WELLINGTON and WATERLOO
At the April 2012 meeting, The History Society was presented with a talk by Lance
Taylor of Great Brington, assisted by two of his colleagues, on the subject of ‘Wellington
Lance began by outlining the life story of Wellington, who was born in 1769 in Ireland
as Arthur Wesley (later changed to Wellesley to avoid confusion with the Methodist
minister). Wellesley received his military training at the French Military Academy
at Angers (because there was no academy in England or Ireland at that time), and
he attained the rank of captain. In 1797 he was sent to India, where his elder
brother was the Governor-General, and he earned his reputation in battles against
rebels in Mysore, and reached the rank of Major-General. He returned to England
in 1808, and became an MP as the member for Truro.
Following the French Revolution of 1789, Napoleon with the French army was successful
in battles in Spain and Portugal, and Wellesley took charge of the English army
in the Iberian peninsula, when the English commander, the Duke of York, resigned.
He was very successful, winning battles in Porto and Talavera, and driving the
French back into France: it was at this point he was made Duke of Wellington, and
after the total defeat of Napoleon, he became ambassador in Paris in 1814.
When the defeated Napoleon returned to France from his exile in Elba, he tried to
revive his reputation by confronting the armies which had defeated him earlier. The
main feature of Lance’s talk was his depiction of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium.
He had created a model of the battlefield, with representations of the French and
Allied forces, and he gave us a detailed description of the battle, together with
the associated skirmishes of Quatre Bras and Huguemont . At the end of the day,
the allies won (Wellington, the supreme commander of the allied forces, was assisted
by the Prussian commander, Blücher), but there were 45,000 casualties, and it took
5 days to clear the battlefield of the dead and wounded.
After the battle, an aura of stability settled over Europe, with London as its centre.
Wellington was a national hero, and later became Prime Minister (although he proved
to be a far better general than politician). He died in 1854, and his funeral was
held in Westminster Abbey.
Local interest was involved. When the English army was in trouble at Talavera,
the day was saved by the 48th Regiment of Foot [the Northamptonshire Militia, whose
lieutenant (actually 100 years earlier) used to live in East Haddon]. Also fighting
at Talavera (and later at Waterloo) was an Earl Spencer of Althorp.