Arthur Wellesley was born in Dublin in 1769, the third son of the 1st Lord Mornington and Anne Hill, daughter of the Viscount Dungannon. His childhood was spend at Dungan Castle, Ireland, the family seat.
Family life changed dramatically when his father died. Arthur was 12 and just about to go to Eton. His father Garret Wesley (the family name was later changed to Wellesley) left his mother Anne and brothers with large debts and they decided to move to London, and later Brussels.
Arthur was an unpromising child and his mother thought that he was only fit for the army so he was sent to military academy in Angers, France. His early commissions were due in part to the influence of his brother Richard Wellesley, who has forging his own career in public life and did a great deal to help his younger brother.
India was where Wellington made his name. He was promoted to Major General in 1803 and achieved his first major victory at the Battle of Assaye. As he prepared to sail home his thoughts turned to Catherine (Kitty) Pakenham, the daughter of Lord Longford. They had met in Dublin society and had fallen in love but his proposal has been rejected by the Longford family.
Now returning from India with money, rank and growing fame, Arthur Wellesley renewed the proposal which was this time accepted. In the intervening years Kitty had been ill and had lost those youthful looks that had so attracted the young Wellesley.
They married in 1806 but the union was a not a success and long periods apart, especially during the Peninsular Wars (1807-1813), made the relationship even more difficult. They had two sons, whom Wellington always felt had been spoilt by their mother.
The period spent in Spain and Portugal fighting the French under the general command of Joseph Bonaparte was decisive for Wellington. Proving his abilities against Napoleon’s most capable generals led to a series of very hard fought battles where Wellington honed his strategic skills.
The war concluded at Vitoria in June 1813 and the French were forced to retreat back across the Pyrenees with the British Army following them as far as Toulouse.
Wellington’s finest moment came at the Battle of Waterloo, where he won the day at the head of a European army against Napoleon Bonaparte.
After Waterloo he retired from active service, famously saying: “I hope to God that I have fought my last battle. It is a bad thing to be always fighting.”
Wearied by years of campaigning Wellington settled into civilian life, he bought Apsley House in 1817 from his brother Richard and set his sights on making a name for himself in politics.
By 1828 he was Prime Minister, but he proved to be unpopular and Apsley House was attacked twice by the mob. Wellington had to install iron bars on the ground floor windows of Apsley House to stop the bricks breaking his windows. This is what led to him being called the ‘Iron Duke’.
Although Wellington retired from public life in 1846, he continued to serve as Commander In Chief of the armed forces. He was unable to step away completely from the limelight after serving his country for more than 60 years.
He died at Walmer Castle in September 1852 and his funeral sparked an outpouring of national grief.