich from his campaign in India was elected Tory Member of Parliament, became a privy counselor, and later served as Chief Secretary of Ireland. Wellington’s political life came to an end when he was ordered to Europe’s Iberian Peninsula to take part in the battle against the French forces in Portugal.

Wellington’s Peninsular War by Julian Paget examines Wellingtons’ successes in the Iberian Peninsular. Points to keep in mind were Portugal and Spain would become a drain on French manpower and resources which were stretch into Napoleon’s Russian campaign. Plus Wellington’s experience in Netherlands and India would play a major role in upstaging the French forces, who were numerically and professionally superior to his combined Anglo-Allied (Spaniards-Portuguese) forces. Paget book describes Wellington wining battles under difficult odds from the Battle of Rolica and the Battle of Vimeiro in 1808 and winning the political infighting of the chain of command. Also Wellington’s skill as a diplomat was demonstrated as he led, organized and trained the Iberian forces that were victorious in evicting the French Army out of Porto. Paget book is a great analysis on the battles that was fought during the Peninsular War and also to understand the determination of Wellington to emerge victorious.

Wellington’s Army, 1809-1814 by Charles Oman elaborates the condition of Wellington’s Army during the Peninsular War, which were considered by many as weak but it won deceive battles against overwhelming odds. Oman book gives even a greater comprehension of Paget’s work on the condition of Wellington’s army during the Iberian campaign. This book elaborates the difficulty of Wellington’s army face in laying sieges, the overwhelming odds faced, and the surprising victories. For example like the French defeat at Salamanca, proving Wellington could attack as well defend. Also from a military historical perspective it is important to note that this was the first time a French army of 50,000 had been routed since 1799. Oman argues that the victory liberated the Spanish capital of Madrid and forced the French to withdraw from southern Spain, and the temporary loss of Madrid irreparably damaged the pro-French puppet government. Wellington under overwhelming odds produce victory where no one else could and not inspire Britain but also to instill the confidence among the Allies to take the fight to the French.

Wellington: The Years of The Sword by Elizabeth Longford objective is to examine Wellington’s leadership abilities during campaigns. Longford working as what Oman and Paget was stating that once the initiative was on the Anglo-Allied side it was the beginning of the end for French forces on the Iberian Peninsula. For instance, Longford argues the reason for Wellington’s stern discipline on his troops was, due to the fact that soldiers tend to break discipline to loot the abandoned French wagons instead of pursuing the beaten foe, and annihilating the treat once for all, after the conclusion of a battle. For the first time throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, Wellington invaded France and was the first to defeat a French army under Marshal Soult at the Battle of Toulouse. Ironically, this occurred four days after Napoleon had already surrendered in the East. As stated in the annals of history, Napoleon was then exiled to the island of Elba in 1814.

In Tim Chapman’s The Congress of Vienna: Origins, Processes and Results is a book on the peace progress and reconstruction of Europe with the defeat of Napoleon in 1814. However Chapman’s book contains a brief description of Wellington appointment as ambassador to France, and his request to take Castlereagh as First Plenipotentiary to the Congress of Vienna, where he strongly advocated allowing France to keep its place in the European balance of power. In brief Chapman describes Wellington’s character as a person who was willing to place aside his ego and move forward in order to bring peace in Europe but most importantly security to the British Empire.

However on 26 February 1815, Napoleon escaped from Elba, returned to France, and regaining control of the country by May but the Emperor faced a renewed alliance against him. Wellington left Vienna to command the Anglo-Allied forces during the Waterloo Campaign. He arrived in Belgium to take command of the British Army and the Allied Dutch-Belgians, alongside the Prussian forces of Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher which is best describe in John Keegan’s The Face of Battle: Study of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme.

Keegan starts with a synopsis of the French defeated the Prussians at Ligny, and the indecisive Battle at Quatre Bras, which compelled the British Army to retreat to a ridge on the Brussels road, just south of the small town of Waterloo. Keegan’s depiction of June 18, 1815 as the titanic Battle of Waterloo, which pitted Napoleon and Wellington against each other was from the soldier point of view was an excellent piece of work. After an all-day fight, with the French unaware by the unexpected arrival of Blucher’s Prussian army, the French Imperial Guard was dramatically repulsed by British volley fire, routing Napoleon’s Army. The rest is history as on 22 June, 1815 the French Emperor abdicated once again, and was transported by the British Navy to St. Helena.

