February 20, 2024 | Miles Brucker

Iron Facts About The Duke Of Wellington, Napoleon's Nemesis


With his decisive victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington became an icon of 19th century England. Like Horatio Nelson, his naval counterpart, the "Iron Duke" was synonymous with courage, stoicism, and duty. Yet, away from the battlefield, this embodiment of conformist British morality had a host of peculiar habits and an insatiable appetite for women. Here are 42 noble facts about the Duke of Wellington.


1. Horse Sense

Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, was born on the first of May, 1769. Though he would become an icon of the British Empire, the Duke was actually born in Dublin, Ireland. This fact caused Wellington great embarrassment, and prompted him to remark, "Because a man is born in a stable, it does not make him a horse." (It should come as little surprise to know that Wellington isn't very popular with the Irish).

The Duke Of Wellington

2. House Sitter

Wellington's antipathy to the Irish did not prevent him from entering the Irish Parliament. Running on a pro-English, anti-independence platform, Wellington was elected MP for Trim, County Meath, in 1879.

Duke Of Wellington factsWikimedia Commons, Francis Wheatley

3. The Name Game

Arthur Wesley was Wellington's original name at birth. He decided to alter it to Wellesley in 1798, just as his professional career in the armed forces was rapidly advancing, with the belief that it sounded more sophisticated.

Dwayne Johnson factsShutterstock

4.Defense Academy

Just as his brothers had been, Wellington was sent to study at Eton. He was socially awkward, and his academic performance left something to be desired. Convinced he would never achieve anything, his mother pulled him out of Eton and enrolled him in a French Defense Academy.

Duke Of Wellington factsShutterstock

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5. Breaking Up The Band

Wellington initially held aspirations of becoming a musician, but he burnt his violin in a fit of anger when his marriage proposal to Kitty Pakenham was rejected by her brother, the Earl of Longford. From that point on, the armed forces became his sole true inspiration.

Duke Of Wellington factsPixabay

6. Buying A Job

With his aspirations of musical stardom ruined, Wellington turned to his brother for a loan. He then utilized the loan to secure a position as Lieutenant-Colonel in the 33rd division, a common practice during those times.

Duke Of Wellington factsShutterstock

7. How Do You Like Me Now?

After a brief detour in the Netherlands, Wellington was shipped to India, where he spent ten years quashing insurrections and amassing a personal fortune of £42,000, which was nothing to sniff at back then. With the new rank of General and wealth in his favor, Wellington once again asked for Kitty Pakenham's hand in marriage, and it was happily granted this time. Too bad you can't un-burn a violin.

Duke Of Wellington factsPixabay

8. Conehead

Glaswegians have their own creative way of honoring the Duke. The statue of Wellington on horseback that stands in front of Glasgow's Royal Exchange can usually be found wearing a traffic cone on its head. Placing a cone on the Duke's head has been a popular prank since the 1980s, with some even using it as an opportunity to raise awareness of political or community issues. The City of Glasgow discourages the practice, however, and spends £10,000 every year removing the cones.

Duke Of Wellington factsGetty Images

9. Co-Inn-cidence

On his return home from India, Wellington's ship stopped briefly at St. Helena, the same remote island where his arch-nemesis, Napoleon Bonaparte, would be exiled years later.

Duke Of Wellington factsPixabay

10. Buckle Up

Back in Europe, Wellington took part in numerous battles around Portugal, the Netherlands, and Denmark. Unlike other commanders of the time, Wellington freely rode into the frontlines with his companions. This was risky, however. During the 1814 Battle of Orthez, Wellington, while mocking someone for getting struck randomly, was reportedly hit in the leg by a musket ball. Luckily for him, the ball ricocheted off the sword on his hip, sparing him from serious injury.

Portrait of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington wearing a black coatNational Library of Wales, Wikimedia Commons

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11. Bar-Hopping

There are many things named after the Duke of Wellington: the capital of New Zealand; a mountain in New York; a beef dish that he probably never ate. But the most impressive honor is the nearly 100 pubs named after the Duke of Wellington in England alone. It's a suitable homage to a man who exclusively consumed cold meat and bread, yet always accompanied it with the most costly beverage on hand.

Duke Of Wellington factsWikimedia Commons, Rept0n1x

12. Dancing Fool

Wellington didn't regularly show great emotion on the battlefield, but when he did, he made it count. When it became clear that he would earn the victory at the Battle of Toulouse, he broke into a flamenco dance.

Duke Of Wellington factsGetty Images

13. Making A Name For Himself

It was after the victory at Toulouse that Arthur Wellesley earned the title of Duke of Wellington in the County of Somerset. He was also given the title of Marquess of Douro.

