|Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
By Edward Bathurst Ryder
Arthur Wellesley was born in Dublin, the fifth son of the 1st Earl of
Mornington, a nondescript Anglo-Irish peer. After he attended Eton and a
French military school, it was decided that he should go into the army in
1787. By strategic use of the purchase system, Wellesley was able to rise
extremely quickly from the status of a junior officer to that of
lieutenant-colonel of the 33rd Foot at the age of 25.
After his regiment was sent to India in 1796 Wellesley began to distinguish
himself in the field. He first gained fame by leading the capture of
Seringapatam in southern India in 1799. During the subjugation of the
Mahrattas, the now-General Wellesley achieved another remarkable victory at
Assaye in 1803.
Returning to England, Wellesley dabbled in politics before returning to
active service in 1807. With the Napoleonic wars raging on the Continent,
he arrived in French-occupied Portugal the next year and soon began a
string of victories. His success was interrupted briefly by the Convention
of Cintra but, following the death of General Moore in 1809, Wellesley took
command of the British army in the Iberian Peninsula. From Portugal he
launched the Peninsular War, which was ultimately to drive Napoleon's
armies from Portugal and Spain.
Following his victory at Talavera in 1809, he was created Viscount
Wellington and after taking Madrid in 1812 he was raised to a marquessate.
After driving the French from the peninsula, Wellington pushed on into
France itself until Napoleon, pressed by Wellington in the south and a
Prussian/Russian/Austrian alliance in the north and east, was forced to
abdicate in 1814.
Wellington was roundly lauded as the hero of Europe, but peace was
short-lived. In March of 1815 Napoleon escaped from his exile on the
island of Elba and once again threatened Europe with conquest. When
Wellington and Napoleon met at Waterloo it was a contest of giants.
Wellington succeeded in achieving the final defeat of Napoleon in a battle
he himself called "the most desperate business I ever was in".
With Napoleon at last vanquished, Wellington returned to politics. Though
he ultimately served as Prime Minister from 1828 to 1830, he was a notably
unpopular politician. His individualistic and essentially unpolitical
temperament, combined with a strong indifference to the opinions of others,
frequently put him at odds with fellows politicians. As a public figure,
however, he remained prominent and respected until his death in 1852, well
into the Victorian era.
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