Arthur, first duke of Wellington (1769–1852), army officer and prime minister, was the third surviving son ofGarret Wesley, first earl of Mornington (1735–1781), and his wife, Anne (1742–1831), eldest daughter of Arthur Hill, first Viscount Dungannon. The family name was altered from Wesley to the older form Wellesley by Richard Wellesley, second earl, who used this spelling from 1789. Arthur did not sign himself Wellesley until May 1798. There is disagreement over the date and place of his birth, but 1 May 1769 and 6 Merrion Street (later 24 Upper Merrion Street), Dublin, have been accepted by modern biographers. The register of St Peter's Church, Dublin, records his christening under the date 30 April 1769. This is reconcilable with the alternative birth date of 29 April preferred by some earlier authorities, including the Dictionary of National Biography, but it would imply a degree of haste in the ceremony unusual except in cases of imminent danger, for which there is no evidence. Both parents subsequently attested to the date 1 May and this was the day kept as his birthday by Arthur himself.
Arthur Wesley lost his father at the age of twelve and was thought by his imperious mother to be foolish and dull in comparison with his elder brothers, Richard Wellesley, second earl of Mornington, and William Wellesley-Pole, later Baron Maryborough and third earl of Mornington. His only talents seemed to be for playing the violin (which may have come from his father, who was an accomplished amateur musician) and arithmetical calculation. But these minor gifts were obscured by his physical indolence and social awkwardness: signs perhaps of an unhappy and lonely childhood. His education was disjointed and his record undistinguished. As a small boy he attended the diocesan school at Trim, co. Meath, near the family seat at Dangan. He was then taken by his parents to London, where he became a pupil at Brown's Seminary, Chelsea. In 1781 he went to Eton College with his younger brother Gerald, who soon surpassed him scholastically. The little evidence that survives suggests that he was an unsociable and occasionally aggressive schoolboy who made little effort to learn. As a result he was removed from the college in the summer of 1784 to make way for the more promising fourth son, Henry Wellesley (later Baron Cowley). When his mother moved to the cheaper society of Brussels in 1785 he accompanied her and received lessons in French from their landlord, a lawyer (avocat), Jacobus Foubert (not apparently Goubert as usually stated). On Lady Mornington's departure to England she dispatched him to the Academy of Equitation at Angers in preparation for the military career which seemed the only possible employment for such an unpromising boy.
The academy, where Arthur arrived in January 1786, was less a military college than an international finishing school for young men, which had been run for generations by the Pignerolle family; nearly a third of the intake that year came from the British Isles. In addition to fencing, horsemanship, and the science of fortification (none of which seems to have left much mark on him), there were lessons in mathematics, grammar, and dancing. Out of school, besides drinking, gambling, and youthful rowdiness, there were occasional invitations from the local nobility. At the end of the year, when Arthur reappeared in London, he had visibly improved in manners and social deportment, with a command of fluent if old-fashioned French.
Lord Mornington, after the manner of the Ascendancy aristocracy, took seriously the duty of providing for the family of which he had become the youthful head. In March 1787 a commission was obtained for Arthur as ensign in the 73rd foot, a Highland regiment then in India. Further solicitation procured him an appointment as aide-de-camp to the lord lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Buckingham. To facilitate this (and possibly avoid his being sent to India) a commission as lieutenant in the 76th foot was secured in December. This was quickly followed by an exchange first into the 41st foot in January 1788 and then into the 12th light dragoons in June 1789. As part of Mornington's political ambitions his brother William was found a seat at Westminster, and Arthur replaced him in 1790 as MP for the family borough of Trim (where Arthur is commemorated by a fine obelisk). More military promotion followed. In June 1781 he was commissioned as captain in the 58th foot, exchanging to the 18th light dragoons in October 1792. In little more than five years he had held commissions in six different regiments, though there is no evidence that he served with any of them. As aide-de-camp in Dublin, member of the Irish House of Commons, and manager of the family estate at Dangan, he had more than sufficient occupation. His leisure pursuits were more conventional: drinking, gambling, and getting into debt. But he still played his violin and was showing an interest in serious reading.
The year 1793, which saw the start of the long war with revolutionary France, was also a turning point in Arthur Wesley's private life. In April he obtained a commission as major in the 33rd foot and about the same time proposed to Lady Catherine Sarah Dorothea Pakenham (d. 1831), sister of the young Lord Longford, whom he had been courting since 1792. The offer was declined by her brother on the grounds that Wesley lacked the prospect of being able to support her properly. This blow to his sensitive pride was harder to bear since (perhaps for not unconnected reasons) he had been displaying more activity in the Irish House of Commons, making his maiden speech when seconding the address in January. His emotional response to the snub was to apply himself more single-mindedly to his military profession. He gave up music and (in one of his not uncharacteristic dramatic gestures) burnt his violin. To familiarize himself with drill, he obtained leave from the new lord lieutenant, the duke of Richmond, to attend his military parades; and later that summer he asked Mornington to help him get a posting to one of the corps being formed for service abroad. Nothing came of that, but in September he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and commanding officer of his regiment.
With this last step Wesley had risen as far up the military ladder as his brother's money and influence could take him. He was now caught in what a contemporary biographer called the ‘seniority groove’ (Gleig, Life of Wellington, 7), from which he could hope to escape only by active service. His chance came in 1794 when his regiment was assigned to an expeditionary force under Lord Moira sent out as reinforcement for the duke of York in the Netherlands. Having embarked at Cork early in June, the 33rd landed at Ostend nineteen days later. Wesley, given command of a rear-guard of three battalions, on his own initiative took them round to Antwerp by boat, arriving somewhat unconventionally before the main column. The outcome of the campaign, however, was virtually decided by the timidity and divisions of Britain's allies. The Austrians withdrew from the Netherlands after the battle of Fleurus (26 June), and Prussian co-operation had been half-hearted from the start. The small British contingent retreated therefore into Holland. In the new year, when the French were able to cross the frozen waterways, the isolated British troops moved off, starving and demoralized, into Hanover, to be evacuated to England in the early spring of 1795. Wesley had earned an official commendation for checking a French column in a minor engagement in September 1794 at Boxtel, but for the British force as a whole the campaign had been a miserable experience, made worse by defective organization and poor leadership. Individual regiments had behaved well, but it was clear to the young Colonel Wesley that nobody on the staff knew how to command an army. His laconic verdict many years later was that it had at least taught him ‘what one ought not to do; and that is always something!’ (Stanhope, 182).
Disillusioned by his first experience of active service Wesley turned his thoughts to civil employment. An optimistic application to his elder brother (now in the government) for the administrative post of secretary at war had no result; nor did a more despairing one to the new lord lieutenant, Lord Camden, for an appointment in the Irish administration. In the autumn of 1795 his regiment joined an expeditionary force destined for the West Indies. Wesley, whose health had suffered in the Netherlands campaign, was ill with fever at the time and the fleet sailed from Portsmouth without him. This was good fortune for him, since it ran straight into a channel gale and seven transports were wrecked on Chesil Beach with great loss of life. When it was sent out again in December it was once more hit by bad weather and Wesley's ship was one of the lucky ones that found their way back to England in February 1796. After a short stay at Poole the 33rd left in April for India, leaving its colonel, again seriously ill, to follow it out. Wesley, now a brevet colonel, eventually sailed from Portsmouth in June 1796.
To occupy himself on the voyage Wesley took with him a library of several hundred volumes. Nearly half of them, including a number on the history, languages, and government of India, he bought in London before he sailed. Others, brought from Ireland, indicated the seriousness with which he had already been studying his profession. Among them were works on military history and the art of war by Frederick the Great, Marshal Saxe, the contemporary French general Dumouriez, and the cosmopolitan soldier General H. Lloyd. Eton had presumably given Wesley enough Latin to read Caesar in the original since his Commentaria was among the London purchases. Methodical, strong-willed, and ambitious, Wesley was clearly bent on making the most of the opportunities which India offered.
Having caught up with his convoy at the Cape, Wesley arrived at Calcutta in February 1797. A few months later he received the welcome news that his brother Lord Mornington had been offered an Indian appointment, and at once wrote urging him to accept. Meanwhile he and his regiment went off on an abortive expedition to Manila, in the Spanish Philippines, only to be recalled half way because of the worsening military situation in both Europe and southern India. Early next year he visited Madras and remained there, at the instance of the local British commander General Harris, to act as adviser to the new governor, the reputedly dull and obstinate Lord Clive.
In May Wesley's brother, now Lord Wellesley, arrived in India as governor-general and commander-in-chief, bringing their younger brother Henry as his private secretary. In view of this sudden irruption of the Wellesley family into Indian affairs, it is possible that Harris's noticeable partiality towards Colonel Wesley was not uninfluenced by his connection with the new administration in Calcutta, since otherwise the two men did not get on well. For most of 1798, therefore, Wesley remained at Madras in the slightly equivocal role of unofficial representative of the governor-general, working surreptitiously to secure Lord Clive's co-operation (against the views of his local advisers) with the expansionist plans favoured by his ambitious elder brother.
The immediate problem was Tipu Sultan of Mysore, who was believed to be plotting, with French encouragement, the overthrow of British influence in southern India. Though Colonel Wellesley (as he now signed himself) counselled his brother against precipitate action, in the absence of General Harris he organized the Madras forces in readiness for a conflict. On his advice the friendly nizam of Hyderabad was forcibly extricated from the control of the French officers in his army, and a treaty made to assure the neutrality of the powerful Maratha confederacy further north. When war broke out in February 1799 Wellesley was given command of the native Hyderabad army, stiffened by the attachment of his own 33rd regiment. This appointment brought a sharp protest from General Baird who, despite being senior in rank, had been given an inferior command. General Harris, however, had been impressed by Wellesley's careful preparations for the campaign, and the nizam's prime minister had specifically requested that Wellesley should be in charge of his ruler's contingent.
During the advance against the great fortress town of Seringapatam the 33rd distinguished itself in a skirmish at Malavalli on 27 March against a column of Tipu's French-trained troops. This was followed, however, by an ignominious failure of a night attack in difficult enclosed country outside Seringapatam. Wellesley, suffering from dysentery at the time, was momentarily shaken by this reverse, though he took the position without difficulty next day. The rueful moral he drew was never to attack a prepared position by night that had not been reconnoitred. In the assault of 4 May on Seringapatam he was in command of the reserves but after its capture was appointed governor. This brought another protest from the peppery General Baird. It was, however, a defensible choice, since Wellesley enjoyed good relations with the local Indians and Baird notoriously did not. His share of prize money for this campaign was £4000, a sum which just covered the advances his brother had made to him from time to time for the purchase of commissions: but Lord Wellesley regally refused his offer of repayment. For the rest of 1799 and 1800 he was busy repressing looting, enforcing on his own men respect for Indian customs, and breaking up marauding bands of former enemy soldiers. The most formidable and elusive of these was led by the guerrilla leader Dhundia Wagh, who was chased first into Maratha territory and then back again into Hyderabad before he was defeated and killed. In an unconventional act of compassion Wellesley made himself responsible for the welfare and upbringing of Dhundia's four-year-old son, discovered among the enemy's baggage.
At the end of 1800 Wellesley became increasingly involved in the plans of the governor-general, now the Marquess Wellesley, to intensify the war against the French dominions overseas, and in December he went to Trincomalee in Ceylon to organize a sea-borne expeditionary force. The original idea was to attack the French naval base on the Île de France (Mauritius). Nothing came of this, however, because of the refusal of the local British naval commander to participate. Then, in January 1801, Wellesley was warned by the governor-general that if his force had to be employed against a more important target it would be necessary to appoint a more senior officer, probably General Baird, leaving him as second in command. It was now Wellesley's turn to protest, at what he chose to regard as his supersession, in language understandable between candid brothers but hardly fitting in a colonel addressing his commander-in-chief. Worse followed. In February he learned from Lord Clive in Madras that the government in London had decided to send the expeditionary force to the Red Sea port of Mocha (in modern Yemen) to assist the current operations against the French in Egypt. Without waiting for orders from Calcutta, Wellesley sailed off with his force, intending first to revictual at Bombay and then proceed to the Red Sea. It is difficult to interpret this remarkable action as anything other than an attempt to forestall Baird's assumption of command. At Bombay, however, he fell victim to an attack of the distressing skin complaint known as the Malabar itch. The delay gave Baird time to catch up with his errant expeditionary force and take it on to Mocha. Wellesley was left behind to endure the heroic remedy of acid baths and vent his frustration in angry letters to Lord Wellesley and to another of his brothers, the discreet Henry. It was painfully obvious that he had set his heart on having an independent command, which would bring him both promotion and prize money, and that he had allowed his ambition to overcome his judgement. Though he soon made his peace with Baird, his resentment against his elder brother took some time to cool.
In April 1802, on his return to Mysore, Wellesley was finally promoted to the rank of major-general, but only on the Indian strength. More importantly, at the end of the year quarrels between the Maratha chiefs of the Deccan forced the peshwa of Poona to seek protection from the Bombay presidency. This created a welcome opportunity for Lord Wellesley to break the power of the formidable Maratha confederacy. His brother assumed, this time correctly, that he would be in charge of the military operation, and his appointment ended the breach with the governor-general. In June 1803, having without difficulty restored the peshwa to his throne, he received plenary political and military authority to pacify the Deccan. When negotiations broke down in August, he declared war on Sindhia and Berar, the two leading Maratha states, and in a surprise attack captured almost without loss the great fortress of Ahmadnagar, regarded as one of the strongest in India. Pushing another 120 miles north-east he made contact with the Maratha forces on 23 September.
Expecting, on the basis of Indian intelligence, to meet a body of only some 20,000 infantry, Wellesley found himself in the presence of the whole Maratha army of some 50,000, drawn up in a strong position behind the River Kaitna. His force, reduced by his questionable decision to send Colonel Stevenson's Hyderabad contingent round by a different route, numbered only 7000. His men had already marched 20 miles that day and retreat would have been almost as hazardous as an advance. He took the bolder course. Guessing correctly that there must be a ford between two villages on opposite sides of the river, he crossed below the left flank of the Maratha position and placed his force in a narrow angle between the Kaitna and a tributary river, the Juah: a position which shortened his front and protected his flanks, but would have been a death-trap had he been beaten. The Marathas, under their French officers, skilfully changed front to meet him, and a desperate battle followed before victory was assured. Wellesley's right flank advanced too far and came under heavy artillery fire near Assaye village. Of approximately 5000 men who crossed the Kaitna over a third became casualties, a disproportionate number being among the British troops. Wellesley contributed by his personal example to the result. In the thick of the fighting throughout, he had one horse killed under him and another wounded.
Assaye was a remarkable victory, in which audacity and aggressiveness succeeded against a well-trained and numerically greatly superior enemy. Given the situation in which he found himself (partly his own fault), Wellesley's decision to risk a battle was perhaps unavoidable, certainly defensible, but it was hardly a textbook battle. The only justification is that he won it: a consideration which commonly outweighs all academic criticisms. Many years later he said that Assaye was the finest thing he had ever done in the fighting line—meaning, no doubt, that it was a triumph against all the odds. It undoubtedly made his reputation and ended all the talk of unfair family favouritism.
It also broke the morale of the Marathas. At Argaon on 29 November they were routed with only minor British casualties and early in December the raja of Berar's fortress of Gawilgarh fell after a weak resistance. Before the end of the year peace was made with both Sindhia and Berar. By the summer of 1804, however, Wellesley was anxious to get back to England. He was aggrieved by the failure of the authorities at home to confirm his last promotion and felt that as long as he remained in India he would be professionally in a disadvantageous position. In any case he did not want to stay after the expiry of Lord Wellesley's term of office. A further consideration was that he had suffered constantly in India from minor tropical illnesses, even though in later life he stoutly affirmed that India had toughened his previously weak constitution. From every point of view Europe offered a more promising field for his intensely ambitious nature. On 10 March 1805 he sailed for home. He was now Sir Arthur, having been made KB the previous August, and he had accumulated a fortune of £42,000, enough to give him financial independence. Success had turned him into a supremely confident man, convinced that nothing was impossible if the will-power and attention to details were present. His professional education, he felt, was now complete. He returned from India, he said afterwards, understanding ‘as much of military matters as I have ever done since’ (Guedalla, 117–18).