Duke Of Wellington factsWikimedia Commons

14. Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

Wellington is most famous for his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. The battle was actually fought at Braine-l'Alleud, just south of Waterloo, but Wellington had established a pattern of naming his battles after the place he had spent the night before the battle, hence Waterloo.

Napoleon Bonaparte LithoFranz Eybl, Wikimedia Commons

15. Close Call

Wellington almost lost his life at Waterloo. A cannonball flew straight at him and his horse, narrowly missing and ultimately causing the demise of the soldier next to them.

Napoleon Bonaparte FactsRobert Alexander Hillingford, Wikimedia Commons

16. Robin Hood

In 1961, bus driver Kempton Bunton acquired a portrait of Wellington, painted by Francisco Goya and valued at $390,000, without permission. He offered to return it only if every poor person was provided a TV. In those days, you needed a license to purchase and install a television in England; Bunton wanted $140,000 to buy licenses for low-income people. Bunton's lawyers later argued that, since he had no intention of keeping the painting, he could not be convicted of theft.

Duke Of Wellington factsGetty Images

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17. Doctored Image

Bunton returned the painting in 1965 and served a three-month sentence, but by then his charitable efforts had already become a part of British pop culture history. In the 1962 James Bond film Dr. No, the portrait can be seen hanging in Dr. No's lair, a sly nod to the as-yet-unidentified thief.

Sean Connery FactsDr. No,United Artists

18. Time Travel

Waterloo affixed Wellington's position in history, but he was close to missing it. Prior to the battle, Wellington was anticipated to travel to Canada for commanding the British during the conflict of 1812. Wellington put forth his argument and managed to remain in Europe, likely clarifying that, given it was already 1814, the conflict of 1812 would have already concluded by his arrival.

Backstreet Boys factsPixabay

19. What's The Point?

Sorry, we just can't resist a good 1812 joke. Wellington did decline the Canada assignment, but it was due to his belief that the conflict of 1812 was bound to result in an impasse and, therefore, his contributions would be more beneficial in Europe. Wellington's prediction proved more or less correct, with neither the British or the Americans ceding any territory in the conflict.

Nicolas Cage factsShutterstock

20. Going Out On Top

Wellington retired from army life after Waterloo. He fought in 60 battles and never lost one, though some attribute his streak to his willingness to retreat rather than risk heavy casualties.

Duke Of Wellington factsShutterstock

21. He Who Laughs Last

Years later, Wellington ran into some French generals at a party in Vienna. They had been at Waterloo and turned away from him immediately. The hostess apologized for their rudeness, but Wellington brushed it off and delivered one of history's sickest burns: "I have seen their backs before, madam."

Duke Of Wellington factsShutterstock

22. Tough Crowd

Despite his many victories, Wellington remained an unpopular figure in England. The public perceived him as distant and impolite; notwithstanding all indications otherwise, the government questioned his combat skills. The future King George IV even admitted he liked Napoleon better.

Common Misconceptions factsGetty Images

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23. Old Habits Are Hard To Break

Though he was retired from the army, Wellington had a hard time giving up some old habits. Despite the fact that he now lived in a literal castle in the English countryside, Wellington continued to sleep in a camp bed, rising before dawn every morning and enjoying his usual meal of cold meat and bread.

Duke Of Wellington factsPixabay

24. A Stuffed Horse

Wellington himself may have been ascetic in his practices, but that didn't stop him from spoiling his beloved horse, Copenhagen. The thoroughbred racehorse, whom Wellington rode at Waterloo, met his end when the general fed him too much cake. Isn't that how we all hope to go?

Catherine The Great QuizPexels

25. Hoofing It

Prior to Copenhagen's burial, Wellington discovered that someone cut off one of his beloved horse's hoofs. The desecration infuriated the Duke. A farmer later spotted the hoof for sale for three shillings; he bought it and returned it to the Duke, whose son had it made into an inkstand.

Duke Of Wellington factsPixabay

26. Fashion Forward

At a time when the British army favored bright red coats and foot-high shako hats, Wellington's style of dress was conspicuously inconspicuous. In battle, Wellington eschewed decorations and medals and wore dark clothes so as not to be readily identified by the enemy. He also kept his hair cut short: it was cleaner and easier to maintain than the powdered wigs his fellow officers wore. Wellington's ideas of practicality and camouflage would not catch on with the British army until WWI.

Duke Of Wellington factsGetty Images

27. For A Rainy Day

Wellington's footwear likewise drew attention. Wellington donned bespoke leather boots, crafted to be suitable for every occasion, be it combat-related or formal, in addition to being weatherproofed for the rain. They became even more prominent when British fashion icon Beau Brummell decided he needed his own pair of Wellington boots. Now made of rubber, the "Wellie" is still the boot of choice in rainy weather.

