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United Kingdom

New exhibition explores early years of Duke of Wellington, 200 years on from Battle of Waterloo

The Duke of Wellington, born Arthur Wellesley in 1769 in Dublin, was commander of the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars and later became Prime Minister, from 1828 to 1830

The Duke of Wellington, born Arthur Wellesley in 1769 in Dublin, was commander of the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars and later became Prime Minister, from 1828 to 1830.

He was sent to a military academy in France and, because of his reserved nature, had little benefit from his earlier Eton schooling.

He was commissioned in the army at the age of 18 and saw active service in Flanders in 1794-5 before being posted to India in 1796.

He commanded a division against the Tipu Sultan of Mysore and later became governor of Mysore in 1799 and was commander in chief during the British defeat of the Marathas empire.

Wellesley was knighted on his return to England and made a Member of Parliament, where he was appointed chief secretary to Ireland because of his Irish roots.

He returned to the Army in 1808 and took control of the fighting against Napoleon’s army in Spain.

Napoleon was the height of his powers at the time and in control of much of Europe. But, after a series of battles between 1808 and 1814, Wellington, with help from Portuguese and Spanish forces, forced France to withdraw from the Spanish peninsula.

In April 1814, Wellington then invaded France and stormed into Toulouse and forced Napoleon to abdicate.

It was then that he was created a duke, with Napoleon exiled to Elba. But the French dictator escaped and landed in France on March 1, 1815, to begin his Hundred Days – the period between him arriving in Paris and the July 8 return of King Louis XVII after his defeat.

Napoleon was ultimately defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18 .

The armies amassed near the town of Waterloo in modern-day Belgium, not far from the border with France, and it was the French who made the first move around 11am.

The two sides clashed for 10 hours, with the British fending off repeated attacks from the French, until Marshal Blücher arrived at the head of a Prussian army.

The arrival allowed Wellington to counter-attack and finish Napoleon off, forcing him to surrender.

The victory established him as the most renowned military hero in Europe. But he said afterwards: ‘I hope to God that I have fought my last battle.’

Wellington later served as Prime Minister, from 1828-1830. He was authoritarian but did pass the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, which went some way to removing discrimination against Catholics. However, he was opposed to parliamentary reform and extension of the franchise, which brought him many enemies.

He gained the nickname of the ‘Iron Duke’ partly because of his tough stance – though also because he had barred the window of his house to protect his windows from being smashed by angry protesters.

Wellington retired in 1846 and died in 1852 at Walmer Castle, his favourite residence. He received a huge state funeral and is buried in St Paul’s Cathedral.

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