Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

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Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington : biography

1 May 1769 – 14 September 1852

He spent most of his childhood at his family’s two homes, the first a large house in Dublin and the second, Dangan Castle, north of Summerhill on the Trim road in County Meath.Holmes (2002). pp. 6–7. In 1781, Arthur’s father died and his eldest brother Richard inherited his father’s earldom.

He went to the diocesan school in Trim when at Dangan, Mr. Whyte’s Academy when in Dublin, and at Brown’s School in Chelsea when in London. He then enrolled at Eton, where he studied from 1781 to 1784.Holmes (2002). p. 8. His loneliness there caused him to hate it, and makes it highly unlikely that he actually said, "The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton". Moreover, Eton had no playing fields at the time. In 1785, a lack of success at Eton, combined with a shortage of family funds due to his father’s death, forced the young Wellesley and his mother to move to Brussels. Until his early twenties, Arthur continued to show little sign of distinction and his mother grew increasingly concerned at his idleness, stating, "I don’t know what I shall do with my awkward son Arthur".Holmes (2002). p. 9.

A year later, Arthur enrolled in the French Royal Academy of Equitation in Angers, where he progressed significantly, becoming a good horseman and learning French, which was later to prove very useful.Holmes (2002). pp. 19–20. Upon returning to England in late 1786, he astonished his mother with his improvement.

Retirement

Wellington retired from political life in 1846, although he remained Commander-in-Chief, and returned briefly to the spotlight in 1848 when he helped organise a military force to protect London during that year of European revolution.Holmes (2002). p. 292.

The Conservative Party had split over the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, with Wellington and most of the former Cabinet still supporting Robert Peel, but most of the MPs led by Lord Derby supporting a protectionist stance. Early in 1852 Wellington, by then very deaf, gave Derby’s first government its nickname by shouting "Who? Who?" as the list of inexperienced Cabinet Ministers was read out in the House of Lords.

He became Chief Ranger and Keeper of Hyde Park and St. James’s Park on 31 August 1850. He was also colonel of the 33rd Regiment of Foot from 1 February 1806 and colonel of the Grenadier Guards from 22 January 1827.

Kitty died of cancer in 1831; despite their generally unhappy relations Wellington was said to have been saddened by her death.Longford, Elizabeth Wellington-Pillar of State Weidenfeld and Nicholson (1972) p.281 He had found consolation for his unhappy marriage in his warm friendship with the diarist Harriet Arbuthnot, wife of his colleague Charles Arbuthnot.Longford (1972) p.95 Harriet’s death in the cholera epidemic of 1834 was almost as great a blow to Wellington as it was to her husband.LOngford (1972) p.296 The two widowers spent their last years together at Aspley House.LOngford (1972) p.297

Death and funeral

Wellington died on 14 September 1852, aged 83, of the after effects of a stroke culminating in a series of epileptic seizures.Corrigan (2006). p. 353.

Although in life he hated travelling by rail (after witnessing the death of William Huskisson, one of the first railway accident casualties), his body was then taken by train to London, where he was given a state funeral—one of only a handful of British subjects to be honoured in that way (other examples are Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill)—and the last heraldic state funeral to be held in Britain. The funeral took place on 18 November 1852.The Times, Thursday, 18 November 1852; p. 5; Issue 21276; col A: Funeral Of The Duke Of Wellington [Announcement of arrangements] and The Times, Friday, 19 November 1852; p. 5; Issue 21277; col A: [Report of the event]. At his funeral there was hardly any space to stand because of the number of people attending, and the effusive praise given him in Tennyson’s "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington" attests to his stature at the time of his death. He was buried in a sarcophagus of luxulyanite in St Paul’s Cathedral next to Lord Nelson.Holmes (2002). p. 297.