Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, 1769 - 1852
Portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1814)
Born: 1 May 1769, Dublin, Ireland
Died: 14 September 1852, Walmer, Kent, England, UK
Arthur Wellesley, fourth son of the Earl of Mornington, was a poor scholar and an idle young man well into his twenties. His brother Richard Wesley purchased him an Army commission in March 1787, but even after joining the military, he was more interested in gambling and playing his violins than his career. This continued until 1793, when he asked for the hand of Kitty Pakenham and was turned down by her brother, the third Baron Longford, due to his poor prospects and empty wallet. He immediately burned his instruments, dedicating himself to his military career.
He was soon dispatched to the Netherlands as part of the Flanders Campaign, under the Duke of York. While the campaign was unsuccessful, he said he "learned what not to do, and that is always a valuable lesson". Later, he was sent India on behalf of the British East India Company. He distinguished himself in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore and Second Anglo-Maratha Wars. He left India in 1804; for his service he was promoted to major-general, made a Knight of the Bath, and won permission to marry Kitty Pakenham.
He took leave from the Army and in 1806 was elected as a Tory to represent Rye in Parliament. A year later he was elected for Newport on the Isle of Wight, was appointed chief secretary of Ireland, and a seat on the Privy Council. He returned to the army to for the war on Denmark, earning promotion to lieutenant general, and then, while preparing to sail to attack Spanish colonies in South America was dispatched to Portugal for the Peninsular War against Napoleon's forces. He proved himself a genius at defensive warfare, and he earned the title Duke of Wellington.
After the Peninsular War Napoleon was exiled to Elba, his escape and return to France kicked off the Hundred Days War, which ended with Napoleons defeat at Waterloo. As a national hero, Wellesley was well-placed to take political office, and he took his chance, working his way up to Prime Minister. Riots toppled his government in 1830, although he continued to be involved in politics until retiring in 1846. He was Commander-In-Chief from 1827 until his death from a stroke which ended in a series of epileptic seizures.
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Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington quotes:
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- A French army is composed very differently from ours. The conscription calls out a share of every class — no matter whether your son or my son — all must march; but our friends — I may say it in this room — are the very scum of the earth. People talk of their enlisting from their fine military feeling — all stuff — no such thing. Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children — some for minor offences — many more for drink; but you can hardly conceive such a set brought together, and it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are. permalink
Notes (11 November 1831)
- 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". permalink
conversation with John Crocker and Crocker's wife (4 September 1852)
- Be discreet in all things, and so render it unnecessary to be mysterious about any. permalink
- Depend upon it, Sir, nothing will come of them! permalink
- Educate men without religion and you make them but clever devils. permalink
- Habit is ten times nature. permalink
- Hard pounding this, gentlemen; let's see who will pound longest. permalink
at Waterloo (18 June 1815)
- I am not only not prepared to bring forward any measure of this nature, but I will at once declare that, as far as I am concerned, as long as I hold any station in the Government of the country, I shall always feel it my duty to resist such measures when proposed by others. permalink
opposing demands for Parliamentary reform (November 1830)
- I believe I forgot to tell you I was made a Duke. permalink
postscript of letter to his brother Henry Wellesley (22 May 1814)
- I don't know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me. permalink
- I hate the whole race. There is no believing a word they say, your professional poets, I mean there never existed a more worthless set than Byron and his friends for example. permalink
quoted in Lady Salisbury's diary (26 October 1833)
- I mistrust the judgment of every man in a case in which his own wishes are concerned. permalink
letter to Major Shawe, secretary to the Governor General of India (3 February 1805)
- I never saw so many shocking bad hats in my life. permalink
on the first Reformed Parliament
- I should have given more praise. permalink
- I used to say of him that his presence on the field made the difference of forty thousand men. permalink
on Napoleon, Notes (2 November 1831)
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