The Duke of Wellington
Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington KG KP GCB GCH PC FRS, was one of the leading military and political figures of the nineteenth century. He is often referred to as one of the greatest English generals of all time, except that he was Irish. His supposed response (not recorded until after his death) to people pointing out his Irish birth was something along the lines of 'If a man is born in a stable, that doesn't make him a horse', a sentiment which didn't stop him marrying an Irish woman or the Irish building a 200-foot-tall monument in his honour. To be fair his comments stemmed from a dislike of the Protestant and often power-abusing Irish Nobility rather than the "normal" Irish.
His military career was rapid, reaching the rank of Colonel in 12 years. Despite an extremely impressive military career in India, he did not come to real prominence until the Napoleonic Wars, and was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal after leading the allied forces to victory against the French at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. Following Napoleon's exile in 1814, he served as the ambassador to France and was granted a dukedom. During the Hundred Days in 1815, he commanded the allied army which defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
One of Britain's more quotable war leaders after Winston Churchill. Perhaps his most famous quote is "Our army is the scum of the earth - the merest scum of the earth." This is something of a Beam Me Up, Scotty, however, as it sounds far harsher than intended due to people leaving out the second part: "...so it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are.."
He was an opponent of parliamentary reform, and was given the epithet of the Iron Duke because of the iron shutters he had fixed to his windows to stop the pro-reform mob from breaking them. When Parliament burned down in 1834, the Duke advised it be rebuilt in the same place, with one side against the river Thames, reasoning that that made it more difficult to be surrounded by a revolutionary mob.
As Prime Minister he, among other things, passed the Catholic Relief Act, removing the legal blocks against Catholicism. This one exception to his usual ultra-conservative politics is perhaps attributable to a combination of his Irish background and his old Peninsular War army being one-third Catholic. It can also be regarded as an earlier example of 'Nixon in China' - if even the ultra-Tory Duke thought Catholic emancipation was necessary, it was more convincing to undecideds than if it had remained a purely Whig cause. Wellington remained one of the leading figures in the House of Lords until his retirement and Commander-in-Chief of the British Army until his death.
Yes, he had boots named after him. No, they were not rubber. They were leather, but the rubber ones are of the same style. The dish Beef Wellington might be named after him.
He will also wear any kind of trousers he likes, damn you.
- Appropriated Appellation: Kind of; the name "Iron Duke" was an insulting one given to him years later by parliamentary reformists for the shutters on his windows, but is usually misremembered as describing him as a Badass on the battlefield. Insult Backfire?
- Badass: He never lost a battle. Never. And fought only one with superior numbers (Vitoria).
- Blue Blood: The Duke was a complete snob when it came to the lower orders. Was once quoted as saying "I'd rather have talent with a title, than talent without."
- Boring but Practical: Was never the most flashy or unpredictable of Generals but he stuck with what worked and was a superb logistics commander, this being one of his major advantages over his Napoleonic rivals.
- He once said that Napoleon's strategy was made of harness and his was made of rope. Napoleon's was beautiful to look at but would shrivel up if anything snapped, whereas Wellington's was ugly and makeshift, but for that reason very easy to patch up when something went wrong.
- Bribing Your Way to Victory: Part of the reason Wellington made Colonel so quickly was that he bought his way up the ranks. This was completely normal at the time, and obviously he turned out to suit the position.
- Bribery is the wrong word. He wasn't paying someone off to promote him when he didn't deserve it. The normal and legal way of gaining a commission in the British army was to purchase it, In fact, the only other way to get a promotion was to inherit it from a dead superior or do something so suicidally brave that they had no choice but to promote you.
- Purchased ranks were a fossil of the time when standing armies were simply mercenary units that happened to have a permanent contract. The system though it is well gone did have some weird benefits from time to time as the noble who bought into a regiment was often likely to do well by it and if he was also a professional soldier - and as a world war was going on at the time quite a few were - it would likely mean paying for gimmicks that would improve performance. There were of course not many really unusual "gimmicks" in the opening; once in a while someone would come up with something but for the most part a musket was just a musket. However there were ways to promote better health, morale, etc.
- Deadpan Snarker: Showed shades of this on occasion such as when he was looking over a list of officers being shipped over from Britain to fight underneath him, the Duke commented "I have no idea what impact they'll have on the enemy but by God they scare the life out of me."
- He Also Did: Well known for his battlefield career, but his later political career is much less well known. Partly because any recounting of his political career casts him in a less-than-positive light by modern standards, what with his staunch opposition to parliamentary reform, whereas his exemplary career as a commander is much less contentious.
- Knight Fever: Wellington's titles ended up including a dukedom in the British peerage as well as dukedoms in the peerages of Portugal, Spain and France and a princedom in the Netherlands, 29 knighthoods in twenty different countries (including the highest grade in the premier order of each country), more-or-less honorary field marshal rank in the armies of eight countries, and eleven honorary posts in the government of the United Kingdom from Lord High Constable of England and Constable of the Tower of London through to Ranger of Hyde Park and Chancellor of the University of Oxford. If you were to put the initials for each of these after his name, you'd be talking for a very long time.