During Wellesley's homeward voyage he learned that Lord Wellesley had been recalled because of official dissatisfaction with his Maratha policy. As soon as he arrived, therefore, on 10 September, he began to lobby the government on Richard's behalf. It was when engaged on this task that he had his solitary meeting with Nelson in the anteroom of the old war and Colonial Office in Downing Street a few days later. He had much talk with most of the leading ministers, including Pitt and Castlereagh, though they were evidently more impressed by Richard's brother than by Richard's policy. Wellesley soon found himself in the congenial position of advising the government on Indian politics and European strategy. In December, however, he was selected to command a brigade in the abortive expedition to Hanover and wasted six weeks in the neighbourhood of Bremen before returning to England in February 1806. Despite Pitt's death the previous month, the formation of a coalition ministry, and his friend Castlereagh's consequent loss of office, Wellesley's career continued to progress. His 1802 promotion to major-general was confirmed and in January 1806 he was given the colonelcy of the 33rd, made vacant by the death of Lord Cornwallis. These two appointments made him a comparatively rich man. He was posted to a brigade near Hastings, and in the autumn of that year wrote the first of a series of mainly critical memoranda for the government on various projects that had been suggested for helping the independence movements in the Spanish colonies. To add to his responsibilities, in April 1806, at the instance of the new prime minister, Lord Grenville, he was elected MP for Rye so that he could defend his brother in the House of Commons against charges of maladministration and fraud.
In the middle of these preoccupations came one of the most inexplicable actions of Wellesley's life: his marriage to Catherine Pakenham. They had not met for twelve years and he had never written to her in all the time he had been away, though they had received news of each other through a common friend, Lady Olivia Sparrow. It is not easy to tell from his friendly remarks about Kitty (as she was generally known) and references to the disappointment he had suffered in 1793 what his feelings really were. Certainly by 1802 Kitty had decided that the affair was over, became engaged to another man, broke it off, and suffered a nervous breakdown which destroyed her youthful charm and self-confidence. On Wellesley's return in 1805, however, Olivia Sparrow threw herself into her matchmaking role with renewed energy. Having first revived Kitty's faltering hopes, she reminded Wellesley of her continued devotion to him and his continued duty to marry her. He obediently sent off a written proposal which Kitty accepted, with the timid suggestion that he should wait until he saw her before committing himself. That was in November 1805, and was followed, on his own confession, by considerable misgivings on his part. However, when he returned from Germany he secured a week's leave, crossed to Ireland, and the wedding took place in Dublin on 10 April 1806. His wife subsequently joined him in London, and Arthur, the first of their two sons, was born in Harley Street on 3 February 1807, followed by Charles in January 1808. His motives for the marriage can only be guessed, but it was to turn out an unhappy relationship for both of them.
In October 1806 parliament was dissolved and Wellesley was without a seat until one was found for him with Treasury assistance at Mitchell, a Cornish pocket borough, in January 1807. In March, however, the Portland ministry, containing several of his friends, took office and through the instrumentality of Lord Hawkesbury he was offered the post of chief secretary for Ireland. He accepted on condition it should not be allowed to interfere with his army career. Though re-elected for Mitchell he transferred in May to a cheaper seat at Newport, Isle of Wight. Learning soon afterwards of plans for a Baltic expedition, he put in an immediate application to serve. In due course he was given command of a division in the force under Lord Cathcart which was sent at the end of July to impound the Danish fleet. During the subsequent siege of Copenhagen he defeated a diversionary force at Kjöge on 29 August with no difficulty and little loss. By the beginning of October he was back in Dublin where his post had been kept open for him despite his request to be relieved. Unexciting as the Danish campaign had been, it confirmed his Indian reputation and earned him the thanks of the House of Commons. He had no great enthusiasm for the South American plans of the government on which he was still working, but at least his growing intimacy with the ministers gave him confidence of early employment in the field. As he wrote to a friend in India, since he had returned to England ‘I have got pretty high up the tree’ (Maxwell, 1.90).
Meanwhile Wellesley applied himself with his customary assiduity to his duties in Dublin and at Westminster. Courteous and firm, he brought to the multifarious tasks of a chief secretary a brisk efficiency which won him general respect. The larger part of his work lay in the unedifying field of Irish patronage, particularly demanding in the early summer of 1807 because of the imminent general election. He found time, however, to reorganize the Dublin police and introduce an Irish Insurrection Bill. Though pessimistic about the ultimate success of the recent union between England and Ireland, he took the view that government policy should at least aim at obliterating the distinction between protestant and Catholic. There was little room in his sceptical mind for religious partisanship. Back in London he dutifully conferred at ministerial request with General Miranda, the envoy of the revolutionary party in South America, but privately suggested to ministers that it made more strategic sense to strike a blow at Napoleon in Europe. In May 1808, within a week of his promotion to lieutenant-general, that opportunity came with the popular uprising in Spain against the French military occupation. It was, he told ministers, ‘a crisis in which a great effort might be made with advantage’ (Guedalla, 151). The government, and indeed public opinion in general, were of the same mind. In June, to his great satisfaction, Wellesley was ordered to take a force already assembled in Ireland to the Peninsula to co-operate with the Portuguese and Spanish armies.
The expedition, 9000 strong, left Cork on 12 July. It was weak in cavalry and transport, but contained some of the best infantry in the army. Sailing ahead in a fast frigate Wellesley called at Corunna to talk to the Spanish and at Porto to the Portuguese authorities before going on to confer with the commander of the British naval squadron in the Tagus. The advice he received confirmed his view that the best place to disembark was Mondego Bay, 100 miles north of Junot's force in Lisbon. On 30 July he received the unwelcome news that since the French army in Portugal was larger than had previously been assumed, the British expeditionary force was to be reinforced by another 15,000 men and placed under the command of Sir Hew Dalrymple, the governor of Gibraltar, with General Burrard as his second in command, who were to be joined later by General Moore. Wellesley, already strengthened by 5000 men under General Spencer from Cadiz, decided to beat Junot, if he could, before his seniors arrived. The disembarkation of his force was carried out in the first week of August and he then moved off south by the coastal road. His first encounter with French troops came at Roliça on 17 August when contact was made with General Delaborde's corps. Enjoying a considerable numerical advantage, Wellesley launched a neat enveloping attack marred only by the rashness of some of the regiments in his centre. Delaborde made an adroit retreat and Wellesley's deficiencies in cavalry prevented him from making an effective pursuit.
Nevertheless, British losses were few and Wellesley's troops, most of them under fire for the first time, were impressed by what they saw of their new commander. Moving on south he halted at Vimeiro to cover the landing of two more brigades from England. A less welcome arrival on 20 August was General Burrard, who forbade any further advance until they were joined by General Moore, then at Mondego. When Junot, coming up from Lisbon, attacked the following day, however, Wellesley was still in command.
Vimeiro was the first of Wellesley's classic defensive battles. Though inferior in cavalry and artillery, he had nearly 19,000 men against the 14,000 which Junot brought into the field. He arranged his force in a shallow arc with the right flank bent back towards the sea and his left on a high ridge north of Vimeiro village. In a forward central position on Vimeiro Hill he placed a strong detachment covered by enfilade fire from the high ground on his left. Attacking in column in their usual manner the French were driven back (as most British military experts including Wellesley thought they would always be) by musketry volleys followed by bayonet charges from the British infantry drawn up in lines two deep. On the left, two French brigades attempting an outflanking movement were pushed northwards away from their main body. Only Wellesley's lack of cavalry and the belated appearance of Burrard on the battlefield saved Junot from a crushing defeat. Next day he sent Kellermann to propose an armistice to the recently arrived Dalrymple. This was followed by the so-called convention of Cintra, ratified on 30 August. By its terms Lisbon and the French-held fortresses in Portugal were to be surrendered and the French troops conveyed back to France in British vessels. At Dalrymple's request Wellesley signed the armistice document, though he did not approve of it and had no hand in drawing it up. Not surprisingly his relations with Dalrymple were frosty and, like the troops he had just led, he was angry that so little advantage had been taken of the victory. Rather insubordinately he let his opinions be known in London and did his best to get Moore appointed commander in Portugal. Snubbing various suggestions for his own further employment in the Peninsula, Wellesley obtained leave to return to Dublin and resume his neglected duties as chief secretary.
Apart from the failure to exploit the victory, the convention of Cintra was not without advantages. It secured not only the removal of the main French army from Portugal but the surrender of the two strong fortresses of Elvas and Almeida, commanding the great roads into Portugal guarded on the Spanish side by Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo. The outraged British public, however, was blind to everything except the inexcusable caution, amounting to culpable timidity, which had thrown away the fruits of a rare victory over the French. Bowing to the universal indignation the government instituted a court of inquiry at which Wellesley, as well as Dalrymple and Burrard, was called to give evidence. Wellesley wisely confined himself to a defence of his own actions. Though the report of the inquiry, dated 22 December, was bland and inconclusive, the two senior generals were never employed on active service again.
For Wellesley, by contrast, the episode was a disguised piece of good fortune. In the middle of January 1809 Sir John Moore was killed at Corunna in a battle which successfully covered the embarkation of his shattered army. In a matter of weeks, therefore, three senior generals with Peninsular experience, including the ablest of them all, had been removed from Wellesley's path. The cabinet were still determined to pursue their interventionist policy, and even before the Corunna evacuation they had signed an alliance with the provisional government in Spain. They were heartened by Wellesley's confident advice that Portugal, with its long sea coast and short land communications, offered an advantageous base for operations against Napoleon. At the beginning of April he was appointed commander of yet another expeditionary force to the Peninsula. A degree of realism, however, had entered into ministerial strategy. His instructions in 1808 had been to liberate Portugal and Spain, and secure the expulsion of French forces from the Peninsula. In 1809 his letter of service laid down more soberly that his principal object was the defence of Portugal.
Having resigned both his Irish secretaryship and his seat in parliament, Wellesley arrived on 22 April in Lisbon, where there was still a small British garrison. He reorganized his 21,000-strong force into integrated, self-sufficient divisions, with Portuguese battalions brigaded with British regiments, and then rapidly moved north to secure Porto. Soult, leisurely preparing to withdraw from his isolated position in the city, was surprised by an improvised crossing of the Douro River. Evacuating the port on 12 May he made a precipitate retreat into Spain, losing a fifth of his men and all his guns on the way. Wellesley then turned his attention to Spain, and after negotiations with the Spanish commander Cuesta a joint advance was planned against Madrid.
After Vimeiro, Wellesley had advised his government that little reliance could be placed on the Spanish army and that, though an advance into Spain might be attempted as a strategic method of defending Portugal, it would have to be on the assumption of a quick withdrawal if faced by a large concentration of French troops. Despite this, the campaign of 1809 was in many respects a recapitulation of Moore's ill-fated operations of 1808 and with nearly the same catastrophic outcome. It rested on delusive assurances of Spanish support and was undertaken with inadequate knowledge of the strength and movements of the opposing forces. Wellesley moved into Spain at the end of June along the valley of the Tagus. Overestimating the time it would take Soult to reorganize, he thought that the Portuguese forces under Beresford would be sufficient to protect his northern flank. His southern flank was to be covered by a second Spanish army under Venegas which had been ordered up to the Madrid area.
In the event everything went wrong. Venegas's march was countermanded by the supreme junta; Spanish promises of transport and food were not kept. Between 20 July and 20 August the British army received only ten days' rations. Meanwhile Victor's forces in front of Venegas were reinforced from Madrid and Soult was ordered south from Salamanca to cut the British lines of communication. When contact was made with the French, Cuesta's obstinacy frustrated Wellesley's wish for an immediate attack, and when they joined battle a few days later it was on less favourable terms.
Talavera was Wellesley's second great defensive battle, comparable to Waterloo and almost as hard fought. His disposition of the allied army and choice of ground were admirable. The naturally strong position on his right, resting on the River Tagus and Talavera village and protected in front by olive groves and irrigation channels, was allotted to the suspect Spanish troops. His centre was behind a stream and shallow ravine, with a half-finished gun emplacement occupying a prominent site. His left was withdrawn along high ground overlooking a valley. The fighting started on 27 July with an unsuccessful French night attack and continued more fiercely on the 28th. The allied army numbered some 52,000 men (21,500 being Wellesley's Anglo-Portuguese), compared with the 46,000 French of Victor and Jourdan, under the nominal command of King Joseph. On the evening of the second day, after desperate fighting, the French began to retreat even though they had not used their reserves. Wellesley's men by that time were too exhausted to follow up. Allied casualties, at about 7000, were almost as heavy as the French, and a disproportionate share was borne by the British regiments. This was not all. Shortly afterwards Wellesley learned of the formidable threat of Soult's army coming down from the north. He therefore left his sick and wounded at Talavera under the protection of Cuesta (who promptly abandoned them), recrossed the Tagus, and took his famished and disorderly troops back to the shelter of Badajoz on the Portuguese frontier.
Wellesley had escaped the French trap by the narrowest of margins. It was a sharp lesson and he drew the natural but mistaken moral. Writing to Castlereagh on 25 August he listed all the shortcomings of his Spanish allies and concluded savagely that ‘I can only tell you that I feel no inclination to join in cooperation with them again’ (Maxwell, 1.174). Talavera has been criticized as a useless battle; certainly it was a victory that would have been impossible to exploit. Yet, as with Moore's campaign, it yielded a measure of political, if not military, profit. The British cabinet and public had been longing for a success in Spain which would avenge Corunna, and the Spanish authorities had been given tangible evidence of British readiness to give them support. The victory earned Wellesley a peerage (4 September) and a pension as Viscount Wellington. But opinion at home was divided, and the whig parliamentary opposition was becoming sceptical of the whole concept of defending Portugal.
From August 1809 to February 1810 Wellington's army saw no fighting. For their general, however, it was an anxious period in which the future of his command hung in the balance. The defeat of Austria at Wagram in July 1809 set Napoleon free to turn his immense military resources against Spain and in December he announced his intention to lead an army of 140,000 veterans to drive the British from the Peninsula. At home a political crisis in the autumn weakened the ministry and brought about the resignation of Castlereagh, the only minister in whom Wellington had any trust. When parliament met in January 1810 the whig opposition mounted a fierce attack on Perceval's depleted administration. The Talavera campaign was described as a disaster and Wellington's motives in undertaking it impugned. Many of his own officers were openly critical of their chief, and an atmosphere of defeatism was detectable in both London and Lisbon.
Not surprisingly the new secretary of state for war, Lord Liverpool, in a lengthy correspondence from the autumn of 1809 to the spring of 1810, made it his business to elicit from Wellington his considered views on the basic problems which confronted him in the Peninsula. Could he defend Portugal against the vastly superior forces likely to be brought against him? Would Cadiz be a better base than Lisbon? If he could not maintain himself in Portugal, when and in what circumstances should he consider evacuation? Much of what Liverpool wrote was probably designed to obtain information and arguments which could be used against criticism in parliament and at court. He invariably accepted Wellington's view of what was the right strategy and did his best to convince him of the cabinet's confidence in his leadership. Nevertheless, ministers were gravely concerned for the safety of Wellington's force. Liverpool felt it right to emphasize that it was not one of Britain's armies, but its only army, and that its destruction would have profound political as well as military consequences.
While Wellington returned firm and confident, if not always very specific, answers, his occasionally testy letters (and still more the intemperate and sometimes unreasonable language he used about the government privately) showed the strain he was under. In their different spheres both he and the cabinet were fighting for their professional existence. But though Wellington was irritated by what seemed to him the unnecessary caution of the ministers, he did not ignore the points raised by Liverpool. Indeed, his actions in the twelve months after Talavera were marked by the caution and avoidance of desperate battles which the secretary for war enjoined. In the autumn and winter of 1809, while the Spanish armies were being systematically routed by the French, he moved his own troops to the Mondego valley in northern Portugal. Unknown to the cabinet he had already surveyed the Torres Vedras district in front of Lisbon and given detailed orders for the construction of initially two and finally three lines of defences: the first of which would at least delay, the second halt, and the third (if the worst came to the worst) cover an embarkation. In July 1809 he had been appointed marshal-general of Portugal. Using his new powers to the limit, in March 1810 he revived the old Portuguese laws which authorized in a national emergency the mobilization of the entire male population. Simultaneously he issued a proclamation directing the inhabitants of the districts through which the French would advance to fall back towards Lisbon, taking their goods and cattle with them.