The Battle of Waterloo as described above was the final battle listed in Edward Shepherd Creasy’s book The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World. Creasy wrote his book 20 years after the Battle of Waterloo which paints a unique perspective of by a 19th century author on an event that occurred within a short period of time. By using Keegan’s and Creasy’s books, one can place the puzzle pieces on Wellington’s victory as a cultivating lifetime experience in enduring trials and tribulations in order to emerge triumphantly in the Battle of Waterloo.

Napoleon and Wellington: The Long Duel by Andrew Robert is analysis between Napoleon Bonaparte and Wellington strategies and tactics during battle. It also discusses the personal opinions of the two men thought of each other. This book gives the researcher a better look at the personality of both generals through their battle tactics and personal opinions about each other. Robert argues that the two were completely opposite in employing tactics. The author states that Napoleon offered radical changes in warfare in every respect, whereas Wellington’s contribution to warfare lay more in his brilliant use of the old ways. Robert elaboratesNapoleon’s tactics as the used of mass conscript armies, tight columns to rout opposing forces, and combined with massive artillery bombardments.

Robert argues that Wellington is often viewed as a defensive general, despite the fact that many of his greatest victories at Assaye, Porto, Salamanca, Vitoria, and Toulouse, were offensive battles. The other difference between the two is Napoleon promotes his forces to live of the land and Wellington’s campaigns were carefully planned offensives and supported by a magnificent supply trains. Unlike Napoleon, Wellington cooperated closely with the British Navy, a necessity for success on the water-bound Iberian Peninsula, created large units of independent infantry, often armed with rifles, which fought in both regular and irregular fashion much like Napoleon skirmishers, and uses his cavalry arm effectively unlike Napoleon which lack in cavalry strength.

However, Roberts describes Wellington as a model for multi-national leadership sue to the fact Wellington efficiently coordinated the efforts of Portuguese, Spanish, and a multitude of other foreign units, as well as negotiating with a home government not always sympathetic to his military concerns. One should note that when comparing Wellington and Napoleon is that whereas Napoleon was supreme commander of the armed forces of his Empire and a political leader where else Wellington was merely a general in the field, with little or no influence on the organization or administration of the British Army as a whole. Roberts’s book is essential to this research in order to paint a clearer picture of the two greatest men in history from their battle tactics and personal opinions of each other.

Maxims and Opinions of Field-Marshal His Grace the Duke of Wellington by Wellington elaborates on his returned to politics in 1819, and the difficulty he face with Britain’s politics and social dilemmas.  Wellington’s excerpts describe his personal insights as Prime Minister. To the general public Wellington was the picture of the arch-conservative, fearing that the anarchy of the French Revolution would spread to England. The common history of the British Commonwealth, highlights Wellington’s term was the issue of Catholic Emancipation, the granting of almost full civil rights to Catholics in the United Kingdom. Wellington’s mentioned in his writings the challenges he faces in order to integrate the nation in accepting Catholics back into the governmental institutions. Wellington’s writings are essential not only as a primary source but as a window into the psyche of the man himself.

Wellington: The Iron Duke by Richard Holmes is a book on Wellington life a politician and military leader. Holmes mentions that Wellington against all odds spoke for Catholic Emancipation in the House of Lords by giving one of the best speeches of his career. Holmes’s book focuses on Wellington’s role as a leading politician that faces a turbulence political and social unrest in England. The author also argues that Wellington’s upbringing in Ireland and his later experience in governing there gave him an insight of the misery faced by the Catholic population. Even with Wellington’s charismatic speech the support for passing The Catholic Relief Act 1829 from the Whigs and maybe of his unpopularity among the Labor Party, let Wellington to be known as the Iron Duke.

