Wellington and Napoleon

Born in the same year, 1769, the two men took up their first commissions in the army around the same time.

Although Wellington spent nearly half of his career fighting the French and defeating them, Napoleon was scathing about Wellington’s abilities referring to him as the ‘sepoy general’, referring to his time in India.  On the morning of 18th June 1815 just before the battle of Waterloo Napoleon informed his generals that Wellington was a bad general and they had nothing to fear.

Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo brought to an end a remarkable career.

Wellington in contrast famously said that Napoleon’s presence on the battlefield “was worth forty thousand men”. Privately he criticised his military and political rule, referring to him as ‘Buonaparte’ to emphasise his non-French origins. “His whole life, civil, political and military, was a fraud’.

However, it was Wellington who saved Napoleon after Waterloo. When there were calls for him to be executed, he was strongly against it. Although Napoleon blamed Wellington for his exile to St Helena it was not his choice. Napoleon hated St Helena and he died in 1821, an ill and embittered man.

His will, written on St Helena and amended countless times, contains an interesting addition. He left ten thousand francs to an officer called Cantillion who had been put on trial (and found innocent) for an assassination attempt on Wellington in 1818. He noted in his will: “Cantillion has as much right to assassinate that oligarchist as the latter had to send me to perish upon the rock of St Helena.”

Visitors to Apsley House will be surprised to see so many images of Napoleon and other members of the Bonaparte family. Wellington bought, or was given, paintings of Napoleon including the colossal statue of the Emperor by Canova, which dominates the main staircase of Apsley House.

Wellington became acquainted with Napoleon’s favourite sister, Pauline Borghese, in Paris in August 1814, when he negotiated the purchase of her house, the palatial Hotel de Charost, for use as the British Embassy. The house is still the British Embassy today.