In the event Napoleon's divorce and his marriage to Marie-Louise of Austria in the spring of 1810 made him delegate the command of a much reduced army of Portugal to Masséna, one of his ablest commanders. Wellington, while detaching 12,000 men under Hill to stiffen Spanish resistance against a possible advance south of the Tagus, remained on the defensive in the north where he judged the main attack would come. He refused to weaken his force by sending assistance to the Spanish garrison of Ciudad Rodrigo and the fortress eventually surrendered to Masséna in July. This was followed by the unexpectedly early capture by the French of Almeida on the Portuguese side of the frontier. As Masséna advanced Wellington fell back, issuing another appeal to the civil population to remove or destroy everything that might be of use to the French invaders. On 21 September Hill's corps rejoined him to bring the army up to 25,000. With these, and about the same number of Portuguese, he had to face Masséna's 65,000.
Wellington's eventual decision to stand and fight at Busaco was probably influenced by a number of considerations: the political panic in Lisbon as refugees came pouring in, the increasing doubts among his own officers, and the demoralizing effect on his men of continuous retreat, from which Moore had suffered in 1808. Masséna clinched the issue by choosing, through ignorance, the most westerly and worst road to Lisbon through Viseu and Coimbra. Aligning his force from north to south along the Busaco Ridge, a natural defensive feature he had previously noted, Wellington met the French attack on 27 September. The main weakness of his position, apart from his chronic insufficiency of cavalry and guns, was the sheer length (over 5 miles) of his front. In the opening attacks Reynier's corps actually pierced his line before being thrown back. But skilful use of the reverse slope and a recently improved lateral road, which enabled him to reinforce quickly any threatened point, gave Wellington in the end an emphatic victory. French casualties at 4500 were heavy compared with the allied total of 1200 shared equally between the Portuguese, who fought excellently, and the British.
Any hope Wellington might have had of stopping Masséna was disappointed. The French found a way round his left and Wellington was forced to resume his retreat southward. When Masséna reached the Torres Vedras defences in October, however, a brief examination was enough to convince him of the impossibility of his task: he had no stomach for a second Busaco. After waiting for a month with his supplies steadily diminishing, he made a masterly retreat to Santarem, 30 miles to the north-east, and in the spring returned to Spain. Wellington's drastic and comprehensive preparations, though gaining only the partial co-operation of the Portuguese population, had brought him a strategic success which permanently shaped the course of the war. After 1810 little doubt remained on either side that Portugal could be held against any French attack.
Wellington's next objective was to prevent such attacks by capturing the Spanish fortresses which commanded the only two roads into central Portugal suitable for the passage of large armies: Ciudad Rodrigo in the north and Badajoz in the south, separated by some 130 miles. Beresford, whom he had detached with 22,000 men in March to operate on the River Guadiana, was ordered in April to undertake the siege of Badajoz. He himself invested Almeida, the only Portuguese fortress in French hands, as a preliminary to moving against Ciudad Rodrigo. His Indian experience, as he once admitted, had perhaps made him trust too much to rapidity of attack and underestimate the potential for resistance of fortresses manned by resolute troops under a resourceful commander. The chief problem, however, was his numerical weakness. Against superior French manpower his best weapons were speed and surprise. Sieges pinned his army down to a particular locality and gave time for his opponents to concentrate against him. Wellington's simultaneous operations in the summer of 1811 demonstrated these inherent weaknesses as well as the self-willed streak in his own character.
Before Almeida fell Masséna, showing unanticipated resilience, launched an attack on the covering British force east of the town. With inferior numbers and a disparity of one to three in cavalry, Wellington's dispositions at the battle of Fuentes d'Oñoro fell short of his usual standards. Though his centre and left were securely posted along a ridge, his extreme right hung somewhat in the air on the edge of a level plain. Moreover, the units posted there included a newly arrived British division and some Spanish irregulars. In the battle which followed on 5 May his left flank, against which there had been a French feint on 3 May, was hardly engaged. In the centre, the village of Fuentes d'Oñoro was the scene of savage street fighting in which the French gave as good as they got. On the right his inexperienced troops were completely broken by French cavalry attacks. In this critical situation Wellington made a bold decision to pull back that part of his line to a more defensible position at right angles to his original front. This risky manoeuvre, skilfully covered by the light division, enabled him to keep between Masséna's army and Almeida, though at the cost of uncovering his own lines of communication back through Sabugal. In the night of 7–8th, however, frustrated by the insubordination of his senior commanders, Masséna disengaged. For Wellington it was a lucky escape. Writing to his brother William a month later he confessed it had been the most difficult battle he had ever fought: ‘If Bony had been there we should have been beaten’ (Maxwell, 1.228).
Almeida fell a few days later, though poor staff work permitted the French garrison to escape. Worse news came from the south. The battle of Albuera, fought by Beresford on 16 May against Soult's relieving force, resulted in some of the most murderous casualties of the war. The British lost some 4000 out of their total of 7600; the Spanish and Portuguese 2000; the French 7000 out of 24,000. Napoleon could afford such losses; Wellington could not. ‘Another such battle would ruin us,’ he wrote grimly to his brother Henry, the British attaché at Cadiz (Longford, Years of the Sword, 258). On arriving at Badajoz three days later he decided to renew the attack on the fortress, but made the double mistake of relying on ancient Portuguese siege guns and assuming he could capture Badajoz (a stronger fortress than Almeida with a larger garrison) before Soult could recover from his defeat. Two attempts in June failed before he abandoned the siege and in the face of the advancing French returned to Ciudad Rodrigo. His disease-ridden army, however, was too weak to permit more than a blockade of the town, and in September Marmont (Masséna's successor) was able to revictual the garrison. After some inconclusive manoeuvring both sides then drew apart.
In midwinter, however, having learned that Marmont had detached part of his force to aid French operations in Valencia, Wellington resumed the offensive, despite the lateness of the season. Three months' rest in cantonments, better preparations, and a modern siege-train which arrived during the summer had transformed the capabilities of his army. After a brief investment the under-garrisoned fortress of Ciudad Rodrigo was stormed in January 1812. It was the only siege undertaken by Wellington which went according to plan, though with heavy casualties and their usual aftermath, looting and violence. The success encouraged him to attempt another quick operation against Badajoz. Preparations started in mid-March, but since the first siege the defences had been improved, the garrison resupplied, and time was running short. It was not impossible that Marmont might move south to reinforce Soult, who himself was only three days' march away. When the assault took place on the night of 6–7 April the three breaches in the fortifications were far from adequate. The main storming-parties suffered enormous casualties and ironically victory came only as a result of following up diversionary attacks against lightly held points not previously bombarded. British losses were nearly 5000, and when the following day Wellington saw the steaming piles of corpses in front of the main breach his self-control momentarily broke down. The ferocious animal courage shown by his men had its blacker side in two days of looting, arson, rape, and drunkenness which followed the capture of the town.
Nevertheless, in the space of three months the two strong fortresses opening the way into Spain had been captured in the face of 80,000 French troops, and this was followed in mid-May by the destruction of the bridge of boats at Almaraz on the Tagus, which was the link between the French army of Portugal and its army of the south. It was a series of successes which strengthened the moral ascendancy that Wellington was already beginning to impose on the French marshals and confirmed his own army's faith in his leadership.
Wellington himself in the early summer of 1812 was full of confidence. He had received substantial reinforcements from England while the French armies had been reduced in numbers and quality by withdrawals for Napoleon's Russian campaign. Towards the end of May he wrote to Lord Liverpool that he was prepared to advance into Castile and bring Marmont to a general action. Though the French still had some 280,000 men in the Peninsula, their armies were divided by rivers, mountain ranges, and the mutual antipathies of their generals, and weakened by difficulties in supply, the continued existence of pockets of Spanish regular troops, and widespread harassment by Spanish guerrillas. Wellington hoped that further distraction would be provided by a British sea-borne expedition under Bentinck to be launched from Sicily against Valencia, attacks from the Spanish army under Ballesteros in the south-west, and naval demonstrations along the Biscayan coast.
As things turned out, there was little synchronization between the different parts of this ambitious strategy. Sicilian politics and Bentinck's vacillations delayed the landing in Valencia until late summer and Ballesteros signally failed to mount any serious threat. When Wellington moved into Spain in mid-June he was held up at Salamanca by recently improved defences and was unwilling to provoke a battle. Marmont, on the other hand, still in the process of concentrating his forces, refused to attack Wellington in a prepared position. As a result there were several weeks of cautious movement in which the more lightly equipped French infantry outmarched, and Marmont outmanoeuvred, their British opponents. At one point there was even a threat to Wellington's line of communication with his base at Ciudad Rodrigo. On 22 July, however, with both armies moving west on parallel lines, Marmont allowed a gap to open up between his vanguard and his centre which Wellington immediately exploited. The 3rd division, which unknown to Marmont had been ordered up from Salamanca, rolled back the leading French divisions while Wellington developed a Frederician oblique attack from left to right. Marmont was wounded early in the engagement and had to relinquish command; an initially successful attack by Clausel on the allied centre was first stopped and then crushed by Wellington's reserves. Though he later claimed that the abandonment by the Spanish of a bridge across the River Tormes alone prevented a stubborn French retreat from developing into a rout, in fact there was no vigorous pursuit on his part. As it was, the French suffered some 7000 casualties and had about the same number taken prisoner, compared with only about 5000 casualties on the allied side. Salamanca, Wellington's greatest victory so far and one which the military historian Napier judged to be the most skilful of all his battles, brought him a marquessate (3 October 1812) to outrank the earldom (18 February 1812) conferred on him after the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo.
More important than this rapid ascent through the peerage was the problem of Wellington's next step: to pursue the defeated French army under Clausel or reap an easy political success by entering Madrid. He chose the latter: partly to rest and resupply his own army, which was suffering from sickness, unusually heavy losses among its senior officers, and shortages of food and money; partly to assist his home government (still precariously holding on to office despite Perceval's assassination in May) with a spectacular event more likely to catch the attention of Europe than the victory that made it possible. Having entered the Spanish capital to a tumultuous welcome on 12 August 1812, Wellington spent three weeks there before turning north against Clausel. The French, however, prudently fell back past Valladolid and Burgos to make contact with their remaining army behind the River Ebro. Lacking adequate artillery, Wellington's hasty siege of the castle at Burgos at the end of September failed ignominiously after five assaults. With the French beginning to concentrate against him once more, Wellington was now in a dangerously exposed position. Having lost 2000 men to no purpose he called off the siege and on 21 October began a long and disorderly retreat to the shelter of Ciudad Rodrigo, pressed hard by greatly superior French forces. At the end of the month he was back in familiar territory on the River Tormes, where he was joined by Hill's troops recalled from Madrid.
It was a disappointing end to a year that had promised so much. Wellington's hopes of pushing the French behind the Ebro had vanished and both he and his army were out of humour. A caustic circular letter he sent to his divisional and brigade commanders denouncing the indiscipline of their men during the retreat was evidence of his bad temper but did nothing to improve theirs. Moore's campaign of 1808, the Talavera campaign of 1809, and now the retreat from Salamanca in 1812 seemed part of a pattern he could not break. For this the fundamental reason was that the French armies in aggregate were always too strong to allow Wellington to exploit any of his local victories, however brilliant. Out of this realization came a new approach to the role of the Spanish armed forces. It amounted, in fact, to a change of heart among both allies.
In Spain, a larger and more decentralized country than Portugal, the government was weakened by deep provincial jealousies and constant friction between the successive regency councils and the Cortes. The larger part of Spain was under French occupation, thus depriving the Spanish government of revenue and manpower. The ill-trained Spanish professional army was never able to stand up to the French in battle; the guerrilla bands in the countryside could harass but not drive away the French invaders. As a result Spanish administration was paralysed to an extent that perhaps Wellington never fully realized. What was clear to him, however, was the need for Spain to make a greater contribution to a war which seemed impossible for him to win by himself. For this some impetus from above was required.
To obtain for Wellington command of the Spanish armies had been an object of British diplomacy ever since 1809. National pride, provincial autonomy, liberal jealousy of military authority, and the reluctance of the Spanish regency to part with power had all conspired to frustrate it. Nevertheless, the entry into Madrid finally converted the Cortes, and in September they offered Wellington the post of generalissimo of the Spanish armies. In this there was a degree of self-deception on both sides. The primary purpose of the Cortes was to secure Wellington and his army for the service of Spain, not to transfer to him the fundamental military control which by the liberal constitution of 1812 belonged to the civil authority. For Wellington the only value of the post was that it promised a more unified and authoritative direction of the Spanish military effort. In a letter to the Spanish war minister early in December 1812 he made a number of sweeping demands: the right to approve senior appointments in the Spanish army and the allocation of the military budget; the transmission through his headquarters of all orders to the Spanish armies in the field; and powers for the Spanish military commanders to obtain supplies without having to go through civilian authorities. He followed this up by going himself to Cadiz at the end of the month. By dint of threatening to resign his appointment he obtained the grudging consent of both the regency council and the Cortes to his demands.
Though he used his new powers circumspectly and the regency rarely fulfilled their side of the compact, the new arrangement at least gave Wellington hope that in future the Spanish armies would prove a more efficient ally. With Soult's retirement towards Madrid, Hill's force in south-west Spain was free to join the main army, and further reinforcements from England arrived during the winter of 1812–13, including five cavalry regiments. By the spring Wellington had under his command an effective force of over 100,000 men, comprising 55,000 British, 31,000 Portuguese, and 21,000 Spanish. By contrast the French forces had been further depleted by the withdrawal of 15,000 of their best troops to make good Napoleon's terrible losses in Russia, and their ablest general, Soult, had been recalled to Paris.
This was a decidedly more hopeful outlook than in any previous year, and Wellington improved on it by adopting a totally new strategy. Up to that point everything he had done in the Peninsula had been conditioned by his primary object, the defence of Portugal, and by the periodic opportunities to advance into Spain which that successful defence had created. The liberation of Spain, however, was a different kind of military problem. The whole French position in the Peninsula depended on the great high road from Bayonne through Burgos to Madrid. In 1808, in a different set of circumstances, Wellington had argued in a memorandum for the government that the only effective way to carry on operations against the French armies in Spain was to strike down from the Asturias against the flank and rear of the French line of communication, using the Biscayan ports as a base. In the early part of 1813, in fact, the protection of this vital link was becoming an increasing concern for King Joseph and his generals. Their strategy was to hold the northern part of Spain, using the River Douro as a defensive front on the left flank of any allied advance from the Ciudad Rodrigo sally-port. The bulk of their troops was concentrated in this sector, the rest being in the south-east guarding the Mediterranean coast against the Anglo-Sicilian threat.
This policy assumed that Wellington would, as in previous years, make his advance from central Portugal south of the Douro. In fact his new strategy, a modification of his 1808 ideas, was to outflank the French defensive position by crossing the Douro inside Portugal and make his main thrust against the French line of communication running north-east from the Douro to Bayonne. In doing so he proposed to use the Biscayan ports for his own communications and supplies. It was at this point that the defence of Portugal was transformed into the liberation of Spain. His theatrical gesture of farewell when he crossed the Portuguese frontier marked his sense that the war had taken on a new shape. In May 60,000 men under Graham began their march through the mountainous terrain of the Tras-os-Montes, emerging into northern Spain. As a blind, Wellington remained with Hill's smaller force which started out along the familiar route from Ciudad Rodrigo towards Salamanca. There Wellington left them to join Graham. The two halves of the army were reunited at Toro, north of the Douro, at the beginning of June. The surprise had been complete and the French, abandoning first Valladolid and then, surprisingly, Burgos, fell back towards the Ebro.
Wellington's tactics were to hustle, as he put it, the French towards Bayonne by continuously outflanking them to the north and giving them no time to regroup. Meanwhile he shifted his base from Lisbon and Corunna to Santander on the Biscayan coast. It was a remarkable logistic achievement. Between mid-May and mid-June he moved 100,000 men, with 100 guns and a pontoon bridge train, 250 miles to within striking distance of the French frontier. The decisive engagement came on 21 June at Vitoria where the Madrid–Bayonne highway was joined by roads going north to Bilbao and east to Pamplona, the fortress guarding the pass of Roncesvalles through the Pyrenees into France.
