Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, KG KP GCB GCH PC FRS (1 May 1769 14 September 1852), was a British soldier and statesman, and one of the leading military and political figures of 19th-century Britain. His defeat of Napoléon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 put him in the top rank of Britain's military heroes. He is often referred to as one of the greatest English generals of all time, except that he was Irish. Indeed his real name is Arthur Wesley, he added the "lle" later. 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 honor. To be fair, his comments stemmed from a dislike of the Protestant and often power-abusing Irish aristocracy rather than the "normal" Irish (Catholic or Protestant)note , whom he regarded as reasonably good soldiering material and thought no worse of than the "normal" English, Scottish or Welsh (which is to say, he didn't think of them very often), to the point where the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1832 was one of his key political achievements.
His rise through the ranks was rapid, reaching the rank of Colonel in 12 years thanks to the peculiar British system of purchasing promotions (there was an obligatory amount of time that had to be served before you could buy your way up to the next rank, but it was still fairly brief). Despite an extremely impressive military career in India, he did not come to real prominence until The Napoleonic Wars,note 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 allied armies which defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. He is also credited with the defeat of the French under Marshall Massena in the Third French Invasion of Portugal due to him ordering the construction of the Lines of Torres Vedras (after one of the towns through which it passed), which is considered the most cost-effective fortification in military history - it was able to effectively accomplish its tactical (defend the Port of Lisbonnote ) and strategic (defend Portugal) note note ) missions at a very low cost. In fact, Portugal had offered him the position of Marshall General of the Portuguese Army, which gave control of said army when in joint operations with the British Army. He used that title to reorganize the Portuguese, who were a demotivated and disorganized Ragtag Bunch of Misfits into a capable, cohesive, motivated and organized Army.
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 1834. 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 ageing and hard-of-hearing Duke interjected, "Who? Who?", and behold! the First Derby Ministry is forever known as the "Who? Who? Ministry". His political career is much less famous and far less celebrated mostly because it casts him in a less-than-positive light by modern standards, such as his anti-semitism which led him to veto a bill that provided increased rights for Jewsnote . Indeed his general opposition to parliamentary reform earned him the nickname the Iron Duke, and while later supporters appropriated this sobriquet, it was originally an insult. So unpopular was the Duke, that his house windows were smashed by supporters angry at his opposition of a Reform Bill. In response, the Duke put in place Iron shutters to better protect his home. Despite this, the 1832 Reform Bill was passed by the Whigs, though the Duke was bitter about its passage. Ironically, the impetus for the Reform Act partly came from a legislation to improve the lot of Catholics in Ireland which the Duke had passed in the teeth of serious opposition. Fearing increased rights for the Irish catholic community, a faction of the Tories allied with the Whigs to get the Reform Act passed.
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, as is the mountain overlooking the capital of Tasmania, Hobart, and the dish Beef Wellington might be named after him.
He ended at #15 in 100 Greatest Britons.
The Duke in fiction:
- 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 Blackadder's plot to replace the incompetent Prince of Wales with the far more competent himself.
- A later Blackadder TV movie has a more mellow depiction of the man at Waterloo, where he comes up with a Cunning Plan to beat Napoleon... only to get squashed flat by a time-machine.
- Obviously we see him in Sharpe. Running a mission for him earns Sharpe his Sergeantcy, and saving his life at the Battle of Assaye (the one mentioned in the page quote of Brits with Battleships) earns him his commission. His usually presented as a somewhat grudging Reasonable Authority Figure who uses Military Maverick Sharpe as a kind of proto-cruise missile - he points him at something that needs destroying, then waits for the bang, though also being willing to cut his losses if need be. He is also mentioned by one of Sharpe's friends as the one man who actually properly scares Sharpe (and, therefore, is just about the only person who can wrangle Sharpe into doing what he [Wellington] wants him to).
- Appears as a secondary character in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, as a Reasonable Authority Figure with Nerves of Steel who regards the entire city of Brussels being teleported to the Great Plains of America just prior to the Battle of Waterloo (Strange having essentially panicked) with little more than a raised eyebrow and a request to one of his aides to go and enquire of some Native American warriors he sees riding past if they'd like to join the battle the next day. His management style (once he is convinced of Strange's usefulness) mostly consists of telling Strange what magical thing he wants done, then leaving Strange to sort out the details, which makes him both a difficult and a supportive authority figure to Strange: when the latter seems to go completely insane, Wellington retains unwavering faith in him (partly because he reckoned that Strange was a bit weird to begin with) and stating that he won't be a problem or a threat to Britain - as it turns out, he's completely right. 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 at the end of the first novel where he receives a medal from Queen Victoria and a handshake from Wellington. Before parting ways, Wellington commends the young Flashman that today is the biggest day of his life, where he receives the greatest honour in his life. He notes that when he mentioned the incident to Robert E. Lee during his time in the American Civil War, Lee believed that the Duke meant his handshake rather than the Queen's medal. Flashman demurs that both of them were worth the same to him.
- 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.
- The four surviving Bronte children, also Anglo-Irish, were obsessed with the Duke and made up elaborate sustained imaginative games about him, lasting into their twenties. They crafted an enormous paracosm around him, writing novels, short stories, plays and poems. They had him lead an expedition to colonize Africa, then leave his son Arthur in charge. Arthur became the Duke of Zamorna, a figure of almost superhuman courage, beauty and spirit.
- Visual Innuendo in this satirical cartoon about the Duke's womanising. What a big cannon he's got.
- Frequently referenced but never really appears in Horatio Hornblower as Hornblower is married to the Duke's fictional youngest sister, Lady Barbara.