5 Things You May Not Know About The Duke of Wellington

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, was a well-known military and political leader of the nineteenth century. He was often called “the Duke of Wellington” rather than the 1st Duke of Wellington. He rose to prominence during the Napoleonic Wars when he became a field marshal after winning at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. Over the course of his illustrious career, he supposedly fought more than sixgty battles and came to be regarded as one of the greatest defensive commanders of all times because he could so easily minimize troop losses against numerically superior forces. While you may know these facts, there are five tidbits about the Duke of Wellington less known and they are listed below:

  • Many people imagine that Wellington was an imposing figure and that he stood over six feet tall. In fact, despite his imposing personality and unequaled skills in battle, he was of “middle height, being about five feet nine inches tall, but his shoulders were broad, his arms long, and his whole frame firmly knit, and capable of fatigue in an extraordinary degree.”
  • Wellington was known for his coolness and decisiveness in battle and was unwilling to sacrifice his troops to achieve a quick victory. He was also known for his many maxims, with one of the most telling of his character being the following: “Believe me that nothing, excepting a battle lost, can be half so melancholy as a battle won.”
  • Almack’s was an extremely popular social club that operated from 1765 to 1871. A committee of highly influential and exclusive ladies, known as the Lady Patronesses, determined who gained entrance. The Duke of Wellington enjoyed spending time there, and as he was extremely popular, it is almost unthinkable that on at least two occasions, the Lady Patronesses refused him entrance. The first incident happened when he arrived seven minutes after the accepted hour and despite begging for admission, he was denied and turned away. The second time he was refused entrance was when he appeared in black trousers. At the time only knee-breeches were approved, and, so, Wellington was turned away again. He left but did so “with a grim smile playing at the corners of his firm mouth.”
  • How Wellington got his nickname the “Iron Duke” is interesting and controversial. He did not get his nickname from his troops, because in fact there seemed to be no general nickname given him by them, although at times they did call him “Atty, “Conkey,” “Hookey,” or “Nosey.” The most general conclusion about how he got the name “Iron Duke” is attributed to his iron will and constitution demonstrated by his opposition to parliament. This opposition resulted in rioting outside his house and him installing iron shutters, thereby providing the nickname “Iron Duke.” However, one website discredits this explanation and notes that at least a year before the riots and the installing of his iron shutters, the Freeman’s Journal began to refer to him as the “Iron Duke” in their columns. A third source offers a completely different explanation. This source states that his name arose “out of the building of an iron steam-boat which plied between Liverpool and Dublin, and which its owners called the ‘Duke of Wellington.’ The term ‘Iron Duke’ was first applied to the vessel; and by and by, rather in jest than in earnest, it was transferred to the duke himself.”
  • Wellington died at the age of 83 on September 14, 1852. He was given a state funeral on November 18, 1852. His popularity resulted in shockingly large numbers of people attending, which one newspaper described:

“Women were knocked down or fainted away; children were held aloft to escape suffocation; strong men were seen with the perspiration falling in great drops from their faces; and fathers and brothers strove in vain to recover their relatives torn from them in the crowd. The multitude actually smoked like an heated haystack … [There were also] long lines of cabs and carriages filled with visitors … and thousands upon thousands of people who … turned back … So great was the pressure that some had their clothes almost completely torn off their backs, and one woman was even happy to avail herself of the shelter of a gentleman’s great coat; other sought refuge in cabs, while a few appeared in the hall of death with crumpled bonnets and torn dresses, their hair all hanging loose over their shoulders, and their faces still filled with the excitement through which they had passed, but with the tenacity of purpose peculiar to the sex, determined to see all that was to be seen since they had incurred so much and come so far to do so.”

But what may be most shocking about Wellington’s funeral was that two women were squeezed to death by the crowd — Mrs. Bean, the wife of a livery stable keeper, and a domestic servant named Charlotte Cook.

References:

  • Brialmont, Alexis Henri, History of the Life of Arthur Duke of Wellington, Vol. 4, 1860
  • Soanne, George, Life of the Duke of Wellington, 1839
  • “The Duke of Wellington,” in Freeman’s Journal, pg. 3, 23 Sept. 1852
  • “The Duke of Wellington’s Funeral,” in Isle of Wight Observer, pg. 4, 20 Nov 1852
  • The Wisdom of Wellington, 1852
  • “Why Was Wellington Called the Iron Duke?” on History House

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