Wellington, with a superiority of numbers, planned the battle as a classic enveloping movement with three separate parts of his army converging on the French position between the great bend of the River Zamorra and the town of Vitoria. It did not quite achieve classic perfection. Varying difficulties of terrain and distances to be covered upset the symmetry of his concentric attack. The French left and centre were broken after hard fighting but the stubborn resistance of their right wing under Reille saved them from being totally encircled. Nevertheless, not only was Joseph's army sent in disorderly retreat towards Pamplona but 150 guns, an immense store of ammunition, almost all his baggage, and a war chest of about £1 million (most of which disappeared into the pockets of the soldiers) fell into allied hands. Only an orgy of looting by the victorious troops prevented even more prisoners from being taken. As it was, though Joseph suffered 6000 casualties and had another 3000 captured, he was able to lead the wreckage of his army back into France. The usual disorganizing effect of protracted fighting and difficult country prevented Wellington from making any serious pursuit. Allied losses were 5000, mainly British: a relatively moderate price to pay for a victory that echoed round Europe.
The extraordinary success of the campaign had carried Wellington's army faster and further into the north-eastern corner of Spain than he had expected. His immediate thought was more to protect what he had gained than to prepare for another forward leap. An invasion of France would mean that he would face a hostile population as well as French armies better supplied, more easily reinforced, and with shorter lines of communication than in Spain. He had no confidence in Britain's allies in central Europe and felt it not impossible that the armistice they had signed in June 1813 might end in a permanent peace which would set Napoleon free to turn south against him. He had equally little confidence in the Spanish government. The regency had been appointing and removing military commanders without consulting him and was conspicuously failing either to pay or provision the Spanish forces serving in his army. He was so exasperated at their conduct that at the end of August he resigned his command of the Spanish forces and consented to continue only until the next meeting of the Cortes. His difficulties in supplying his Portuguese and Spanish allies were further reasons for remaining on the defensive. In the event the Cortes in December requested him to stay in office; but this made little practical difference.
There were in any case military reasons for Wellington to consolidate his position rather than advance into France. The fortresses of San Sebastian and Pamplona were still in French hands; in Catalonia, where the Anglo-Sicilian effort was petering out, Suchet with his 20,000 French was a potential threat to his right flank. Not surprisingly Wellington saw as his primary task the reduction of the two fortresses and the elimination of the last pockets of French resistance in Spain. This proved a longer and more difficult operation than could have been anticipated. Soult, sent down after Vitoria to take command in the south of France, proved as always a skilful and aggressive opponent. The allied front, stretching nearly 40 miles from San Sebastian to Pamplona, with poor lateral communications, was difficult for Wellington to supervise personally. In July Graham's attempt on San Sebastian was a miserable failure and Soult's simultaneous and unexpected attack through the Pyrenean passes involved Wellington in awkward and costly fighting until the French finally withdrew. The renewed siege of San Sebastian in August proved, like most of Wellington's sieges, a protracted and bloody operation. Despite the large new battering-train at Graham's disposal, the fortress did not yield until 8 September; in all it had resisted for seventy-three days.
There followed four weeks of inactivity on both sides. Only when he was confident of the imminent fall of Pamplona (which finally surrendered to the blockading Spanish force at the end of October) did Wellington reluctantly give way to the pressures of his own government and the wishes of the allied powers in Germany to invade France. On 7 October he forced the passage of the River Bidassoa and the French retreated to Bayonne. At the battle of the Nivelle a month later Soult's army, dispirited by the news of Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig, was both outnumbered and outmanoeuvred. Fighting gradually died down in December and when it resumed in the spring of 1814 the outcome was hardly in doubt. Soult's army, weakened by desertion and troop withdrawals, was defeated at Orthez in February and retired eastward. This allowed Wellington to send Beresford to make a formal entry into Bordeaux where a royalist party was already active. Wellington personally favoured a Bourbon restoration but he was tied by his government which, with their European allies, still recognized Napoleon. By the time the last engagement took place at Toulouse on 10 April, however, Napoleon had abdicated. Nine days later Wellington signed a separate convention with Soult and Suchet for the cessation of hostilities and the removal of all French forces from Spain.
The Peninsular War was over at last and part, at least, of the credit for its successful outcome was due to the ministers at home. They had supported Wellington when he had been under severe parliamentary attack, given him great latitude of action, and had made immense efforts to supply him with the manpower and money needed to sustain his campaigns. Wellington's frequent grumblings and occasional threats in the early years did not so much reflect a lack of government support as illustrate the customary vehemence he employed on matters important to him. Nevertheless, the language of some of his official dispatches, coupled with the whig bias of Napier's monumental History of the War in the Peninsula(1828–40), subsequently created a false impression which was slow to disappear. But Wellington flatly denied in 1834 that he had ever offered to resign, though as he put it, ‘I dare say I may have said as often as fifty times, “Damn it, if you don't do this or that you may as well give up the war at once”’ (Stanhope, 58–9). And writing of the cabinet on another occasion, he said ‘it is not true that they did not, in every way in their power, as individuals, as Ministers, and as a Government, support me’ (ibid., 83).
Even so, that does not explain why Wellington was able to maintain his small force in the Peninsula in the face of the French armies ten times its size. In the proverbial phrase he himself quoted on occasion, Spain was a country where small armies were defeated and large armies starved. That Wellington's army suffered neither fate was primarily because he understood the peculiarities of that region better than Napoleon ever did. In Spain, as in Russia, the French encountered conditions quite unlike the civilized, populous, fertile states of central Europe in which they had previously campaigned. A country with great barren mountainous tracts, few good roads, a harsh climate, strong provincial autonomy, and a primitive, vengeful peasantry, Spain could hardly have been more unfavourable to the French system, often brutally enforced, of living off the land. For both political and logistical reasons the French forces had to become an army of occupation, spread over a large area, rather than a military organization dedicated to winning a war. This inherent disadvantage was compounded by jealousies between French marshals, who often behaved like proconsuls in their own territory, and the stream of injunctions and criticisms which came from the distant emperor, too late to be useful but irritating and oppressive. At bottom, therefore, the factor which made Wellington's victories possible was the steadfast Spanish national resistance. The outcome of the war, he wrote some years later:
may be attributed to the operations of the Allied Armies in the Peninsula, but those would form a very erroneous notion of the facts who should not attribute a fair proportion of it to the effect of the enmity of the people of Spain. (Wellington MS 1/644/7, 16 April 1820)
Wellington tried from the start to enforce on his troops respect for the religion, customs, and property of the peoples of Portugal and Spain. It was a lesson the value of which he had learned in India, though he was not always successful in imparting it to others. Between his men, their officers included, and the inhabitants of the Peninsula was a gulf of prejudice, suspicion, and incomprehension. Even apart from the brutalities which accompanied the British captures of Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, and San Sebastian, the endemic problems of looting and theft required constant attention, and among Wellington's many innovations was an improved system of military police. But occasional shootings and hangings would have been useless had he not adopted a system of feeding his army that was completely different from that of the French. He could see all the military disadvantages of their methods. Not only did they antagonize the peasant population but they were difficult to operate when their armies were concentrated, or in rapid movement, or had stayed too long in one district.
Wellington, on the other hand, secured the co-operation of the civilian population by purchasing what he needed. He even dispensed with such powers of requisitioning as he legally possessed. Supplies which did not come directly from England were bought from contractors in the large towns or from local merchants. Regimental forage parties were strictly controlled to prevent waste, provide proper distribution, and ensure due payment to the owners. Depots were built up inside Portugal; for operations in Spain he organized a huge ancillary force of drivers, muleteers, waggoners, and draught animals to bring supplies up to his marching troops. It was a task for which India had provided him with considerable practice. A further refinement was his creation by 1810 of divisional transport to give additional mobility to his forward troops. This self-supporting system added a large and costly administrative tail to his army and explains his continual demands to his home government for ever-increasing amounts of gold and silver coinage. The system broke down from time to time, usually because of bad weather or rapid movement, but this was the inevitable friction of war. For all its expense and difficulty it was immensely superior in both military and political terms to the French practice.
One reward for Wellington's considerate policy towards the civilian population came in the form of continuous information about the French armies. This was a valuable supplement to the intelligence gathered by his patrols and outposts. Individuals at every level of Spanish society assisted in this way, often at great personal risk. Dr Curtis, rector of the Irish College at Salamanca, organized his clerical seminarists to report on French dispositions and movements. Guerrilla bands which intercepted French couriers gave or sold their dispatches to the British. In 1809 British military intelligence was patchy, much of it out of date, and its genuineness sometimes suspect. It steadily improved, however, and by 1811 Wellington was able to boast to Lord Liverpool that he knew all that passed in the French armies. As always the mass of miscellaneous reports coming to him had to be carefully assessed to be of operational value. Nevertheless, it is evident that Wellington placed a high value on his intelligence service and that his sources were superior to those of the French generals. He created a secret intelligence staff under his direct control, mainly British but including some Portuguese and Spanish officers. He also possessed a highly efficient mapping and sketching section under his quartermaster-general, which as early as 1810 provided him with better maps of central Portugal than were available to the French or even the Portuguese government. Without its work Graham's surprise advance in 1813 through the Tras-os-Montes over 150 miles of mountains and rivers would have been impossible. Even in Spain, Wellington was never hampered by inadequate knowledge of the terrain or seriously misled by faulty topographical information as Masséna had been in the Busaco campaign.
The increasingly systematic gathering of topographical and military intelligence was only part of the general structural reforms Wellington carried out in his army. His primary purpose was to impose uniformity, method, and discipline on his force so that it responded directly to his leadership. By 1814 the staff of his army, from the general headquarters down to divisional level, was not only larger proportionately but probably more efficient than that of any continental army, not excluding the French. The printed volumes of his General Orders offer impressive evidence of the comprehensive attention to detail which was at the heart of his generalship. From the additional training given to new divisions arriving from England and the raising of a corps of guides to direct the marches of his formations, down to the issue of tents, blankets, and tin kettles to the individual soldier, nothing that affected the efficiency or welfare of his troops seems to have escaped his attention. The mastery of logistics which he had acquired in India explains much of his success in Spain.
The final test of any general, however, is on the battlefield and it was here that Wellington displayed his supreme qualities. Though he won the reputation among French marshals of being primarily a master of defensive tactics, this was largely because his habitual inferiority in numbers forced those tactics on him. But Salamanca and Vitoria are proofs of his talents as an attacking commander. One important feature was his continuous control and tactical flexibility once the battle had started. ‘I made my campaigns of ropes’ he once remarked. ‘If anything went wrong I tied a knot; and went on’ (Longford, Years of the Sword, 442). The same was true of his conduct of battle. He had the faculty (the product of both instinct and experience) of being at the crucial point at the decisive moment.
Wellington's inexhaustible energy and powers of physical endurance enabled him to cover the whole area of most of his battles, and his unruffled manner (the product of will-power and self-discipline) had a moral effect on both officers and men. As with Napoleon, his presence on the battlefield came to be regarded by his troops as a guarantee of success. He has been criticized for exposing himself too much in action and delegating too little to his commanders in the field, but with armies as small as those he habitually led, and battlefields which could usually be kept under his direct observation, he would have regarded it as irresponsible not to exercise personal leadership. It was never his way to leave anything to chance. This type of generalship demanded complete and rigid obedience from his subordinates, and he was notably harsh, on some occasions to the point of injustice, on any apparent disregard of his orders.
A disciplinarian to his army, Wellington was equally disciplined with himself. He had the invaluable gift of being able to do with little sleep, and this, together with his methodical habits, enabled him to get through a load of administrative work which would have taxed most men and broken some. His normal routine was to rise at six and write letters until nine. He then appeared for breakfast, shaved and trimly dressed, and spent the rest of the morning seeing his senior staff officers. In the afternoon he would go off on horseback to visit various units and any places that called for particular attention. But, though busy, his life was not austere. The atmosphere at his headquarters was relaxed and informal. He enjoyed the society of his young, high-spirited, mainly aristocratic aides-de-camp, and there were usually a number of casual visitors at his mess dinners. Here the attraction was the conversation rather than the cuisine; Wellington had notoriously little interest in food. During the winter he hunted with his own pack, and he encouraged his officers to organize balls and concerts at which he would put in an appearance even if he took little part in the proceedings.
Nicknamed by his officers the Beau and later the Peer, to his more irreverent men he was Atty (for Arthur) or Nosey. They saw his neat figure in grey frock coat and plain cocked hat often enough, both on the battlefield and in cantonments, since he believed in seeing things for himself. It was fortunate for the army, in an age when brigadiers led their men into action and generals were not infrequently killed or wounded, that he was never a casualty himself. He was hit twice by spent bullets (in India and at Salamanca), slightly wounded once (at Orthez), and nearly captured on at least two occasions. After a narrow escape on the bridge at Sorauren during the battles of the Pyrenees, he wrote with a certain wryness to his brother William, ‘I begin to believe that the finger of God is upon me’ (Longford, Years of the Sword, 330). He had one other piece of good luck. Unlike his unfortunate predecessor, Sir John Moore, he was never obliged to face Napoleon (until 1815). Unkindly reminded of this in Paris after the war, he replied with the honesty which was one of his characteristics, ‘no, and I am very glad I never was. I would at any time rather have heard that a reinforcement of 40,000 men had joined the French army, than that he had arrived to take the command’ (ibid., 348–9).
With the war over, Wellington on 21 April 1814 accepted an invitation from Castlereagh to act as British ambassador in Paris. The appointment was less strange than might appear. Never a democrat, Wellington had looked to a Bourbon restoration even before the allies abandoned their negotiations with Napoleon, and he consistently held the view that one of the objects of an allied occupation of France was to protect the monarchy against republicans and Bonapartists. For himself he felt that the natural sequel to his military career would be some high post under the government. Castlereagh, for his part, was anxious to exercise a major influence on the eventual peace settlement and believed that to have Wellington in Paris during the negotiations would give unique weight to British diplomacy. ‘His military name’, he wrote to Lord Liverpool, ‘would give him and us the greatest ascendancy’ (Hinde,Castlereagh, 214).
On 4 May Wellington, having been made a duke the previous day, arrived in Paris: an object of interest to all, despite his deliberately inconspicuous civilian attire. Soon afterwards, at Castlereagh's request, he went back to Spain with a memorandum for the new king, Ferdinand VII, recommending him to adopt a degree of liberalism in the future government of his kingdom. But, as he reported to Castlereagh, ‘I fear that I have done but little good’ (Maxwell, 1.380). Returning to France he stopped at Bayonne to issue a general order on 14 June, taking leave of his Peninsular army in a few brief but dignified paragraphs. By 23 June he was back in England for the first time in over five years to meet a hero's welcome. He went down to Portsmouth to pay his respects to the prince regent and his distinguished guests, the emperor of Russia and the king of Prussia, and then back to London to take his seat in the House of Lords and receive the congratulations of the House of Commons, which had just voted him £400,000 for the purchase of an estate to support his new title. In July came a thanksgiving service at St Paul's, at which he carried the sword of state, and a fête at Carlton House.
By August Wellington was on the continent again, inspecting the defences of Belgium on behalf of the allies and then moving on to Paris to resume his diplomatic duties. These consisted mainly in an attempt to induce the French government to abolish the slave trade: a task almost as unpromising as persuading the Spanish king to embrace liberalism. By the time the Congress of Vienna opened in the autumn, however, the jealousy of some of the Bourbon princes and assassination threats from outraged Bonapartists were already causing concern to the British government. The only decent pretext for recalling Wellington from France was either to appoint him deputy to Castlereagh or give him a command in the field in the war against the USA that had broken out in 1812. Liverpool chose the latter as the more convincing excuse, though it is unlikely that he had any intention of sending Wellington across the Atlantic except possibly to negotiate peace. In the end, when Castlereagh returned home to assist the ministry in the House of Commons, Wellington took his place at the congress, arriving in Vienna on 3 February 1815.
When Napoleon escaped from Elba it was the general desire of the allied sovereigns that Wellington should take charge of the forces in the Netherlands. As soon as a new treaty of alliance was signed towards the end of March, therefore, he left for Brussels, arriving in the first week of April. Politically and militarily his situation there was strewn with difficulties. A large part of the Belgian troops had recently served under Napoleon and their loyalty was suspect. King William of the Netherlands was jealous of his authority and only tardily surrendered control of the Dutch army. The duke's responsibilities included guarding the seat of government in Brussels, protecting the court of the fugitive French king at Ghent, and liaising with the Prussian military headquarters at Namur. These different needs imposed on him a strategically awkward deployment of his motley allied army. His line of communication from Brussels to his base at Ostend, contrary to all orthodox theory, ran parallel to his front against Napoleon and not at right angles to it. Geographically the French frontier was only 27 miles from Brussels, less than 50 by the paved road through Hal, Mons, and Maubeuge, and he had little faith in either the ability or the fidelity of the barrier-fortress garrisons. There would be little space for manoeuvre once the French invaded and he was precluded by political considerations from sending patrols into France until Napoleon actually declared war. Both British and Prussian intelligence were dangerously ill-informed about what was going on behind the strict security screen Napoleon enforced along the frontier.