Holmes describes of Wellington’s decline as internal struggle for power among Labor Party members to precedence, the strengthening of the Whigs in parliament, and the call for social reforms among the general population has taken root. Therefore Wellington was gradually superseded as leader of the Tories by Robert Peel. The author argues that the Tories were brought back to power in 1834 it was Wellington who declined to become prime minister, and Peel was selected instead. To the most part Wellington retired from political life in 1846, although he remained Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, and returned briefly in 1848 to organize a military force to protect London during the year of European Revolution. Holmes book paints the life of a soldier who would not fade away but continued to serve his nation even when his popularity dwindles. Wellington was a typical soldier, politician, and leader who place his country and people first before his own personal ambitions.

Wellington died in 1852 at Walmer Castle was also known as his honorary residence as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports within the British Commonwealth, which he enjoyed and at which he hosted Queen Victoria. Wellington’s body was then taken by train to London, where he was given a state funeral one of only a handful of British subjects to be honored in that way other examples are Nelson and Churchill. Duke of Wellington was entombed in St Paul’s Cathedral next to Lord Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson.

The 1st Duke of Wellington: A Biographical Glance is a historiographical essay with a purpose to understand the man who became a legend in British pre-Victorian era. This essay is to comprehend what brings out greatness in a man? Could it be his roots such as Wellington’s Irish heritage or personal trial and tribulation in order to achieve greatness? In examining Wellington’s career one would understand the struggle he endured in order to bring honor and glory not to himself, but to his family.

Finally, if one to separate the essence of what makes a man great it would be mistaken, yet, when considering Wellington’s success as a military leader and later as a political figure its important to discuss every aspect of his life. After all, if one look at the grand scheme of things, it would seem that Wellington upstage and outlive Napoleon’s legendary shadow from a military, political, and even life itself.



Published Primary Sources

Beatson, Alexander. A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun. London: Bulmer and Co., 1800.

[A collection of the Duke’s letters.]

Wellesley, Arthur (Duke of Wellington, 1769-1852), Maxims and Opinions of Field-Marshal His Grace the Duke of Wellington, (Released Date 3 April 2005) http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/15254 (Last Accessed Project Gutenberg 31 January 2007)

[This book consists the works that have been almost exclusively occupied with the military exploits of the Duke, which rendered him so illustrious during the first twenty years of his public life; while his political career, which may be said to have constituted a second life, distinct and different from the other, has been comparatively neglected, which this book does not]

Secondary Sources




Brett-James, ed. Wellington at War 1794–1815, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1961.

[This book elaborates on Wellington’s military career in the Netherlands, India, Spain, and Waterloo.]

Chapman, Tim. The Congress of Vienna: Origins, Processes and Results, London: Routledge, 1998.

[This book offers a comprehensive introduction which provides a background to the negotiations, a summary of the agreements reached and assessment of the longer term consequences of the political picture after the Napoleonic War.]

Creasy, Edward Shepherd. The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World from Marathon to Waterloo, New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1995.

[The accounts of the battles in from the Ancient Greeks to the British in Waterloo were done in unique quality.]

Holmes, Richard. Wellington: The Iron Duke. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002

[ This is a biography of the Duke has a chapter on his youth as a slightly awkward loner from the Anglo-Irish nobility and a concluding chapter which races swiftly through the 37 years of his post-Waterloo life. Majority of this book is given over to a description and analysis of his military exploits.]

Hutchinson, Lester. European Freebooters in Mogul India. New York: Asia Publishing House, 1964

[This interesting book emphasize on the British involvement in India. Also it describes in detail of the British East Indian Company expensive military campaign in subduing the India Sub-Continent.]

Keegan, John. The Face of Battle: Study of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme, London: Penguin Books Ltd; New Ed edition, 1995.

[Its the study of the evolution of battle by closely examining the battles of Agincourt (1415), Waterloo (1815) and Somme (1916), which all set in Western Europe. Further more it is done expertly with specific emphasis on the ordinary soldier as part of the cycle of warfare; technology, doctrine & tactics and organization constantly revolving around training.]

