Arthur Wellesley (The Iron Duke)

Arthur Wesley was born in Dublin, Ireland, on 1 May, 1769 to the 1st Earl of Mornington, and his spouse, Anne. A withdrawn and quiet boy, leading to his not making efficient headway in his education at Eton, he was enrolled in a French military academy, despite having little desire for military service. Upon graduation, he was commissioned into the service of the Irish Viceroy, and occupied his family’s seat in parliament for Trim from 1790-1797. While at this station, he extended an offer of marriage to Catherine Pakenham, and was rejected. She would, however, accept his offer 10 years later.

In 1794, he saw battle in Flanders, and two years later he found himself fighting in India, under his brother, the Governor General. Wesley received a knighthood for his service, mandating his name change from Wesley to Wellesley. After many campaigns, he departed India for England in 1805.

The next few years saw Wellesley serve in political and military roles simultaneously. He was compelled to join parliament in the defense of his brother, whom some politicians were attacking for actions in India. From 1806 to 1808 he was the chief secretary for the Tory party of Ireland.

Arthur was promoted to lieutenant general in April of 1808, and sent with an army to fight French forces in Portugal, where the native inhabitants were in full rebellion against Napoleon. He successfully defeated France’s soldiers in several battles on the peninsula, before losing command to recently arrived superiors, who quickly signed an unpopular treaty. Wellesley and his commanders were court-martialed for the treaty, however, Wellesley was acquitted.

After the end of the peninsular campaign in 1814, he was granted the title of Duke of Wellington, and given the wealth and honors the position was entitled to. The following year, Arthur Wellesley accomplished his most monumental feat, and that which he is most known for today, by defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.

He returned to his home in 1818, and joined the Tory cabinet of the Earl of Liverpool. His post-military, political career was not overly successful. He failed to stop the breakdown of the quadruple alliance at the 1822 Congress of Verona, and also was particularly effective in his Russian negotiations in 1826. However, he did earn a reputation as an honest man, which aided in his appointment to British Prime Minister on January 9, 1828.

As Prime Minister, the Duke’s popularity wavered slightly, due to his very conservative stances on many issues. He is however credited with bringing about the Catholic Emancipation of Ireland, giving most basic civil rights to Catholics in the UK. His uncompromising character and style of leadership earned him the nickname “The Iron Duke”. In 1830, Wellesley was removed from office via a vote of no confidence, brought about by his rejection of The Reform Act.

In 1832 and 1834, he had the opportunity to again become Prime Minister, but declined to do so, instead becoming the foreign secretary under the new Prime Minister, Lord Peel. He later served from 1841 to 1846 as the Leader of the House of Lords, and Minister without Portfolio. In 1848, the Iron Duke performed his last public action, handling the calm protection of London from possible Chartist revolutionary violence.

After his official retirement, Wellesley was still consulted by many politicians on matters of state until his death from a stroke in 1852. 

Birth Location: 
Dublin, Ireland
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Death Location: 
Walmer Castle, Kent, England
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