Militarily the British force placed under his command drew from Wellington the sour comment on 8 May that ‘I have got an infamous army, very weak and ill-equipped, and a very inexperienced staff’ (Maxwell, 1.394). Over the next six weeks, however, its quality gradually improved with the dispatch of many of his Peninsular generals and staff officers, and the last-minute arrival at Brussels on 17 June of a further 2000 of what he called his Spanish (that is, Peninsular) infantry. By that date his army had risen to about 95,000, composed of just over 33,000 British troops (only 7000 of whom had served in Spain), nearly 8000 of the King's German Legion (equal in value to the best British units), some 27,000 Brunswick, Hanoverian, and Nassau troops of varying quality, together with 20,000 Dutch and nearly 6000 Belgians of doubtful reliability. It was an uneven and heterogeneous array which spoke four languages and had no common training or equipment. Wellington was not even supreme commander in his own theatre of war, since he shared responsibility for the defence of the Netherlands with the Prussian commander, the 73-year-old Blücher.
Wellington's hope that an allied offensive would be launched before Napoleon completed his preparations disappeared when the allied sovereigns decided on a methodical mobilization to be followed in July by an invasion of France on a broad front. In the interval he and Blücher were left to guard the Netherlands against a possible (but by no means certain) French attack. Conscious of the vulnerability of his own position, the duke thought (and for the rest of his life believed) that the best strategy for Napoleon was to attack from the south-west up the great road from Paris to Brussels through Mons and Hal. This, if successful, would cut the British army off from its base: in effect a strategy comparable to his own in the Vitoria campaign. For that reason he kept the bulk of his force in his western sector rather than close to the Prussian zone. On 3 May he met Blücher at Tirlemont and came to a general understanding with him on their joint strategy if Napoleon invaded Belgium. Outwardly he remained (or took care to give the impression of being) calm and confident in the face of the feverish excitement in Brussels. Nevertheless, the initiative lay with Napoleon, and not until 13 June did it become clear that French military activity in the western sector of the frontier was a feint.
Very early on 15 June 1815 the French army invaded Belgium on a narrow front moving in the direction of Charleroi in the Prussian zone. When, later that day, Wellington learned that Blücher had committed himself to battle around Sombresse, he gave preparatory orders for an eastward movement towards Nivelles. What he did not know was that the Prussians had uncovered the high road from Charleroi to Brussels, and only at supper on the 15th (at the famous duchess of Richmond's ball) was he informed that French units had advanced up that road to the vicinity of Quatre Bras, only 20 miles from the capital. ‘Napoleon has humbugged me, by God’, he exclaimed to the duke of Richmond; ‘he has gained twenty-four hours' march upon me’ (Longford, Years of the Sword, 421). Early next morning he left for Quatre Bras, which in the meantime had been occupied by two brigades of the prince of Orange's corps on the initiative of his able chief of staff, Constant-Rebecque, and General Perponcher, commander of his 2nd division. Later he went on to meet Blücher at Brye, half way to Sombresse, and agreed to assist him if not attacked himself. By 3 p.m. he was back at Quatre Bras where stiff fighting had already started. With allied reinforcements steadily arriving Wellington was able to stabilize the situation, and at dusk the allies still held their position.
Early next day Wellington learned that the Prussians had been worsted at Ligny and were withdrawing towards Wavre, some 14 miles by road south-east of Brussels. The direction of their retreat was crucial since it kept the Prussians in touch with the allied army. To conform to their new alignment Wellington retired north to the ridge of Mont St Jean which he had previously reconnoitred. It lay just south of the village of Waterloo and about 10 miles from Brussels. In the small hours of the next morning (18th) a message came from Blücher informing him that two Prussian army corps would move towards his left flank and the duke promised in return to hold his ground until the Prussians arrived. The position he had selected was a classic example of his defensive skill. Along the Mont St Jean Ridge the Ohain road, partly hedged, partly sunken between high banks, constituted a considerable, in places an impassable, obstacle to cavalry. In front standing fields of rye provided further concealment from an enemy advancing across the shallow, undulating basin that lay to the south. It had rained heavily during the night and the thick Brabant clay soil was a further advantage to the defence. Wellington placed the bulk of his force, and his best troops, on his right wing where the road bent south-west towards the high road to Nivelles. It was in this obtuse angle that the most desperate fighting and heaviest casualties occurred. About 400 yards in front was the large walled enclosure of Hougoumont, consisting of a manor house, chapel, and farm buildings, into which he put four companies of the foot guards, later reinforced.
Wellington's weaker left flank, where the Prussians would arrive, was protected by the marshy ground of the Smohain stream to the east and the farm buildings of Papelotte and La Haye in front. In the centre, about 300 yards to the south, was the most exposed of all his forward defences, the farm and sandpits of La Haye-Sainte commanding the road from Quatre Bras, the axis of the French advance. The entire front was just over 2 miles long. To hold it he had (though estimates differ slightly) some 68,000 troops (of whom 24,000 were British) and 156 guns to oppose Napoleon's army of some 72,000 with 246 guns. About 80 of these were massed in the ‘grande batterie’ which Napoleon established in his centre, though almost at the limit of their range.
The battle which followed on Sunday, 18 June, was a savage and bloody encounter which with some intermissions lasted from the opening cannonade of the French guns at 11.30 a.m. until dusk fell soon after 8 p.m. Napoleon's fundamental mistake was to underestimate his opponent. Snubbing those of his marshals with Peninsular experience who cautioned him against attacking Wellington in a prepared position, he mounted a series of massive but unco-ordinated onslaughts without any preliminary manoeuvring. It was Vimeiro all over again on a larger scale. The French cavalry were met by allied squares, their infantry columns by allied troops in line, concealed until the last moment on the reverse side of the ridge. Wellington, slightly surprised by Napoleon's bludgeoning tactics, described the battle afterwards as a ‘pounding match’ (Longford, Years of the Sword, 488); this is often recalled as ‘Hard pounding, gentlemen; let's see who will pound longest’ (W. Scott, Paul's Letters, 1816, letter 8). On Wellington's right the Hougoumont garrison held out all day against almost continual attack, pinning down forces of ten times their number. At the other end of the line Papelotte and La Haye remained in allied hands until relieved by the advancing Prussians. In the afternoon, however, La Haye-Sainte was captured when its ammunition ran out, enabling French troops to reach the crest of the ridge. But by then it was too late; by 4.30 p.m. Wellington knew that the Prussians were engaging the right flank of the French position. Papelotte, in fact, became the hinge joining the allied front running from east to west with the Prussian front from north to south, between which the French were increasingly compressed as the evening wore on. Wellington himself was constantly on the move, encouraging his troops at each crisis, rallying wavering units (not always successfully), and meeting the inevitable set-backs and misfortunes of the fluctuating fighting with the uncomplaining good humour which was one of his greatest qualities on the battlefield. Though he had been nearly captured at Quatre Bras, his remarkable personal immunity continued. Frequently caught up in the fighting, the duke, riding Copenhagen, went through the day without injury while men were struck down at his side and all but one of his personal staff were killed or wounded. When Lord Uxbridge was hit, the following exchange took place: ‘“By God! I've lost my leg,” cried Uxbridge. “Have you, by God” was all the Duke's reply’ (Maxwell, 2.90).
Had he been forced to retire, Wellington would have moved west towards the coast, abandoning Brussels. On his way he would have picked up a detachment of 17,000 men, under the nominal command of Prince Frederick of the Netherlands, which (in a decision often criticized since) he left unused at Hal 8 miles away. This, however, was clearly one of his defensive precautions. That line of retreat would have taken him back along his lines of communication and not away from them. He might have been defeated at Waterloo but not routed. In any case he did not think that Napoleon, with the Prussians in his rear, would have been in a position to pursue him. In reality Napoleon himself, though operating on interior lines, had little room for manoeuvre, and Wellington's superbly organized defence presented his opponent with little choice but a frontal attack. Despite heavy casualties, mainly from French artillery fire, Wellington's thinning lines held out. Though the Prussians (chiefly because of the suspicious caution of Gneisenau, Blücher's chief of staff) arrived later and in smaller numbers than Wellington expected, the Anglo-Prussian strategy held firm. As early as 2.30 p.m. Wellington had seen the Prussian vedettes in the distance, heralding the approach of their main body; by 4 p.m. he could hear their guns in action. Relieved of anxiety on that flank he was able to move units from his left wing to strengthen his centre and right. To the end he always had reserves in hand.
Imperturbable as he seemed during the battle, Wellington admitted afterwards, as he put it next day to Thomas Creevey, ‘It has been a damned nice thing—the nearest run thing you ever saw’ (Creevey Papers, 236). ‘I never took so much trouble about any Battle,’ he wrote, ‘and never was so near being beat’ (Longford, Years of the Sword, 490). But with the failure of Napoleon's last futile effort—the attack at about 7 p.m. by five battalions of the middle guard against the reinforced centre-right of the allied position—the battle was over. The French troops, as always, had fought with immense courage and tenacity. Now, for the first time in Wellington's experience, their morale collapsed. What started as a retreat turned into a rout. Soon after 9 p.m. he met Blücher near the Belle Alliance crossroads and relinquished further pursuit to the Prussians. On both sides casualties had been very heavy: about 17,000 in Wellington's army, nearly 7000 among the Prussians, about 26,000 among the French, with a further 9000 taken prisoner and up to 10,000 missing or deserted. ‘I hope to God’, the duke said sombrely to Lady Shelley when talking to her not long afterwards, ‘that I have fought my last battle’ (Diary of Frances, Lady Shelley, 1.102). But that last battle, the most famous in European history, had done its work. Advancing rapidly into France, Wellington and Blücher secured an armistice on 3 July and three days later their troops entered Paris.
With this Wellington had reached the summit of his career. No man, certainly no Briton, had ever been in such a situation before in Europe, the object of universal hero-worship and gratitude. Honours and tributes poured in from every side. The king of the Netherlands conferred on him the title of prince of Waterloo, accompanied by an estate in Belgium to add to those presented to him during the Peninsular War by the governments of Portugal and Spain. Chivalric orders of knighthood came from Russia and from lesser European states—Savoy, Denmark, Naples, Saxony, Bavaria, Hesse-Cassel, and Württemberg. This international prestige gave him, in turn, an influence on the post-Waterloo settlement of Europe far surpassing that of any single military leader at the end of the two world wars in the following century. Though there was no enthusiasm either among the allied sovereigns or in the French provisional government for the Bourbon monarchy, Wellington believed that there was no practical alternative. He paved the way for a second restoration by persuading the king to take into his service the cynical and time-serving Fouché as minister of police. On the question of a final peace settlement he considered that financial reparations enforced by an army of occupation were preferable to permanent cessions of territory which would create lasting hostility and immediately discredit the restored monarchy. His military reputation, together with his integrity and common sense, gave his opinion peculiar weight.
By the second treaty of Paris, signed in November 1815, France was to be occupied by an allied force of 150,000 for five years, the cost to be borne by the French government, in addition to a general indemnity of 700 million francs. Wellington was appointed commander-in-chief of the allied occupation force and principal intermediary between the council of ambassadors in Paris and the French government. He was further charged with the responsibility for supervising the reconstruction of the barrier fortresses along the Belgian frontier. For this purpose, in a separate agreement signed in October 1816 between the British and Netherlands governments, he was given control of the financial arrangements for these works. He was soon on good terms with the French ministers, especially their leading figure, the duc de Richelieu, and showed himself unusually sympathetic to their problems.
As early as June 1816 Richelieu was pressing for a reduction in the size of the occupation forces, and though Wellington took the view that reparations and occupation were inseparable, he took steps to reduce the inflated allied armies to their proper treaty numbers. Financially, however, the French government was still in great difficulty and in November suspended its treaty payments. In a quick change of policy Wellington recommended to the council of ambassadors a reduction in the occupation forces of one-fifth on the grounds that the stability of the Bourbon monarchy, which it was an essential allied interest to preserve, was being endangered by the continued allied presence in France. He himself, as commander-in-chief, was the target of resentment from all parties in France. Besides a stream of threatening letters there were two, admittedly blundering, attempts on his life: one by arson and explosives at his house in June 1816, the other by pistol in February 1818. After the second incident the cabinet and the prince regent ordered him to withdraw to his military headquarters at Cambrai: a command which the duke, showing an indifference to superior authority which he would never have tolerated in a subordinate of his own, urbanely rejected.
An additional financial difficulty in the last years of the occupation was the repayment of the debts incurred by the French army abroad, which threatened to produce an avalanche of claims from both states and individuals. On the initiative of the tsar the whole problem was remitted to Wellington for arbitration in the autumn of 1817. His solution was to fix a maximum total of 240 million francs, together with accrued interest, and assign the decisions on individual claims to the respective states concerned. By that date he had concluded that a prolongation of the period of occupation was pointless, that the French government could be trusted to meet its remaining obligations, and that France should be admitted on equal footing to the European congress system established in 1815. To facilitate a shortening of the occupation he promoted negotiations between the French ministers and two British banks, Barings and Rothschilds, for a private loan to pay off the balance of the treaty indemnity. This paved the way for a general agreement in the autumn of 1818 at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle for the final evacuation of France and her readmittance to the councils of Europe. The allied powers accepted an immediate sum of 265 million francs in lieu of the 332 million still outstanding under the peace treaty. In October Wellington issued his last general order to the departing British occupation troops, thanking them for ‘their uniform good conduct’, and by the end of November, two years ahead of schedule, the last foreign armies had left French soil. As a final salute the tsar of Russia, the emperor of Austria, and the king of Prussia created him a field marshal in their respective armies.
A decision on Wellington's future had already been taken. The prime minister had for some time been considering what employment could be found for the most illustrious subject of the crown since Marlborough. At the age of fifty it was unthinkable that the duke should be relegated to a routine military post. To bring him into the government for which he had long been an influential adviser seemed the most straightforward solution. A vacancy was created for him by Lord Mulgrave, who gave up his position as master-general of the ordnance, the one cabinet office of a specifically military character. The unexpected demur came from the intended recipient. Wellington, with a soldier's distrust of politicians, showed a distinct unwillingness to enter the cabinet. Only his sense of duty to the crown and loyalty to the ministers who had supported him in the early difficulties of the Peninsular War persuaded him to accept. It was his old friend Castlereagh who seems to have overcome his final scruples with the argument that a refusal would weaken the government and leave him as a possible rallying point for the opposition. Even so, Wellington stipulated that if at any time the ministry was changed, he must be free to choose his own future, since ‘my long service abroad has convinced me that a factious opposition to the Government is highly injurious to the interests of the country’ (Yonge, 2.378). It was as a great servant of the state, therefore, not as a party politician, that the duke joined the government. This was certainly the view taken by the prime minister. When discussing in March 1821 the prospects of the administration, Liverpool and Castlereagh were united in thinking that though Wellington had become an important member of the cabinet, he was too great a national figure to be placed in any post where he would be exposed to party animosity or be disqualified from resuming his active professional career.
The return to England at the end of 1818 enabled Wellington for the first time to establish a settled domestic life. In 1817 he had paid a deliberately generous price for his brother Richard's residence, Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner, and this now became his London home, soon being known as No. 1, London. Eleven years later he employed the fashionable architect Benjamin Wyatt at considerable expense to enlarge and reshape the appearance of the house to make it a fitting depository for all the war trophies, pictures, statues, and other immense and elaborate presents (mainly gold, silver, and porcelain) given to him by foreign governments and public authorities at home. The year 1817 also saw the acquisition of a country seat. In November the parliamentary commissioners purchased for him Lord Rivers's estate at Stratfield Saye near Basingstoke for the sum of £263,000. The pleasant, unpretentious mansion on the River Loddon became the preferred home of the duchess and a place where her husband could assemble regular house parties. His new status as a Hampshire landowner was marked in December 1820 by appointment as lord lieutenant of the county, a position he held for the rest of his life.
