The Proud Duke of Wellington, Commander in Chief
Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley
All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don't know by what you do; that's what I called "guessing what was at the other side of the hill."
, 1st Duke of Wellington KG KP GCB GCH PC FRS
, was one of the leading military and political figures of the early nineteenth century. He is often referred to as one of the greatest English generals of all time, except that he was Irish. His supposed response (not recorded until after his death) to people pointing out his Irish birth was something along the lines of 'If a man is born in a stable, that doesn't make him a horse', a sentiment which didn't stop him marrying an Irish woman or the Irish building a 200 ft tall monument in his honour
. To be fair his comments stemmed from a dislike of the Protestant and often power-abusing Irish Nobility rather than the "normal" Irish.
His military career was rapid, reaching the rank of Colonel in 12 years thanks to the peculiar British system of purchasing promotions. Despite an extremely impressive military career in India, he did not come to real prominence until the Napoleonic Wars
and was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal after leading the allied forces to victory against the French at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. Following Napoleon's exile in 1814, he served as the ambassador to the Congress of Vienna and was granted a dukedom. During the Hundred Days in 1815, he commanded one of the the allied armies which defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
One of Britain's more quotable war leaders after Winston Churchill
. Perhaps his most famous quote is "Our army is the scum of the earth - the merest scum of the earth." This is something of a Beam Me Up, Scotty!
, however, as it sounds far harsher than intended due to people leaving out the second part: "...so it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are."
He was Tory Prime Minister 1828-1830 and again for less than a month in 1838. He also named a third ministry: the short-lived first Cabinet of The Earl Of Derby
in 1852 was the first time the Protectionist wing of the Conservative Party had governed, and so had a lot of new names (e.g. Benjamin Disraeli
); when these unfamiliar names were read out in the Lords, the aging and hard-of-hearing Duke interjected, "Who? Who?", and behold! the First Derby Ministry is forever known as the "Who? Who? Ministry".
He will also wear any kind of trousers he likes, damn you.
The Duke's Magnificent Boots At Apsley House in London, Minus His Feet, (Which Means the Duke Must Be Barefoot...)
Yes, he had boots named after him. No, they were not rubber (not yet possible at the time- Westerners knew about rubber but couldn't yet make anything like that from it). They were leather, but the rubber ones are of the same style. The capital city of New Zealand
was named after him, and the dish Beef Wellington might
be named after him.
The Hero of Waterloo
- Stephen Fry does a most awesome depiction of him in Blackadder The Third as an ignorant, bellowing, violent bully, who sees tactical ability and inspired leadership as entirely secondary to the truly important quality needed for an army: shouting. This is rather unfair to the good Duke, though he does play along with Blackadders plot to replace the incompetent Prince of Wales with the far more competent himself.
- Obviously we see him in Sharpe.
- Appears as a secondary character in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Gets his own short story, "The Duke Of Wellington Misplaces His Horse", in the followup short story collection The Ladies Of Grace Adieu.
- Flashman encounters the Duke once or twice, or at least references his opinions. Most notably in the first novel, where he receives a medal from Queen Victoria and a handshake from Wellington; it's the second one he is most proud of.
- Has a fairly prominent role in the fifth book of the Temeraire series, Victory of Eagles.
- The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage takes place in an alternate timeline where the duke became Prime Minister on account of his superior bone structure and entertainment value.
- A Father to His Men: In his own, "Well Done, Son" Guy way, he was - the men fought specifically for his approval. A famous quotation from him is often used to bash him and claim that he was not one of these. It is always a) taken out of contextnote and b) they always leave off the second part of the quotation:
Wellington: Our army is made up of the scum of the earth, the mere scum of the earth...but what fine fellows we have made of them!
- Appropriated Appellation: Kind of; the name "Iron Duke" was an insulting one given to him years later by parliamentary reformists for the shutters on his windows, but is usually misremembered as describing him as a Badass on the battlefield. Insult Backfire?
- Arch-Enemy: Napoleon
- Napoleon might have been his but he was hardly Napoleons.
