Soldierly Splendour: The 1st Duke of Wellington’s military uniforms

From 27 March, five of Wellington’s military dress uniforms will be on display in the opulent setting of the Striped Drawing Room.

In recognition of his military victories in the Napoleonic Wars, Wellington was awarded the highest military rank of Field Marshal, or its equivalent, in eight nations’ armies. Four of the uniforms on display represent his appointments as Marshal-General of the Portuguese Army (1809), Captain-General of the Spanish Army (1809), Field Marshal of the British Army (1813) and Field Marshal of the Austrian Army (1818). The fifth uniform, is that of Colonel of the Grenadier Guards (1827), the most senior infantry regiment in the British army.

For each of these appointments, Wellington had a dress uniform for formal occasions and an undress uniform for everyday wear. Although some generals wore undress – or even dress – uniform in battle, Wellington was renowned for wearing civilian clothing – pale breeches, a dark coloured frock coat, a cloak and a cocked hat. Although much of our image of Wellington as a hero has been shaped by portraits depicting him in dress uniform – most notably by Francisco de Goya (1746–1828) and Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830) – the Duke, in fact, cared little for it.

Nevertheless, he understood its importance and symbolism, which the Apsley House display will evocatively demonstrate. Wellington’s magnificent dress uniforms are especially notable for their specific colour and decoration, with each one intended to make a highly visible show and indicate his rank at grand or ceremonial occasions, such as events at court or the annual Waterloo banquet held at Apsley House.