From this time Wellington lived almost permanently in England with only a rare excursion abroad on official business. Not once during the Peninsular War had he returned home or suggested that his wife should join him. Though she had gone across to Paris in 1815, no more children were born to them. Closer proximity did nothing to improve their relationship. The duchess lacked confidence, found it difficult to manage her servants and finances, and because of her short sight dreaded large social gatherings. The duke wanted a poised, intelligent woman to organize his household and be hostess to his guests. Her clinging devotion was a burden to him and her tactlessness a recurrent irritation. He did not tell her (or many other people) of his movements; she resorted to questioning his attendants. At one point in the early summer of 1821 she angered him so much that he threatened to cease living in the same house with her. Though at times he tried to cultivate the society of their two sons, he remained apprehensive of the effect of their mother's weak and over-affectionate upbringing on their characters. Only when Kitty was dying in April 1831 did he show a belated tenderness towards her. Wellington in fact was at his worst and most ungracious in his dealings with his wife. His harshness and outbursts of blazing temper were signs of how little the marriage had come to mean (or perhaps had ever meant) to him. Talking about it with Mrs Arbuthnot in 1822 he exclaimed ‘Would you have believed that anybody could have been such a damned fool? I was not the least in love with her. I married her because they asked me to do it’ (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot, 1.169). That was not necessarily the reason, but the other possible explanation—that he did it to erase the slight of his rejection in 1793—is hardly more complimentary.
Both before and after marrying Kitty Pakenham, Wellington had had relations with other women. One of them was the well-known London courtesan Harriette Wilson (1786–1845), who later tried to blackmail him. Sexual affairs for Wellington were a form of physical relaxation, not a serious matter. Though suggestions of various brief liaisons in India and the Peninsula are largely anecdotal, there is too much to be ignored. Curiosity about his private life increased as his fame grew. To judge from cartoonists and the more scurrilous journals, both British and foreign, he had an established reputation after 1815 as a womanizer. No doubt more women were reputed to have enjoyed his attentions than were entitled to be. In Paris the singer Grassini and the actress Mlle Georges both claimed to have been his mistress. The allegation in the St James's Gazette in 1815 of intimacy with Lady Frances Webster seems to have been groundless. The evidence of an affair with Lady Charlotte Greville (d. 1862) about 1820 is more plausible, though not completely proved. After that date the duke appears to have been content with the platonic hero-worship of various pretty, aristocratic, preferably intelligent, and safely married women like Lady Shelley, Mrs Arbuthnot (a granddaughter of the eighth earl of Westmorland), and later the young marchioness of Salisbury. He also found much domestic pleasure in the society of his elder son's wife, Lady Douro, as well as in the children of his second son. His deepest feminine friendship, however, was with the devoted, discreet, but not uncritical Harriet Arbuthnot, wife of a junior tory minister. Their open companionship was such that many of the duke's colleagues believed her to be his mistress—not unreasonably, but certainly wrongly. After her death in 1834 her grieving husband came to join the equally grieving duke and lived with him until his death in 1850.
In his first years as cabinet minister nothing indicated that Wellington's new and slightly ambiguous position in public life would prove unsustainable. Besides his departmental duties he soon fell into the familiar role of general adviser to the government on all military matters: imperial defence, peacetime economies in army establishments, affairs in India, and deployment of troops in disturbed districts at home. Together with Castlereagh he acted as governmental representative in the abortive negotiations with the queen's advisers on issues between the royal couple, and when the collapse of the parliamentary divorce bill in 1820 threatened the existence of Liverpool's administration he took the remarkable step of warning the king privately against any precipitate dismissal of the ministry. He was regularly involved in discussions on foreign policy, and after Castlereagh's suicide in 1822 took his place at the Congress of Verona. Before leaving England he was instrumental in persuading George IV to agree to Lord Liverpool's desire to appoint Canning as the new foreign secretary.
The main problem for the congress was the constitutional conflict in Spain. British policy was already moving towards disengagement from collective action on the continent and Wellington's instructions left him with little latitude of action. Ironically therefore it fell to him, the most European of the British cabinet, to make the first breach in the congress system. In expressing British reservations about French intervention in Spain he found himself completely isolated, and an offer of mediation which he was told to make in Paris on his way home was, as he expected, politely refused. He arrived back in December decidedly out of humour. With the changes in the international scene it was clear that his old personal influence in Europe was a thing of the past.
While agreeing with the principle of non-intervention abroad, Wellington soon came to dislike both the style of Canning's diplomacy and the man himself. In his resentment and inexperience he allowed himself to be identified more than was wise with the anti-Canning faction at court, the so-called Cottage Coterie (which included the Russian, Austrian, and French ambassadors) that clustered round George IV and his favourites at Windsor. The king's frequently proclaimed partiality for Wellington was the more unfortunate since it was accompanied by royal criticisms of the prime minister. When in the spring of 1824 it seemed that Lord Liverpool might retire because of ill health, the duke was already being spoken of as a potential successor. In June the king and his brother, the duke of York, heir presumptive to the throne, both dropped hints that he should be in readiness for such a possibility. Though he protested his unfitness for such a post, his mind was certainly not closed on the matter. He was already emerging as the chief opponent of Canning within the cabinet, and since Liverpool regarded Canning as his obvious successor any rivalry between the two men had implications for the future.
The two matters of policy on which they differed were the recognition of the independent republics of the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies, and the domestic issue of Catholic emancipation. With his respect for legitimate authority and dislike of democracy, the duke thought it wrong to sanction independence movements abroad while repressing one in Ireland. Behind Canning, however, stood Lord Liverpool and the majority of his ministerial colleagues. In the end Wellington became so restive at his near isolation in the cabinet that early in December 1824 he offered to resign. Liverpool replied with a friendly remonstrance, and the duke was finally won over to the South American policy by the argument that British maritime and commercial power needed to be strengthened in this way. On the other issue the difference between Canning and Wellington was less than appeared. Always cosmopolitan, rational, and tolerant in his attitude to religion, the duke had enjoyed friendly personal relations with the Roman Catholic church in Spain and at home had been considerably influenced by Castlereagh's liberal views. Lord Liverpool's ministry, however, had been formed on the basis of neutrality on the Catholic issue and it was clear that there could be no departure from that position as long as he remained prime minister. What Wellington disliked was Canning's suspected connivance with members of the opposition in promoting emancipation, and even more his apparent readiness to risk breaking up the administration on the issue. When in April 1825, following the success of Burdett's Catholic Relief Bill in the House of Commons, both Liverpool and Peel, the home secretary, indicated their readiness to resign Wellington used all his influence to prevent such a political catastrophe. Though he objected to Burdett's bill, he believed nevertheless that the time had come to settle the dispute and produced a plan of his own for legalizing and endowing the Roman church in Ireland by means of a concordat with the pope.
The cabinet crisis ended in May with the defeat of Burdett's bill in the House of Lords and the failure of Canning's attempt to persuade the cabinet to abandon its neutrality on the issue. In subsequent discussion of the timing of the general election, due not later than 1826, Wellington headed the ‘protestant’ group in the ministry, which argued for an early election in 1825 to take advantage of the current anti-Catholic feeling in the country. Characteristically he attached more importance to the immediate need to strengthen the ministry than to any consistency of principle over Catholic emancipation. The fact remained, however, that by 1826 Wellington's political position had become curiously involved and illogical. Entering the government in 1818 as a non-partisan public figure, he had become deeply involved in controversial issues. On foreign policy, where he differed fundamentally from Canning, he had little support, especially after the king in the course of 1825 became reconciled to the foreign secretary. On Catholic emancipation, however, where he differed from Canning only on tactics, he had become the figurehead, if not the leader, for tory-Anglican politicians, both peers and commoners, who opposed the measure. It was a deceptive and dangerous position, though neither Wellington nor the political world at large realized it. For another year his ambiguous role as elder statesman remained intact. At the start of 1826 he was chosen by Canning for a special mission to Russia to congratulate the new Tsar Nicholas on his accession and to use his influence to prevent war between Russia and Turkey over the issue of Greek independence. It is doubtful whether his presence made any difference to Russian foreign policy. The protocol of 4 April that he was persuaded to sign went in some respects beyond his instructions and against his private inclinations. It provided for the establishment of Greece as a virtually autonomous state under nominal Turkish suzerainty and for joint Anglo-Russian mediation.
The wider implications were probably not realized by Wellington until he had returned home. To others it was apparent that another blow had been struck at the congress system and that the traditional British strategy of preserving the Ottoman empire as a counterpoise to Russian strength in the east had been compromised. Peace, however, had been preserved, and this after all had been the main object of his mission. He remained intensely critical of Canning's methods and felt that he himself was being excluded from foreign affairs. Nevertheless, the fragile truce between the two men lasted through 1826. Wellington supported the cabinet decision of 9 December to meet a Portuguese request for military assistance against a threatened Spanish invasion, though he thought (with the prime minister) that the British force should be withdrawn as soon as practicable. At the turn of the year two new appointments emphasized once again Wellington's dual position in public life. In December he was made constable of the Tower of London and in January 1827, following the death of the duke of York, he became commander-in-chief of the forces.
Lord Liverpool's stroke on 17 February 1827 which ended the prime minister's political life marked an important stage in Wellington's career. Though many tories at once thought of him as a successor, the duke refused to make any response. He disliked the appearance of angling for Liverpool's office while he was still alive or of doing anything which might seem to limit the king's freedom of choice. To his friends he argued that his position as commander-in-chief was sufficient to exclude him from the premiership. This did not prevent him, however, from warning the king in emphatic terms of the disruptive effect on the administration if he appointed Canning. On 10 April, when Canning was formally commissioned to form a new government, he invited Wellington to continue as member of the cabinet. A frosty exchange of letters ended in Wellington's resignation not only as master-general of the ordnance but as commander-in-chief as well. Canning had taken no pains to be tactful or friendly; Wellington was sensitive and distrustful. Since his resignation was followed by that of six of his cabinet colleagues, the Liberal press accused him of heading a cabal against Canning. The duke's resentment at this baseless charge found an outlet in a vehement speech in the House of Lords on 2 May in which he said that he was not qualified to be head of government and would have been mad to think of such a thing. A further exchange of letters with Canning did nothing to remove the duke's angry conviction that he had been personally insulted by the new prime minister.
Between two proud and touchy men, with a record of mutual hostility and distrust, reconciliation was hardly to be expected, but the incident established Wellington even more firmly as titular leader of the ‘protestant’ anti-Canning party in politics. This impression was strengthened when the government's Corn Bill was defeated in June on an amendment moved by the duke, largely because of a genuine misunderstanding between Wellington and Huskisson and weak handling by Lord Goderich, the new leader of the House of Lords. After Canning's death in August and his succession by Goderich, Wellington at the king's invitation resumed command of the army. Although some of his close friends thought this might be interpreted as support for the ministry, any such impression must have been removed by a subsequent trip by the duke to the north of England which was converted by his tory hosts into a series of political demonstrations.
When the weak Goderich cabinet collapsed on 8 January 1828, Wellington was commissioned by George IV to form an administration on the old basis of neutrality on the Catholic question. In consultation with Peel, who in effect became the duke's second in command in the House of Commons, it was agreed to reconstruct the old Liverpool party with a slightly more liberal flavour. Three of the more tory members of Liverpool's former cabinet—Eldon, Bexley, and Westmorland—were omitted. Two new young peers—Aberdeen and Ellenborough—together with Lyndhurst, Canning's supple lord chancellor, were recruited from the upper house. Four Canningites—Huskisson, Grant, Dudley, and Palmerston—joined Peel, Goulburn, and Herries to make up the House of Commons contingent. With seven ‘Catholics’ and six ‘protestants’ the cabinet returned to the balanced central position favoured by Lord Liverpool. Under pressure from his colleagues the duke also resigned his command of the army, though he grumbled unreasonably at having to submit to a constitutional requirement which he had implicitly accepted less than a year earlier. His main difficulty, however, lay in his inability to adjust his mind to the political outlook demanded of a prime minister.
In foreign affairs Wellington was able to have his own way, since neither Dudley, the incompetent Canningite he had taken over from the Goderich ministry, nor the younger but more experienced Aberdeen, who succeeded as foreign secretary in May 1828, was temperamentally disposed to challenge his considerable authority in that field. But the duke's increasingly old-fashioned views made much of his diplomacy hesitant and ineffective, responding to events rather than anticipating them. He upheld the principle of non-intervention by withdrawing the British force from Portugal as soon as possible; but his handling of the issue of Greek independence, the main problem confronting him when he took office, amounted to little more than the abandonment of one position after another. He had already come to regret the concessions he had made at St Petersburg and had little enthusiasm for the 1827 treaty of London which had embodied them. Admiral Codrington's destruction of the Turco-Egyptian fleet at Navarino in October 1827, though a predictable consequence of armed allied intervention, had been profoundly unwelcome to the duke since it ran counter to his settled view that the Ottoman empire must be preserved as an essential element of the balance of power in the Middle East.
The king's speech of January 1828, drawn up by Wellington's cabinet, referred to Navarino as ‘a collision wholly unexpected’ and ‘an untoward event’. The duke hoped even so to keep the question of Greek independence separate from the larger issue of Russian expansion, but he was unable either to get the support of France, which had ambitions of its own in the eastern Mediterranean, or to prevent the war which broke out between Russia and Turkey in April. The fatuity and intransigence of the Ottoman government in fact made any pro-Turkish policy singularly difficult to sustain. The moderate terms of the treaty of Adrianople which ended hostilities in September were due to Russian calculation and not the duke's influence. In the subsequent delimitation of Greek territory Wellington and Aberdeen found it hard to make up their minds whether the new state should be kept small, on the assumption that it would fall under Russian domination, or made large in the hope of establishing it as a genuinely independent power. In the end the Greek frontiers laid down in the London protocol of February 1830 represented an unsatisfactory compromise which was to be a source of much later trouble. For the rest, Wellington's proposal for an international guarantee of Turkish territorial integrity, though supported by Austria, proved impracticable in the face of the studied indifference of the Russian government, which demonstrated its newly acquired influence over both the Ottoman empire and the fledgeling Greek state by persuading both to accept the diplomatic settlement. Even Metternich, the European statesman most sympathetic to Wellington's outlook, by now regarded him as a spent force. In reality, both these survivors of the Congress of Vienna had been left behind by the emergence of new personalities and objectives in European politics.
In domestic affairs the optimism with which the duke had taken up his office barely survived the first few months of his administration. He was particularly incensed by the four Canningite ministers, who not only criticized his views but showed a disconcerting readiness to offer their resignations when thwarted. The duke had to accept a more free-trade version of Liverpool's Corn Bill than he would have liked and a surrender to the House of Commons over the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. His annoyance with the Canningites came to a head in May when Huskisson's impulsive offer of resignation over his equally impulsive departure from agreed cabinet policy on the East Retford Disfranchisement Bill was accepted by the prime minister with no attempt at conciliation. The resignation of the other three which followed not only destroyed the balance of the cabinet but left the government painfully short of front-bench talent in the House of Commons. The appointment of two of his Peninsular staff officers, Sir George Murray and Sir Henry Hardinge, to help fill the vacancies did nothing to assist Peel in the lower house, while strengthening the impression that the ministry was both illiberal and militaristic.
Meanwhile the state of Ireland was urgently demanding attention. In May 1828 the House of Commons had voted in favour of a settlement of the Catholic question. In subsequent debate in the Lords, Wellington based his objections entirely on expediency, arguing that concessions to Roman Catholics must be accompanied by guarantees for protestants. In private he was urged by Peel to say nothing that would prevent him from taking up the question at a later date. In July the election of Daniel O'Connell, a Roman Catholic and therefore ineligible to take the oath, in the County Clare by-election (another consequence of the Huskissonite resignations) brought a new danger. Having discussed the situation at length with Peel, the duke sent a memorandum to the king dated 1 August pointing out that the threat of a repetition of the County Clare election effectively paralysed Irish administration, and requesting permission to embark on a confidential review of the whole Catholic problem with Peel and the lord chancellor. His own ideas for a settlement, laid out in a memorandum for Peel, envisaged payment of Irish Catholic priests, suspension rather than abolition of the penal laws, and a reduction in the size of the Irish county electorate.
Apart from these internal discussions, the summer passed away with no progress on the main issue. Wellington felt that he could not depart from the principle of government neutrality without the king's permission; the king, physically ill and temperamentally irresolute, evaded any positive commitment. In Ireland the mounting expectation was heightened by an indiscreet letter from the prime minister to his old Peninsular friend Curtis, now the Roman Catholic archbishop of Armagh, which was leaked to the Irish press. On 10 January 1829 the continued indiscretions of another Peninsular veteran, now marquess of Anglesey and lord lieutenant of Ireland, resulted in his peremptory recall. The increasing atmosphere of crisis and alarm convinced Peel of the need to remain at the duke's side rather than persist with the provisional resignation he had tendered in May. For Wellington this helped to unblock the whole situation, and after interviewing three cabinet ministers previously opposed to emancipation George IV reluctantly gave permission on 15 January for the cabinet to take the Irish problem into consideration.
