Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, was born 1769 in Dublin. He got his education at Eton and the Military Academy of Angers in France and enrolled in the British army at nineteen years of age. With the aid of his brother, Richard Colley Wellesley (later to become Marquess Wellesley), he climbed the ranks. In 1796 he went to India, where he receceived his first independent command. His brother was appointed Governor-General of India in 1797, and Arthur served him as military and civil advisor. He also participated in several campaigns, such as the subjugation of the Marathas, which he defeated in surprise attack with 10.000 men against 40.000.

In 1805 he returned to England, receiving a knighthood as a reward for his services to the Empire. Having already been a member of the Irish parliament he was now elected to the British parliament for the Tory Party in 1806. The following year he was appointed Irish secretary as well.

Arthur fought Napoleon Bonaparte both in Hannover and Denmark, and when the French army threatened Portugal he led the British Expeditionary Force there in 1808. Although he defeated the French at Vimeiro he was superseeded in command and briefly forced to return home to face criticism of the peace made with the enemy.

When the conflict evolved into the Peninsular War, Arthur assumed command of the allied British, Portugese and Spanish forces. He managed to drive the enemy out of Spain and in turn invaded the south of France and had gotten as far as Toulouse when Napoleon abdicated in 1814. When Napoleon returned from Elba the year after, Arthur once again commanded the allied forces. Together with the Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher he utterly crushed the enemy at Waterloo; this is perhaps his most famous victory.

For smiting the French Emperor, Arthur Wellesley was made the 1st Duke of Wellington. His steadfastness and uncompromising nature earned him the nickname 'The Iron Duke'.

He now reentered the Tory cabinet, and at the insistence of King George IV became prime minister in 1828. He was not as sucessful a politician as he was a warrior however, and was forced to resign two years later. He did serve as foreign secretary and minister without portfolio in the cabinet of Sir Robert Peel, though. In 1842 he was again made commander in chief of the British army, a title he held until his death in 1852. His body lies buried in St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

Wellesley is commemorated in the city of his birth by an imposing monument, a massive stone obelisk standing in the Phoenix Park, Dublin's (and indeed Europe's) largest city park. The monument is inscribed with the names of the sites of some of Wellesley's military victories, and metal reliefs depicting these battles. As I understand it, these metal panels were formed from junked cannon parts.

Despite this extravagant commemoration, Wellesley was a famously reluctant Irishman, and is quoted to have said:

Just because one is born in a stable does not make one a horse
It should be noted, of course, that the Wellington Monument was erected before Irish Independence, and nowadays most would be happy to allow his disavowal of Irishness. It is likely, in fact, that most Irish people are unaware that he was born in the country.

Today, his monument is used primarily as a meeting place and bicycle rack for amateur footballers who use the green areas that surround it for soccer games at the weekend.

Arthur Wellesley was born Arthur Wesley, and changed his named on his rise to fame and fortune, deeming Wellesley to be a bit nicer, more upper class. (I don't know why anyone would ditch the name Wesley...). He was a hero to the people of England, and moved in the very highest social circles, mixing with all the royalty and whatnot.

Soldiers being a superstitious lot, many myths and superstitions were attached to the Duke. He named his battles after the town he stayed at the previous night (hence the battle of Waterloo was not actually at Waterloo, but he did sleep there). It was believed by his soldiers that it always rained before his battles. This was called "Wellington Weather". That's why wet-weather boots are called Wellingtons.

The First Duke

Arthur Wesley was the third son of Garret Wesley the Earl of Mornington, who subsequently followed his elder brother's example and adopted Wellesley as his surname. (See Earl of Mornington for a note on the origin of the Wesley/Wellesley name.) As a younger son of an Anglo-Irish family Arthur had to make his own way in the world and joined the British Army, and was to enjoy a remarkably successful military career, campaigning in India and the Iberian peninsula and ending with the ultimate victory over Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo in 1815.

A successful military career guaranteed a steady flow of honours from a grateful nation, including the award of a number of titles as follows;

  • On the 4th September 1809 the titles of Viscount Wellington of Talavera and of Wellington and Baron Douro of Wellesley
  • On the 28th February 1812 the title of Earl of Wellington
  • On the 3rd October 1812 the title of Marquess of Wellington together with £100,000 for the purchase of lands to descend with that title.
  • On the 11th May 1814 the titles of Duke of Wellington and the Marquess Douro together with another £400,000 to buy yet more land.

Arthur took the name of 'Wellington' from the town of Wellington in Somerset, which lies midway between Taunton and Tiverton. Although the Wesley/Wellesley family originated in Somerset there does not appear to be any specific explanation as to why he chose Wellington.

A number of other nations also saw fit to honour Arthur Wellesley who therefore accumulated a further number of titles as follows;

Subsequent dukes

The 1st Duke was succeeded by his eldest son Arthur Richard Wellesley, who naturally lived in the shadow of his famous father, although he too pursued a military career. It was said of the 2nd Duke that whilst "Possessing excellent natural abilities, and a large share of acquired information, he never took the place he ought to have taken in public life, but wasted, rather than cultivated, (his) talents". His major achievement seems to have been producing a twenty-three volume edition of his father's correspondence.

Arthur Richard married Elizabeth Hay, the daughter of George Hay, the Marquess of Tweeddale, but there were no children and therefore with his death on the 13th August 1884 he was succeeded by his nephew, Henry Wellesley who duly became the 3rd Duke.

The 3rd Duke was another military man, serving in the Grenadier Guards and also briefly as the Conservative M.P. for Andover between 1874 and 1880. He died childless on 8th June 1900 at the age of 54 and was followed by his younger brother Arthur Charles Wellesley the 4th Duke. The 4th Duke again saw service in the Grenadier Guards and on his death in 1934 was succeeded by his son another Arthur Charles Wellesley who fought in both the Boer War and the First World War achieving the rank of Lieutenant.

He was succeeded in 1941 by his son Henry Valerian George Wellesley, but the 6th Duke was killed in action on the 16 September 1943 whilst leading his Commando brigade at Salerno in Italy and was therefore succeeded by his uncle the 7th Duke, a career diplomat who nevertheless was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Grenadier Guards during the Second World War.

The current and 8th Duke of Wellington is Arthur Valerian Wellesley who is also the 12th Earl of Mornington and the 13th Baron of Mornington as well as holding the numerous other titles first granted to his illustrious ancestor the 1st Duke. His son and heir apparent Arthur Charles Valerian Wellesley, is known as the Marquess Douro whilst his son (and grandson of the 8th Duke) Arthur Gerald Wellesley, sports the courtesy title of the Earl of Mornington.

The Dukes of Wellington



  • A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)

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