Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington


Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington : biography

1 May 1769 – 14 September 1852

The French army now fiercely attacked the Coalition all along the line with the culminating point being reached when Napoleon sent forward the Imperial Guard at 19:30. The attack of the Imperial Guards was mounted by five battalions of the Middle Guard, and not by the Grenadiers or Chasseurs of the Old Guard. Marching through a hail of canister and skirmisher fire and severely outnumbered, the 3,000 or so Middle Guardsmen advanced to the west of La Haye Sainte and preceded to separate into three distinct attack forces. One, consisting of two battalions of Grenadiers, defeated the Coalition’s first line and marched on. Chassé’s relatively fresh Dutch division was sent against them and Allied artillery fired into the victorious Grenadiers’ flank. This still could not stop the Guard’s advance, so Chassé ordered his first brigade to charge the outnumbered French, who faltered and broke.Chesney (1907). pp. 178–179.

Further to the west, 1,500 British Foot Guards under Maitland were lying down to protect themselves from the French artillery. As two battalions of Chasseurs approached, the second prong of the Imperial Guard’s attack, Maitland’s guardsmen rose and devastated them with point-blank volleys. The Chasseurs deployed to counterattack, but began to waver. A bayonet charge by the Foot Guards then broke them. The third prong, a fresh Chasseur battalion, now came up in support. The British guardsmen retreated with these Chasseurs in pursuit, but the latter were halted as the 52nd Light Infantry wheeled in line onto their flank and poured a devastating fire into them and then charged.Parry (1900). p. 70. Under this onslaught they too broke.

The last of the Guard retreated headlong. A ripple of panic passed through the French lines as the astounding news spread: "La Garde recule. Sauve qui peut!" ("The Guard retreats. Save yourself if you can!"). Wellington then stood up in Copenhagen’s stirrups, and waved his hat in the air to signal an advance of the Allied line just as the Prussians were overrunning the French positions to the east. What remained of the French army then abandoned the field in disorder. Wellington and Blücher met at the inn of La Belle Alliance, on the north-south road which bisected the battlefield, and it was agreed that the Prussians should pursue the retreating French army back to France. The Treaty of Paris was signed on 20 November 1815.


Much historical discussion has been made about Napoleon’s decision to send 33,000 troops under Marshal Grouchy to intercept the Prussians, but—having defeated Blücher at Ligny on 16 June and forced the Allies to retreat in divergent directions—Napoleon may have been strategically astute in a judgement that he would have been unable to beat the combined Allied forces on one battlefield. Wellington’s comparable strategic gamble was to leave 17,000 troops and artillery, mostly Dutch and Belgian, away at Halle, north-west of Mont-Saint-Jean, in case of a French advance up the Mons-Hal-Brussels road.Adkin (2001). p. 49.

Early life and education

Wellington was born in Ireland as "The Honourable Arthur Wesley", the fourth son—third of five surviving sons—to Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington, and Anne, the eldest daughter of Arthur Hill-Trevor, 1st Viscount Dungannon. He was most likely born at their townhouse, 24 Upper Merrion Street, Dublin, now the "Merrion Hotel". p. 170. Retrieved 17 March 2012 His biographers mostly follow the contemporary newspaper evidence in saying he was born 1 May 1769,Though 29 April is quoted as most likely by Ernest Marsh Lloyd, writing in the the day he was baptised.Guedalla (1997). p. 480. His baptismal font was donated to St. Nahi’s Church in Dundrum, Dublin, in 1914. His mother, Anne, Countess of Mornington, recalled in 1815 that he had been born at 6 Merrion Street, Dublin.Wellesley (2008). p. 16. "Anne Mornington insisted she remembered the details: 1 May 1769, at 6 Merrion Street, Dublin – an elegant new townhouse round the corner from St Stephen’s Green, the largest public square in Europe." Other places which have been put forward as the location of his birth include Mornington House (the house which used to be next door) – as his father had asserted, the Dublin packet boatWellesley (2008). p. 14. Longford says "there is no valid argument" for this choice and the family estate of Athy (which perished in the fires of 1916) – as the Duke apparently put on his 1851 census return.Holmes (2002). p. 7.