There were now less than three weeks before parliament met in which to settle the details of a settlement of the Catholic issue. In the course of intensive discussion most of Wellington's securities were dropped, because of the feeling in the cabinet that they were either technically impracticable or politically unacceptable. After a last-minute show of resistance by George IV, the ministerial plan, foreshadowed in the king's speech on 5 February, was placed before parliament in the course of February and March. It included the suppression of the Catholic Association; the admission of Roman Catholics to parliament, to all but a few offices under the crown, and to all civil and municipal offices without restriction; and a limitation of the Irish county franchise qualification. There was no veto on Roman Catholic episcopal appointments, no concordat with the pope, in fact none of the safeguards which Wellington had formerly considered necessary. He had been persuaded of their inutility partly by Henry Phillpotts, later bishop of Exeter, partly by Peel and his other cabinet colleagues. The bill represented, as he admitted in his speech in the Lords on the second reading on 2 April, a great change of opinion on his part; but in politics as in war, the duke never found it difficult to abandon untenable positions.
The anger of the tory Anglicans at what appeared to be a complete surrender to the emancipation party was deep and bitter. It found expression in gross personal abuse of the principal authors of the bill, the prime minister and the home secretary, and resulted in a duel between Wellington and one of his most insulting critics, Lord Winchilsea, at Battersea Fields on 21 March, when both men carefully fired wide. The duke maintained afterwards that he fought to vindicate not his personal honour but the right of a public figure to change his opinions; but not everyone accepted this high-minded explanation. The resentment of the ultra-protestants could not, however, be dispersed by a couple of pistol shots. Two considerations in particular made Wellington's political conduct seem an unforgiveable betrayal: the general ignorance of his long-standing opinions on the Catholic question and the secrecy with which he had shrouded his actions following the County Clare election. The upshot was that, having given hostages to fortune by shedding the liberal Huskissonites, the duke had now alienated the ultra-tory wing of his supporters.
It is probable that in the existing political circumstances only the duke could have broken the deadlock over emancipation. In so doing he got rid of an issue which every administration since 1801 had found both insoluble and disruptive. In a sense it was a solution imposed on both the monarch and parliament by an authoritarian prime minister using to the full his executive power. But it was an act which further diminished the parliamentary basis of his government. The damage was mainly felt by Peel in the House of Commons; the duke could never be brought to believe that his ministry lacked numerical support in the lower house, only that it was weak in debating talent, to which he did not attach much importance. In this, as in other respects, he showed his lack of political sense. Years of military command and unbroken success had hardened his self-confidence and autocratic outlook. He despised public opinion because he had seen it so often prove unstable and misguided, and he was not a good manager of men because what had counted in his military life was leadership and discipline, not management and persuasion. Even in the cabinet he tended to interpret disagreement and criticism as indications of personal hostility, and the longer his ministry lasted the more peevish and disillusioned he became. So conscious was he of the alien character of the office he had taken on, that in the early summer of 1830, when George IV was clearly dying, he wrote a memorandum for Peel suggesting that the new reign should be made the occasion for his own retirement and Peel's succession to the premiership. The document was never sent, however, probably because of the objections raised by his over-partial friends the Arbuthnots.
At the same time the duke's innate conservatism inhibited him from accepting any of the new economic and financial policies which his former Liverpool cabinet colleagues were pressing on him. The proposal of the chancellor of the exchequer, Goulburn, in the spring of 1830 to revive the wartime income tax in modified form, though supported by the House of Commons members of the cabinet, found no sympathy with the prime minister. He thought the tax would press heavily on the landed aristocracy and that to resort to such an expedient would damage the credit of the country in the eyes of foreign powers. The consequent lack of apparent government initiatives in the 1830 session led to a steady erosion of its authority, and the general election in the summer caused by the king's death did nothing to improve matters. News of the July revolution in Paris, which came during the later stage of the polling, while it did not affect the outcome, added to the disorder of British domestic politics. The ultra-tory press seized the occasion to charge Wellington with being an accomplice of the overthrown Bourbon regime, and coupled this with Peel's recently introduced Metropolitan Police to accuse the duke of planning a military dictatorship. This was pure party vindictiveness. In fact there was immediate British recognition of the new French ruler, Louis Philippe, and when a similar revolution took place in Brussels shortly afterwards Wellington acted in concert with the French government to calm the situation.
Wellington in reality had no great opinion of the evicted Bourbon monarchy he had helped to put on the throne. The new French government was anxious to secure British friendship, and the arrival in London of the aged but familiar figure of Talleyrand as French ambassador was welcomed by the prime minister. While he regretted the break-up of the kingdom of the Netherlands, he soon realized that it could not be stopped. He concentrated instead on securing a member of the house of Orange as a ruler of the new state and preventing French military intervention. He refused Dutch appeals for assistance and sought a compromise settlement with the French government. They were more than ready to meet him halfway. While prepared for intervention to protect the rebellious Belgians against their former Dutch masters, French diplomacy had as its main object the preservation of peace. Wellington was able therefore to get general agreement for the issue to be submitted to the European powers responsible for the 1815 treaties, and for London rather than Paris to be the place for a conference. Though the detailed settlement of the Belgian question was ultimately left for his successors to negotiate, it was the duke who constructed the foundation for their work. His achievement owed something to the inability of Russia and the reluctance of Austria and Prussia to intervene, and even more to the needs of the fragile new regime in France. Nevertheless, in this final belated success for his diplomacy the duke showed realistic common sense in his handling of what was the first great breach that had so far been made in the 1815 territorial settlement.
Little domestic credit, however, accrued to Wellington on that account. By November 1830 it was obvious that the ministry was neither popular nor influential, and that there was a general feeling in the country in favour of more government economies, tax reduction, and parliamentary reform. Under pressure from his colleagues Wellington in September reluctantly agreed to explore the possibility of bringing back some of Canning's old followers. But after Huskisson's death in September the rest of his group were unwilling to return without a pledge of parliamentary reform and the inclusion in the cabinet of some of the whigs. This Wellington was not prepared to accept. It was in these uncertain circumstances that the duke made his celebrated declaration, in the debate on the king's speech at the beginning of November, that the constitution needed no improvement and that he would resist any measure of parliamentary reform as long as he was in office. Couched in his usual peremptory and uncompromising style, his statement was probably intended not so much to win back the ultra-tories (the usual interpretation placed on it at the time) as to make his own attitude plain and so put a stop to all the talk of parliamentary reform which had been going on, both outside and inside the administration, for several weeks. The speech was followed a few days later by the much derided decision to cancel the attendance of the king and his ministers at the lord mayor's banquet on 9 November for fear of public demonstrations. The final event in a suddenly worsening crisis was the defeat of the government in the House of Commons on 15 November on a hostile motion to submit its civil list to the scrutiny of a parliamentary committee. This unprecedented and offensive demand demonstrated more clearly than anything else that the ministry had lost control of the legislature. With Brougham's long-advertised parliamentary reform motion due to be debated the following day, the cabinet decided to avoid further humiliation. Next day Wellington laid his resignation before the king and by 22 November had ceased to hold office.
The duke later attributed the fall of his ministry to two adventitious factors: the duke of Cumberland's activity in stirring up ultra-tory opposition to him, and the effect of the July revolution in France in creating a temporary enthusiasm for parliamentary reform among the British public. What he would not admit was that either Catholic emancipation or his anti-reform speech had been a direct cause. It is clear, however, that neither before nor after the general election did his administration enjoy firm support in the Commons and that to survive the 1830–31 session would require imaginative leadership and parliamentary skill. Wellington was incapable of either, and the growing realization of his defects as prime minister had by 1830 demoralized his cabinet. Most of his colleagues were resigned to their fate; some, including Peel, welcomed it. The duke himself was probably not sorry to go. For three years he had been playing a role for which he was not suited either by temperament or training, and the strain was beginning to tell. It was a final irony that his own political limitations brought about the end of the parliamentary system of which he had made himself the champion.
During the protracted reform crisis of 1831–2 Wellington's attitude was shaped by two considerations. He thought that the whig Reform Bill would be the ruin of the constitution and that the excitement in its favour was an artificial product not supported by the solid majority of his countrymen. His tactics were based on the belief that the government would not pin its existence to the bill and that the opposition should aim at gaining time for the true feeling in the country to assert itself. He therefore tried to restore good relations with the ultra-tories and discourage those Conservative peers (the so-called Waverers) anxious to negotiate a compromise. As always he felt that his primary duty was to the throne, and as early as November 1831, when advising the king to suppress the Birmingham Political Union, he let William IV know that if he wished to escape from his whig ministers he could count on the duke's assistance. Impervious to the hostility of the London mob, which twice smashed the windows of Apsley House, he planned his political battle with care. The decision to oppose the second reading of the bill was taken at a meeting of peers at Apsley House on 21 September 1831. When the bill was duly rejected by a decisive majority of 199 votes to 158, he hoped for a respite of six months in which both the nation and the ministers would come to their senses. During the autumn, however, the violence in the country, the resolution of the ministry, and the activity of the Waverers undermined the solidarity of the opposition peers. When a revised bill came to the Lords in April 1832 it passed by 184 votes to 175, though the duke both spoke and voted against it.
Wellington's tactics now became increasingly confused. He realized that reform of some sort was inevitable. Nevertheless, he still wanted to retain the support of the ultra-tory peers so that he could continue to influence events. The success, however, of an opposition amendment on 7 May to postpone the disfranchising clauses of the bill merely served to reveal the determination of the cabinet to force it through, if necessary by large peerage creations, or else resign. The startled duke and his colleagues felt obliged to make a disclosure of how far they themselves were ready to reform. But this in turn simply uncovered the ambivalent nature of the opposition without shaking the cabinet's resolve to bring the whole reform issue to a head.
The resignation of the ministry on 9 May placed Wellington in an extraordinary position. To take office with the king's stipulation that he must be prepared to carry an extensive measure of reform involved him in a display of public inconsistency, a sacrifice of cherished convictions, and a loss of personal dignity which few public men would have contemplated. Only the refusal of Peel and most of his former colleagues in the Commons saved him from that degrading spectacle. After five days of anger, uproar, and agitation in the country and desperate efforts behind the scene to discover presentable politicians ready to join him, Wellington on 15 May resigned his commission and privately assured the king that he would drop any further opposition to the bill. He was now convinced that there was no credible alternative to Lord Grey's ministry and that further struggle was useless. Though he continued for several years to believe that the Reform Act of 1832 was a revolution by due force of law, this conviction in itself made him all the more reluctant to engage in systematic hostility to the whig ministries. Stable, preferably also strong, government was to the duke a more important consideration than party advantage or temporary triumphs.
Nevertheless, Wellington was still an influential figure in politics, and when early in 1834 he was elected chancellor of Oxford University his installation in June was marked by noisy tory celebrations. The duke, who conspicuously lacked academic credentials, at one point suggested to his supporters that they should unite behind Peel, whose claims were stronger and who had substantial backing in the university. His failure to communicate this to his sensitive colleague in the Commons increased the coolness which had grown up between them since their disagreement over taking office in 1832. However, they sensibly acted in concert when declining an overture for a coalition with the whigs made at the king's direction in July 1834 following Lord Grey's resignation.
William IV's dismissal of the whigs in November 1834 brought Wellington back for the last time to the centre of the political stage. With Peel absent in Italy, the duke was sworn in as first lord of the Treasury and secretary of state on 17 November to act as temporary head of a new government until his colleague's arrival three weeks later. He then became foreign secretary. But while insisting from the start that Peel must be the prime minister, the duke unwittingly presented him with an embarrassing fait accompli. Left to himself Peel might have refused a commission which promised little success; the preparations for a general election which he found in full swing on his return made it virtually impossible for him to meet parliament and explain his policies before appealing to the electorate. At the same time the extraordinary omnicompetent role of the duke in the first few weeks of the new administration alienated many moderate politicians, in particular the recently seceded members of Grey's cabinet—Stanley, Graham, Ripon, and Richmond—whom Peel wished to recruit.
Nevertheless, Peel's ‘hundred days’ raised the morale of the Conservative Party and perceptibly improved the relations of the two leaders. In the following years the duke's influence in the upper house did much to secure a degree of unity among opposition peers and to prevent any serious divergence from the line taken by Peel in the Commons. It was not always possible for Wellington to control ultra-tory peers like Cumberland and Londonderry, and the issue of municipal reform in 1835 in particular placed a severe strain on party unity. Wellington's language in the House of Lords often suggested a more extreme opposition to the government than was borne out by his subsequent actions, and age, deafness, and recurrent ill health increased his dislike of formal party gatherings. With the accession of the young Victoria in 1837, moreover, the duke became markedly more reluctant to have a Conservative ministry thrust upon her. When Melbourne resigned over the Jamaican crisis of 1839, the queen on his advice sent for Wellington and it was he who counselled her to summon Peel. In the difficulties with Victoria over the ladies of the bedchamber he supported Peel, but the fiasco strengthened his scepticism about taking office. He himself showed remarkable restraint during the years 1839–41 in subordinating his private views to the decisions taken by the House of Commons on such issues as the Hansard case, Irish corporations, and the Canadian question. Despite occasional trepidation among his party colleagues over his inconsistent or perhaps devious tactics, he remained faithful to his principle of avoiding clashes either between the two branches of the legislature or between the two Conservative oppositions. In contrast to his military career, Wellington in politics rendered his best services as a second in command.
When Peel formed his cabinet in September 1841 the duke became a minister without portfolio. At seventy-two he was the oldest man in the cabinet and the decision not to burden him with departmental duties was clearly right. In the autumn of 1842, when Lord Hill resigned as commander of the forces because of ill health, Wellington was the only conceivable successor. Though he offered to resign from the cabinet and the leadership of the House of Lords, his object was clearly to remove any constitutional objection to his appointment; he knew his cabinet colleagues would not wish to see him go. He continued, therefore, to serve as expert adviser to the prime minister on various aspects of national policy, especially India, disorder in Ireland, and home defence. On the latter the advantage given to France by the development of steam power loomed large in his mind, and in 1845 he made a personal tour of the fortifications in the Strait of Dover. His presence in the government, however, was never more valuable to the prime minister than in the corn law crisis of 1845–6. Though disagreeing with Peel over the need to repeal the corn laws, he urged his cabinet colleagues in a memorandum of 30 November 1845 to support the prime minister since ‘a good Government for the country is more important than Corn Laws or any other consideration’ (Memoirs of Sir Robert Peel, ed. Lord Mahon and Edward Cardwell, 1858, 2.200). After the failure of Lord John Russell to form a ministry in December, the issue for the duke became then a simple matter of loyalty to the queen and her prime minister. At the crucial second reading of the Corn Bill on 25 May 1846 he told the peers bluntly that they could not afford to isolate themselves from the crown and the majority in the House of Commons, and he later advised Peel, in the event of defeat on the Irish Coercion Bill, to dissolve parliament and go to the country.
The end of Peel's ministry, however, in June 1846, marked the effective end of the duke's political career. Though he believed it important that a strong Conservative Party should continue to exist, he felt it inconsistent with his public position to act as leader of opposition in the Lords. As a ‘retained servant of the Sovereign’, to use his own phrase (Croker Papers, 3.51), and commander-in-chief of the army, his allegiance was to something higher than party. As late as 1851, when informed confidentially by Prince Albert of the cabinet crisis in late February, he expressed the view that it was better to have the Liberals in office rather than joining the opposition radicals in attacks on the country's institutions. The last time his services were called upon in any extraordinary fashion, however, was in 1848 on the occasion of the great Chartist demonstration in London. Wellington organized the military preparations with all his old vigour; but in the event the Metropolitan Police maintained control of the streets with no need for assistance.
Wellington's ten-year period as head of the army from 1842 to 1852 not surprisingly showed him at his most conservative. He saw little reason to change either the organization or the equipment of the army with which he had beaten Napoleon. Never a lover of technical innovation, he regarded the old Brown Bess musket as the most serviceable infantry weapon so far produced. Even when he sanctioned a partial issue of the new Minié rifle, he insisted on modifications so that the existing stock of smooth-bore ammunition could be used. He was only reluctantly brought to acquiesce in Lord Grey's scheme in 1847 to reduce the minimum period for service in regiments of the line to ten years, and to the last defended the retention of flogging as a necessary disciplinary sanction. In the 1830s and 1840s he opposed whig attempts to simplify the complicated and inefficient system of army administration by amalgamating the Ordnance department with the office of commander-in-chief, and was equally adamant against the creation of a chief of staff.