- Bad Ass: He never lost a battle. Never. And fought only one with superior numbers (Vitoria).
- For the sake of completeness, it should be noted that he did fail to capture Burgos Castle (it conveniently later blew up in one of the largest explosions of the pre-nuclear age), and he made an utter bollocks of his first independent command, a night action near Seringapatam. These were the only times he failed to accomplish one or all of his objectives.
- Badass Boast: He made several understated ones.
- " I don't think it would have been done if I had not been there." - On Waterloo
- "Napoleon came on in the same old way, and we beat him in the same old way." - On Waterloo
- "Mistaken for me, is he? That's strange, for no one ever mistakes me for Mr. Jones." - On his resemblance to the painter George Jones
- "No matter madam. I have seen their backs before." - His remark to his host at a formal reception when she apologized for some French officers who turned their backs on him as he entered.
- Blue Blood: The Duke was a complete snob when it came to the lower orders. Was once quoted as saying "I'd rather have talent with a title, than talent without."
- Boring, but Practical: Was never the most flashy or unpredictable of Generals but he stuck with what worked and was a superb logistics commander, this being one of his major advantages over his Napoleonic rivals.
- He once said that Napoleon's strategy was made of harness and his was made of rope. Napoleon's was beautiful to look at but would shrivel up if anything snapped, whereas Wellington's was ugly and makeshift, but for that reason very easy to patch up when something went wrong.
- It is often said that Wellington was unimaginative in attack. He was not, but he simply knew what he was doing. He was able to pull spectacular outflanking moves out his hat (such as at Assaye, where he knew the terrain better than the Indian scouts who had grown up there), but usually didn't have to: he knew how to collapse enemy positions. Put it this way, let's say a general defending against Wellington needs to do 20 things right. Chances are, he will do around 16 of them right. Wellington will do all 20 of his things right, and so win without needing to be showy. At Waterloo, when he faced the only man in the world close to his own ability, he stood firm, confident in the superior abilities (particularly in respect of fire rate) of his soldiers. And he won.
- Bribing Your Way to Victory: the reason Wellington made Colonel so quickly and without actually serving in the field was that he bought his way up the ranks. This was completely normal in Britain at the time, and obviously he turned out to suit the position.
- Bribery is the wrong word. He wasn't paying someone off to promote him when he didn't deserve it. Purchasing a commission was a normal and legal way of gaining a commission in the British army. On the continent officers had to wait their turn (by order of seniority) for posts to become vacant by the holder dying, being promoted or retiring. This obviously took longer, especially in times of peace. That officers were promoted on merit was usually an exception.
- Control Freak: Was quite a big one at that, even going so far as to scolding an officer for actually improving his supply route. To be fair, Wellington felt that he had to take on as many duties as he could to combat the Surrounded by Idiots situations he generally found himself in.
- He would keep his plans secret even from his second in command, which could have led to grief had he been killed or incapacitated in the field (while the more modern Prussian high command kept functioning well even when Field Marshal Blücher went missing - trapped under his dead horse - at Ligny in 1815). In most ways he and his army still belonged to the 18th century, which worked because it still had an 18th-century size.
- Deadpan Snarker: Showed shades of this on occasion such as when he was looking over a list of officers being shipped over from Britain to fight underneath him, the Duke commented "I have no idea what impact they'll have on the enemy but by God they scare the life out of me."
: Arthur, what do you
think we should do about the sparrows infesting the Crystal Palace?
Wellesley: Sparrowhawks, ma'am.
- Everyone Calls Him Barkeep
- He Also Did: Well known for his battlefield career, but his later political career is much less well known. Partly because any recounting of his political career casts him in a less-than-positive light by modern standards, what with his staunch opposition to parliamentary reform, whereas his exemplary career as a commander is much less contentious.
- Knight Fever: Wellington's titles ended up including a dukedom in the British peerage as well as dukedoms in the peerages of Portugal, Spain and France and a princedom in the Netherlands, 29 knighthoods in twenty different countries (including the highest grade in the premier order of each country), more-or-less honorary field marshal rank in the armies of eight countries, and eleven honorary posts in the government of the United Kingdom from Lord High Constable of England and Constable of the Tower of London through to Ranger of Hyde Park and Chancellor of the University of Oxford. If you were to put the initials for each of these after his name, you'd be talking for a very long time.