- To elaborate, his full name and titles were Field Marshal His Grace Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, Marquess of Wellington, Marquess Douro, Earl of Wellington, Viscount Wellington and Baron Douro, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight Grand Cross of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, One of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, and Field Marshal and Commander-in-Chief of Her Majesty's Forces, Field Marshal of the Austrian Army, Field Marshal of the Hanoverian Army, Field Marshal of the Army of the Netherlands, Marshal-General of the Portuguese Army, Field Marshal of the Prussian Army, Field Marshal of the Russian Army, and Captain-General of the Spanish Army, Prince of Waterloo, of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo and Grandee of Spain of the First Class, Duke of Victoria, Marquess of Torres Vedras, and Count of Vimiera in Portugal, Knight of the Most Illustrious Order of the Golden Fleece, and of the Military Orders of St, Ferdinand and of St, Hermenigilde of Spain, Knight Grand Cross of the Orders of the Black Eagle and of the Red Eagle of Prussia, Knight Grand Cross of the Imperial Military Order of Maria Teresa of Austria, Knight of the Imperial Orders of St, Andrew, St, Alexander Newski, and St, George of Russia, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Portuguese Military Order of the Tower and Sword, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal and Military Order of the Sword of Sweden, Knight of the Order of St, Esprit of France, Knight of the Order of the Elephant of Denmark, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order, Knight of the Order of St, Januarius and of the Military Order of St. Ferdinand and of Merit of the Two Sicilies, Knight Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the Annunciation of Sardinia, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Military Order of Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria, Knight of the Royal Order of the Rue Crown of Saxony, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Military Merit of Wurtemberg, Knight Grand Cross of the Military Order of William of the Netherlands, Knight of the Order of the Golden Lion of Hesse Cassel, and Knight Grand Cross of the Orders of Fidelity and of the Lion of Baden, Fellow of the Royal Society, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Honorary Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.
- No Indoor Voice: His portrayal in Blackadder the Third is actually fairly accurate in that respect: Wellington really did shout an awful lot.
- Officer and a Gentleman: Was a very British soldier in some respects and stood out for always taking pains to keep his men from plundering or harassing the local populace wherever he served. One such example was the storming of Badajoz where he had gallows erected to stop the rampaging British troops through the city. When he led his combined armies from Spain into France he sent the Spaniards home because he didn't trust them not to pillage.
- There was more then a bit of Combat Pragmatism about that. Keeping in good with the natives makes sure they are allied to you and he absolutely needed them to give him intelligence and keep the French off balance. Furthermore he had the rare advantage of being able to lug a lot of gold around with him. Instead of foraging he advertised and set up a fair for peasants to come to him. Being a "Nation of Shopkeepers" is not without advantage.
- Rightful King Returns: A rather odd personal example for the Duke due to the legend of King Arthur. As the legends dictated that the King would return when Britain was faced with its greatest threat and the Duke's name was the same of that of the King, several romantics tried to link the two. The Duke, of course, denied it completely.
- The Stoic: Was known to keep his calm under battle and rallied his men on various occasions despite being under the constant threat of death at every battle.
- Surrounded by Idiots: How the Duke generally felt about his Spanish allies and even some of the officers under his command. Not entirely without justification either.
- With a lot of justification. He won the Battle of Talavera in 1809, but had to retreat because the Spanish refused to give promised supplies. And he won that battle when his Spanish allies broke after being terrified by their own volley.
- Visual Innuendo: What a big cannon he's got.
- We Have Reserves: Mostly avoided. The Duke knew that his army in Portugal and Spain was the only one available to battle against Napoleon in Europe. He took great pains not to needlessly sacrifice them and constantly avoided battles where there was no distinct advantage.
- Worthy Opponent: How the Duke saw Napoleon. Until he found out the former Emperor had left a considerable amount of money in his will towards a man who had tried to assassinate the Duke. The feeling was destroyed completely when the Duke found out Napoleon hadn't even had the money to pay what he promised in the first place.
- The Duke took an absurd twice-life-size statue of Napoleon as a Greek god from Paris and had it installed in his home at Apsley House (aka Number One, London), basically saying that Napoleon's egotism mocked itself.
- Waterloo: Naturally. Splendidly played by Christopher Plummer who was a natural for the role.
- Obviously we see him in Sharpe.
- Appears as a secondary character in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Gets his own short story, "The Duke Of Wellington Misplaces His Horse", in the follow-up short story collection The Ladies of Grace Adieu.
- Flashman encounters the Duke once or twice, or at least references his opinions. Most notably in the first novel, where he receives a medal from Queen Victoria and a handshake from Wellington; it's the second one he is most proud of.
- Has a fairly prominent role in the fifth book of the Temeraire series, Victory of Eagles.
- The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage takes place in an alternate timeline where the Duke became Prime Minister on account of his superior bone structure and entertainment value.
- Ironically, Napoleon too was not born in the nation that he is famous for being from; his birthplace had been transferred from Genoese to French control a mere two years before his birth (and he was originally called the much more Italian "Napoleone di Buonaparte"), making the Napoleonic wars between the French led by an Italian and the English led by an Irishman. He also shared a birthday with Napoleon. Makes one wonder...
- As another point, in The Mask of Command, historian John Keegan claims that that quote was given in the context of a criticism of pay arrangements which gave better allowances for the dependents of militiamen then those volunteering to serve abroad on the grounds that it brought a low quality of recruit for the later.