Wellington's general attitude towards the army was paradoxically that of a civilian aristocrat rather than of a professional soldier. He shared the traditional view that a standing army was an anomaly in the British constitution, justified only by the needs of imperial defence and internal order, and was reluctant to bring it unnecessarily under public scrutiny. Given its unpopularity and the absence of conscription, his argument was that the quality of the recruits on entry was bound to be poor, and that long-service engagements were the only way to ensure efficiency. What troubled him was not the old-fashioned structure but the inadequate size of the standing army. The parsimony of successive governments since 1815 had brought the armed forces of the crown to a point in the 1840s when he believed with sombre intensity that the country was incapable of defending itself. Since he knew that there was little hope of reversing this tendency, he paid increasing attention in his later years to plans for fortifying harbours and dockyards, and for the revival of the old militia system. He lived to see the passage of the Derby ministry's Militia Bill of 1852, which he thought superior to that for a purely local militia proposed by the whigs in 1851. The fact remained, however, that in the more restricted area of internal army reform, where he might have brought about useful changes, he was disinclined to act; in the wider field of national defence his anxieties (revealed to the public through his famous leaked letter of 1847 to the inspector-general of fortifications, Sir John Burgoyne) made little impression. The outcome was the obsolescent Waterloo army which went to the Crimea two years after his death.
Ironically, Wellington's robust common sense was seen at its best in his dealings as chancellor with the arcane world of Oxford University. In the controversies which followed the appointment of the theologically suspect Dr Hampden as regius professor in 1836, the duke invariably recommended the avoidance of personal feuds and the preservation of at least an outward appearance of academic harmony. He was less kindly disposed towards the Tractarians, since he thought their movement smacked of schism. In religion as in politics the duke believed in authority and discipline. He was particularly incensed when their party challenged his nomination of an evangelical vice-chancellor in 1844. His disconcerting proposal to make a personal appearance at the induction ceremony was tactfully evaded, however, and a satisfyingly orthodox vote in convocation in support of his candidate made further action unnecessary. A larger issue loomed up in the movement for university reform heralded by Lord Radnor's parliamentary activities in the 1830s. When the prospect of a public inquiry into the internal regulations of the colleges began increasingly to take shape, Wellington took the sensible view that it would be best for the university to anticipate compulsory reform from without by voluntary change from within. He could only, however, advise and warn; he could not command the academic society over which he incongruously presided. It was not his fault that reform, foreshadowed in the report of a royal commission in 1852, was in the end imposed on Oxford by parliament.
The three other important offices Wellington filled in the latter part of his life lay in more familiar territory. As constable of the Tower of London and lord lieutenant of the Tower Hamlets from 1826 he had to deal not only with patronage and military security but with the corrupt and lawless population of the Tower liberties and their endemic problems of civil order and public health. The post of constable of Dover Castle and lord warden of the Cinque Ports, to which he was appointed in 1829, involved an even wider range of responsibilities: harbour works, salvage, channel pilotage, appointments of local officials, and recommendations to the magistracy. The perquisites, however, included a residence at Walmer Castle, a domesticated Tudor fortress in Kent which became his favourite country residence. Though he treated neither of these quasi-honorary posts as sinecures, the most onerous of his subsidiary appointments was the lord lieutenancy of Hampshire, which he held for thirty-two years. The office, traditionally held by one of the titled landowners of the county, was still one of the most influential positions in local government. For Wellington it was an instrument for maintaining the traditional hierarchy of county society against the forces of electoral democracy. His recommendations for the magistracy, one of his most important duties, showed a clear preference for men who were politically Conservative, and a distaste, amounting to a virtual veto, for manufacturers, attorneys, brewers, and (for different reasons) clergy. Nevertheless, though not a reformer, the duke demonstrated a readiness to improve, a regard to economy, and a liking for efficiency which almost ranks him as a Peelite. He did much to revive the county yeomanry after the agricultural riots of 1830 and at the very end of his life he was encouraging the organization of the county militia under the terms of the 1852 act. Unlike many tory gentry he supported the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 from a conviction of the weakness of the old system, and though he was opposed to a compulsory national police force he welcomed the permissive act of 1839, which in effect placed control of any new local police force in the hands of the magistracy. Hampshire, in fact, was the second county to adopt the act.
These latter years, with a widening circle of friends (few of them military men other than his old Spanish crony Alava), allowed Wellington to display the other aspects of his complex nature. The epithet Iron Duke, which was current even in his lifetime, was a curiously misleading description and its origin is obscure. Punch used the term Wrought-Iron Duke as early as 1842. In October of that year his irreverent great-nephew Richard called him the Iron Duke when describing the funeral of the Marquess Wellesley, as though it were an already accepted nickname. In the duke's obituary in the Annual Register for 1853 the term appears three times, though always in an ironical sense, to point the difference between the real man and his public image.
It is unlikely that many of Wellington's contemporaries regarded him as the impassive, unfeeling man that the sobriquet suggests. It is true that he had schooled himself during his army career to control, if not entirely to suppress, his emotions, and long habit easily becomes second nature. A youthful introvert who had found fulfilment as a man of action, he always had two sides to his temperament. In later life, with ambition sated, his basic nature reasserted itself. It was essentially a warm and lively one. His fondness for playing with small children, his continued interest in music, his indiscriminate generosity, his wry humour, his unassuming friendliness towards ordinary people all testified to that. So too did his occasional gusts of anger, his resentment at presumed slights, and his partiality for sarcasm and irony. There was fire beneath the surface, not to speak of other emotions. His continuing interest in young women, when coupled with his compulsive urge to answer letters, led to some curious relationships. The intermittent correspondence with the religious-minded Miss Jenkins, nearly forty-five years his junior, was pursued in nearly 400 letters on his side between 1834 and 1851. Another sentimental and mainly epistolary friendship was with the equally youthful Angela Burdett-Coutts, wealthy heir of the banker Thomas Coutts, to whom he wrote over 800 letters and who (like Miss Jenkins) did her best to become his duchess: an outcome which the duke steadfastly avoided.
Little of this was known in Wellington's lifetime. To the outside world the image he presented was that of a less complicated, more soldierly figure. He was seen as the archetypal servant of the state, whose watchwords were duty and service. He contributed to the making of this legend, which in any case embodied a substantial truth, by increasingly referring to himself in the third person, as though his extraordinary career had created a kind of separate personality, a national figure of whom he was the living guardian. As he wrote to Croker in 1834, ‘I am Duke of Wellington and, bon gré mal gré, must do as the Duke of Wellington doth’ (Croker Papers, 2.224). The conventions of written correspondence served to strengthen this concept, since the duke was the recipient of a large, varied, and incessant flow of letters from the general public. Much of it was unsolicited, much of it personal, but rarely going unanswered. Though he devised standard lithographed forms to lighten the load on his secretaries, he often could not refrain from adding a few pungent comments of his own. He complained bitterly of the burden of letter writing, but he would not have wished it to stop. It had become almost a psychological necessity for him to feel that he was universally consulted on matters of importance, personal and public, by the highest and lowest. His life had been full of action and responsibility, and it would have been hard for him not to have had at least the semblance of these things in his old age.
Unlike his unhappy wife, Wellington was a sociable man who loved to fill his house with congenial company. He was, moreover, a lively and inexhaustible conversationalist with a fund of stories from his unique experiences which became more polished and witty with countless repetitions. Yet he jealously guarded his privacy and would have been outraged had he known how many of his guests were secretly recording his remarks for posterity. Even the inevitable decline in his physical powers he tried to conceal as long as possible. To the end he protested that, deafness apart, he was as fit as he had ever been. In his later years he drove a curricle at alarming speeds both in London and along the narrow lanes of Kent, and he hunted regularly in Hampshire despite being (on the authority of R. S. Surtees, the austere hunting correspondent of the New Sporting Magazine in the 1830s) a clumsy rider who suffered countless falls. He was also a keen though indifferent and (for bystanders) an occasionally dangerous shot. Being susceptible to colds, he had a variety of strange shooting coats and galoshes to fend off the English climate, of which after so many years in warmer climes he had the lowest opinion. Gadgets of all kinds, in fact, had a fascination for him, from patent teapots and finger-stalls to a sword-umbrella and the formidable central-heating system he installed at Stratfield Saye.
Though neat and almost dandyish in his dress on formal occasions, Wellington remained spartan in his personal habits, frugal in his diet, and notoriously indifferent to the quality of the food and wine he consumed. Physically he was a trim but never a handsome man. His great nose and long, protruding jaw gave his profile something of the appearance of Punch, a resemblance joyfully seized on by the cartoonists though tactfully toned down in his many portraits, with the notable exception of the sketch by R. B. Haydon in 1839. In height Wellington was about 5 feet 9 inches, with brown hair that later turned silvery white, penetrating eyes usually described as blue though by some as grey, and a physique that even at the age of eighty-two impressed Thomas Carlyle as all muscle and bone. His voice was light, and when he spoke in public apt to be indistinct. This was partly due to loss of teeth in early life which was later remedied by a set of false teeth made of walrus ivory.
Wellington was most famously painted by Goya, whose chalk drawing of 1812 was said by Goya's grandson in 1862, when it was bought by the British Museum, to have been done the day after the battle of Salamanca, though this seems unlikely. All three of the oil portraits subsequently painted by Goya may derive from this drawing. Two very probably do; the portrait in the National Gallery was painted in August 1812 at the time when the duke entered Madrid and was probably, at least in part, done from life.
Wellington's general health began to deteriorate perceptibly after 1818, not surprisingly in view of the extraordinary demands of his soldierly career, his neglect of proper food, and the human vanity which led him to conceal any symptoms of physical weakness. Rheumatism in his neck and shoulders made his figure droop, and an attack of giddiness was reported as early as 1838. In November 1839, at Walmer, he suffered a severe stroke from which he only slowly recovered. More attacks came in the next few years, including one while riding in London in February 1840 and another a year later in the House of Lords, which were not easy to hide from public knowledge. After that there seems to have been an intermission, though the effects of the earlier seizures were evident in his changed appearance and failing energies. He resumed his sporting activities but in a more cautious fashion, and except for his deafness he seemed in better health as time went on. Active to the last, he died at Walmer Castle in the afternoon of 14 September 1852 following a stroke early that morning. His body lay in state at Walmer and then at Chelsea Hospital. His burial at St Paul's Cathedral on 18 November was the occasion for probably the most ornate and spectacular funeral ever seen in England, the procession from Horse Guards via Constitution Hill to St Paul's being witnessed, it was estimated, by a million and a half people (LondG, 3 Dec 1852; Annual Register, 1852, 482–92). Alfred Stevens's monument to the duke was later erected in an arch in the north side of the cathedral's nave.
Wellington's funeral marked, for all its florid pomposity, the general sense among his countrymen that they had lost a great man: ‘the only great man of the present time’, wrote Greville (The Greville Memoirs, 1814–1860, ed. G. L. Strachey and R. Fulford, 8 vols., 1938, 18 Sept 1852), who had no reason to be friendly. ‘The last great Englishman is low’ lamented Tennyson in his fine funerary Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington (1852). In the years that followed Wellington's name was commemorated in almost every imaginable way, from articles of clothing, streets (fifty-seven in London), barracks, towers, waterfalls, and warships to a public school near Sandhurst, the capital city of New Zealand, and the great Californian redwood tree Sequoia gigantica. Already in his lifetime anecdotes had begun to cluster around him—some true, some (like ‘publish and be damned’) highly doubtful, others (like ‘try sparrow-hawks, ma'am’) demonstrably fictitious. That he remains one of the best-known characters in English history is not solely due to his military achievements, though these were greater than those of his only two rivals, Cromwell and Marlborough, nor to his unwavering sense of public duty, though it was the general recognition of this that enabled him to ride out his crisis of personal unpopularity in 1829–32 with undiminished reputation. Besides these outward virtues were the more human and endearing aspects: his lack of conceit, his ability to reflect with humorous detachment on his astonishing life, and a fundamental simplicity which charmed his friends and disarmed his enemies.
Earlier assessments of Wellington's professional career tended to be coloured by personal or patriotic prejudices, with British as with continental historians. Subsequent studies have enabled his military achievements to be seen in a more objective light than was possible in the first fifty years after his death. They have not, however, resulted in any substantial reversal of judgement, only a more discriminating analysis of his qualities. Moreover, they have revealed something which the earlier historians, concentrating on battles and campaigns, tended to overlook: the crucial importance of his organization and administration of the Peninsular army. Family influence and his elder brother's money gave Wellington invaluable advantages at the outset of his career, but what he made of those advantages was the work of no ordinary man. He was fortunate in the opportunities which came his way; yet he was active, in his early years aggressively so, in seeking them out. He had remarkable luck in escaping death by shipwreck or on the battlefield, but in the hazardous profession of war few rise to the top without a measure of luck. It has been said of him that he lacked the brilliance of Marlborough or Napoleon; but if as a general he was not a supreme artist, he was a supreme professional. His was the sober form of genius defined by Carlyle as the ‘transcendent capacity of taking trouble’. If chance seemed to favour him, it was because he left so little to chance.
Wellington was successful in so many things that he came to believe that he could undertake anything. What is surprising is how well his integrity, common sense, and attention to detail carried him through even in positions for which he was patently unsuited. The world of politics which he entered in 1818 was, as it is for most soldiers, alien and uncomfortable. Yet no account of early nineteenth-century political history is complete that does not take into account his positive contribution. His premiership, disastrous in most respects, was vindicated by the single achievement of Catholic emancipation. His influence in the House of Lords helped to consolidate the Conservative Party in the 1830s and sustain Peel's ministry in the 1840s. Like all men he had his weaknesses. He could be unduly secretive in his actions, unduly prejudiced in his opinions. There was more than a touch of egotism in his nature and he was often insensitive to the feelings of others. But these defects were redeemed by his innate kindness and sense of justice. His idiosyncrasies were for the most part harmless while his virtues were solid as rock. A military commander of rare and comprehensive ability, a dedicated servant of the state, Wellington was also a remarkable human being whose personality left an imprint on his countrymen equalled only by that of Winston Churchill a century after him.
Norman Gash DNB
William Salter, (bap. 1804, d. 1875), portrait painter, son of William and Sarah Salter, was born in Honiton, Devon, and baptized there on 26 December 1804. He moved to London in 1822 and became a pupil of James Northcote. Salter studied with Northcote until 1827. He then went to Florence, where in 1831 he exhibited his Socrates before the Judges of the Areopagos. The success of this work led to his election as a member of the Florentine Academy of Fine Arts; he was appointed professor of history. While in Italy, he visited Rome and Parma, where he was also elected to their respective academies of fine arts. Salter returned to England in 1833, where he began his best-known work, The Waterloo Banquet at Apsley House (Apsley House, London). He took six years to complete the work, which features eighty-four portraits of the officers who served with the duke of Wellington at Waterloo, as well as portraits of Wellington himself, William IV, and the king of Holland. The publisher F. G. Moon exhibited the work in 1841 at his London gallery in Threadneedle Street, and it immediately earned public interest and admiration. A popular large engraving by Greatbach was published by Moon in 1846. In 1852 a proposal was made to purchase the picture by subscription and present it to the duke of Wellington, but the project faltered owing to the duke's death. It was subsequently purchased by G. Mackenzie, who owned other works by the artist.
Salter also painted religious, mythological, and historical subjects, exhibiting chiefly at the British Institution. He became a member of the Society of British Artists in 1846, and he exhibited regularly with them, contributing 101 works in all. He later became vice-president of the society. He was a prolific portraitist, his subjects including the duke of Wellington, Wilberforce, and Sir Alexander Dickson. Many of his portraits served as preparatory works for The Waterloo Banquet at Apsley House, and they are now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. Contemporaries praised the quality of his portraits, which were often engraved for public consumption. In 1838 Salter presented an altarpiece, the Descent from the Cross, to the new parish church of his native town of Honiton. He died of bronchitis at his home, Devon Lodge, Portland Place, Fulham, London, on 22 December 1875, and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery. He left a widow, Mary.
F. M. O'Donoghue, rev. Morna O'Neill DNB