Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

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Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington : biography

1 May 1769 – 14 September 1852

The nickname "Iron Duke" originates from this period, when he experienced a high degree of personal and political unpopularity. Its repeated use in Freeman’s Journal throughout June 1830 appears to bear reference to his resolute political will, with taints of disapproval from its Irish editors. Notes: "If the Irish Question be lost, Ireland has her Representatives to accuse for it still more than the iron Duke and his worthy Chancellor" Notes: "One fortnight will force the Iron Duke to abandon his project" Notes: "Let the ‘Iron Duke’ abandon the destructive scheme of Goulburn." His residence at Apsley House was targeted by a mob of demonstrators on 27 April 1831 and again on 12 October, leaving his windows smashed. Iron shutters were installed in June 1832 to prevent further damage by crowds angry over rejection of the Reform Bill, which he strongly opposed. Notes: "iron shutters are being fixed, of a strength and substance sufficient to resist a musket ball"

Wellington’s government fell in 1830. In the summer and autumn of that year, a wave of riots swept the country.Holmes (2002). p. 281. The Whigs had been out of power for most years since the 1770s, and saw political reform in response to the unrest as the key to their return. Wellington stuck to the Tory policy of no reform and no expansion of suffrage, and as a result lost a vote of no confidence on 15 November 1830.Holmes (2002). p. 283.

The Reform Act

The Whigs introduced the first Reform Bill whilst Wellington and the Tories worked to prevent its passage. The bill passed in the British House of Commons, but was defeated in the House of Lords. An election followed in direct response, and the Whigs were returned with an even larger majority. A second Reform Act was introduced, and defeated in the same way, and another wave of near insurrection swept the country. During this time, Wellington was greeted by a hostile reaction from the crowds at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The Whig Government fell in 1832 and Wellington was unable to form a Tory Government partly because of a run on the Bank of England. This left King William IV no choice but to restore Earl Grey to the premiership. Eventually the bill passed the House of Lords after the King threatened to fill that House with newly created Whig peers if it were not. Wellington was never reconciled to the change; when Parliament first met after the first election under the widened franchise, Wellington is reported to have said "I never saw so many shocking bad hats in my life".Holmes (2002). p. 288.

Jewish Emancipation

During debate on the Jewish Civil Disabilities Repeal Bill, Wellington, who opposed the Bill, stated in Parliament on 1 August 1833: "… this is a Christian country and a Christian legislature, and that the effect of this measure would be to remove that peculiar character." And "I see no ground whatever for passing the Bill; and shall, therefore, vote against it." The Bill was defeated, 104 votes against, and 54 for.

Conservative Government

Wellington was gradually superseded as leader of the Tories by Robert Peel, whilst the party evolved into the Conservatives. When the Tories were returned to power in 1834, Wellington declined to become Prime Minister and Peel was selected instead.Holmes (2002). p. 289. However, Peel was in Italy at that time and for three weeks in November and December 1834, Wellington acted as interim leader, taking the responsibilities of Prime Minister and most of the other ministries. In Peel’s first cabinet (1834–1835), Wellington became Foreign Secretary, while in the second (1841–1846) he was a Minister without Portfolio and Leader of the House of Lords.Holmes (2002). pp. 291–292. Wellington was also re-appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British Army on 15 August 1842 following the resignation of Lord Hill.

Titles and tributes

Wellington received numerous awards and honours during and after his lifetime, including statues and monuments raised in his honour. He held a wide range of titles, and had various buildings and places named after him around the world which still stand today.