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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Duke of Wellington

(Arthur Wellesley, 1769–1852, kt 1804, duke 1814)
Britain's leading soldier in the *Napoleonic Wars and later prime minister (1828–30). Born in Dublin, in the Protestant Irish gentry, he began his career in the pampered manner of the times, with commissions bought for him in various regiments and seats procured in the Irish and English houses of parliament. The first hint of his talents was seen in India (1796–1804), where he won a series of impressive victories in local wars. His military skill was confirmed in the *Peninsular War. When he finally broke through the Pyrenees in 1813, his was the first hostile army on French soil since the rise of Napoleon. The campaign not only propelled him rapidly through the ranks of the peerage, but brought financial awards from parliament amounting to £500,000.

In March 1815 he was at the congress of *Vienna, deliberating on the future shape of Europe after the *Napoleonic Wars, when news came that Napoleon had escaped from Elba. Wellington returned to achieve his greatest victory, at *Waterloo. This not only brought him further wealth (another £200,000 from the government) but gave him the prestige to resume a political career at the highest level. In 1818 he joined Lord Liverpool's Tory cabinet. Ten years later, when the Tory party had split into factions over Catholic emancipation and *Canning's liberal foreign policy, Wellington seemed the only man who might hold the government together.

His two years as prime minister were marked by one great success (the *Emancipation Act of 1829, achieved in alliance with his home secretary, *Peel) and by one great disaster – Wellington's own blank assertion that no political reform of any kind was necessary, which lost him all credibility in the period of intense agitation leading up to the *Reform Act. He never fully adjusted to reform (he was long remembered for his comment on the members of the first reformed parliament, that he had never seen 'so many shocking bad hats'), but the memory of his earlier achievements gave him great stature at the end of his long life. With the bounty from his victories he bought *Apsley House and *Stratfield Saye. Tennyson, in his ode on Wellington's death, called him the 'ever-loyal iron leader' and the 'Great Duke'; and he has been frequently known as the 'Iron Duke'.

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