Longford, Elizabeth. Wellington: The Years of The Sword. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1969

[This book is an explicit description of Wellington’s military service to the British Crown]

Mill, James. The History of British India. 6 vols. 5th ed. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1968

[It is about the British political, financial, and military campaign in curtailing the Rajah’s power in India.]

Oman, Charles. Wellington’s Army, 1809-1814. London: Greenhill Books, 2006.

[This book gives unparalleled insight into the organization, day-to-day life and psychology of Wellington’s army. It especially encompasses the daily life, manners and customs of the Peninsular Army are explored, drawing on dispatches, general orders and records of court martial, and, to a greater extent, non-official information such as diaries, memoirs and letters.]

Paget, Julian. Wellington’s Peninsular War, London: Leo Cooper Ltd; New Ed edition, 2006.

[The Peninsular War (1808-1841) was part of the twenty-year struggle against Napoleon Bonaparte that involved campaigns in Europe, the Middle East, Russia, the West Indies, South America and South Africa.]

Robert, Andrew. Napoleon and Wellington: The Long Duel. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2003.

[This book points out that this is the first book to examine exactly what the two men thought of each other, and revealing the fascinating contradiction between what they said in public and in private.]



Bond, Gordon C. (Reviewed Works), The Duke of Wellington and the Command of the Spanish Army, 1812-14. by Charles J. Esdaile & Wellington: Studies in the Military and Political Career of the First Duke of Wellington. by Norman Gash The Journal of Military History Vol. 55, No. 2 (Apr., 1991), pp. 250-251 (Assessed 2 February 2007)

Covert, James Thayne. (Reviewed Work): Wellington as Military Commander. by Michael Glover, Military Affairs Vol. 32, No. 4 (Feb., 1969), p. 210 (Assessed 9 February 2007)

Flick, Carlos T. (Reviewed Work): Wellington by S. G. P. Ward “Which includes Wellington and His Friends: Letters of the First Duke of Wellington to the Rt. Hon. Charles and Mrs. Arbuthnot, the Earl and Countess of Wilton, Princess Lieven, and Miss Burdett-Coutts
The Journal of Modern History Vol. 37, No. 4 (Dec., 1965), pp. 487-488 (Accessed 11 February 2007)

Knaplund, Paul. (Reviewed Work), The Duke: Being an Account of the Life and Achievements of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Richard Aldington. Political Science Quarterly Vol. 59, No. 1 (Mar., 1944), pp. 138-139 (Assessed 2 February)

Meyer, Jack Allen. (Reviewed Work) 1815-The Waterloo Campaign: Wellington, His German Allies, and the Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras by Peter Hofschroer
The Journal of Military History Vol. 63, No. 1 (Jan., 1999), pp. 184-185 (Assessed 4 February 2007)

Meyer, Jack Allen. (Reviewed Work), Wellington: A Personal History by Christopher Hibbert
The Journal of Military History Vol. 62, No. 3 (Jul., 1998), pp. 621-622 (Assessed 4 February 2007)

Meyer, Jack Allen. (Reviewed Work), Wellington: A Military Life by Gordon Corrigan
The Journal of Military History Vol. 66, No. 4 (Oct., 2002), pp. 1204-1205 (Assessed 4 February 2007)


Internet Sources


Duke of Wellington’s Regiment: West Riding.  http://www.dwr.org.uk/Dedicated to the history of the 33rd and 76th Regiment of the British Army” (Last Accessed 2 February 2007)

Wellington: His Strategy, Tactics, Military and Political Career. http://napoleonistyka.atspace.com/wellington_strategy_tactics_battles.htm#wellingtonpoorDedicated to Wellington’s Life, Character, Military and Political Career and the Hype”. (Last Accessed 5 February 2007)

World History Database. http://www.badley.info/history/Wellesley-Arthur-Great-Britain.biog.html. “A Chronology of Wellington’s Military and Political Career” (Last Accessed 8 February 2007)



Waterloo (1970). VHS, USA: Cinema Club, 2000.

[A star-studded historical record of the events surrounding the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, where Napoleon made his last desperate bid for ultimate power and glory.]


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