Duke Of Wellington factsGetty Images

28. Sacred Conflict

In 1828, Wellington became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. His most notable accomplishment as Prime Minister was the Catholic Relief Act, which gave equal rights to Catholics. It was a deeply unpopular move; one critic so insulted Wellington that the former General challenged him to a duel.

Portrait painting of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington wearing a uniform, looking to the rightJohn Jackson, Wikimedia Commons

29. Hypocrisy

Wellington did not extend his religious tolerance to everyone, however. When a bill to grant full religious liberties to Jewish citizens was introduced in 1833, Wellington voted against it. The bill failed to pass.

Lauren Bacall factsPixabay

30. Life's A Riot

Riots broke out in 1831. Some workers were dissatisfied with the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution, others were upset that Wellington refused to support a Reform Bill which would have extended voting rights to more citizens. The target of much public anger, Wellington earned a vote of non-confidence from Parliament.

Duke Of Wellington factsGetty Images

31. Who's The Boss?

Wellington had a hard time adjusting to the differences between politics and the army. He once said of his cabinet, "An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them!"

Duke Of Wellington factsGetty Images

32. In Da Club

Wellington was a member of London's exclusive Almack's Club. Membership to the club was granted by a group of wealthy society women, all of whom adored Wellington. Even so, Wellington was twice refused entry into the club, once because he was seven minutes late, and another time because he was wearing black trousers. Can you even imagine? Black trousers?!

Duke Of Wellington factsWikimedia Commons

33. A Final Insult

Wellington had a sensual portrait of Napoleon's sister displayed in his bedroom.

Wedding Objections factsShutterstock

34. A Hero's End

The Duke of Wellington succumbed to the aftereffects of a stroke on 14 September, 1852. He was 83 years old. As one of England's most esteemed warriors, he was honored with a state funeral, and rests next to Horatio Nelson in St. Paul's Cathedral, in London.

Duke Of Wellington factsGetty Images

35. Going Off The Rails

Wellington's body was brought to London on a train. This is somewhat ironic, as Wellington hated traveling by rail, having witnessed a man run over by a locomotive in 1830.

old steam freight train during dayPixabay, Pexels

36. Plus Ҫa Change

Today, the Duke of Wellington's direct descendant, Arthur Mornington, Earl of Mornington (the current Duke of Wellington's son) works as a partner for the private investment firm Orkney Capital. The direct descendant of Napoleon, Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon, is a partner at rival firm Advent International.

Duke Of Wellington factsGetty Images

37. Ladies' Man

Wellington was married, unhappily, to Kitty Pakenham, the daughter of an Irish lord. Frequently away from home, Wellington carried out numerous affairs. Among his mistresses were Harriette Wilson (a famous courtesan of the day), Russian princess Dorothea Lieven, and allegedly even two of Napoleon's former mistresses.

Fyre Festival factsShutterstock

38. Second Thoughts

Wellington revealed that the intervening ten years between when he'd first proposed and when they finally married played a large part in his souring on his wife. In that time, she had fallen ill, and her once-great beauty was faded. Wellington even cruelly confided in his brother his disappointment that Kitty had "turned ugly." Not a great look, Arty.

Duke Of Wellington factsGetty Images

39. Stop Snitching

When news broke that Harriette Wilson was planning to publish her memoirs, Wellington received a letter from her publisher, offering to leave his name out of it (for a small fee, of course). Wellington's reply was "Publish and be damned!"

History’s Greatest Mistresses quizGetty Images

40. Riding The Coach

Though he developed a reputation as a stern disciplinarian, Wellington could be surprisingly wild among his friends. One mistress disclosed that Wellington had a favorite party game: he and another officer would put on horse harnesses and drag ladies around their manor in a wild race. They called this game "Riding the Coach."

Duke Of Wellington factsShutterstock

41.Combat is a Nightmare

The Duke of Wellington was renowned as one of England's most formidable and competent martial figures, but he did not relish conflict.After the Battle of Waterloo, it is reported that he shed tears while reading the list of those who lost their lives. Wellington later said, "Believe me that nothing, excepting a battle lost, can be half so melancholy as a battle won."

Duke Of Wellington factsShutterstock

42. Stiff Upper Lip

Wellington was careful to hide his emotions on the battlefield, however. So the story goes, when a British Field Marshall named Lord Uxbridge had his leg destroyed by a cannonball, he cried out, "By God, Sir! I've lost my leg," and Wellington calmly replied, "By God, Sir! So you have."

cannon ball stunt equipmentKippelboy, CC BY-SA 3.0 , Wikimedia Commons

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 


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