- To elaborate, his full name and titles were Field Marshal His Grace Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, Marquess of Wellington, Marquess Douro, Earl of Wellington, Viscount Wellington and Baron Douro, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight Grand Cross of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, One of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, and Field Marshal and Commander-in-Chief of Her Majesty's Forces, Field Marshal of the Austrian Army, Field Marshal of the Hanoverian Army, Field Marshal of the Army of the Netherlands, Marshal-General of the Portuguese Army, Field Marshal of the Prussian Army, Field Marshal of the Russian Army, and Captain-General of the Spanish Army, Prince of Waterloo, of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo and Grandee of Spain of the First Class, Duke of Victoria, Marquess of Torres Vedras, and Count of Vimiera in Portugal, Knight of the Most Illustrious Order of the Golden Fleece, and of the Military Orders of St, Ferdinand and of St, Hermenigilde of Spain, Knight Grand Cross of the Orders of the Black Eagle and of the Red Eagle of Prussia, Knight Grand Cross of the Imperial Military Order of Maria Teresa of Austria, Knight of the Imperial Orders of St, Andrew, St, Alexander Newski, and St, George of Russia, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Portuguese Military Order of the Tower and Sword, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal and Military Order of the Sword of Sweden, Knight of the Order of St, Esprit of France, Knight of the Order of the Elephant of Denmark, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order, Knight of the Order of St, Januarius and of the Military Order of St, Ferdinand and of Merit of the Two Sicilies, Knight Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the Annunciation of Sardinia, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Military Order of Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria, Knight of the Royal Order of the Rue Crown of Saxony, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Military Merit of Wurtemberg, Knight Grand Cross of the Military Order of William of the Netherlands, Knight of the Order of the Golden Lion of Hesse Cassel, and Knight Grand Cross of the Orders of Fidelity and of the Lion of Baden, Fellow of the Royal Society, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Honorary Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.
- No Indoor Voice: His portrayal in Blackadder the Third is actually fairly accurate in that respect: Wellington really did shout an awful lot.
- Patriotic Fervor: Whilst he was naturally extremely patriotic, he considered overstated displays of nationalism to be absurd and dangerous. He later recounted that the most inane remark he had heard in his life was a Portugese general during the Peninsular War who said to his men: "Remember soldiers, you are Portugese!"
- Officer and a Gentleman: Was a very British soldier in some respects and stood out for always taking pains to keep his men from plundering or harassing the local populace wherever he served. One such example was the storming of Badajoz where he had gallows erected to stop the rampaging British troops through the city. When he led his combined armies from Spain into France he sent the Spaniards home because he didn't trust them not to pillage. His chivalry paid off, as the French did not rise against his armies in the way the Spanish had against theirs (devastatingly).
- One prime example of this is his extremely lavish victory dinner after he won the Battle of Vittoria and thus forced the French from Spain: it wasn't his dinner, it was the one that Marshal Jourdan had ordered prepared in anticipation of victory. Wellington still paid for it, advising the very relieved manager of the Hotel at which it was held that he should ask for cash up front next time.
- Old Flame Fizzle: His relationship with his wife Kitty. They'd been close in their twenties, but then didn't see each other for ten years. When he returned from India, he proposed without seeing her. It didn't work out too well.
- Rightful King Returns: A rather odd personal example for the Duke due to the legend of King Arthur. As the legends dictated that the King would return when Britain was faced with its greatest threat and the Duke's name was the same of that of the King, several romantics tried to link the two. The Duke, of course, denied it completely.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: His personal style had an impact on men's clothing that lasts to this day. He personally designed his own boots, made of lined calfskin leather with tassels on the front. He wore black coats with white cravats and white breeches and was also known for his plumed black bicorne hats. His full dress uniform was scarlet with gold braid. His expensive tailored clothes combined with his tall height and aristocratic manner to create an impression of authority and style that had great popularity in the Romantic Era that coincided with his victories.
