Friday, January 27, 2012

A Day out with the Duke of Wellington

The "Iron Duke"
The start of a period of general European peace that lasted for nearly 100 years (1815 to 1914) can be dated with great precision. It began on Sunday, June 18th at about 9:00pm in the evening with the handshake between the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshall Blucher that followed the successful conclusion of the battle of Waterloo.  The Allied armies were victorious over the French at Waterloo and Napoleon was sent into exile to the Isle of St. Helena.
"Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won"


This is what historian John Julius Norwich wrote about Waterloo....


"Had Napoleon been victorious...we--together with much of the continent--might well have been speaking French today.  The threat posed to England, though far less evil, was comparable to the threat posed by Nazi Germany in 1940: that this country might have been reduced to a minor province in a vast empire.  The Second World War, however, was won through any number of different factors; Napoleon's ultimate defeat was brought about in a single battle, on a single day.  that is why Waterloo was one of the most important battles of all history."  A History of England in 100 places, John Julius Norwich.
All the world knows the Duke of Wellington as the general who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.  Many are also ware that he served as Britain's Prime Minister (actually twice, 1828-30 and briefly in 1834).  Here, however, are some things about the Duke of Wellington that you may not be aware...

1)  Arthur Wesley, the quintessential Englishman, was born on May 1st 1769 in Dublin and later became the first English Prime Minister to have been born in Ireland.

2) His mother, Lady Mornignton, described him as her "ugly boy Arthur" and suggested that he was "food for powder and nothing more."

3) A veteran campaigner of many battles in India and the Peninsula before Waterloo, he never lost a battle. (George Washington, in contrast, lost more battles than he won during the American Revolution.)

4) Wellington, like Lord Nelson, was unhappily married, in his case, to Kitty Pakenham, a woman to whom he felt pledged prior to his extended departure for India.  He is said to have remarked to his brother on their wedding day, "She has grown ugly, by Jove!"

5) His brother in law, Sir Edward Pakenham, was killed by the American's during the Battle of New Orleans fighting Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812.

6) In 1829, when he was Prime Minister, he challenged and fought a duel at Battersea park in London with Lord Winchelsea who disagreed with him vehemently about Catholic emancipation.  Neither party was injured.  Can you imagine any contemporary politician in America or Britain acting with such evident personal courage?

7) He had Iron shutters placed in his home in London at Apsley House in order to avoid the expense of replacing broken windows from mob demonstrations, hence the term "Iron Duke."

8) He was buried with full honours at St Paul's cathedral in 1852.

In regard to the Dueling incident of 1829 here is what Wikipedia has to say..."As prime minister, Wellington was conservative, fearing the anarchy of the French Revolution would spread to England. The highlight of his term was Catholic Emancipation; the granting of almost full civil rights to Catholics in the United Kingdom. The change was forced by the landslide by-election win of Daniel O'Connell, an Irish Catholic proponent of emancipation, who was elected despite not being legally allowed to sit in Parliament. The Earl of Winchilsea accused the Duke of, "an insidious design for the infringement of our liberties and the introduction of Popery into every department of the State".[116] Wellington responded by immediately challenging Winchilsea to a duel. On 21 March 1829, Wellington and Winchilsea met on Battersea fields. When it came time to fire, the Duke took aim and Winchilsea kept his arm down. The Duke fired wide to the right. Accounts differ as to whether he missed on purpose; Wellington, noted for his poor aim, claimed he did, other reports more sympathetic to Winchilsea claimed he had aimed to kill. Winchilsea did not fire, a plan he and his second almost certainly decided upon before the duel.[117] Honour was saved and Winchilsea wrote Wellington an apology.

The Duke of Wellington was a conservative through and through.  He was, like Nelson, a champion of liberty against the tyranny of Napoleon.  Recall that Napoleon planned to restore slavery in Haiti.  Napoleon also did his best to try to transform Europe into the Bonaparte family business. Wellington was a Tory Prime Minister.  His conservatism was not, however, simply a manifestation of hidebound reactionary attitudes that opposed all forms of change.  His words and actions in regard to Catholic Emancipation hold up remarkably well even from the politically correct viewpoint of 2012.  Many of the troops that served alongside him at Waterloo were Catholics and he did not believe that they should be given second class citizenship based on religion (somewhat analogous to Eisenhower integrating the US army after World War II).  He was willing to champion sensible reforms that increased the scope of British liberty and did so vigourously.
Apsley House

To gain a better appreciation of The "Iron Duke" be sure to visit Apsley House in London.  It features a a priceless collection of art and memorabilia from his life.  During World War II, George VI (Of King's Speech fame) and the Queen mum are reported to have driven up to Apsley House with a truck in order to load up its artworks for safekeeping in the countryside during the war's duration.

Here is the link to Apsley house...

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/


After a visit to Apsley House, be sure to drop by The Grenadier pub which is nearby on 18 Wilton Row in Belgravia.  Wellington's officers used it as a mess in his time.  Try the Beef Wellington which is excellent!  They even have ghost!  Here is the link...

http://www.pubs.com/main_site/pub_details.php?pub_id=101

The Grenadier pub

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