- Always impeccable and well dressed, Wellington could be the focus of criticism for his upper class hauteur according to this account by a contemporary of the Duke's public appearances following his triumph over Napoleon:
- During a visit to the crowded cities of northern England, an old workman in a boisterous crowd asked him how he could understand the world of the poor with his elegant clothes and polished boots. He then challenged the Duke to "step out of those fancy boots" right there and then “strip naked”. He also challenged the impeccably dressed Commander to trade clothes with him! Wellington said nothing and excused himself.
- Later that day he appeared again, approached the man and accepted the offer. The stunned crowd and the Duke’s party were silent. The shocked man left with the Duke, and appeared a short time later. Laughter and cheers broke out: the poor old workman was immaculately dressed in all of the Duke of Wellington's finery: coat, cravat, silk waistcoat, breeches and even his silk underclothes. On his head he wore the Dukes plumed hat. And to the delight of the crowd – on his feet he wore the Duke’s famous gleaming black boots and silk stockings. Then the Duke appeared. Nothing remained of his immaculate clothes and grooming. He wore the old jacket and pants of the poor, with the cloth cap of a workman. The rough clogs of the old man were too small for his long, thin feet, so he was barefoot! The crowd suddenly shouted its approval. The old man postured as if he were the Duke himself, and pointed at Wellington's naked feet, stripped of their magnificent boots, and cried "What do you mean sir standing before a Duke in such a state?". Wellington himself smiled. He was known for his upper class identity and snobbery, and later said he took the old man's challenge as a test. He passed the test, but admitted that appearing barefoot in public was intensely humiliating for a man of such dignity and distinction - and that seeing another man wearing his beautiful boots and clothes was even worse. He was famously well dressed, but he was also a true Officer and a Gentleman first.
- Wellington's boots are now subject to an odd misnomer: 'Wellington boots'- tall waterproof boots with no fastenings to let in water- were, predictably, widely copied in England. When rubber galoshes became available, using technology not possible in the Duke's lifetime, they were also known as Wellington boots because of the shape. Rubber boots were cheaper and less trouble than leather Wellingtons, so they completely took over... so now, in Britain, wellingtons (or wellies) are a kind of boot that the man they're named for would never even have seen.
- Surrounded by Idiots: How the Duke generally felt about his Spanish allies and even some of the officers under his command. Not entirely without justification either.
- With a lot of justification. He won the Battle of Talavera in 1809, but had to retreat because the Spanish refused to give promised supplies. And he won that battle when his Spanish allies broke after being terrified by their own volley.
- He also felt this way about most of his British officers: the quote under Deadpan Snarker is possibly apocryphal, but the sentiment behind it is one found in many of his letters.
- The Stoic: Was known to keep his calm under battle and rallied his men on various occasions despite being under the constant threat of death at every battle.
- Other sources suggest he got extremely nervous privately though. (He had a stomach-upset the night before Waterloo that's generally attributed to this.) His letters to his (female, interestingly) cousin express the struggle of needing to always keep this image up in front of the troops.
- Visual Innuendo: What a big cannon he's got.
- We Have Reserves: Mostly avoided. The Duke knew that his army in Portugal and Spain was the only one available to battle against Napoleon in Europe. He took great pains not to needlessly sacrifice them and constantly avoided battles where there was no distinct advantage.
- Worthy Opponent: How the Duke saw Napoleon. Until he found out the former Emperor had left a considerable amount of money in his will towards a man who had tried to assassinate the Duke. The feeling was destroyed completely when the Duke found out Napoleon hadn't even had the money to pay what he promised in the first place.
- The Duke took an absurd twice-life-size statue of Napoleon as a Greek god from Paris and had it installed in his home at Apsley House (aka Number One, London), basically saying that Napoleon's egotism mocked itself.
- There's also the (possibly apocryphal) anecdote from Waterloo: as the Armée du Nord rolled in for its third frontal assault of the day instead of doing any clever manoeuvring he was heard to remark "Why, the fellow is just a pounder after all."